Fall in Sports Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports

Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports

The world of sports has given us thrilling matches with many great players, but there are some people that we notice, but don’t remember quite well. They are the umpires and referees. So here’s a list of the Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports.

This is not an official list or anything. This is a list made by some research over the internet, and some personal choices. So, let’s begin…

Dick Bavetta (Basketball)

Umpire/Referee Career 1975–2014


Dick Bavetta had an incredibly long and storied career as an NBA referee, spanning 39 seasons. He began his NBA officiating career in 1975 and retired in 2014.

Bavetta is perhaps best known for his remarkable streak of never missing an NBA game due to injury or illness during his entire career. He officiated 2,635 consecutive regular-season games, showcasing his durability and commitment to the sport.

Over the course of his career, Bavetta officiated numerous high-profile NBA games, including the NBA Finals, All-Star Games, and critical playoff matchups. His presence was often requested for important games because of his reputation for fairness and consistency.


Pierluigi Collina (Football)

Umpire/Referee Career 1995–2005


He is widely regarded as one of the most iconic and accomplished soccer referees in the history of the sport. He officiated the memorable UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in 1999. The match ended with an incredible comeback by Manchester United, and Collina’s calm handling of the game was widely praised.

FIFA World Cup 2002: Collina officiated at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. His performance in the tournament, including the high-stakes knockout matches, cemented his status as one of the best referees in the world.

2004 UEFA European Championship Final: Collina officiated the final of the UEFA Euro 2004, held in Portugal. Greece’s surprising victory over Portugal in the final match was one of the tournament’s defining moments, and Collina’s role in officiating the final was noteworthy.

FIFA World Cup Finals: Collina officiated in three FIFA World Cup tournaments, namely the 1998 World Cup in France, the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, and the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

UEFA European Championships: He officiated in multiple UEFA European Championships, including the 2000 and 2004 editions.

FIFA Referee of the Year: Collina was named the FIFA World Referee of the Year six times consecutively from 1998 to 2003, highlighting his consistent excellence.

FallinSports images - Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports
FallinSports images – Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports

Billy Bowden (Cricket)

Umpire/Referee Career 1995 – 2001


Billy Bowden is a well-known and distinctive cricket umpire from New Zealand. He is recognized for his unique and often elaborate umpiring signals. He made his international umpiring debut in a One Day International (ODI) match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in 1995.

Bowden went on to officiate in Test matches, and his first Test match as an umpire was between New Zealand and Australia in 2000 and in numerous ODIs and T20Is, overseeing matches in various cricketing events, including ICC Cricket World Cups and ICC World T20s.

Unique Signals: Billy Bowden became famous for his quirky and often theatrical umpiring signals. His most famous signal was the crooked finger, where he would raise his index finger with an exaggerated crook to signal a batsman’s dismissal.

Dancing on the Pitch: On several occasions, Bowden was known to break into a little dance or jig on the pitch, adding a fun and light-hearted element to the game. His enthusiastic celebrations became a trademark.

New Zealand vs. Australia 2007: In a Test match between New Zealand and Australia in 2007, Bowden famously gave out Australian batsman Andrew Symonds while performing a unique and exaggerated “crooked finger” signal, which added to his reputation for unconventional umpiring.

World Cup: He was selected as an umpire for multiple ICC Cricket World Cup tournaments, showcasing his reputation as one of the world’s top cricket officials.


Herb Dean (MMA)

Umpire/Referee Career early 200s – Present


He is one of the most respected and well-known mixed martial arts (MMA) referees in the world. He has officiated numerous high-profile MMA fights and is celebrated for his commitment to fighter safety. Dean quickly gained recognition for his professionalism, calm demeanor, and consistent decision-making inside the cage. He has become one of the most trusted referees in MMA.

Herb Dean has been a mainstay as an MMA referee in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s largest and most prominent MMA organization. He has officiated countless UFC bouts, including championship fights.

Lesnar vs. Mir, UFC 100: Dean officiated the highly anticipated UFC 100 bout between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. This event was significant in UFC history, and Dean’s role as the referee added to the spectacle.

Silva vs. Sonnen II, UFC 148: Dean officiated the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen at UFC 148. This fight had a dramatic and intense build-up, and Dean’s presence as the referee added to the drama.

UFC Title Fights: Dean has officiated numerous UFC championship fights, including those involving some of the sport’s biggest stars like Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, and Amanda Nunes.

Fighter’s Safety: Dean is known for prioritizing fighter safety above all else. He is known to stop fights promptly when he believes a fighter is in danger, which has earned him the nickname “Big John McCarthy 2.0,” in reference to another legendary MMA referee.


John McEnroe (Tennis)

Sports Career 1977 – 2006

Umpire/Referee Career


He is a legendary figure in the world of tennis, known not only for his remarkable playing career but also for his contributions to the sport as a commentator and occasional tennis official. John McEnroe was a tennis prodigy, known for his exceptional talent from a young age. He turned professsional in 1978.

Grand Slam Success: McEnroe won a total of seven Grand Slam singles titles during his career, including three Wimbledon titles (1981, 1983, 1984), four U.S. Open titles (1979, 1980, 1981, 1984), and numerous doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.

