PODCAST RECAP – Steve Austin Show – Revealing interview with former WWE referee Mark Yeaton talks role of ref, ring, ribs, Vince, Undertaker, Savage

By Rob Gladding, PWTorch contributor



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The Steve Austin Show
Guest: Former WWE referee & time keeper Mark Yeaton
Release date: December 13, 2016
Recap by Rob Gladding, PWTorch contributor

Top Newsworthy Items

– Austin and Yeaton talk about his role as Austin’s beer thrower during the Attitude era.

– Yeaton breaks down the construction of WWE rings.

– Yeaton shares some ribbing stories including Vince McMahon letting the air out of a person’s tires.

– Yeaton discusses working with several talents including “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Undertaker.

Subjects covered (w/ time stamps)

0:00 – Sponsors ad
1:33 – Introduction
16:49 – Sponsors ad
19.30 – Interview starts – Starting in the business
24:45 – WWE Travel
26:56 – Drinking/Grind/Working overseas
29.49 – WWE Rings
35:24 – Hostile crowds/Kayfabe
37:30 – Favourite towns/MSG/Hulkamania
42:35 – WWE Pay/transition from referee to timekeeper/Role of a time keeper
49.27 – Matches that go over time
52:15 – Sponsors ad
54:44 – Missing the business/The Undertaker
57:55 – Advice for aspiring referees/Favourite people to work with
1:03:08 – Throwing beers to Austin
1:09:38 – Rib stories
1:15:32 – Conclusion/Plugs
1:26:08 – Show ends

Show Highlights

Introduction: Austin said he is settling into training and his diet as well as successfully laying off the alcohol. He says that today’s guest will be former WWE time keeper & referee Mark Yeaton. Yeaton was a model employee during his WWE tenure and got roughed up on occasion, taking a few Stunners from Austin. He says he wishes someone took a count of how many beers were thrown to him and how many he caught; because he thinks his catching percentage was extremely high. He used to signal what kind of throw he wanted to Yeaton with a head nod or a hand gesture.

In an update on the skunk saga at the Broken Skull Ranch, Austin said that Hershey’s nose has just started to heal up and she’s just started to lose the odour from getting sprayed by a skunk a few weeks ago. The skunk is living underneath the house and they can hear it moving around at night. Kristen joins, and they discuss how skunks don’t like light, so they’re considering putting floodlights underneath the house to flush the skunk out and catch it. Austin jokes about how he was cleaning his deer hunting rifle and Kristin thought he was going to use it to hunt the skunk. Austin says that the skunk made it personal when he sprayed Hershey they continue to discuss methods of getting rid of it.

Interview starts: Starting in the business: Austin welcomed Yeaton to the show and asked him what he’s up to these days. Yeaton said he’s just working a local job and staying at home looking after his farm. He’s lived in Pennsylvania for 20 years and has a 50 acre farm there where he keeps several animals.

Austin asked him how he got started working for WWE. Yeaton said he wasn’t a wrestling fan but he had a friend who worked for the company who asked him to come and help set up a ring and that’s when he started working for them. After working on the ring crew, he started working as a referee in 1985 when another referee didn’t turn up to a show and Chief Jay Strongbow asked him if he wanted to fill in. He worked as a referee for 12 years. His first match was scary. He got thrown out of the ring by Bob Orton and felt fine at the time but thinks that was due to adrenaline because he felt sore and found it difficult to move the next morning.

The business was very kayfabe heavy when he first started, so he wasn’t allowed in the locker room and on the occasions he did have to go in, everybody would immediately stop speaking. It took a while to get to know the workers and the business, but after he became a referee it started to come together more smoothly. Dave Hebner took him under his wing and showed him the ropes, teaching him how to referee at shows. He says that it’s a different business these days with the internet; you can’t do as much as you could when he started. They kept everything secret and it was better for the fans because everything was a surprise.

WWE Travel:  Austin asked Yeaton how he found the travel when he worked for WWE. Yeaton said that when he was working on the ring crew he would drive a ring truck, but when he was just refereeing he would travel with Jack Lanza, Dave Hebner and Tony Garea and the 4 of them would share a car.

