Exclusive: Brian Hebner on Potentially Returning to Wrestling, AEW, CM Punk Situation, Impact, and More

(Photo Credit: Impact)

One of the all-time great referees and host of the podcast “Refin’ It Up,” Brian Hebner joined me for an exclusive interview. We discussed numerous topics including his podcast “Refin’ It Up”, AEW, Impact, CM Punk, Steve Maclin, his Dad, Earl Hebner, and more.

Below is the complete PWMania.com interview with Brian Hebner:

Your podcast “Refin’ It Up” is doing really well right now. How did “Refin’ It Up” come about and how did you and RJ hook up for that podcast?

“Well, first of all, it is doing very, very well and I’m very, very pleased and just can’t believe the short amount of time we’ve been doing it and the amount of following that we have and listeners, it’s just absolutely amazing. So doing very well. And I’m very, very pleased. And me and RJ kind of got together, I would say through Twitter. And something I’ve been thinking about doing was a podcast as well. I just wasn’t sure how to handle it which way to go. Well, all of a sudden out of nowhere comes Mr. RJ messaging me and kind of asking me questions and letting me know the things that he can do and would be willing to do and all that kind of stuff. It just kind of was me saying okay, let’s give it a whirl. We gave it a whirl. And here we are. I don’t know how many episodes, well I’m not sure how many episodes but I know we’ve done close to 30 at this point. And we haven’t even done it a year.”

It’s a terrific Podcast. I’m an avid listener of it. I really enjoy it, you guys do a great job.

“Thank you very, very much. And if there’s ever anything that you want us to change that you don’t like, or there’s something that you really, really like and want us to do more of just please let us know. We’re very open-minded and don’t mind constructive criticism.”

So what’s your favorite and least favorite thing about doing a weekly podcast?

“I don’t have any. The only thing is you got to find time, it’s kind of like work, you know what I mean? So we typically tape on Tuesdays, and our podcast drops on Wednesdays. But, sometimes it’s just like after a long day because RJ has a normal regular day job that he works all day. I help run a family business now that I’m not at wrestling and devoting my time to my family. And after a long day, for me as well, it’s just kind of hard to sit down at 7:30 at night and start digging into an hour and a half podcasts where you got to really start thinking all over again. To me, it’s not a dreaded thing. It’s just more of trying to find the time to get there and get your body and mind right because if you’re having a bad day on that day you can’t translate that on your podcast, you know what I mean? It’s got to be upbeat, where people understand and want to be excited about listening, they don’t care about your bad day, or whatever it may be. So the most exciting thing about it is getting to really dig deep into these wrestlers brains and figure out who they really are for the listeners. Me personally, a lot of them I already knew and know but people that are listening do not so that’s a huge, huge excitement for me to be able to just like, really dig deep in there. And RJ he’s a true huge fan so I know that he enjoys that aspect of it too and really gets to probably ask questions that fans want to know more so than I do.”

Yeah, RJ was really marking out when you had Josh Alexander on.

“I didn’t think he was gonna get through it”. (laughs).

So you’ve had a lot of guests on, is there one dream guest that you hope to have on?

“No, not really. I think they’re all dream guests. I really think they’re all dream guests. I really do. Because you know, they’re all so busy and I’ve lived that world for over 20 plus years, 25 plus years, and I know how it is man, the last thing you want to do when you get home from off the road is talk to Brian Hebner an RJ, I get it but they’ve been so great and a lot of them have been very, very appreciative and actually have reached out to be on the show. So that’s awesome news too. So, I really would like to get in, I wouldn’t say it’s my dream, but I just think it would be really, really fun, fun podcast to get the Minivan of Love in the future. Some of the other podcasts that I’ve done, which you said you heard, you probably know what the Minivan of Love is, which is the old TNA van that used to travel around the roads during house shows. I’d like to get that together and obviously, that’s gonna be hard to do with Don West having bad health issues, and then I’d also like to get Charles Robinson on with maybe Corderas and Tony Chimel and Mike Chioda. I think that’d be a fun podcast.”

A recent guest was Steve Maclin, would you say the WWE dropped the ball when they let him go?

