A shoot in professional wrestling is any unplanned, unscripted or real-life occurrence within a wrestling event. The name does not originate from "shooting in" for a takedown, as in amateur wrestling, but rather, it is a carny term shortened from "straight shooting" which originally referred to a gun in a carnival target shooting game which did not have its sights fixed (terminology such as this reflecting the professional wrestling industry's roots in traveling carnivals). This term has come to mean a legit attack or fight in professional wrestling and its meaning has broadened to include unscripted events in general. The opposite of a shoot is a work.
Professional wrestling is staged entertainment rather than a sports competition. 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. 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.
While the term technically applies only to wrestling performers, crowds also cause shoots by interfering in events, usually by assaulting or attempting to assault a wrestler. For many of the years when professional wrestling was out of the national spotlight and strictly adhering to kayfabe, it was commonplace at wrestling events for fans to go after heels intent on violence. Numerous wrestlers over many years, even prior to wrestling's current "tell-all" phase, have told of being shot at, stabbed and burned by fans. Fan interference and violence was prevalent in the northeastern and southern United States from the mid to late 20th century, where many wrestling territories became known for offering violent action to a rabid, fiercely loyal audience who largely believed in what they were seeing.
While not the earliest relevant examples, a couple from wrestling's territorial days do stand out. A number of performers in the American Wrestling Association during its heyday have since told stories about first meeting Ric Flair as a fan who attempted to accost wrestlers at shows in Minneapolis, often while intoxicated. One instance of a fan physically interacting with a wrestler in 1983 was captured on video tape and has since figured prominently in the modern-day legacy of World Class Championship Wrestling. During a match at the Dallas Sportatorium, Terry Gordy ran across the ringside floor after spotting a fan who had crossed the rope separating the ringside from the seating area. Although the fan immediately started begging off of the situation once he recognized that Gordy was running towards him, Gordy ended up shoving him backward a considerable distance, displacing part of the seating when he landed on the floor.
In 1988, during a steel cage match between Randy "Macho Man" Savage and "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase at New York City's Madison Square Garden, a fan jumped the guardrail during a tense moment in the match. DiBiase, recalling the incident in his autobiography, yelled for Virgil (DiBiase's bodyguard, who was attempting to interfere in the match) to knock the man down, which he did before security led the suspect away as the match played out as intended (Savage knocking the heads of DiBiase and Virgil together before escaping the cage).
For many years, in many venues throughout the United States, entering or leaving the ring could potentially be a life-or-death proposition. While improvements to venue security and the design of the ringside area have eliminated much of that danger, incidents can still occur. Oftentimes, they involve wrestlers standing outside the ring, while some in the audience were throwing objects towards the ring. 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 match between Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam, a fan jumped the guardrail, got into the ring, and knocked over the ladder while Guerrero was climbing it. Guerrero fortunately noticed what was going on, landed on his feet, and kicked the fan a few times while security took him away.
In 2013, at a WWE Live Event in Cape Town, South Africa, a fan jumped into the ring while WWE performer Randy Orton was on the turnbuckle during his entrance, attacked him with a low blow, and was chased by security guards. Fortunately, Orton was not harmed in any serious way.
During a match with Bray Wyatt at a WWE house show in Victoria, British Columbia in August 2015, Roman Reigns was struck in the head by a metal replica Money in the Bank briefcase thrown by a fan. Reigns was momentarily dazed by the incident but was able to continue the match.
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 wall and attempting to court the fans who are interested in shoots (i.e., events outside of the traditional in-ring wrestling matchups). Notable characteristics of a worked-shoot include the mentioning of terms and information generally known only to industry insiders and "smart" fans. This community of "smart" pro-wrestling fans are sometimes referred to as "smarks".
Historically, it is unclear when the first occurrence of a worked-shoot took place; however, it is generally attributed to the public feud between comedian Andy Kaufman and Jerry "The King" Lawler in 1982.
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, promoter, manager, or other insider generally being interviewed about their career and asked to give their opinion on wrestlers, promotions, or 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, or end up on YouTube.
One example occurred on October 23, 1999, when Doug Gilbert, then with the Memphis independent promotion Power Pro Wrestling, turned a televised interview intended to further a feud with Brian Christopher into a shoot that soon led to the demise of the promotion. Gilbert publicly exposed the fact that Jerry Lawler, previously the owner of another significant Memphis-based promotion, was Brian's father—a blatant violation of kayfabe, the portrayal of events within professional wrestling as not being staged. He also made disparaging remarks about both Lawlers, as well as the promotion's booker Randy Hales.
Drawing from this related term, a shooter or shoot-fighter is not a wrestler with a reputation for being uncooperative but one who uses legit hooking skills as a gimmick. A prime example of this tactic is Dean Malenko, who used "The Shooter" as a nickname. These wrestlers often gain their skills from martial arts (Ken Shamrock, Josh Barnett), or amateur wrestling (Kurt Angle, or Dolph Ziggler). These kinds of shooters are sometimes referred to as stretchers (from their ability to use legit 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 legit 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).
An example of shoot fighting happened on November 4, 2004, episode of SmackDown!, taped in St. Louis, Missouri, during an unscripted segment of Tough Enough, Kurt Angle, a former American amateur wrestler and 1996 Olympic gold medalist, challenged the finalists through a squat thrust competition. Chris Nawrocki won the competition, and his prize was a match against Angle. Angle quickly took Nawrocki down, breaking his ribs, then made him submit with a neck crank. After defeating Nawrocki, Angle challenged the other finalists. Daniel Puder, an American professional mixed martial artist, accepted his challenge. They wrestled for position, with Angle taking Puder down, but in the process Puder locked Angle in a kimura lock. With Puder on his back and Angle's arm locked in the kimura, Angle attempted a pin. One of two referees in the ring, Jim Korderas, quickly counted three to end the bout, despite the fact that Puder's shoulders weren't fully down on the mat, bridging up at two. Puder later claimed he would have snapped Angle's arm on national television if Korderas had not ended the match. Dave Meltzer and Dave Scherer gave these following comments:
It was real. If you don't follow fighting, Puder had Angle locked in the Kimura, or keylock as Tazz called it, although Tazz didn't let on the move was fully executed. Not only was Angle not getting out of the move, but most MMA fighters would have tapped already. Angle couldn't tap for obvious reasons. The ref counted a three even though Puder's shoulders weren't fully down, trying to end the thing, because the reality was Angle would have been in surgery had it gone a few seconds longer or had Puder not given up the hold.
As you would expect, Kurt Angle was less than happy backstage at Smackdown after almost being forced to tap out to Tough Enough contestant Daniel Puder. Downright ticked off would probably be the best way to describe his mood. The unscripted nature of the contest was the main reason that Angle was made to look so bad since Puder just reacted to the situation and could have forced Angle to submit had the referees not thought quickly and counted a pin that wasn’t there on Puder.
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 can 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 sports entertainment.
Shoots may also involve those outside of the wrestling business. In 1984, while filming a 20/20 segment on professional wrestling, reporter John Stossel remarked to wrestler David "Dr. D" Schultz that wrestling was fake. Yelling "You think this is fake?", Schultz slapped him and knocked him to the ground twice. Stossel claimed that he still suffered from pain and buzzing in his ears eight weeks after the assault. Schultz maintains that he attacked Stossel because the head of the WWF wanted him to.