Earl William Hebner (May 17, 1949) is a professional wrestling referee currently working for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, and the twin brother of Dave Hebner. 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 "Montreal 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.
World Wrestling Federation/ Entertainment (1988–2006)
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 an unknown to get plastic surgery to look like Hebner (Earl and Dave are identical twins, so this was easy to pull off). 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 14-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.
Meanwhile, the WWF continued to build heat for Earl Hebner through a kayfabe "investigative report" published in the promotions' flagship publication, WWF Magazine. The article claimed, through a fictional backstory, that Dave had "been plagued by the misdeeds of his brother Earl" throughout their childhoods, citing such examples as Earl's cheating in school and, while posing as Dave, doing such things as bullying fellow students and abandoning Dave's pretty girlfriend on a sidewalk in a slum district at night. The report continued by noting that, despite Dave's appeal of the controversial ending to the Hogan-Andre match at The Main Event, Tunney had to uphold the decision since Earl was a licensed referee in Indiana (the match took place in Indianapolis); and that, as a result of Earl's cooperation, he became a "very rich" man thanks to a payoff by DiBiase.
However, the "evil twin" referee storyline was quickly dropped when Dave was apparently injured in the aftermath of the Hogan-Andre Main Event match; in a 2001 interview with the WWF RAW Magazine, Dave claimed to have suffered broken ribs as a result of Earl kicking him as part of the angle, forcing Dave out of action until after WrestleMania IV. The storyline was then shifted to have Earl come clean, and he was the referee when Randy Savage won the Tournament final at WrestleMania IV against Ted DiBiase for the WWF Championship.
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 one month 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 and current TNA Wrestling referee, received chants of "Your dad screwed Bret!" at shows in Canada. However, on Right After Wrestling, hosted by Arda Ocal and Jimmy Korderas, Earl stated that he has since spoken with Bret and they have buried the hatchet, in regards to the 'Montreal Screwjob'
Later WWE career
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. Hebner was also the first referee to be a playable character in a wrestling video game as he was included in the roster of WWF No Mercy. During the The Invasion angle in late 2001, Hebner became involved in a feud involving WCW referee Nick Patrick. Patrick was a biased referee who often helped The Alliance achieve victories over their WWF opponents. Hebner defeated Patrick in a match at WWF Invasion.
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 (2006-present)
On February 12, 2006, 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. Hebner was punched in the face by Jeff Jarrett and was kayfabe injured. At No Surrender he replaced original referee Slick Johnson for the TNA Knockout Tag Team Championship match because of what happened at Victory Road. TNA Wrestling had their own version of the Montreal Screwjob, in this case, it was a TNA World Heavyweight Championship match on the January 21, 2010 episode of TNA Impact! between Kurt Angle and defending champion A.J. Styles. Previously to this match, Angle and Styles had fought at the TNA pay-per-view Genesis, which was also for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship except the stipulation was that if Angle were to lose, he would never get another shot at the title in 2010. In this match, Ric Flair interfered causing Styles to retain his title. Hulk Hogan, now running TNA with Eric Bischoff somewhat controversially to some fans, said that due to Flair's interference in the match at Genesis, Angle would get another match at the title on Impact! and if Flair were to interfere, Styles would be stripped of the title and the title would be awarded to Angle. During the match, Angle put his signature move, the Ankle Lock on Styles, but Styles reversed it and used the Ankle Lock on Angle which resulted in the "Screwjob" when referee Earl Hebner called for the bell although Angle did not submit, similar to The Montreal Screwjob. On the January 28 episode of Impact! Earl confessed to screwing Bret Hart and Kurt Angle for the money. Hulk Hogan then suspended him indefinitely. On the March 8 Monday night edition of Impact! Hogan decided to give Hebner a second chance and had him referee the main event of the evening, a tag team match, where Hogan and Abyss faced A.J. Styles and Ric Flair. In May 2012, Hebner signed a contract extension with TNA, which will keep him with the promotion through 2013. In July 2012, Hebner started a romance storyline with Madison Rayne, as part of which, he started helping her win matches, including one for the TNA Women's Knockout Championship on August 12 at Hardcore Justice. In response to this situation, Knockouts Executive Brooke Hogan announced that Hebner would no longer referee the Knockouts matches. On April 17, 2014, Hebner was reinstated as Knockouts referee, when Madison Rayne defeats Velvet Sky in a Street Fight. On June 19, 2014, Heber was involved in the TNA World Heavyweight Championshp bout between Kenny King and Eric Young, but after King's loss, MVP fired Hebner and make him get rid of his uniform, to the disgust of his son, Brian.
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. He has a twin brother, Dave who is also a wrestling referee as well as a promoter.
- Referees trained