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Wrestling Then and Now
AN INTERVIEW WITH REFEREE TOMMY YOUNG

by Mad Al, Evan Ginzburg, and Fred Geobold
for WBAI-FM's Light Show in NYC

EVAN GINZBURG: We're honored to have on the line one of wrestling's greatest referees--he retired in 1989, but we always remember Tommy Young. Tommy, how are you doing today?

TOMMY YOUNG: I'm doing real good, Evan.

EG: Why don't you tell us about your great career . . . .

TY: (Laughs) Well, my great career. I broke in . . . actually, I went to Lou Klein's gym in Detroit in February of 1973. I trained there and had my first match that same year in August of 1973. A lot of people don't realize it, but I broke in as a wrestler and that's what I did at first. I was wrestling. And a little later on in the year, we were in--I think it was Akron, Ohio or Canton, Ohio but the referee didn't show up that night, and I was scheduled to wrestle first and I said, "Why don't you just scratch my match. I think I can do the reffing." You can drop a match, but you gotta have a referee! And wrestling never came easy to me. And that was my start as a referee.

FRED GEOBOLD: I want to ask you about the role a referee should play in a match. I'm sure you've seen the heel referee angles today that Nick Patrick ran and what was his name in ECW?

TY: I don't know, I don't watch it. . . .

MAD AL: Bill Alfonso. . . .

TY: I think that show is ridiculous . . . I don't have anything to do with it.

MA: Let me get into this. You don't like ECW. . . .

TY: Absolutely not.

MA: Can you tell us why?

TY: It's not wrestling! It's not even close!

MA: Would you be more specific?

TY: How more specific can I be? It's not wrestling! It's just a bunch of brawling. And it seems like they have a very hard core of fans. I've only seen it a couple of times, and I couldn't believe the things I was seeing. There didn't seem to be any rhyme . . . any reason.

MA: That's what I say. I like a bloody brawl as much as anybody. . . .

FG: I liked it a lot a couple of years ago, because then there were people like Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero. . . .

MA: Me, too.

FG: And they had a mix then. . . .

TY: Oh, I have nothing but respect for those two! Especially Dean. And Eddie, too. Both are from wrestling families and I greatly respect those two guys.

MA: I used to watch Chavo Guererro when I was growing up.

TY: I knew Chavo. He's a great guy.

FG: What I'm saying is, at that time ECW gave you a mix . . . You'd have some great furniture smashing brawls, but you also had scientific work, you had aerial work. . . .

MA: And you had angles. . . .

TY: I did not watch it enough to give you an accurate assessment. I saw it a couple of times and I thought, "Lord . . . my God, these guys are doing a lot of high-risk career-threatening maneuvers!"

MA: What do you think of these high risk maneuvers? Do you think a lot of these guys do that to replace a real lack of wrestling talent?

TY: I don't know if that's it. Some guys are just willing to do whatever it takes. Look at Terry (Funk). Terry's got to be the toughest guy I've ever seen in my life! I'd never mention his age, but he's every bit as old as I am, and I can guarantee you Terry can whip just about anybody's ass now and probably will for another ten, twenty years!

MA: I'd rather watch good old Harley Race/Terry Funk NWA title matches from the mid-seventies than anything today. Or Jack Brisco/Dory Funk. . . .

TY: Jack/Dory! Jeez . . . I wish I could have done some of their matches. I never had the opportunity.

MA: Dusty Rhodes . . . maybe he wasn't the best worker in the world, but he was an entertainer and he didn't need fancy music and explosions. . . .

TY: When Dusty took over the book in Florida while I was down there . . . Dory (Funk, Jr.) moved down and Dusty came in, and I was in the dressing room in the Armory in Tampa one night. This was in '82, and I was only down there for five months. He came in and I've known Dusty for years. And he told me, "Hey, Tommy, how're you doing? How do you like it here?" I said, "I hate it!" He said, "It's the money, isn't it?" I said, "Yes." And he asked me a figure. "You think $600 would be enough?" I said, "Yes!" After Dusty showed up, I made nothing but money. And then when I went to the Mid-Atlantic, Dusty followed me up, and I made nothing but money here. A lot of people don't like Dusty, but I'm going to tell you right now. Dusty Rhodes was good to Tommy Young. And I have nothing but good things to say about Dusty Rhodes.

