WWE referee John Cone makes his dollars in doughnuts and pro wrestling

Doughnut maven John Cone moonlights as a WWE referee.


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Ref John Cone plays by WWEs rulebook.
  • WWE
  • Ref John Cone plays by WWE's rulebook.

John Cone’s job is to keep order in World Wrestling Entertainment’s rings. It’s not easy, especially when an angry, 266-pound Brock Lesnar is charging like a bull.

Cone, a referee with the wrestling company, knows from experience. At WWE’s April pay-per-view event, Extreme Rules, Cone tried to keep the match on track but ended up on the wrong side of the former WWE and UFC champion.

“It was kind of exciting to get clotheslined by Brock Lesnar,” Cone says, “I gotta admit.”
When Cone isn’t traveling the world on the wrestling circuit, he comes home to Kansas City. He and his wife own Donut King (2320 Armour Road) in North Kansas City.

“I don’t get in there too much anymore because of my schedule,” Cone admits. “I leave that up to my wife and sister-in-law now.”

Cone is in his hometown for a taping of WWE’s SmackDown at the Sprint Center on Tuesday, July 24. The WWE will be coming off a milestone night: Monday Night Raw’s 1,000th episode, in St. Louis. The Kansas City card features Triple H, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan.

The Pitch caught Cone on a rare day off, and he shared his favorite WWE moments as well as his latest doughnut experiment.

The Pitch: How did you get involved in professional wrestling?

Cone: I grew up as a fan, watching Central States Wrestling, and on my 16th birthday I skipped school to go downtown to talk to [former National Wrestling Alliance president] Bob Geigel about getting a job. At the time, he told me that I was too small. That was in ’93. Two years later, I found a wrestling school that was in town here. I started training and from there, I moved on to Harley Race’s Wrestling Academy. In 2005, I got a tryout, and six years ago, July 2006, I was hired by World Wrestling Entertainment.

Who from WWE found you?

John Laurinaitis came to a wrestling camp that Harley Race was having, and I was one of the referees there. At the end of the day, John Laurinaitis came up to me and asked for my information, said he’d like to stay in touch. Probably about three months later, there was a show at Kemper Arena, and I was invited to come down and have a tryout match. Then I got another tryout match in St. Louis, and I got hired.

Do you remember who was wrestling in your tryout match?

Yeah, it was Big Vito against Scotty Too Hotty. That was my very first match with WWE. The second one, I couldn’t tell you who it was.

Why refereeing?

I wanted to be a ref ever since I saw the Hebner twins [Earl and Dave]. They don’t work for the company anymore, but the Hebner twins were involved in a storyline where Hulk Hogan lost the title to Andre the Giant. I saw how referees were such an important part of the match. They’re involved in every outcome of every match, so there was just something about seeing that that made me want to be a referee, and that’s all I’ve wanted to do.

What’s the most memorable match that you’ve officiated?

It was just a couple of months ago at Extreme Rules [Over the Limit], Daniel Bryan against CM Punk. I was honored to referee that match, and those guys tore the house down. It was just fantastic, probably one of the purest wrestling matches that I’ve ever refereed. It was great.

What was your favorite moment from the first 1,000 episodes of Monday Night Raw?

For me, it was when Nexus broke out two years ago. I was just sitting backstage watching the monitors, and I had no idea what was going to happen in this main event. Here comes all of the guys from the NXT show with this new attitude. I remember [John] Cena was in the ring. He was ambushed, and they tore apart the entire ringside area. It was a shocking moment, even for guys involved in the show, because we had no idea what was happening.

Have you been injured on the job?

Going on six years injury-free.

What’s the biggest ref bump you’ve taken?

It was Extreme Rules again, just a couple of months ago. Brock Lesnar was wrestling John Cena, and the official for the match was Charles Robinson. He got knocked down, and I come running down the aisle. I think Brock had Cena in a pin attempt, and I slid into the ring, got a two count, and as I stood up, here comes Lesnar with a clothesline. I didn’t remember much afterward. And then he kicks me in the stomach as I try to get out of the ring.

How did you feel?

When you’re out there, the adrenaline is pumping; you don’t feel anything. But even the next day, I was fine.

What’s a typical day like for you?

If we’re on live events, I’ll go in at 9 a.m. and help to set up the show. We’ll set up the ring and the barricade around the ring. Then we’ll have some free time after that — usually three to four o’clock in the afternoon — so we’ll have some lunch, visit with friends, things like that. Then once we come back in the afternoon, it’s just preparing for the show. ... We really have no idea what matches we have until that lineup comes out, so there’s no preparation as far as anything I have to do in the match itself.

How is it determined who referees which match?

That is something the talent-relations department does. They’ll just see who is available that day, which refs are booked for the show, and just go down and assign us usually at least two matches if we’re doing a TV taping. But it can be anywhere from two to four matches a night. When we’re doing five shows a week, you could do potentially up to 20 matches in a week.

What are you looking forward to doing once you’re back in Kansas City?

My days off — I’ve got a 4-year-old son — we like to go to Oceans of Fun, Worlds of Fun.

How often do you get back home?

At least once a week. In fact, I’m in Kansas City today. I got home Wednesday, and I’ll leave again Friday. I’ll have about 48 hours at home this week and then head out again.

Is that a typical week?

Yeah. Sometimes if we do long overseas tours, we might be in Europe for up to two weeks. Or a tour might run into another one. Say we got to Mexico for a week, and then right into TV, and then we have to go to Texas. Something like that, I may be gone for 10 to 14 days. My longest stretch, I think, has been 18 days away from home, and then I came home for about three days, and then back out on the road.

Does your son watch you on TV?

He watches. I’ll talk to him in the afternoon, and he’ll ask if I have a match. We try to put him to bed by nine o’clock, so if it’s in the second hour [of Raw], he may not get to see it. But I’ll watch it with him when I get home. And he has his favorites.

Who does he like?

Kofi Kingston is his favorite. He likes the high flyers.

So you scaled back your role at Donut King?

Yeah, still involved with it, but my wife and sister-in-law have really taken over the day-to-day operations. If I get a stretch of time off, I’ll go in and I’ll experiment with some new flavors. That’s kind of my hobby, making doughnuts. It was my backup plan from the beginning, in case wrestling didn’t work out. Fortunately, it did. But I still have the backup plan in motion.

What’s your latest experiment?

Right now we have the pink-lemonade doughnuts, which is a lemon cake doughnuts with pink cherry icing on top. It’s a good one. It’s a good summer flavor.
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