Yeaton tells a story about when one of the ring crew stopped the truck at the side of the road to relieve himself, but they didn’t see that there was no shoulder because it was hidden by the snow, so the ring started to slide down the embankment. When they called a tow truck to pull it out, the ring truck pulled the tow truck down the embankment with it. They ended up having to call a big rig to pull it out, but they got to the show on time.

There was another incident where he was travelling with Tony Chimel and he had a blow out, losing control of the car and sending it across 5 lanes of the high way. Luckily nobody got hurt and it was after a show when they were on their way home so it didn’t cause them to miss anything.

There was another time in North Dakota when they weren’t sure if the ring was going to make it to the show due to bad weather conditions, so they sent 2 rings in. Both rings made it but they ended up cancelling the show because of heavy snow. Austin recalls a similar incident when WCW was in Pheonix and the ring made it but they sent the wrong ropes so they cancelled the show.

Drinking/Grind/Working overseas: When Austin asked if Yeaton was a drinker in his WWF days, he said that he was working 6-7 days a week and had to break the ring down and get to the next town after every show, so he didn’t get much time to party in between. Austin asked if the grind of the schedule ever got to Yeaton. He said he never had a meltdown and always found it fun and exciting. Knowing he had to be there kept him going and he never had time to think about breaking down.

Austin asks Yeaton if he preferred working overseas or in the States. Yeaton said that when they worked in Kuwait, it was awesome because they were there for a week and only had to set the ring up once and leave it set up for the week, loosening the ropes at the end of the day and tightening them again at the start of the next day. He said he also enjoyed the India tour because they worked 6 days but on the 7th day they got a bus to go and see the Taj Mahal. He got to see a lot of the world.

WWE Rings: Austin said that when he started working in the WWF, the rings were brutal. He heard that they were built so solidly because all the big guys who worked in WWF didn’t want the ring moving around too much so they made them tough, but then they reinvented them to make them more bump friendly. He asks Yeaton how the rings evolved.

Yeaton said that the rings were made the way they were to make them easy to transport. They were made from plywood quadrants with steel beams across them and a spring in the centre, which a lot of people assumed made bumping easier, but it could bottom out and make it worse. They discovered a ring in Alaska that was made with straight planks, and the natural spring in the board meant that there was no bottoming out and it made it better for bumping. Unfortunately, it meant that the ring trucks went from 10 foot to 24 foot, meaning that they had to get special licenses to drive them and pull into weigh stations, but it made it a lot better for the boys.

He wasn’t sure how the ring was discovered, they possibly acquired it when Vince was buying out other territories, but after bumping in it the wrestlers loved it, so they mentioned it to McMahon and they based the designs of their rings on it after that and that’s the type of ring they still use to this day. Austin says that a lot of people assume that the ring is like a trampoline because of the spring, but he says that when you bump you know if it’s a good ring or a bad ring, and there were rings were a plank would pop up leaving a hole in the ring causing wrestlers to injure their knees.

When Yeaton started, the ring had a steel frame with a spring in the centre with four 4×10 ply wood quadrants meeting at the centre plate that each got 5-6 steel beams across them. On top of that was an inch and a half of foam padding and the canvas. The new rings have a steel frame with cross members going in both directions and 20 foot wooden planks that go all the way across the ring with no spring in the centre.

As a referee he was frequently dropping to the mat to make counts and occasionally taking moves from the wrestlers and he feels the effects every day when he wakes up. He says that the wrestlers will suffer more because they do a lot more bumping than he did and he can’t imagine what they go through. He recalls a time that he was refereeing Austin’s match against Vader and he got in Austin’s way which earned him a Stunner. The worst bump he ever took which hurt the most was when Ken Shamrock gave him a belly to belly suplex on an old style ring. It knocked the wind right out of him and he couldn’t move.

His shoulder still hurts and he got bruised ribs when he was kicked in the chest. Triple H split his head open with a bell once and that gave him a couple of black eyes. He said that knowing he would be physically involved in a match and taking bumps from the wrestlers made it more exciting and made him feel like he was a bigger part of the show and he got satisfaction out of helping improve the match.