MA: I was speaking purely as a spectator watching him in the ring. Part of my point was, I'd rather watch Brisco, Race, Funks, Rhodes. . . .

TY: That's understandable!

FG: (laughs) What about Flash Funk?

MA: You sure he's related?

TY: Who?

MA: 2 Cold Scorpio's Flash Funk in the WWF.

TY: 2 Cold Scorpio?! He's a black guy!

EG: Yeah, they made a joke out of the Funks.

TY: I wonder what Dory and Terry think about that.

MA: You ask them!

TY: I don't think I want to touch that one. I don't know Scorpio, but he was a heck of a wrestler.

EG: Yes, he is.

TY: In fact, I think he was the one that stopped Sid from killing Arn in the hotel in England.

EG: By the way, they're jobbing out Scorpio in the WWF, believe it or not.

MA: I say Scorpio is one of the top five American wrestlers as far as talent is concerned.

TY: I don't really know the guy, but that's pretty strong.

FG: I don't know if I'd put him in the top five, but I'd certainly put him in the top twenty. They're certainly wasting a top talent.

MA: I agree. I think they should have brought him in doing his 2 Cold Scorpio heel role. I think it would have gone over big time.

FG: He's got some spectacular aerial moves, but I don't think I'd put him in the top five, because I don't think his mat wrestling is as good as, say, a Malenko.

TY: You go back to high risk moves, and Terry is one . . . and Cactus Jack. What a hard working guy this guy is! Jim Cornette, who's a great guy and a friend of mine, was having a party here in Charlotte, and Cactus was working for WCW at the time. And he came in and introduced himself to me and said he watched me. He put me over great and I said, "Jack, I think you're one of the hardest working guys I've ever seen, but man, you're going to kill yourself. I mean, I admire you for what you do, but I'm sure you want to do this for another five, ten years." Vader took his ear off! Nothing phases him. Jack doesn't care! He's willing to do whatever it takes, and I have tremendous respect for people like that, but I do question their wisdom.

MA: Isn't the purpose of somebody like that--doing a violent match . . . I mean isn't the real purpose of it making it look hyper-violent when it's really not? I mean in the old days, in the 70s for instance, you had matches in Florida and Texas that were as bloody and violent as anything you will see in ECW today. But they were better because they told a story and so on. But guys didn't end up getting as physically messed up the way they do now.

TY: Well, they are doing crazier things today. . . .

MA: Harley Race and Terry Funk were known for having some pretty nasty bloody matches. . . .

EG: Tommy, why don't you tell us about some of your career highlights--the best matches you've reffed. . . .

TY: Any match between Ric Flair and Rick Steamboat was the greatest match I ever did! To me, those two guys were the absolute greatest of all time in my book. I just thank almighty God that I was able to be their referee, because it was such an honor and a privilege.

EG: Did you ref their match at the Meadowlands?

TY: I did.

EG: I was there. That was probably the greatest match I've ever seen live.

TY: That was the one where Wahoo and Stan Hansen wrecked the ring, wasn't it?

EG: That I don't remember. I just remember it was a great, great match.

TY: I've done so many of theirs. Several stand out. In New Orleans in '89. One of the Clashes. I think this was up against the Wrestlemania that day. But anyway, this was kind of special to me, because this particular day they were having all the former champions there. And I mean here is Harley Race, Dory and Terry, Jack Brisco, Buddy Rogers, Pat O'Connor, Gene Kiniski, and wow, this is what it's all about. I'm looking around and I am giddy! And Terry did the commentary while Steamboat and Flair had the match. I mean, I get off on that. These guys are such legends. Some people have been nice enough to call me a legend, and I think I can't carry those guys jockstraps! I mean Steamboat and Flair--I was just there. I tell all referees this, and if there's any referee listening now, remember it is our job to make their job easier. I've always said this and I always will. As tough a job as a referee's got, it is nothing compared to a wrestler's. A wrestler is directly responsible for the crowd's entertainment. Referees are indirectly responsible, and in fact, if I wasn't so doggonned egomaniacal myself, I wouldn't have done the things that I did. But I had to get in there sometimes and do things that I probably shouldn't have. Some guys probably should have slapped me around and said, "Hey, back off, you're trying to outdo us!" But I got away with it, and a lot of guys didn't mind it. I was fortunate in that respect.

