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Here’s why Bully Ray Dudley is right about AEW’s referee problem

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Officiating is part of storytelling and it should be consistent

All Elite Wrestling

Bully Ray Dudley made the headlines this week with a few choice words for the walking, talking, timberland boot in the flesh known as Eddie Kingston. But that wasn’t the most interesting part of Wednesday’s (June 30) edition of Busted Open Radio. Bully and Tony Khan got into a bit of a back and forth over AEW’s inconsistent officiating.

If there’s one chink in AEW’s armor to flip tables over, it’s the refereeing. No disrespect to any of their refs, who are good at the job of pro wrestling referees. This has nothing to do with them and everything to do with how AEW uses them. Straight up and down, AEW’s refereeing is consistently inconsistent.

Wrestling is storytelling. That’s the reason we’re all here and why the thing exists. Everything that happens in the ring is a part of a tale told to the arena audience and those of us watching at home. And not just one match. One wrestling event is a collection of stories inside the same universe, all operating within the rules of that world. The referees, as a part of that world, are just as integral as the wrestlers. So, when a standard tag team match devolves into a tornado tag where anything goes, seemingly out of nowhere, it makes me scratch my head a bit.

This happens way too often when the Young Bucks hit the ring, with the refs acting as innocent bystanders in a traffic accident rather than authority figures. I get it. The Bucks mastered the art of the double team, and they run their offense like the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns teams of a decade ago. But if AEW wants to highlight that, then there are ways to do so without drawing attention to the cavalier enforcement of the rules.

TK mentioned the 20-second rule for their tag matches during his convo with the other Dudley brother. What he didn’t say is how the law feels more like a guideline than an actual mandate. Way too frequently, the ref’s count is interrupted by more chaos and buckets of anarchy. They lose track of the legal wrestler and become glorified traffic cops.

Wrestling offense, even an exciting offense, shouldn’t come at the expense of the rules. In fact, it makes for a more potent offense when it’s executed within set parameters. I did a little dance when AEW instituted time limits for its matches. Giving each bout an allotted amount of time increases the drama and provides a sense of urgency. No offense, but it’s a lot better than watching two cats waltz around the ring at their leisure only to suddenly shift gears.

We’ve seen what happens when time expires. The result drew more than a few boo birds out of the audience, but the company showed it’s not just paying lip service to the rule. More importantly, the time limit draw finish is used as a storytelling device that takes us from one point to another. That same logic should apply every time a referee counts to 20 during a tag match. Right now, AEW’s wrinkle in standard tag rules only serves to allow more double teams, which lead to action spilling outside of the ring, and an utterly confused ring official stuck in the middle.

Jim Ross is sometimes everyone’s favorite punching bag when he makes mistakes, but he’s spot on when he calls out the parallel dimension AEW’s refs appear to occupy. The bad guys are supposed to cheat, but are the refs supposed to miss that much chicanery? If one team uses the tag rope, but the other doesn’t, isn’t that a reason to establish the rules of engagement?

Cody Rhodes talked about letting everyone “play their music” in an AEW ring, which has its merits. There isn’t an All Elite Wrestling house style like the one in WWE, which is good. That said, part of dope storytelling is finding the framework for various approaches to flourish. If one team, like the Lucha Bros., wrestles in a completely different manner than, say, FTR, their match should highlight those differences the right way and play to each team’s strengths. Instead of putting them in a traditional tag match, throw in a disqualification stipulation where anything goes. Everyone doesn’t have to play the same music, but the tunes should mesh together in a seamless medley.

If the rules are loosely enforced, then apply that logic across the board. If the refs are sticklers for what happens inside the ring, then keep it uniform from the main event to the opening act. Playing fast and loose with the rules and treating each match on a case by case basis just means nothing truly matters.