Referee Tim Donaghy

tim donaghy

It’s not often we induct something from Major League Wrestling into WrestleCrap. In fact, this is the first time.

It’s also not often we induct a referee; the only other one to my knowledge is Steve McMichael (Stay strong, Mongo!) for his leisurely officiating in TNA.

And it’s slightly more often we induct something involving Savio Vega (Kwang, for example, and the 1995 King of the Ring event).

So this week’s induction, featuring Savio Vega vs. Richard Holliday, is almost something of a minor milestone of sorts, in a way. The story was fairly simple:

Richard Holliday, a rich kid, stole Savio Vega’s IWA Caribbean Title belt.

(Ironic, considering the IWA itself stole the design from the old Intercontinental title)

To settle the issue, they would wrestle in Savio’s specialty, the Caribbean strap match, where Vega promised to bring the very same strap he used against Steve Austin.

(It had turned black in the intervening years)

This would put Holliday at an obvious disadvantage against Savio, who was 10-0 in the Caribbean strap match. Or, technically, 9-0, as the very first of those victories came against Tatanka in an Indian strap match.

(It’s identical to the Caribbean version, suggesting a pre-Columbian origin)

Now, I don’t know much about this Richard Holliday character, but he’s certainly an effective heel in my book based on the Air Pods alone. But I’m a public school teacher.

The announcers noted an unusual volume of bets placed on this match, suggesting these gamblers knew more than we did (or, as is more likely for pro wrestling bettors, knew much less than we did). These bets spiked right before the two men stepped between the horribly twisted ropes of the MLW ring.

(A lot of indie rings have the same problem of kinky ropes. I’d show some pictures, but Google Images was no help)

As both men strapped their wrists, the referee took the belt and, really playing up the prestige of the championship at stake…

…simply dumped it on the canvas, where it would remain for the rest of the contest.

It was a fitting start to a perfectly nondescript strap match, one with a lot going against it:

First, Savio Vega was 57 years old.

Second, it was a pandemic-era taping with no live audience.

Third, the referee was terrible. A good referee adds to the drama and makes a match seem more exciting than it otherwise would be. This ref, on the other hand, looked like he had no idea what he was doing.

In fact, it might have even been his first match; I’d certainly never seen him referee in MLW before. Then again, I’d never seen anyone else referee in MLW before, either. But regardless, his lack of ring presence was surprisingly distracting.

Shouldn’t an official at least look like he’s trying to stop one wrestler from asphyxiating the other?

Sure, strap matches don’t have disqualifications. And logically, a referee shouldn’t admonish the wrestlers…

…or get involved in the action…

…or do anything but count the turnbuckles a wrestler touches.

But this referee wouldn’t even do that.

Instead, Rory Calhoun over here spent the whole match standing and walking. Even during the ostensibly exciting spots, like this clothesline over the ropes…

…or Holliday’s subsequent guillotine of Savio on the top rope (which one announcer called a “neck-slicer” after consulting a thesaurus)…

…the referee stood stock-still like it was SuperBrawl for SNES. The only thing missing was him folding his hands so it looked like he was holding his pee-pee.


Even when Holliday mistakenly went for a pin, the referee just stared at him until he remembered he couldn’t win that way.

Oddly, this ref only came alive to start a ten-count on both wrestlers, which simply isn’t a thing in strap matches.

(This happened twice)

But I wouldn’t be inducting any of this if it were simply a matter of a rookie referee making some mistakes and being generally awkward. Cut him some slack, why don’t I? Well, dear ‘Crappers, I have a confession to make: This wasn’t any ordinary referee, and I’ve known it all along.

The mystery of the bad MLW ref started to unravel during the match’s finish. Taking his do-nothing approach to officiating to a new extreme, the referee refused to budge from the corner…

…which just happened to be the last turnbuckle Savio needed.

This allowed Richard Holliday, who had been touching the turnbuckles behind Vega, to sneak in and steal the victory.

It was a set-up! Oh, and that official?

He was disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who had previously gone to prison on gambling charges after taking bribes from bookies.

So was this actually WrestleCrap, or was it kind of brilliant? As someone who has read Donaghy’s book and follows basketball conspiracy theories far more closely than the sport itself, I couldn’t ask for a better crossover. And, I can only assume, the average wrestling fan felt the same way. Right?

In a post-match interview, Donaghy claimed to have called the match right down the middle: “Just like in 2007 when the Lakers played the Kings,” he bragged, “everything was on the up and up.” This was a reference to the infamous game six of the NBA Western Conference Finals (in 2002, actually)…

…where suspicious officiating (not by Tim Donaghy) delivered a victory to Los Angeles to extend the series. Just in case you thought reffing pro wrestling was a step down from the NBA.

Incensed at the screwjob finish, Savio Vega crashed the interview, repeatedly yelling at Donaghy, “You cheated on me!” Either Savio learned English from Ted Dibiase, Jr., or there’s a whole lot more to this relationship than we knew about.

Vega was so flummoxed that he let his accent slip and ended up shouting, “You shitted on me!”

With those kinds of foul accusations flying around, it was only a matter of time before Tom Lawlor came knocking.

They don’t call him, “Filthy” for nothing!

And so, three months after the Empty Arena Screwjob, Lawlor bribed Donaghy to drug-test his next opponent.

The specimen ended up, naturally, in Lawlor’s face. But as the old saying goes, it’s better to be pissed on than shitted on.

The angle then went cold until August, when MLW announced Donaghy’s suspension on their website. That’s a pretty lousy resolution, but at least MLW got a few solid months of publicity out of Donaghy’s involvement, right?

Nah. Though picked up by mainstream sports websites, the stunt barely made a ripple on social media. Videos highlighting the angle pulled in only a few thousand views apiece on YouTube. I didn’t even know about it until I watched Donaghy’s Netflix documentary last week.

So this is WrestleCrap after all. See, the Donaghy scandal broke all the way back in 2007, fourteen years earlier. At least when Tonya Harding got involved in wrestling, she was still in the news — she didn’t wait until 2008 to manage Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr.

(Or, more likely, some other tag team)

And even then, Harding would still have been a household name, whereas the only people who knew the name, “Tim Donaghy” are those who have followed the NBA for decades (and me).

Plus, Donaghy has all the charisma and emotional range of a basketball.

And then there’s the matter of money. By my estimation, MLW must have lost a ton of it hiring Donaghy for this angle. Consider this: Despite making tens of millions of dollars for bookies and the mob, Donaghy reported to the FBI only $30,000 in bribes, which he then forfeited as part of his sentence. He has since gotten divorced. Yet today, he owns a big home, a Range Rover, and many rental properties. Where could all that money have come from?

Obviously, MLW.

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