MA: Do you have any views on where wrestling is heading?

TY: I have no idea, because it's a changing world, and I think everybody likes to say that wrestling isn't the same since I retired. That's like saying that since that particular person left, there is such a void that it can't be filled. And I'm not going to fall into that trap. I mean, look what's happening now. WCW is going through the roof. What they're doing is unreal. This NWO is the hottest thing I think I've ever seen.

FG: It's a brilliant angle.

TY: It is. And from what I understand, and I don't know this as the truth, but I think it's true, I believe this was the idea of Sean Waltman's. I understand it was his idea.

MA: I don't know. At first it was just a rip-off of the age old Japanese inter-promotional war bit, but I think the whole angle has really burnt out. They really don't advance with it. I mean they take one little baby step every now and then.

TY: Well, their ratings are still going through the roof. Basically, I think the whole idea behind it was an invasion of the WWF into WCW. I can't argue with what they're doing. They are packing them in. I went to the PPV--the Fall Brawl where Flair got hurt. To bring him home. And I met Sean. Scottie Hall's an old friend of mine. Kevin Nash I didn't know all that well. He was breaking in when I got hurt. A lot of those guys I just didn't know. I met Eddy Guerrero for the first time. He's a great kid. We talked about ten, fifteen minutes. Same with Dean. I knew his dad Boris Malenko and his older brother Jody who refereed for a while, but I don't think he ever actually wrestled. It was really nice going down there and talking to these guys. I met Eric Bischoff for a while. I have to give him a lot of credit, too.

EG: What did you think of him as a person?

TY: I can't really say too much because Eric's such a busy guy, and he certainly seems to have an ego, which is certainly understandable. He was nice to me. That's all I can tell you.

EG: Rick Steamboat wasn't too crazy about Eric Bischoff when we interviewed him.

TY: Rick's a very honest guy. He's not going to mince words. I don't know the situation.

EG: He said he received a letter in the mail after many, many years at the company saying he was terminated.

TY: He had a back injury. Yeah, it wasn't done with a whole lot of class. . . .

FG: The gold watch came from a Crackerjack box. . . .

EG: Having done this show now for over five years now, we've interviewed many, many people and the same names always come up as far as classy guys. Rick Steamboat. Ivan Koloff. Bruno Sammartino.

TY: Yeah!

EG: Nobody has a bad word to say about them. Even Vince McMahon, Sr. One wrestler after another told us he treated them well. Treated them with respect. So what you're saying about Steamboat I'm sure is absolutely true.

TY: I guess I shouldn't even knock Vince McMahon, Jr. because the Hebners--their head referees up there, they're good friends of mine, and look at the living they've made working for Vince. So for that I'm happy. You know, nice going Vince for looking after those two guys, because they're as hard working as anyone out there. And I'm tickled to death they've done well. So I'd probably be out of line for saying anything about Vince, because I might meet him and think he's a hell of a guy. I've never met the man. But the business has taken a big change, and it's all basically because of Vince McMahon.

FG: He broke up the territories. The promoters actually were more cooperative in getting wrestlers work.

TY: Yes. Everybody benefited from that. If you were burnt out in an area, you could go to another one and redo the whole thing again. And do well. You made money and the promoter made money, too. Everybody kind of scratched everybody's back.

MA: There were a lot more job opportunities. You also mentioned taking care of people. It's pretty well known wrestlers don't have a lot of insurance coverage, etc. What do you think of that?

TY: Well, when I broke my neck, I could not get any insurance. . . .