Hostile crowds/Kayfabe: Austin asked Yeaton if he would ever get angry at tag team wrestlers when they distracted him, causing him to miss the heels cheating, but the heat went to the referee instead of the wrestlers. He said not really and joked that if he did, they were much bigger than him so he wouldn’t say anything. There was one time when the heels won by cheating behind his back and the Samoans had to get him out of the ring under their protection because the fans were so angry that they were ready to kill him and they were throwing projectiles at him.

He said it was fun but it could get crazy in those days. He recalled a time at Nassau Coliseum when he was getting large batteries and cabbage heads thrown at him, and another time in Boston Garden when a bottle smashed next to his head. The fans were so crazy in those days because there was more kayfabed and it was all real to them. No one was going out there and saying what they say today so to the fans, the bad guys were really bad gays. Wrestlers were so concerned with kayfabe that even as a colleague it was years before he learned wrestler’s real names, he just knew them by their character names. They lived their gimmicks, so if they saw fans in a restaurant it wasn’t like today were they would give them an autograph, they behaved like a bad guy.

Favorite towns/MSG/Hulkamania: As a wrestler Austin had his favourite towns and he asked Yeaton what his favourite towns were as a referee. He liked to travel because he enjoyed taking in the scenery on the drives, but when it came to working, he always enjoyed the New England area. Boston was always his favourite town to work in. It’s his home town and the fans were always very loud and into it and you felt the energy in the air when you were there.

Austin said that Madison Square Garden was his second favourite place to work behind Chicago and asked Yeaton if he has any memories from working at MSG. When you go there it was always big. He didn’t really understand the significance because he didn’t grow up a wrestling fan, but the first time he realised he was part of something big was the first time they did MSG and they announced Hulk Hogan which made the hairs on his arm stand up and he felt the energy in the building explode. It was late ‘84, just before the first Wrestlemania during the rock n wrestling period. He worked every Wrestlemania apart from 1 and 6 up to Wrestlemania 30.

To work with Mr T, Roddy Piper and all the people involved in that match at Wrestlemania 2 was a huge adrenaline rush. You could feel that Hulkamania was huge with the people everywhere you went. They were doing 2 or 3 shows a day sometimes. One time he was doing a show in the morning and he jumped on a plane with Hogan and Beefcake to do another show straight afterwards and they were all sold out. Hogan was one of the few people who had theme music and was coming out to Eye Of The Tiger at the time. It was surreal.

WWE Pay/transition from referee to timekeeper/Role of a time keeper: Austin asked what the pay was like and whether the referees got a fixed payment or if it was based on a house percentage like it was for the wrestlers.  Yeaton said the refs didn’t get paid well when he first started and Dave Hebner had to haggle to get them more. What they got paid depended on how the agent felt that day. Their pay started to increase and they started to get a set amount that was proportional to the house, so if the show did well their money went up. He had an advantage over other wrestlers and referees because he was getting a weekly wage for being on the ring crew. He was driving the truck so he got his transportation and hotel paid for on top of getting paid for doing his job. Refereeing was a bonus.

Austin asked how the transition from referee to time keeper happened. Yeaton said he’s not sure how it came about first time, but back then as a time keeper he was the sole point of communication between the producers and the wrestlers and referees, and after doing it a couple of times they liked the way he did it and kept him in that role.

Austin likened it to a manager of a baseball team communicating with his team during a game. Yeaton said it’s similar but the difference is that he’d have to give them count downs for commercials etc. He just gave subtle hand gestures here and there so he wasn’t obviously being a producer in front of the fans. For example, when the time keeper before him needed to tell the wrestlers it was time to go home he would take his glasses off, and when he started as a time keeper he would signal it by putting a pencil in his mouth. If Vince wanted to change something during a match Yeaton would have to communicate it to them by discreetly telling the referee off camera.