“Oh, absolutely. The guy’s a hell of a talent. And he’s only getting better. And I just think that when you have a person that’s so passionate about the business as the way he is, and you’ll hear it when you listen to the podcast, the guy is just all in and just has no fear and wants to really just be the best there is. And I don’t think that guy has a mentality where he’s not going to be the best he can be.”

Could you see him holding the Impact Wrestling World Title in 2023?

“I do. I really do. I just think that they need to really put a rocket on him and I really need to see more of him. For me personally, I need to see more of him in the ring. You know, in-ring stuff. As far as interviews and cutting promos, I need to see more of that. They’ve been doing a really good job with him backstage lately, you know, obviously a month or so ago that we’re doing a lot with him back there. I just need to see more of Maclin. I need to see more of him.”

Switching gears to AEW, Jeff Jarrett made his AEW debut. What are your thoughts on Jeff Jarrett joining AEW?

“I’m proud of him, man, the guy never stops. To be honest with you, I think that’s the best hire that they’ve had to date. WWE had him hired to be in charge of live events and now they have him in that same role at AEW, and there’s nobody better. He knows the grassroots and knows how to really get that market going. I’ll guarantee you in 2023, AEW will be hitting the road hard. And I guarantee there’ll be doing in my estimation between 10 to 12 house shows a month is just what I believe.”

Do you think AEW has any chance of ever overtaking WWE as the number one promotion?

“No, never.”

What do you think Impact Wrestling needs to do to close the gap between them and AEW?

“I just think they need a bigger platform. They need a bigger television deal. They have everything. Everything is right there. They just need a bigger deal. And I think that if they were to get on a bigger platform, I think they could be just as big as AEW. And you asked me the question about AEW being bigger than WWE. WWE is a big machine man. It’s almost like saying do you think this new beer, that somebody puts out, like Stone Cold’s beer is ever going to catch Miller Lite, it’s not going to catch Miller Lite. Miller Lite has been around forever. You know, and there’s too much money. And it’s just something that they’ll never be able to do. I mean, AEW, hovers around 1 million viewers every single week. I mean, that’s great but that’s not good because they’re not growing their audience, and you got to watch it grow, it’s just not doing that.”

Do you think we could see Impact Wrestling with a new TV deal anytime soon? Have you heard anything about that by chance?

“No, I haven’t heard anything, but I mean, I know obviously working in the business so long that companies shop them, wrestling companies shop networks and that’s just part of the game. When you’re in a long-term deal, such as WWE, they’re not going to be shopping for anything anytime soon. AEW, they’re coming up soon, I believe and I think that’s going to be an issue where they’re shopping as well. So is Impact shopping networks? I’m sure they are.  Are they scratching anywhere close? I have no idea about that. But AXS TV actually owns Impact so that makes it tough too. So I don’t know it’s just really weird, even if they went syndicated like Ring of Honor used to do that would be even better. Because you know, the WOW, the Women of Wrestling actually got bigger numbers than Impact, which is to me, okay, great for the women and I’m not saying otherwise. I’m just saying it’s kind of sad, because Impact has got a great product right now. I mean, I really believe it’s the easiest program to watch on television right now. As far as storylines, as far as making sense things of that nature. I just, I truly believe it’s one of the best products out right now. And it just deserves more, that’s all.”

With bridges burned in WWE and AEW, do you think we’ll ever see CM Punk back in a wrestling ring?

“That’s really weird. John Alba put a tweet out of something to this degree for this question and I backed it 100%. I’m still gonna say it, I don’t see any reason for him to get back into a wrestling ring. I think he has burned his bridge at both major companies. I don’t think nobody wants a s**t disturber in their locker room and a guy who goes into business for himself. And I’m not saying that’s the kind of guy he is but that’s the kind of guy he’s shown he is. So I don’t know. I’m sure that guy’s got money. So I don’t think there’s any need for him really to get into a ring. So to answer your question with one word as opposed to a long word of sentences, would be no.”