MA: Was it because you were a referee that you couldn't get any insurance?

TY: Yes. Because I was affiliated with wrestling. They laugh you right out of the insurance office when you tell them that. People can think what they want about wrestling, but it's obviously a very, very dangerous profession. Anybody with half a brain should know that.

MA: (laughs) And the fans have half a brain at that. . . .

TY: The Sheik got me a disability policy that looked after me for a couple of years. And some of the wrestlers did get Lloyds of London policies. . . .

MA: But that's very expensive. . . .

TY: Yes, but it's helped a lot. I think Rick Rude was able to retire because of that.

MA: That's only for guys on top that can afford that kind of money.

TY: And I don't know if they're writing that kind of policy anymore.

MA: I think they stopped.

TY: I think they did, too, because I won't mention names, but I think several people pulled some stuff on them. I don't want to touch that, because I really don't know all the circumstances, and it may not have been that way. . . .

EG: Well, Tommy we have to wrap this up shortly.

TY: (laughs) That's a shame. I could have talked all night.

EG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your career?

TY: I had a great career. I thank God for giving me the ability to do this. I don't think I could have done anything else as good as I did refereeing. It just fell into place. It came easy to me. Thank God. If it was hard, I'd have been too stupid to make it. Wrestling never did come easy but reffing did.

FG: I mentioned the heel angle Nick Patrick had done. Did you ever do anything other than the just neutral participant? Did you ever actually take part in the angles?

TY: In 1987 we did a little something with Dusty and Tully Blanchard. Tully was a great performer. Not the nicest guy in the world, but a great, great performer. I have a lot of respect for Tully. He was wrestling Dusty. They actually interviewed me before the match. Dusty covered Tully with a suplex by the rope--one, two, three. Dusty jumps up and there's Tully's leg over the rope. Well, I've already hit three, and the bell has rung and I'm studying the leg like, "Ooh? Was it over the rope before or after the three?" So Tully was the champion and when in doubt, you're supposed to go with the champion. Dusty jumps out of the ring and goes to get a bunch of money that was being held by Magnum or at least he was going to try to get it. J.J. Dillon, Tully's manager, grabbed the money and ran off out the door and Dusty goes to chase him. Meanwhile, I'm saying, "Ring the bell! This match is going to continue." I count Dusty out, so Tully wins and steals all the money. And they made it look like I was a bad guy, and they interviewed me and Jim Crockett was on there, too and said there will be an investigation into Tommy Young's refereeing. And I would no longer be doing Dusty's matches until the whole thing was settled. So I was a semi-bad guy, but it was smoothed out. That was basically it. But I was getting plastered every night, knocked out of rings, thrown over cages, tossed into ringposts, hit with chops, somebody would duck and hit me, but that was all part of the business. And I got the hell beat out of me many times, but I was grateful for every one of them. I had a great career, it was fun, I've met a lot of nice people, I got a certain form of what you might call mini-celebrity status. I'm very grateful. What happened with my neck was unfortunate, but it didn't happen right after I started. I had 15 great years. Arn Anderson feels the same way. He had a great career. He could have gone longer. So could I. I think I'd still be the top ref; I think I'd like to think that. . . .

MA: I kind of feel they never gave Arn Anderson the break he deserved.

TY: Well, he was just a solid performer and the people loved him and he was just always going to do well. He's done well financially. He's not stupid. He's saved his money. He's a devoted family man. He just had a new baby. And we will see what happens with him, but whatever happens I am sure it will be for the best. He's a very good man, a very decent man, and I'm proud to call him my friend.

EG: And Tommy, we wish you the best also. Thanks so much for appearing on Light Show.

TY: Gentlemen, I would be happy to do it anytime. And anyone out there, thanks for listening. See you down the road. . . .

EDITOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Dr. Thom Parks for arranging this interview. For more on the Scorpio/Sid/Arn Anderson scenario, see our interview with Scorpio in the WT&N '94 Annual. Upcoming interviews in WT&N include Sid, Bruce Hart, Nasty Boy Knobbs, and many of the great indy workers of today.--E.G.

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