When he couldn’t get the referees attention and he was counting down to a commercial break he’d just find a way to get their attention, or Jack Lanza would come down the aisle and flip his tie. Austin said Lanza took him under his wing and really helped him out when he joined the WWF in 1995. Lanza coming out and flipping his tie was almost like something that would happen at a house show. When Grizzly Smith used to run house shows in WCW, when it was time to go home he would go out and do a walking lap of the ring, casually flip his tie and then walk back and nobody thought anything of it. But if they didn’t go home because they were so involved in the match he would come out and do it again and if you didn’t go home after the second time, you were in trouble. Yeaton said that sometimes the producer would tell him to just ring the bell in his headset. There was a match on Raw where the finish didn’t make air because the wrestlers didn’t get the signals and just kept going. The talent got the heat for it because they just wanted to keep going get their high spots in. Yeaton kept bell time and Kevin Dunne kept segment time in the production truck. When he rang the bell to start the match he’d hit a stop watch and he’d hit it again when the match ended and he’d mark the times on a sheet.

Matches that go over time: Austin told a story about a match he had with Chris Benoit on an episode of Raw where they weren’t really given enough time to tell a story and Austin wasn’t happy with the match. They were booked to face each other again the next night at Smackdown and Austin told Benoit to follow his lead and go home when he said to go home and if anyone gets angry about it he would take the heat. They were meant to go 12-14 minutes and ended up going 24 minutes. He asked Yeaton what happens in a situation like that where wrestlers go way over their time limit.

Yeaton says they have to make a decision on which match to scrap from the card. If it turns out to be a good match and they want everyone to see it, they will cut somebody else’s match to give you that time, for example a divas match. They have to redistribute the time and recalculate the whole show.

Austin said that back then the women’s matches might not have been considered to be as important but there’s been a real revolution and things have changed. He asked Yeaton if he still watches the show and specifically if he’s been watching the women’s division. Yeaton said that he hasn’t seen a show since he left but he has a lot of friends who follow it and he’s heard a lot of good things.

Austin asked Yeaton if he still keeps in touch with any of his old WWE colleagues. He’s friends with a few of them on Facebook and they converse and send cards at Christmas and birthdays. They live far apart so don’t hear from each other a lot. He keeps in touch with some of the talent including JBL.

Missing the business/The Undertaker: Austin said that when he left the business he had a hard time making the transition and getting away from it. He asked Yeaton if he missed it when he left. Yeaton said he’s at peace with himself and has suffered a lot less stress since he left. He gets to go home with his wife and sleep in his own bed every night which is a nice thing.

He misses the traveling sometimes because he got to see a lot of the world. He still referees indie shows sometimes and tries to help them out as much as he can with what he’s learned over the years, so he still keeps in touch with the business.

He sells wrestling figures at Keeping Time Collectables in Pennsylvania. He’s been doing it for about 8 years and they also sell memorabilia from Star wars, Star Trek, Walking Dead etc. It’s been going for about 8 years. A few wrestlers have been there to do signings including Sheamus, John Morrison, Rey Mysterio, Batista and Kane.

Austin said that he always knew Mark Calloway was going to be a big star but nobody knew what to do with him and when he made his debut in WWF, it was legitimately scary. He asked Yeaton what his thoughts were on The Undertaker when he debuted. He agrees with Austin that it was genuinely scary and said that Calloway played the part very well. He never broke kayfabe and when he went through that curtain he believed that he was The Undertaker. It was impossible to make him crack a smile or break character in any way. He never dreamed that a character like that would last for so long.

Advice for aspiring referees/Favorite people to work with: Austin said he had an email from a listener who was interested in being a referee and asks what Yeaton’s advice to him would be. Yeaton advises them to start on the Indy shows and get out there to learn the rules and how to referee. Watch refs on tv and see what they do. The referees are a big part of the match and if they’re not there, it takes a lot away. They have to be heavily involved in the match while being out of the way at the same time so there’s a lot to learn about being a referee. He should try to referee a couple of local shows in his area to see what it’s like. A lot of people think it looks fun and easy, but It’s a lot more physical than you realise and not as easy as it looks. Austin said that he’s refereed matches and agrees that it’s not easy and there’s an art to it.

Austin asks Yeaton if he had any favorite people to work with. Macho Man was always fun to work with and he requested Yeaton a few times because he knew he’d get out of his way quickly. He also liked to work with The Undertaker because he enjoyed selling the fear of him. He had fun doing the little people matches back in the day. Wrestling was very different in the 80s than it is today, they had a lot more fun in the ring and now it’s more of a business. Austin says it was a still a business and they would book the shows but let you fill in the blanks, and these days it seems like there’s not very many blanks to fill in because they’ve filled them in for you.

