WCW Finger Poke of Doom

Billy Silverman Reflects On Career As A Referee For WWE & WCW, Finger Poke Of Doom & More

Former WWE and WCW referee Billy Silverman recently appeared as a guest on the Wrestling Epicenter podcast for an in-depth interview covering all things pro wrestling.

Featured below are some of the highlights.

On working WrestleStock in Tampa on WrestleMania Weekend: “I am excited. For me, especially, because I am going to get to meet and see so many people that I’ve worked with throughout my career that I haven’t seen in 10 to 15 years. I think it is going to be a great event for all of us that are or were in the business as well as for the fans. The fans are going to get to meet some great guys who were in the business. And, these guys, and girls, are great and are going to love sharing their stories and memories with the fans. That is why I’m looking so forward to WrestleStock.”

On it being great to get back out there and do something since the start of the pandemic: “It is! I just found it so isolating. I’m surprised I never got COVID because I just never really followed all the COVID guidelines. I just wasn’t one that was going to allow myself to become isolated or distanced from my friends just because there was COVID going on.”

On how he got involved in wrestling: “I guess it is a lot of different things. My father’s best friend growing up was a man named Sam Michaels. Sam Michaels was promoter for Maine and New Hampshire for Vince McMahon Jr’s father, Vince Sr. So, I was always kind of around it growing up. I got to go to a lot of the matches, my father and I got to sit front row, I got to meet a lot of the wrestlers… Chief Jay Strongbow, Tony Garea, Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, Stan Stasiak… Just to name a few! Gorilla Monsoon, Ivan Koloff… I just always was around it and I always loved watching wrestling. And then, as I got older and I went to college, I kind of got out of watching wrestling. Then, somethign strange…. Well, not really strange. Sam Michaels partnered with Mario Savoldi and Bill Witschi who owned Bill Witschi’s Sports Arena, There were some other people involved.They started ICCW which became ICW (which later became IWCCW). Again, I was always around it and Sam Michaels’ son John Michaels was a friend of mine and he was a state legislature. So, after I graduated college where I went for 4 years to get a degree in business management, I was always around it again. I was helping put up the ring, putting up signs and posters… That kind of started and from there, I don’t remember how but I remember I wanted to do something in the business. But, I wasn’t big or large enough to be a wrestler. I don’t remember how it came to be. But, Mario Savoldi, his cousin Tommy Fernini who was the main referee for ICCW and ICW as it morphed into, asked me if I wanted to learn how to be a referee. I was like, “Yeah! Sure!” Not a lot of training from him. I had watched it so much, it kind of came naturally to me. It kind of took on a life of its own from there. I was just very blessed to have the talent and knowledge of the business or maybe not the business but of what went on in the ring to really shine. From there, people just really saw that and gave me opportunities.”

On standing out as a referee: “Richard Herring at the New York State Athletic Commission saw me at a Savoldi show and told me he wanted to get me a referee’s license. At that time, those were not just given out. They were very political licenses. You had to be connected to somebody. For me to get one was beyond incredible. He helped me to get a license because he thought I could be a service to the Athletic Commission when it was active. Then, there was a law where you had to hire two or three licensed referees for an event. Most of those guys were older and maybe were not so great at what they did. So, him seeing what I could do in that ring, he felt I could really be of service to a lot of the promoters in New York who did not really like paying the Commission for referees. Once Richard Herring saw me… And now he works for the WWE, he got me seen by WWF at the time and got me booked in New York. I used to work from Staten island to Long Island all the way up to Niagra Falls because he would rather they use me than for them to pay X amount of dollars for something they didn’t get any value for.”

On his work with WWE in the 80’s and 90’s: “I was blessed to have worked a lot there off contract for years. But, through that, I pretty much owned the East Coast as a refereee. I worked from Maine to Pennsylvania and maybe as far out as Ohio. A lot of these promotions would have their brother’s friend or their Uncle or somebody’s somebody be the referee. (laughs) But, I know it takes 3 components to make a good match. That is a babyface, a heel, and a referee. That is what it takes. So, the Independent promoters would see me and also see me on New York (WWF) TV and see themselves as legitimate by having me there. So, the promoters would have a few guys off of WWF TV like Nailz or Kerry Von Erich and they would pay them between $500 and $1,000 but would have a referee that was somebody’s cousin or somebody’s something and didn’t know what they were doing. And then, Afa and the Wild Samoans started their promotion and they started using me and they trained me. I owe them a lot. I really am so blessed to have had the breaks I’ve had because. without those breaks, it doesn’t really matter how talented you are or were, you couldn’t have the career that I’ve had.”

On working under Herb Abrams in the UWF: “Herb Abrams didn’t have a really huge run. But, I am on a box cover where you can see my face counting on the box cover of the only PPV he ran called Beach Brawl which was down here in Palmetto Beach, Florida. I’m on the VHS box cover counting “Dr. Death’ Steve Williams and Bam Bam Bigelow. That was another really big highlight for me.”

On working AWF Warriors of Wrestling shows and their infamous Round System: “I didn’t really understand it. For me, it was like boxing. I’m kind of like, “This is kind of weird!” For me, I didn’t feel comfortable with how it was laid out and the timing of it. They would have high spots going on and the bell would ring. That is probably in how it was produced to where the person ringing the bell or keeping the time didn’t understand when to cut the match. They should have let the 15 second time go 20 or 25 seconds so they could really get the high spots in and then bring the wrestlers to the corner. I really think the Americna fan base he was trying to capture didn’t understand the round system. You know what I mean?”

