Referees in the wrestling business often go without acclaim, credit, or even basic recognition. In some cases, wrestling fans only notice referees when they make a perceived mistake. However, there is a lot to the craft which goes without being noticed.
Fans of IMPACT Wrestling who watched the recent Bound For Glory Pay Per View may have missed how important a referee was during the Concrete Jungle Deathmatch between the OGz (Homicide, Hernandez, and King) against LAX (Santana, Ortiz, & Konnan).
The referee of the Concrete Jungle Deathmatch was “Kid Ref” Kris Levin, and his outstanding work was able to keep the entertainers safe during a unique deathmatch concept, which saw the canvas removed exposing the boards underneath. We recently spoke with Levin about his career and the risks of being involved in such a match.
When did you become a wrestling fan, how did that transfer into you becoming a referee?
Some of my earliest memories are of watching professional wrestling with my dad and older brother in the mid-nineties. Playing with WWF Hasbros and Jakks, my favorites were Andre the Giant and the Undertaker, whose name I always mixed up with the Terminator. I rediscovered professional wrestling circa 2002, as my two best friends from elementary school were enamoured with it. At first, I was reintroduced via N64 and PlayStation games, which gradually led to me watching the product with them. Before long, I became obsessed with it. Event results, biographies, books, magazines, toys, shoot interviews, you name it and I absorbed it.
A few years later, as a know-it-all teenager, I viewed all things independent as inherently superior to what was being distributed in the mainstream. I subsisted on a steady diet of Ring of Honor DVDs and ECW VHS tapes. In October of 2007, my mother saw a flyer for a local promotion called Force One Pro Wrestling that was running twenty minutes from my home. I was ecstatic. On October 27th, 2007, I attended my first live independent event.
Riding off of a high from what I experienced, I went home and scoured their Myspace page and WordPress website, eager to soak up anything and everything Force One. Eventually, I discovered a post calling for ring crew and street team members. By November I started helping out at their hole-in-the-wall training center in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. I showed up early and stayed late. I would often be pulled into the ring and taught a thing or two. Before long, the students required a referee to officiate their practice matches. Tommy Force and Jaden in particular really took me under their wing during this time. On June 21st, 2008, at the age of fifteen, I officiated my first live match.
What was your first deathmatch or hardcore match?
I officiated a handful of hardcore matches as a teenager throughout New Jersey, including a barnburner of a first blood match between Niles Young and Sami Callihan that saw me on the receiving end of a chair shot. My most memorable hardcore match during those early years was a two-out-of-three falls match between Sami Callihan and Drake Younger. I will forever be indebted to Sami, as without his guidance–particularly in those early years–I would never have had the good fortune to find myself where I am today.
What were your thoughts when preparing for the concrete jungle match?
I had little time to prepare, as it is typical in this industry to not know what your assignments are until the day of the event. On the other hand, I had over a decade’s worth of preparation–years of officiating deathmatches, primarily in Game Changer Wrestling, alongside three tours of Mexico with Desastre Total Ultraviolento, made officiating this genre somewhat of a forte for me.
I had officiated no-canvas deathmatches previously but never had I encountered technical difficulties to the level we were experiencing with the movement of the boards under our feet. In that instant, I was forced to not only referee the match but do my damnedest to literally hold the ring together and provide as safe a space as possible (given the circumstances) for the performers to ply their craft, all with the added pressure of being live on pay-per-view. With that said, the Concrete Jungle Deathmatch was without question the most challenging bout of my career.
What are some of the misconceptions surrounding referees in wrestling?
I think a big misconception about refereeing among the uninitiated is that anyone can do it. I mean, sure, anyone can do anything. That doesn’t mean they can do it well. I always appreciate fan feedback, but when it comes to criticism regarding the mechanics and inner-workings of an industry that I spent years travelling North America cultivating, I think about this modification of a quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw: those who can do. Those who can’t, talk about those who can.
What are your goals in the wrestling industry?
My biggest goal within the industry is to, in some way, leave it a better place than when I first started. My greatest passion in life is storytelling. So long as I can positively contribute to that end and be a small piece of the bigger whole, be it in the ring or backstage, I live my dreams and achieve my goals nightly.