So you don’t think Scott D’Amore would make an offer? Do you think he would ever accept an offer from Impact Wrestling? Maybe a one or two-match deal. CM Punk vs. Josh Alexander?

“For the right money, yeah, absolutely. Is that something that Impact can afford? I don’t know. But is it something that they would do? Absolutely they would do it, yeah, sure. So if you’re saying if all that was to be number-wise, okay. For CM Punk, per se, to do a one-off two-off whatever it may be? Yeah, sure. Then I could see him getting back in the ring. But otherwise, no, I don’t.

What advice would you give to anyone that would like to pursue a career as a pro wrestling referee?

“Well, the first thing I would say is that you need to be taught properly, you need to go to a good school, viable school, that will teach you the proper way to referee a wrestling match. There are so many guys that are actually on TV right now that don’t deserve to be on TV. There are certain people that just have not been trained properly and it just translates to really just (expletive) wrestling. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that. I’m sorry.  But you need to do a lot of work, any work, you need to do a lot of anything you can do, and you need to be trained properly. And then once you’re trained properly, you need to take a video of what you’ve done properly on the indie scene, or house shows or dark matches, or whatever it may be, and you need to send those videos out to people. And that’s the way to get your foot in the door. But I can tell you, it’s a very, very hard thing to do to get your foot in the door. But you do have to do it by first being trained properly if you’re going to be on a WWE stage or even an Impact stage, AEW not so much. But if you’re going to be in those two promotions, they want and expect referees that know what they’re doing and trained properly.”

In Your opinion who’s the greatest professional wrestling referee of all time?

“My Dad.”

Speaking of your Dad, I was doing research, and back in 2006, I wasn’t aware that you and your Dad went one on one in a hair versus hair match for TNA Capital Punishment. So what led to that match? And how did it feel stepping into the ring with your Dad?

“It was fun, man. It was real fun. I think he was really, really nervous. And, you know, I put it all together, which I did the best I could, you remember this is a much older man and I was a much younger guy but it was fun. It was like a matter of a storyline where I was tired living in his shadows and basically just called him a piece of crap and yada yada. And so they just kind of built this together. We’re here in Richmond in our own hometown, which would actually help sell tickets, I’m sure and we just put a little match together. We had Christy Hemme do the refereeing duties. And it was fun. It wasn’t the greatest match. I’ll tell you that so I don’t hope your listeners don’t go out and readers don’t go out and just want to watch this match and think it’s going to be stellar because it’s not stellar, that’s for sure. But it did the job, we put in the time and we did good and by the way, Earl Hebner got his head shaved. So who do you think won that?”

Did you watch the twin referee angle during the Hogan/Andre match in 1988 with your Dad and your Uncle? You were probably a kid back then. But what were your initial thoughts about seeing your Dad and Uncle in the ring fighting each other?

“Well, the quick story to tell you before I get into that one question you have, my Dad called me that night it was actually that evening or that day, just let’s just say that day and told me to watch Saturday Night Live or Saturday Night Main Event. Well, I was really kind of perplexed by the suggestion because my Dad was in the NWA. My Uncle was in the WWF at the time. So I wasn’t quite sure why he wanted me to watch my Uncle David. Then I started watching it. And then I figured that my Dad wanted me to watch it because it was a big match Hogan versus Andre. So I was like, well, maybe he’s just proud of his brother and just wanted me to check it out. Well, as he’s working, I’m noticing that my Uncle David had lost some weight in my opinion, I was just like, he looks smaller, still not thinking to myself that’s my father. And I’m just watching and watching and I’m like, this does not look like David. And I’m just thinking it’s the camera, whatever it may be. And then finally, we get to that ultimate spot where Hogan goes down with the Andre thing. One, two, he obviously kicks out at one and a half and he keeps counting and then the s**t is on. Well, then you notice all the rest of it happens and then I’m like, in shock when I see my Uncle David and my Dad face to face. It was just an amazing moment as a kid, that’s your Dad, and your Uncle on Saturday Night Main Event live, facing off against each other. And then, you know, the rest is history. It was just, yeah, it was really cool. Man, the next day at school was a pretty wild, one for me.”