Throwing beers to Austin: Austin says he’s lost count of how many times he’s been asked who was throwing him beers. He asks Yeaton when it was that they started doing that. Yeaton says that He says he doesn’t remember where it came from but they tried it one night and it worked so it stayed for a long time. He just used to make sure he had enough beer or he’d get knocked out.

Austin asks if he ever stiffed Yeaton with any of the working punches or Stunners he delivered to him. Yeaton says that he took care of him every time and he was always very good with him. One time after the Montreal screw job, Austin was wrestling Mick Foley and he grabbed Yeaton by his tie and dragged him in the ring and cut a promo on him and a couple of the lines he could remember were “put a little bass in your voice you’re starting to piss me off” and “you can always get another job but you can’t get another life if you screw me.” But the guys always took care of him and he always appreciated it. He still feels the after effects of refereeing but apart from one or 2 occasions he didn’t get hurt by wrestlers.

Austin said that there were a few occasions when someone else was throwing him the beer and he’d ask where Yeaton was because he was his quarterback and if it wasn’t him throwing the beer, it felt a little bit off. Yeaton said that Austin was a great catcher and he was always afraid of the beers going into the crowd and hitting somebody, but Austin never let it happen.

Austin said that people always ask him if it was real beer he was drinking and he said it always was except for one occasion when they were in Montreal when it was non-alcoholic beer. The pictures from that event started making the rounds on the internet and everybody saw it and thought it was always non-alcoholic beer.

He said there were a lot of times where he’d leave the ring with a little bit of a buzz because of all the beers he drank. Austin said Goldberg didn’t drink, so Austin ribbed him by throwing him several beers to get him buzzed because he had to drink them to keep up his gimmick. Yeaton said that sometimes he didn’t know how Austin even managed to walk away from the ring after all the beer he drank. Austin jokes that towards the end of his career he got paid to drink beer and he wrestled on the side.

Rib stories: Austin asks Yeaton if he’s got any classic rib stories from the road. Yeaton says that he woke up one time in the locker room with his feet on fire in the Mr Fuji days. Another time he woke up on an aeroplane with a glass of water filled to the brim between his legs. A lot of them he can’t mention on air due to their explicit nature.

Austin says that there were a few ribs in WCW that were more malicious. If you were on an overseas trip in the UK or Germany, and you fell asleep on the bus, you were losing your eyebrows. So there were a lot of guys on those WCW shows with missing eyebrows. Yeaton says in WWE there were some eyebrows shaved, smiley faces drawn on with a sharpie and even a pony tail cut off.

Austin said if there was an unlocked padlock at a show, it would often end up on someone’s bags or through all the belt loops in their jeans. The German ring announcer had the arms and legs of his tuxedo tied in knots and someone had their whole suitcase including their passport placed in a bathtub full of water as a receipt for saying bad things publicly about one of the talent that he shouldn’t have said. Most of them were fun but they could get a little malicious.

Austin said that he didn’t like to be ribbed and he didn’t rib anybody but he was down to watch the fun ones. Fuji and Curt Hennig were famous for it but you almost couldn’t get mad at Curt because he had that devilish smile on his face that could light up any room he was in. Yeaton said that once at Titan Towers he heard a ‘ppppssstt’ sound and saw Vince stood by a car letting the air out of the tires. Owen Hart was another classic ribber but he was funny with it and it would improve morale.

Score and Review

Score (9.0): This was an excellent show with many cool wrestling stories spanning several eras. Having worked as ring crew, a referee and a time keeper, Yeaton has a unique perspective and there was a lot of interesting insight into aspects of the wrestling business that don’t get discussed very often. His explanations of the evolution of WWE ring construction and the roles of a time keeper were fascinating.


 

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S PODCAST RECAP: Steve Austin & Ted Fowler talk about pro wrestling, hunting, drinking including respecting the animals, dog companions, Al Snow, Jim Ross, WWF nicknames

 

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