On Terry Taylor noticing him in the CBS aired AWF promotion: “One of the reasons I enjoyed working for Phil Alpersteen (AWF owner) was that… I had worked with Terry Taylor a little bit in the WWF. But, Terry was there in the AWF helping out with TV. I think he was just a general helper trying to help get the product off the ground. Terry said to me, “Billy, I really like your work and if I’m ever in a position to help you, I will.” I remember thinking that was really nice for him to say. But, if I had a quarter for every time someone said something like that to me, I’d be a multi-millionaire! (laughs)”

On working the raunchy WWF Shotgun Saturday Night: “I went back to WWF and was working Shotgun Saturday Night. Every Saturday night, they were doing shows from bars in New York. It was just the coolest thing! They had one that was in Grand Central Station. I’ll never forget it. I worked a match with Triple H and The Undertaker going up an escalator! That was about the wildest thing I ever did!”

On finishing up with WWF in 1997 and Terry Taylor Making Good on his Promise: “I worked WrestleMania 13 and right after that, it was really right after that, they told me that they weren’t going to have a spot for me anymore. I said “OK!” I think I had done 2 or 3 tapings for them after that. But, they weren’t going to have a spot for me after that. Just before my last taping, I got a call from Terry Taylor who had become a booker, at the time, with WCW. He said, “I’d like to hire you and bring you in.” I was flabbergasted! You just never think something like that is going to happen to you because I was literally just about to do what I knew was my last taping for the WWF.”

On joining WCW: “I was there for the entire Nitro era, 6 and a half, almost 7 years until it closed. I was so blessed to have the opportunities I had. I got to work with Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Triple H, Fabulous Moolah….”

On Fabulous Moolah being unfairly judged: “Fabulous Moolah was all business in the ring but outside of the ring, she was one of the sweetest women… Maybe the sweetest women I’ve ever met from the wrestling business. Lillian was a first class act and I don’t care what anybody said about her. She was a woman in a man’s business and she stillw as able to eek out a career. And, she helped so many women have a career that never would have been able to have careers if it wasn’t for her and her school. I was a little troubled when they (WWE) decided to not have her name associated the Women’s Battle Royal. Her career spoke for itself and she was no longer here to defend herself. It is easier to defame someone when they’re no longer here. She did a lot for women’s wrestling. She was a trail-blazer. She was the standard bearer for women’s wrestling for years and years and years.”

On what his greatest match was: “I would say all the matches I refereed was the greatest matches I was a part of because they were all great in some way or that I learned something from being involved with or that I was able to be in the ring with some of the greatest stars in the world and of all time.”

On the infamous “Finger Poke of Doom” match he refereed with “Hollywood” Hogan versus Kevin Nash: “That was such an incredible time. For 83 weeks in a row, Nitro was beating RAW. You feel like you’re a part of something so big, it is larger than life. I didn’t feel I was in a position to question it (the finish to the match) nor would I have questioned it. I felt that what they did was what they felt was best for business at the time. Good, bad, or indifferent – That is not for me to decide. I just honored and humbled to be a part of that and being a part of that history. Being in there with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and being in there with Kevin Nasho who were unquestionably two fo the biggest stars in the entire industry at that time. It was beyond an honor. It was so incredible. Do i think it was a part of the crumbling of the foundation of WCW? Again, I don’t know. There were a lot of things after that which lead to the demise of WCW. Could it have been? Sure. Could it have been differently, better? Sure. Hindsight is always 20/20.”

On Eric Bischoff and his going into the WWE Hall of Fame: “There was so much going on and they were trying to maintain that 83 Weeks of ratings victories. Another person I have a lot of respect for and owe a lot to, aside from Terry Taylor and Kevin Sullivan, is Eric Bischoff. I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me to be a part of the TV and the production that it was every week. I was there. I don’t think people realize how many people are involved and how much is involved in putting on a production like Nitro each and every week. On top of that, they branched out to Thunder and they had WCW Saturday Night. For Eric and company to be able to produce that much TV as well as trying to come up with compelling storylines as well as appeasing some people who didn’t want to do certain things or didn’t agree with the booking – I think they did an incredible job. Being there and seeing it, and I was around so many great wrestling minds, I don’t think people ever give Eric (Bischoff) the credit he deserves for what he did. He’s going in the WWE Hall of Fame and rightfully so. And, I’m surprised by that. Not because he doesn’t deserve it but because he wasn’t a product of WWF. He is definitely WCW all the way. Even though he had a run in WWF or WWE, I don’t think anyone associates him as a WWE product. But, just to be able to observe everything he was able to do, it was mind blowing! It really and truly was amazing to see what he created and how he created it.”

On having his own trading card: “It is mind blowing! I was able to get my own trading card, I was in a movie – Ready to Rumble! I was the referee for the movie and to be a part of that, to see it, and to be treated the way I was truly was incredible. I’ve seen people online bidding for my trading card for $200 sometimes $300! For my career to mean that much to someone else is surreal.”.

Check out the complete interview below.


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