Rivalries: McEnroe was known for his intense rivalries with other tennis greats like Björn Borg, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl. His fiery on-court demeanor, including temper tantrums and confrontations with officials, became a defining aspect of his persona.

Doubles Success: McEnroe also excelled in doubles, winning numerous Grand Slam titles in men’s and mixed doubles, often partnering with Peter Fleming.

Davis Cup: He played a key role in the United States Davis Cup team’s victories during the 1980s, contributing significantly to his country’s success.

McEnroe has occasionally served as a tennis official.


Red Cashion (American Football)

Umpire/Referee Career


He was a highly respected American football referee known for his distinguished career in the National Football League (NFL). Cashion quickly gained prominence as a top NFL referee due to his professionalism, expertise in officiating, and excellent on-field presence.

Cashion was known for his distinctive, enthusiastic, and clear announcing style when making rulings during games. His iconic “First dowwwwn, Houston” call became one of his trademarks.

Super Bowl XX (1986): One of the highlights of Cashion’s career was officiating Super Bowl XX between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots in 1986. Officiating a Super Bowl is considered a significant achievement for any NFL official.

Playoff Games: Red Cashion officiated numerous NFL playoff games during his career, showcasing his consistency and expertise in high-stakes matchups.

FallinSports images - Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports (Bibiana Steinhaus)
FallinSports images – Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports (Bibiana Steinhaus)

Bibiana Steinhaus-Webb (Football)

Umpire/Referee Career 2005–2020


She is a prominent football (soccer) referee known for her groundbreaking career as a female official in men’s professional football. In 2017, Bibiana Steinhaus made history by becoming the first female referee in the top tier of German men’s football, the Bundesliga. Her promotion to the Bundesliga marked a significant milestone in the world of football officiating, breaking gender barriers.

Pioneer for Gender Equality: Bibiana Steinhaus’s most significant achievement is her pioneering role in promoting gender equality in football officiating. Her presence in the Bundesliga paved the way for more female referees to officiate in men’s professional football.

Respected Official: She earned respect for her professionalism, expertise, and ability to handle the pressure of officiating top-level matches.


Claire Polosak (Cricket)

Umpire/Referee Career 2016 – Present


Claire Polosak is an Australian cricket umpire who has made significant strides in the world of cricket officiating. She is known for her groundbreaking achievements as a female umpire in men’s cricket. She made her way through the ranks of cricket officiating, including umpiring in women’s domestic cricket competitions in Australia.

Milestone in the Sydney Grade Cricket: Claire Polosak achieved a significant milestone in December 2017 when she became the first woman to umpire a men’s match in the Sydney Grade Cricket, a highly regarded club competition in Australia.

List of National Umpires: In 2018, she was added to the Cricket Australia (CA) National Umpire Panel, a recognition of her skills and abilities as an umpire.

International Debut: Claire Polosak made her international debut as an umpire in a women’s One Day International (ODI) match between Australia and England in October 2018.

Historic Firsts: Polosak’s career is marked by numerous historic firsts, including being the first woman to officiate in various men’s and women’s cricket competitions at both domestic and international levels.

Promotion to ICC Panel: In 2019, Claire Polosak was named to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Development Panel of Umpires, which marked another significant milestone in her career.

Maiden ODI: Her debut as an ODI umpire in the Australia vs. England women’s match was a significant moment, as it showcased her rise to international officiating.

Rob Styles (Football)

Umpire/Referee Career 1987 – 2009


He is a former English football referee who officiated in the Premier League and other football competitions.

Premier League Debut: Styles made his debut as a Premier League referee in 2000. He went on to become one of the top referees in English football during his career.

International Officiating: Styles was also selected to officiate international matches. He officiated in UEFA competitions and FIFA-sanctioned matches.

FA Cup and League Cup: He refereed matches in the FA Cup and the League Cup, which are two of England’s most prestigious domestic football competitions.

Controversies: While Rob Styles had a successful career as a referee, he also found himself at the center of various controversies and debates over certain decisions and incidents in matches. Some of these controversial moments led to discussions and criticisms within the footballing community.

Red Card to Chelsea’s John Terry (2007): One of the notable incidents involved Styles issuing a red card to Chelsea’s John Terry in a Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur in 2007. The decision was widely discussed and debated.


Violet Palmer (NBA)

Umpire/Referee Career


She is a former American basketball referee who made history as one of the first female officials in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

BA Debut: In 1997, Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner became the first female referees to officiate NBA games. This was a groundbreaking moment in the history of the league, as it marked the first time that women held positions as full-time officials in one of the major North American professional sports leagues.

Career Span: Violet Palmer officiated in the NBA for 18 seasons, working alongside male referees and earning respect for her abilities as an official.

NBA Debut: Her first game as an NBA referee remains an iconic moment in basketball history. Alongside Dee Kantner, Palmer made her debut on October 31, 1997, when the Dallas Mavericks played the Vancouver Grizzlies.


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Top 10 Iconic Referees in the History of Sports

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