Road Warrior Ref:George Ross Story

There are countless motivational memes that you will find on the internet or as you scroll through social media. Many say “keep grinding” or “put in the work.” The irony is that most of the those that post or share such things online only do so without ever getting off the couch to pursue those goals.

George Ross, Pittsburgh-based pro wrestling referee, isn’t one of those people. In fact, when I caught up with George just prior to the end of last year, he was on a four-day loop of events that saw him work cards in Michigan, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. His car, often with gas station coffee mugs strewn around the passenger seat, and a portable steamer to use on the apron at shows in the back seat, has over 200,000 miles on it, most of those accumulated when he spends a few hundred miles on the road each weekend to pursue the biggest opportunities possible in an effort to make it to the next level.

However, George’s dreams of pro wrestling glory started much closer to home, as did his eventual journey into the sport. Like so many, the youngster that would eventually wear the stripes into the ring, became glued to the action through his television screen in his elementary school years. The visuals of The Undertaker putting opponents into body bags in the WWF, as well as the over-the-top battle between Hulk Hogan and The Dungeon of Doom in WCW left an impression on him.

“Just the awe and the spectacle of all of it,” George explained of what hooked him on sports entertainment, as he stood next to a gas pump, refueling his vehicle on a chilly afternoon before he officiated bouts in McMechen, West Virginia.

Similar to many that find a role within the sport where they excel, George’s initial intention wasn’t actually to be a referee. He attended a slew of local events in Western, Pennsylvania, an area known almost as much for its wrestling as the steel it once produced. Brandon K, a veteran of the scene for more than 25 years and one of the most respected figured in the area, launched his Ryse Wrestling organization, along with a training center, in 2016. By the time George pursued the school in 2018, Brandon saw the natural poise that Ross had inside the ring, and knowing that a solid official was the glue of the match, the longtime veteran made the suggestion that Ross put on the referee stripes.

“When I began training, I actually had ambitions to be a heel manager. But, a few months into the process, Brandon K brought up the possibility of making me a referee for an indefinite basis on the Ryse shows. I ended up taking some initiative and went out to Dunham’s and bought a ref shirt. I ended up reffing a show in McKeesport a few weeks later for Fight Society, and I ended up liking it so much that I just stuck with it,” George commented.

Without the original intention of doing so, George quickly became one of the most consistent and quality officials in the Pittsburgh scene. He found his place to excel in the business, and it was in the role of the three counts that signaled victory for competitors. The ability to know where to be and when to be there are key to an official’s job, which is something that felt natural for Ross when he was the third participant in a segment.

“When you start reffing, the most common piece of advice you hear after you did a great job usually sounds something like. ‘I hardly noticed you were there.’ I’d argue that is what makes a good referee. Ideally, a good referee stays out of the way of the in-ring action, but knows the precise moment when they should be seen to accentuate a match’s big moments,” Ross remarked.

Within just a few years of his involvement in the sport, George began traveling to any card he could find work for and networking just for the chance to show his ability to add an extra level of drama to bouts when the time called for it. However, how the Pittsburgh-based official landed a spot as a staple of mid-west cards fits into the “only in pro wrestling” category.

“It actually came out of a personal quest to referee a match with Nick Gage. It was about a year or so following the incident with David Arquette, and I developed a morbid curiosity with deathmatch wrestling. I ended up hearing about Horror Slam Wrestling at an advertised all-hardcore bar show in Akron I reffed where their Deathmatch Title was defended. A few weeks later, I ended up contacting the promoter with an interest in a tryout to try and get a deathmatch down the line to scratch the itch I had. Eventually, I branched out to other, non-deathmatch promotions to extend my weekends and make the trips more worthwhile,” George said.

After the organizations around the Motor City saw how prepared and how professional Ross was an as official, he landed steady work there, often couch-surfing between events to get some sleep before the next day’s show. Those from the Michigan circuit offered him those accommodations because those within the industry know how valuable the role of a referee can be, and being scheduled for multiple events within a weekend allowed George to realistically make the trips. But, he cities timing as just as important to his Michigan gigs.

“The timing of this worked out greatly in my favor because the Michigan area suddenly had a lot of the more reputable referees retire, move away, etc. A lot of booking vacancies that hadn’t existed previously all of a sudden became available,” George commented.

Within just the past few years, he shared the ring with countless national names, including Rhino, Sabu, and others. His regular trips to the midwest for those opportunities would test the dedication of many in the industry, but George doesn’t flinch at a ten-hour round trip if it gave him a chance to hone his craft around some of the bright minds of the business.

Still, home means a lot to George and he was particularly excited when he had the chance to be a part of 880 Wrestling, an upstart project launched by independent standout MV Young in New Kensington, PA. The DIY concept of 880 brings together a training academy, and with the help of Sorgatron media, a production group based in Beechview, live cards every Thursday that stream online. The same students that step into a wrestling ring for the first time under the 880 banner to learn the sport eventually get to showoff their skills on the live events. George was just blocks away from the location and had a sense of pride when he became involved with the project as a way to make the sport that he loved an institution in his hometown.

“I love what we are doing at 880 Wrestling. The second I heard that MV Young was going to be opening a school that was literally blocks away from where I grew up and where my family had operated two different businesses in downtown New Kensington in the late 1990s, I knew I wanted to be involved. My role at 880 Wrestling is whatever is required. Some days I get to be a coach of sorts and share knowledge with our students. Other nights, I’ll help book the weekly card for Thursday Night Fights or agent matches if the need arises. And other times, I’ll even work the door for our big monthly shows or help set up and tear down the ring to get ready for Enjoy Wrestling events. Bringing wrestling to my hometown in any fashion was gonna be special to me, but it’s been made even more special with the group of people we’ve assembled since T2T Pittsburgh opened last July. We’ve established our own little niche in the Pittsburgh market, and I’m excited to see what we can become in 2024 and going forward,” Ross explained.

Just recently, all the monotonous miles on the road, the late-night gas station food, and the lack of sleep on a Monday morning after an exhausting weekend of wrestling events paid off for George. Knowing of capable and trusted he is a a referee, at an event two weeks ago, he was assigned the officiating duties for a match between two Michigan natives on their home turf, X-Division pioneer, Chris Sabin and standout star, Jason Hotch for the Metropolitan title. As George stood in the ring, displaying the belt, he was reminded of his ultimate goal in the industry, a goal that seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago, to land a national contract as a referee.

While they are no guarantees in the pro wrestling business, it doesn’t sound like such a pipe dream now because of the time, effort, and dedication that George put into his craft. Big goals can be accomplished if those that want to achieve them “put in the work” as the memes say. George Ross certainly puts in the work for professional wrestling to be successful.

“At the end of the day, I want to continue the tradition of great referees that come out of the Pittsburgh area. Guys like Mark Curtis, Shawn Patrick, Bobby Williams and Joe Mandak among so many others. Where I’ll end up when I’m done is anybody’s best guess right now, but I’ll keep making towns and see where it goes,” Ross concluded.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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