On the surface level, the difference between a work and a shoot is simple. In the parlance of the professional wrestling industry, a shoot is something that is real. A work describes any time the fix is in. Initially these terms were used to describe the matches, to distinguish between real contests and wrestling shenanigans — but from the very beginning wrestling was crooked as a snake. Shoots all but disappeared from the sport in the ring very early on. But language is flexible. Soon enough it was a term used to describe anything real. Truthful comments, a fight in a bar, any comments prefaced by “Let me be honest…” These were all “shoots.” It’s a term that has to make anyone associated with the wrestling industry smile if they stop and think about it for a minute. Only in wrestling would you need a word to let people know that, just this once, you are telling them the truth and not spinning a tale.
That’s an interesting question and one that kind of nails the culture head on. Wrestling doesn’t really have a history. It has a mythology. There are grains of truth in even the tallest wrestling tales. Abe Lincoln’s wrestling exploits were magnified and built up as the years passed being just one example of that penchant for storytelling at the expense of truth. Lincoln was certainly a local wrestling standout in his native Illinois, able to throw “any man in Sangamon County.” But he was no champion. In fact, pointing out wrestling’s true champions is a thankless and daunting endeavor. From the late 1800’s forward, wrestling was very much a business and not a sport. And that’s being kind. What wrestling really was, at its heart, was a con. Traveling athletic carnivals were a mechanism for savvy wrestlers to part fools from their money. They would often send a member of their troupe ahead of the show, allowing him time to establish himself as a top grappler with unsuspecting locals. When the pros showed up weeks later, this new local stud would try his hand at the established stars. Bets were made, cash exchanged hands, with no one aware that their local hero was really just part of the show.
In your opinion, the five toughest men of the last 100 years.
3. John Pesek: a trouble shooter brought in when other wrestlers weren’t playing nicely with promoters.
2. Kazushi Sakuraba: an MMA fighter who often beat fighters 20 pounds heavier.
1. Danny Hodge: an unstoppable wrestler who became a Golden Gloves boxing standout.
Was Hulk Hogan tough? In his prime, how would he fare with a current MMA fighter? Could either of them have beaten Iron Mike Tyson at his most insane?
There have been some whispers of work in mixed martial arts. In Japan, of course, the sport is so closely connected to pro wrestling that works are almost inevitable. In the U.S., they’ve been few and far between, mostly connected to teammates involved in early UFC tournaments looking for an edge. At this point, a UFC fight is as on the level as any major sporting event. Take that as you will. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain kind of work in MMA. The fights aren’t fixed by any means, but savvy fighters have discovered the value of creating coherent characters for public consumption. The best MMA character is Chael Sonnen. A journeyman for a decade, Sonnen reinvented himself as a trash talking dynamo, literally stealing pro wrestling interviews from the 1970’s and lighting up opponents to the delight of the crowd. In real life, Sonnen is soft spoken and thoughtful, nothing at all like his pugnacious character. That, friends, is work.