Exclusive: Kris Levin Talks “Kid Ref” Nickname, Sami Callihan, Busy WrestleMania Week & More

POST Wrestling's Andrew Thompson chats with IMPACT & Game Changer Wrestling referee Kris Levin about Sami Callihan, IMPACT's women's division & more.

Photo Courtesy: Kris Levin / Earl Gardner Photography

This coming Sunday, IMPACT Wrestling is presenting the 15th installment of their Bound For Glory pay-per-view emanating from Villa Park, Illinois. Every championship in the company will be on the line with the headlining bout being Brian Cage versus Sami Callihan for the IMPACT World Championship. Callihan has the opportunity to capture his first title in IMPACT on Sunday and an individual who has been able to see his career unfold throughout the years is IMPACT and Game Changer Wrestling referee Kris Levin.

Kris is known by some as “Kid Ref” and he got his start in the wrestling business at the age of 15. Kris is now into his 20s and can be seen refereeing every week on IMPACT TV, multiple independent shows and he’ll be present at Bound For Glory. Ahead of the pay-per-view, I had the opportunity to interview Levin and he credited Sami Callihan for providing him with the opportunity to get more work outside of his home-state. In 2011, Levin took a chair shot from Callihan in a match for the NWA Force-1 promotion and eight years later, Levin reflected on what it has been like for him to see the evolution of “The Callihan Death Machine”.

I wouldn’t be in the business right now if it wasn’t for him. I started a few years before I met him, but he was the first guy to get me out of my home-state New Jersey to work other places. He got me in CZW, he got me in WrestlePro. He’s gotten me so many opportunities and the fact that we’re able to be on this stage together, it’s always really special for me when we’re able to be in the ring.

The ever-growing women’s division of IMPACT Wrestling is one that is constantly praised. The likes of Kiera Hogan, Jessicka Havok, Taya Valkyrie, Rosemary, Tessa Blanchard and others are focused on taking the division to the next level. So much so that Tessa Blanchard will be competing in a Ladder match for the X Division Championship at Bound For Glory. Levin was asked for his thoughts about IMPACT’s women’s division and he told POST Wrestling that he always felt a connection to the division and explained why. Levin added that when he first started in the company, a trio of former Knockouts Champions in Rosemary, Gail Kim and Chelsea Green made him feel comfortable and welcomed him with open arms.

I really appreciate you asking me this because women’s wrestling has always been something near and dear to my heart, because coming up in the business as someone who’s a lot smaller than average, someone who looks a lot younger and someone who’s a referee, a lot of people took that as an excuse to treat me as a second class citizen, and because of that, I always found a connection with the women in the locker room because that’s something they went through a lot prior to… I mean it still happens today but prior to the women’s revolution everything. So I’ve always been very conscientious about… we have similar but different struggles in our own ways.

I used to actually run an all-women’s wrestling company. It was the first all-women’s wrestling event to happen in the history of New York City, back in 2014. So, when I got there [IMPACT Wrestling], I was super nervous but it wasn’t my first experience doing TV. I had worked out West but it was my first time being at something so big, and the first people to really take me into a locker room were the women’s division, because you know, a lot of times, if you’re the new guy and there’s all these grizzled TV guys, they don’t know who you are. They don’t know if they can trust you to take care of your end of things. Especially the way we came in when all the IMPACT referees were let go then they brought in a totally new crew. But it was the Knockouts division — particularly Laurel Van Ness [Chelsea Green] and Gail Kim and Rosemary that pulled me in and were like, ‘Hey, this is our guy’, after I started working with them a few times, and as long as I’ve been there, I always thought the women’s division was stacked and it’s no different now. It’s crazy because you know, a lot of the times, not as much recently but when I was coming up in the business, if there’s a women’s match on the show, it’s one match, and now I go to a TV taping… and let’s say a third of the roster are women and that’s represented in the match-ups because a third of the matches we tape are also women’s wrestling.

Levin continued by speaking about what changes he has seen in the growth of women’s wrestling throughout his time in the business. He said it is rare to see a storyline in televised professional wrestling between women that is not centered around the championship, but that is not the case in IMPACT. This is exemplified by Jessicka Havok and Su Yung’s feud with Rosemary, and Kiera Hogan and Madison Rayne’s on-screen “frenemies” relationship.

Yeah exactly. It is rare to see a storyline in a televised professional wrestling company between women that’s not centered around the championship. Meanwhile, we have several on-going storylines that are… some are for the championship and there’s interpersonal connections and stories. There’s so much going on and I think it’s great to have so much depth.

