Reality in the Script: A Look at Wrestling Shoots

Giorgi DolidzeCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2009

In professional wrestling, a shoot refers to any unplanned event—that is, an event that is "real" and not staged. The term originally referred to a takedown in amateur wrestling; this was adapted to mean a legitimate attack or fight (as compared to the staged nature of professional wrestling), which was in turn broadened to mean unstaged events in general.

In the early twentieth century, professional wrestling became more of an artistic rather than sporting spectacle. As such, virtually everything in pro wrestling is worked (a part of the show), and shoots rarely occur.

Shoots in general are against the nature of the business, similar to an actor ad-libbing or dropping character during a performance. Performers who shoot during a wrestling event are often punished (often by lower pay or relegation to opening bouts) or even fired, since it is thought that they cannot be trusted to act according to the bookers' wishes.

While the term technically only applies to wrestling performers, crowds also cause shoots by interfering in events, usually by assaulting a wrestler. For example, if a wrestler was standing at ringside, some of the spectators will throw objects at him or her. An example of this involved a fan punching Mike Awesome during a crowd brawl at a World Championship Wrestling event, causing both him and his opponent for the night (Vampiro) to attack the fan.

Another was a fan's attempt to attack Hulk Hogan shortly after his heel turn in 1996, only to be foiled by Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and WCW security.

In 2002, during a ladder matchin the WWF, a fan pushed over a ladder Eddie Guerrero was standing on. Guerrero landed safely on his feet. As the referee grabbed the fan to remove him from the ring, Guerrero landed a punch on the fan, and kicked him as the ref dragged him to the ground. Security soon stepped in to remove the offending fan.

In 2008, during the June 2nd episode of Monday Night Raw, a fan jumped the security barricade and entered the ring during the main event between John Cena and Jeff Hardycausing Cena to break his submission hold on Hardy and both watched security taking the fan out with laughter.

Shoots can also occur when wrestlers stop cooperating in a match. This may occur to teach one of the wrestlers "a lesson"...for whatever reason.

Worked-shoot is the term for any occurrence that is scripted by the creative team to come off as unscripted and therefore appear as though it were a real life happening but is, in fact, still part of the show.

This can be seen as an example of the writers breaking the fourth walland attempting to court the fans who are interested in shoots (e.g. events outside of the traditional in-ring wrestling matchups). This community of “smart” pro-wrestling fans is sometimes referred to as "smarks". Noteworthy for the frequency of this tactic is professional wrestling writer Vince Russo.

Some interviews or promos during wrestling shows are described as being a "shoot", when a wrestler will refer to something "real world" (such as a wrestler's real name or unscripted real incidents) these are portrayed as being unscripted and genuine. When the interviews are not genuine, this would be an example of a worked shoot.

A "true" shoot interview is generally conducted and released by someone other than a wrestling promotion. They are conducted out of character with a wrestler generally being interviewed about their career and asked to give their opinion on other wrestlers and specific events in their past. While some wrestlers used these as an opportunity to insult people or promotions they dislike, many are more pleasant. These shoots are often released on DVD.

Drawing from this related term, a shooter or shoot-fighter is not a wrestler with a reputation for being uncooperative but one who uses legitimate hooking skills as a gimmick. A prime example of this tactic is Dean Malenko, who used "The Shooter" as a nickname (see also legit). These wrestlers often gain their skills from martial arts (Ken Shamrock), or amateur wrestling (Kurt Angle). These kinds of shooters are sometimes referred to as stretchers (from their ability to use legitimate holds on their opponents to stretch them).

Despite the worked nature of the spectacle, shooters have been around since the beginning. Originally, the NWA World Champion was typically a shooter or "hooker" (Lou Thesz is the most famous example), in an effort to keep regional champions and other contenders from attempting to shoot on them and win the title when they were not scheduled to do so.

The use of the term "shoot" to describe a single or double-leg takedown attempt (in legitimate fighting situations such as Mixed Martial Arts) is inspired by early professional wrestling shooters, who would often utilize these basic wrestling moves when "shooting" on an opponent (as opposed to the flashier takedowns used in worked matches, such as suplexes).

Example of spontaneous events that are not shoots include mistakes by wrestlers (these are known as botches) or matches where the wrestlers are good enough to not need to plan and rehearse beforehand and make it up on the spot as time dictates.

The related term "shoot-fighting" (also known as shoot wrestling) is often used by wrestling fans to refer to mixed martial arts competitions, which, while superficially similar to wrestling matches, are actual athletic competition rather than scripted entertainment.

Examples of shoot

  • The MSG Incident
  • The Montreal Screwjob is a shoot, in that an "agreed-upon" plan was secretly switched in order to take the WWF Title from Bret Hart.
  • On June 12, 2005, at the ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view, during a large scale brawl after the main event John Bradshaw Layfield actually struck The Blue Meanie, who needed 12 stitches in his head. In a rare occurrence, WWE actually addressed the issue on their regular programming and attempted to work it into a storyline.
  • In 1984, while filming a segment on professional wrestling, reporter John Stossel made a mention to wrestler David "Dr. D" Schultzthat wrestling was fake. Yelling "You think this is fake?", Schultz assaulted Stossel, slapping him and knocking him to the ground twice. Stossel claimed that he still suffered from pain and buzzing in his ears eight weeks after the assault. (Stossel now regrets his decision to sue, according to his first book.) Schultz maintains that he attacked Stossel because the head of the WWF wanted him to.
  • On November 4, 2004, episode of SmackDown!, during Tough Enough, Kurt Angle challenged the finalists through a squat thrustcompetition. The winner was Chris Nawrocki, and as part of the Kurt Angle Invitational, the prize Nawrocki won was a match against Angle. After Angle defeated Nawrocki, Angle asked if anyone else wanted to try. Daniel Puder, an American mixed martial artistraised his hand and challenged Angle. During the match, Angle and Puder wrestled for position before Angle took Puder down; in the process, Puder locked Angle in a real submission hold, a kimura lock. With Puder on his back, one of two referees in the ring, Jim Korderas, quickly counted three to end the bout, but some observed that during the pin, Puder's shoulders were not on the mat. Puder later claimed he would have snapped Angle's arm on national television, if Korderas had not ended the match.

