Here is a list of six things a referee does in a WWE/pro wrestling match:
1. Time keeping with earpieces
This is specific to WWE and doesn’t apply to all professional wrestling promotions.
WWE referees have earpieces connected to the production team, the production tells the referee when it is time to end the match.
The referee has to transfer the information to the wrestlers by using verbal cues or by coded signs that the referee and the wrestlers have previously agreed upon.
2. The hand squeeze to check on wrestlers
Professional wrestling is all about making things look more painful than they are (in pro wrestling slang it is called “selling”).
A good wrestler makes the crowd believe that the pain he is suffering is unbearable (aka selling a move).
When the referee sees a wrestler screaming at the top of their lungs from agony, they can’t tell if the injury is real or if it is part of the act.
So a good old trick that referees do is they squeeze the hand of the grounded wrestler and wait for them to squeeze back.
If the grounded wrestler squeezes back, then it means they are okay, if they don’t manage to squeeze back, the referee knows instantly that something is wrong and that the injury is serious.
3. Giving the X symbol
If a wrestler gets injured and they are unable to continue, the referee crosses their arms to form an X symbol while looking at the production or management.
The X symbol means that the wrestler is severly hurt and the medics have to intervene.
However, when WWE noticed that fans have recognized the X symbol, the WWE writing team started using this knowledge against the fans.
WWE referees were instructed to use the X symbol as part of a narrative to keep even the most knowledgeable fans on their toes not knowing what’s what.
4. Keeping the ring clean after a mess
Have you ever asked yourself how do chairs and trash bins suddenly disappear from the ring while the match is still going on?
Well, that’s part of the job of a referee.
While the attention of the crowd is still on the wrestlers fighting each other, the referee seizes that opportunity to clear the ring from any harmful instrument that has been used previously in the match.
5. Passing the blade
Blading was a very common practice in professional wrestling, but it is still common in indy circles.
Blading occurs when a wrestler uses a concealed blade to open a small and superficial cut on their forehead to fake an injury.
Usually, the wrestler conceals the blade, but sometimes, the wrestler’s outfit is so light that they run out of hiding places.
That’s when the referee comes into play, they hide it for the wrestler and pass it to them when it is time.
Obviously, when the referee does it they do it in a discreet fashion without the audience noticing.
6. Executing the production’s instructions
One of a WWE referee’s roles is to direct the match and execute the instructions they receive on their earpiece from the production.
For example, if the pace of a match is slow, the production might give instructions to speed up the pace. The referee discreetly passes the information to the wrestlers via coded signs.