Yeah, it was a great match. I remember watching it live. I couldn’t believe what was going on. Hogan threw your Dad over the top rope onto everybody. Were you scared or nervous for your Dad when you saw him getting thrown by Hulk Hogan onto everybody on the outside?

“Well, no, because you have to remember so the way it was done is because once my Dad hit David, Hogan knew that he was the evil ref. That’s when he grabbed him by his bowtie at the time, no shirt but the bowtie, and did the ol’ oh, yeah, this is you and then ultimately picks him up over his head, throws him outside the ring over the top onto Ted DiBiase, Virgil. I don’t remember who else was out there. But anyway, Hogan overshot him and my Dad landed on his shoulder and actually really did have to have legit shoulder surgery and was out for about six or eight months. So, at the time, no, I wasn’t worried about him. I just thought he would be alright. I was just excited. So I really wasn’t worried about his safety, to be honest with you.”

And it was a great, great moment in professional wrestling history. If you could go back in time and referee one old-school match, which match would it be and why?

“I don’t think there’s a match that I would like to go back and want to ref. One of my proudest moments ever was doing the Hogan versus Vince McMahon match. I think it was WrestleMania 19 in Seattle. I was honored to have been asked to do that match. And I don’t think that there’s any match ever bigger in wrestling, in my opinion than Hulk Hogan versus Vince McMahon. I just really don’t, as far as marquee goes. Hogan vs. Rock was big. Yeah, but is it bigger than Hogan and Vince? I don’t know. It’s debatable. And what match could you maybe name that would be bigger headline-wise?”

Hogan versus Andre at WrestleMania Three?

“Well, I mean that yes, but I’m talking,  I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just saying what match marquee would draw more than that marquee name of Vince McMahon, the creator, the owner of World Wrestling Federation, obviously his Dad, but then him, you know, the guy in charge. And then the biggest wrestler on the planet Hulk Hogan at that time. I mean, that’s huge. Don’t get me wrong. Hogan and Andre were huge. I mean, obviously, look at the numbers. But yeah, I mean, it’s just I’m just really proud of that, and refereeing that would have been really cool to know, I also would have loved to referee the Undertaker’s debut. That would have been really cool too at WrestleMania.”

Last question, in pro wrestling we say never say never. Would you ever consider returning to pro wrestling refereeing? And what would it take to bring you back?

“I’m not gonna say I would never come back as a referee. But I just don’t see that. I think it’s a decision I decided and wanted to make and cement myself in. And I know a lot of people would say, well, you went to the Top Guy show in Chicago and you refereed there. I had already taken that booking before I retired, so that’s why that happened. But I don’t want to be Tom Brady. I don’t want to be yeah I’m retired and jump back out of retirement. So I want to really be serious about it. You know, and if anything were to bring me back, I don’t know what it would be, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what it would be. I just really don’t know what it would be to get me out of retirement. I really don’t. The only thing that I would come out of retirement to do in the wrestling business would be if I was ever offered something backstage, such as being an agent, something like that, some degree of that. But I don’t know, I just I’m very happy with my decision. I’m very happy in life. I’m with my kids all the time I’m always at their games. I sleep in my bed every night. I’m not flying around. I’m not trying to figure out how to get a hotel. I’m not trying to figure out how to get a rental car. And the airports have changed so much since Covid and Covid has made it a nightmare. I don’t know if you’ve traveled lately since Covid but I can tell you it is a complete nightmare. My last trip out was, story telling that I made the right choice, me and my Dad were together we were going to Slammiversary the 20th anniversary of Impact Wrestling and of course our flight got all screwed up in New York City. We were stuck in New York City, we had to stay about literally five miles which means about an hour from the airport. And it was just a complete nightmare. We didn’t get into the day before, I mean, the day of the show instead of the day before, just a nightmare. We’ve stayed at a horrible hotel. It was just tall telling that I made the right call and it just let me know that I did make the right call because it was a travel day from hell. The show was great, everything was wonderful that day, though, and it was awesome. But it’s gonna take a lot if it ever does happen.”

(If you use any of these quotes please give a H/T to PWMania for the transcription)