One of the busiest weeks of the year for Kris Levin was this past year’s WrestleMania week that was based in New York and New Jersey. Levin shared that it was one of the most tiring weekends and it came to a point where he was falling asleep standing up because of lack of sleep from working so many shows back-to-back. Current All Elite Wrestling official Bryce Remsburg posted a photo on Twitter during WrestleMania week of him taking the subway due to the roads being too busy for him to maneuver to his next show by car. Levin talked about his relationship with Bryce and powering through ‘Mania weekend.

Dude, Bryce and I work at a lot of places together and he’s always been great with me and I remember… because him and I were the head refs at Game Changer Wrestling. He’s the head ref at CHIKARA and I’m there with him and [we] work a few other indies together. He’s such a great communicator that it was a lot easier than it potentially could’ve been, with how good of a communicator he was working all of that travel and stuff WrestleMania week. Okay, ‘You’re gonna be at this show? Make sure because I’m gonna be at this show and won’t cover it’ so just making sure everything is covered. But, I think it was a three or four day weekend and I think I had something like nine bookings in three days. It was ridiculous man, and the very first day, I landed wrong and got really bad Sciatica in my hip so I could barely walk all three days. It was like the worst time for it to happen. By the time Wrestling Revolver happened, Sami [Callihan’s promotion] in Manhattan, I think that was… the festivities started Thursday [or] Friday. This was Saturday, and… there’s literally moments backstage where I kept falling asleep standing up because I was so tired because I had just gone so many days without sleep because you know, it’s like — shows are running all day and all night so you’re barely getting any and there [was] legit a moment when I’m waiting in the winds ready to go and I fall asleep and I crack my head on a wall — like on a cement block wall and I’m looking around to make sure nobody saw me. I’m like, ‘What’s happening to me right now?’ Never before or after have I ever experienced something where I was that tired. I literally did not know it was possible to fall asleep standing up but it kept happening.

Two officials that Kris Levin patterns his game after are WWE’s Jason Ayers and longtime official Nick Patrick. Kris stated that Jason is a mentor of his and doesn’t think he’d be where he is in his career had it not been for Ayers’ guidance and influence. Levin then went on to praise the skills of Nick Patrick and expressed that if professional wrestling was a legitimate sport, a lot of referees would pattern their craft after him.

Oh for sure. It’s funny that you mentioned a few of those. Jason Ayers, he’s one of my mentors. He helped me a ton throughout my career with just… he’s someone that I don’t think I’d be where I’m at if it wasn’t for him and his guidance and his influence, and Nick Patrick, he’s actually one of my favorite referees. He’s someone that I study a ton and while a lot of his mechanics and things are different from the way it’s preferred now, I think that if professional wrestling was a legitimate sport, that the referees would work a lot like how Nick Patrick works so I study him a lot and take what I can.

The “Kid Ref” nickname has been donned upon Kris Levin. He said he does not mind the name as there are various other nicknames that fans refer to him as throughout his travels as a referee. He made light of it by reminding me how young he looked in his teen years.

I’m totally cool with it actually. I started in the wrestling business when I was 15, and I’m 27 now so you can only imagine how young I looked back then as opposed to now. I was 20 pounds lighter, and I had a mop as long hair. I’d always get cat-called, teased by the fans — saying that I was up past my bedtime or I shouldn’t be reffing on a school night. Things like that, and I’ve had a hearse of different nicknames: Screech was one I know — yeah that was one when I was 15. Shaggy, that was another one because my hair used to be so long. So yeah, this has been my whole adult life. It just comes with the territory.

Actually, it’s funny — in New York actually, they call me Baby Ref so it’s market specific where the nicknames [are] at, but I’m totally cool with it because I don’t really work in a way that speaks to that. I just do my own thing when I’m in the ring and if that’s able to bring any added joy whether it’s laughter or whatever — just having a good time, I’m cool with it because referees don’t always get those opportunities you know?

Whether it’d be IMPACT Wrestling, Game Changer Wrestling, The Wrestling Revolver or several other promotions, Kris Levin is determined to do his job to the best of ability and this Sunday at Bound For Glory, he’ll look to do the same. Kris can be found on Instagram and Twitter @refkrislevin. The audio from our chat can be found on the ‘Andrew Thompson Interviews’ YouTube channel.

About Andrew Thompson 40 Articles
A Maryland native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.