Earl William Hebner
(born May 17
, in Richmond
) is a professional wrestling referee
currently working for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
. He is perhaps the most famous professional wrestling referee today, best known from his time as the senior referee for the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment
and later on in the same role on their Raw brand
from 2002-2005. As Senior Referee, Hebner officiated most main events during his time with the company from 1988-2005. He played an extremely prominent role in the inaugural The Main Event
card in 1988, in which André the Giant
controversially "defeated" Hulk Hogan
for the WWF Championship
, as well as the infamous "Montréal Screwjob
" during the main event
of the 1997 Survivor Series
. He also participated in an on-screen angle
in mid to late 2000 where he became biased against the McMahon-Helmsley Faction
for constantly and deliberately defying his authority as a referee and attacking him, ultimately culminating with his kayfabe
firing from WWE.
Hebner officiated matches for Jim Crockett Promotions during much of the 1980s. He was the referee during the famous "I Quit" match
at Starrcade 1985
between Tully Blanchard
and Magnum T.A.
as well as the final match of the Bunkhouse Stampede tournament in January 1988. Just days after that match, Hebner debuted in the World Wrestling Federation
as a referee during a WWF Championship
match pitting champion Hulk Hogan
against challenger André the Giant
, which aired live on February 5
, 1988, on NBC
's The Main Event
. In the storyline, Hebner's twin brother Dave Hebner
was the assigned official, but unbeknownst to Hogan, André's manager Ted DiBiase
had bribed a unknown to get plastic surgery (in actuality, Dave's twin brother, Earl). Earl then counted André's pin
against Hogan, even though Hogan's shoulders were clearly off the mat. As André and DiBiase were celebrating (with André quickly "selling" his title to an overjoyed DiBiase), Dave (whom DiBiase had locked in a closet prior to the match) ran to the ring and confronted Earl. The two brothers argued, and then they fought each other in the middle of the ring. Hulk Hogan, figuring out that Dave's "evil twin" had jobbed him out, picked Earl up and gorilla press slammed him over the ropes and onto the aisleway (missing DiBiase). This match helped set up a fourteen-man elimination tournament at WrestleMania IV
, since WWF President Jack Tunney
declared the title "vacant" a week after The Main Event
match as the WWF Championship "cannot be bought or sold," where the winner would win the WWF Championship. Vince McMahon
paid both Hebners a bonus of $2,500 USD
for participating in the angle and Earl quickly became a regular WWF referee, where he counted Randy Savage to victory and the Federation championship at WrestleMania IV.
The Montréal Screwjob
The most infamous event in Hebner's career—and possibly in the history of professional wrestling in North America—came during the main event of the 1997 Survivor Series
in what has since been dubbed the "Montréal Screwjob." During a match for the WWF Championship between then-champion Bret Hart
and challenger Shawn Michaels
, Hebner signaled for the timekeeper to ring the bell (signifying the end of the match) while Michaels had Hart in a Sharpshooter
hold—Hart's long-established signature move—even though Hart visibly had not submitted. Michaels had thus "won" the WWF Championship. This was not the match ending that Hart had asked for. Hebner had, at the behest of Vince McMahon
, "screwed" Hart out of the title. The reason for the "screwjob" was that Hart, who would be leaving the company a day later to join rival promotion World Championship Wrestling
, was unwilling to lose the title to Michaels in Canada
. Though Hart said that he was willing to vacate the title the next night on RAW
, McMahon feared that Hart would leave the company with the title, take the belt to WCW, and disrespect it as Madusa
had done in 1995 with the WWF Women's Championship
, throwing the belt into a garbage can during a live Nitro
show. He therefore decided to forcibly remove the title from Hart by instructing Hebner (who had previously promised Hart "on his children's lives" that he would not betray him) to signal an end to the bout when Michaels had Hart in a submission hold. The fallout of the screwjob
led to a large degree of antagonism towards Hebner, McMahon, and Michaels, especially in Canada
, where fans often chant "You screwed Bret!" at the offending parties. In the same vein, Earl's son Brian Hebner
, a former WWE referee on the SmackDown!
brand, received chants of "Your dad screwed Bret!" at shows in Canada.
Later WWE Career
Hebner had several health problems during his WWE career. Hebner was hospitalized with a heart problem shortly before WrestleMania XII
. Then, prior to the WrestleMania XIV pay-per-view
, Hebner was in a hotel
lobby in British Columbia
when he felt sharp pains in his neck. Once he returned to his room, he looked in the mirror and found his eyes bloodshot. He hurriedly called his brother Dave, who came up to help him. He was then taken to a British Columbia hospital where he remained until after the event.
Hebner was involved in several storylines. He spearheaded the (kayfabe) referee's strike in 1999, resulting in referees being given the authority to defend themselves if physically provoked by wrestlers. In early 2000, he cost Triple H his WWF Championship by quick-counting during a match between Triple H and Chris Jericho following weeks of abuse by Triple H. Triple H eventually forced Hebner to reverse the decision, promising never to lay his hands on Hebner as long as Hebner was a WWF employee. After Hebner took the title from Jericho and gave it back to Triple H, Triple H "fired" Hebner and promptly Pedigreed him and beat him unconscious. Hebner was reinstated by Linda McMahon thirteen days later, replacing corrupt guest referee Shane McMahon during a title match between Triple H and The Rock at Backlash 2000 and counting the fall when the Rock covered Triple H for the pin. In late 2001, during the Invasion, Hebner feuded with WCW Head Referee Nick Patrick.
Hebner was released from WWE on July 18, 2005, allegedly for selling WWE merchandise without permission. Hebner's brother Dave was also released on July 19 in connection with these events. These activities would have been conducted from a store that Earl Hebner had partial ownership in the St. Louis based Pro Shirt Shop. To avoid negative publicity, the controlling owner of the Pro Shirt Shop Nick Ridenour bought out Hebner's share in the company and released a press statement which claimed that the company only received merchandise from "licensed distributors."
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
On February 12
, Hebner debuted for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
at the TNA Against All Odds 2006
pay-per-view. He officiated the main event, which saw Canadian born Christian Cage
defeat Jeff Jarrett
for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
. During the match, commentators Mike Tenay
and Don West
alluded to the Montréal Screwjob on several occasions, urging Hebner not to call for the bell when Jarrett placed Cage in a sharpshooter
. Despite the concerns of the commentators, Hebner was an impartial referee. However, he once again caused controversy based on his actions at the TNA Slammiversary 2006
pay-per-view. During the King of the Mountain match, he assisted Jeff Jarrett in winning the match by pushing a ladder over with Sting
and then-champion Christian Cage on it. This led to the new head of management Jim Cornette
taking the belt from Jarrett as the show ended, leaving the status of the belt in question as to who would be the champion. On the June 22
episode of TNA Impact!
, Cornette vacated the title. On the June 30
episode, he awarded the title to Jarrett, but fired (kayfabe
) Hebner. Hebner was then reinstated by Cornette due to Jarrett's polygraph test saying that Hebner was not involved. Earl currently serves as a referee for TNA.
Outside of wrestling
Hebner played himself in the episode "Sixteen Candles and Four-Hundred Pound Men" of Boy Meets World.
Stock footage of one of his WWF matches was also featured in the motion picture Encino Man.
Championships and accomplishments