Examples of “worked shoots”

  • The idea of a "worked shoot" reached a peak and was popularized in the final days of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) by the (then) newly hired writer/booker Vince Russo. Russo believed that, with the internet catching on in popularity, people and wrestling fans were becoming increasingly aware of the scripted aspect of wrestling, even so far as to learn insider terms such as "booker", and "kayfabe". So, to try and stay relevant, Russo starting writing worked shoots, events or promos that seemed to be real and unplanned, when in reality they were still part of the show.
  • Perhaps the longest example of a worked shoot was the bitter feud in the early 1980s between Jerry Lawler and performer Andy Kaufman, which started after Kaufman opened a $1,000 challenge to any woman, claiming he could not be pinned by one. Lawler and Kaufman even appeared together on Late Night with David Letterman and staged a physical altercation there. The depth of the "working" escalated with Kaufman being admitted to hospitals and wearing a neck brace in public for months. The reality of the events was left ambiguous until over 10 years after Kaufman's death.
  • When Bob Backlundlost the WWF Title to the Iron Sheik in 1983, his manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel without Backlund's consent.


  • On the April 5, 1999 episode of WWE Raw Is War, Ken Shamrock allegedly became fed-up with the abuse endured by his on-screen sister, Ryan, and called out The Undertaker, repeatedly referring to him by his real name, Mark.
  • During a fallout between Mick Foley and The Rock and their tag-team The Rock and Sock Connection, Foley started yelling at the Rock, then called him his real name, "Dwayne" (with what sounded like sarcastic emphasis).
  • In 1999, Dustin Runnels debuted a new gimmick on WCW Monday Nitroas a dark and mysterious character named Seven. During his first live appearance as Seven, Runnels delivered a worked shoot promo discussing his past in the WWF as Goldust, WCW's treatment of his father Dusty Rhodes, and his unhappiness with his new character. Runnels then proclaimed himself to be Dustin Rhodes, not Seven.
  • At WCW's Bash at the Beach 2000, Vince Russo delivered a scathing promo regarding the result of the previous WCW World Title match between Jeff Jarrett and Hulk Hoganwhere Jarrett laid down for Hogan as Hogan had invoked his creative control clause because he refused to lose the match. Russo came out to explain that the result had been nulified and Hogan had been fired. Debate rages as to whether the incident was worked or not. Both men say it was a work, but both claim a different outcome was agreed upon. In his book, Controversy Creates Cash, former WCW President Eric Bischoff claims that Hogan, Russo and himself had agreed on the outcome of the bout prior to the match. Hogan was booked to win, and then kayfabe walk out on WCW, taking the Heavyweight title with him. The company would then start a tournament for the a new version of the belt, with Hogan returning to proclaim himself the real champion prior to the final of the tournament, leading to his inclusion in the match. According to Bischoff, Russo went out to the ring after the match and did a shoot on Hogan, putting an end to the planned angle, which it was hoped would rejuvenate the company.
  • At World Championship Wrestling's New Blood Rising, Goldberg sandbagged a powerbomb attempt by Kevin Nash during a three-way match also involving Scott Steiner, and pushed him away. The commentators acted like the incident was a shoot, and acted like they were completely unprepared for the match afterwards, while the wrestlers also acted like they were improvising. This led to a storyline in which Nash and Goldberg traded (worked) shoot promos at each other, all treated as real shoots by announcers, to later build up to a one-on-one match.
  • On the May 1, 2006 edition of Raw, Joey Stylescut a promo on stage announcing he was quitting WWE after a tussle with Jerry Lawler. He ranted about how the WWE called him to join, and that he didn't try and get the job, because they fired Jim Ross. He complained about the 'differences' between professional wrestling and sports entertainment. He mentioned how he had to refer to the wrestlers as 'superstars' and wasn't allowed to call moves in the ring, instead he had to tell stories about the wrestlers. He called it disrespectful to the wrestlers, who spend 300 days a year applying their craft in the ring. He continued to complain about being pulled from WrestleMania, because he didn't sound like JR. He then complained about getting pulled from Backlash. He said in ECW, he called live PPV's on his own, with no color commentator. He concluded by saying he was sick of 'sports entertainment' and the chairman who mocks god, and quit.
  • On the November 5, 2007 edition of Monday Night Raw, D-Generation X commented "I wonder who writes this crap?", and then answered their own question by saying, "I don't think anyone does, they're all on strike!". This was a reference to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. Also, during the segment, Triple H told Shawn Michaels to get out the show run-through sheet, which Michaels pulled out of his boot, revealing that the show is scripted. He even went so far as to explain to the midget-wrestler Hornswoggle that, according to the run-through sheet, it was not yet time for him to appear.