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Top 10 Pro Wrestling 'Work' or 'Shoot' Debates in History

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Top 10 Pro Wrestling 'Work' or 'Shoot' Debates in History
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Vince McMahon

COMMENTARY | Although professional wrestling is scripted entertainment, wrestlers occasionally go off the script and things get real both in the ring and on the mic.

A "work" refers to pro wrestling staying on the script, whereas a "shoot" refers to wrestlers truly speaking their minds or fighting for real. Often, it can be difficult for fans to differentiate between works and shoots, especially when the wrestlers are highly skilled at their craft. And then there is the dreaded "worked shoot" which is scripted entertainment designed to look real. However, this hasn't stopped wrestling fans from debating if these incidents were works or shoots.

Take a look back at the top 10 work or shoot debates in wrestling history.

10. 2013: South African fan attacks Randy Orton

Unfortunately, a high blood-alcohol level has caused more than a few fans to make the perilous decision to jump the guardrail and attack a pro wrestler. But when it turned out that the fan who jumped in the ring and delivered a low blow to Randy Orton in South Africa was a local wrestler named The Blacksmith, this had all the makings of being a work.

However, this incident has not sparked a storyline and the wrestler was barred from attending future WWE events. The Blacksmith is not working in NXT today and this incident being a work wouldn't make sense as it would only encourage fans to attack wrestlers. In this case, I am of the opinion this is a shoot.

9. 1998: Goldberg vs. Steven Regal

The last vestige of the importance of jobbers in wrestling played out in WCW during Goldberg's undefeated streak. Goldberg squashed dozens of wrestlers, which made the WCW rookie look unbeatable. However, when he faced the skilled ring technician Steven Regal, the British wrestler made Goldberg look human.

This legendary encounter is certainly a shoot, but I can't rank it as high as other famous shoots. After all, Regal didn't injure Goldberg and he eventually allowed the streak to continue. So, in the sense that he made Goldberg look bad, you could call this a shoot. But since Regal took the loss, this really culminated in being a work.

8. 2004: Kurt Angle vs. Daniel Puder

In 2004, Kurt Angle was working a storyline in which he was challenging rookies and novices to wrestling matches that ended in expected fashion. But when Angle challenged Tough Enough finalist Daniel Puder, he got a lot more than he bargained for. Puder put Angle in the Kimura lock and was on the verge of breaking Angle's arm when the referee quickly ended the impending disaster.

This certainly looked like a classic WWE work at the time. What could be a better way to give a promising young rookie a push than to let him look good against the Olympic Gold Medalist? However, all the evidence and reporting on this matter in the last 10 years indicates it was a shoot. Puder was an amateur wrestler and had MMA training.

7. 1979: Bob Backlund vs. Antonio Inoki

In the past, nothing would help a local wrestler get over with his hometown fans more than looking good against a World Heavyweight Champion. Sometimes, local stars would even get a brief World Heavyweight Championship reign. That is exactly what happened when Antonio Inoki upset Bob Backlund in Japan to become WWF World Heavyweight Champion. Or was it?

Eyewitnesses claim that a fast count gave Inoki the victory. More importantly, the WWE does not recognize Inoki's title reign today. This is a telltale sign that the outcome was obviously a shoot.

6. 1982: Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman

By now, every wrestling fan knows this is a work. But as a testament to this incredible feud, it belongs on this list anyway. This angle played out at a time when many people still thought wrestling was real and since the adversaries did such a great job of making it look real, people actually spent decades debating if this was a work or shoot.

Part of what made this rivalry look like a shoot was that Lawler delivered one of the most vicious piledrivers in wrestling history to the comedian. It wasn't until many years later that Lawler finally admitted that he and Kaufman were actually good friends and the whole storyline was a work.

5. 1985: Wendi Richter vs. The Spider Lady

Most wrestling fans remember the WWF feud that played out among Wendi Richter, The Fabulous Moolah, and Leilani Kai as part of the Rock 'n' Wrestling angle. The highlight of the storyline was Richter defeating Kai at the inaugural WrestleMania. However, some fans may not know how Richter's tenure in the WWF came to an end.

Allegedly, Richter and Vince McMahon constantly feuded backstage. Finally, McMahon had had enough and he brought in a ringer to defeat her for the WWF Women's Championship. The ringer was none other than The Fabulous Moolah wrestling under a mask as The Spider Lady. In the match, Moolah won on a quick count, although Richter kicked out. Due to obvious similarities with a more famous later shoot, fans have dubbed this The Original Screwjob.

4. 2000: Vince Russo rips Hulk Hogan

In a strange way, the comedy of errors that befell WCW in its final days made their programming must-see TV. From segment to segment, there was no telling what might happen next. In 2000 at Bash at the Beach, a bizarre series of incidents led to WCW creative director Vince Russo shooting on Hulk Hogan.

First WCW Champion Jeff Jarrett laid down for Hogan. Later that night, Russo announced that Jarrett would face Booker T for the real WCW title in the main event. But what most fans remember is Russo going off on Hogan. This work or shoot debate raged for years, with most experts believing it was a work that Russo took too far, thus making it a shoot.

3. 2011: CM Punk's Pipe Bomb

Nearly three years later, the aftershocks of CM Punk's worked shoot promo on Raw are still reverberating throughout the WWE Universe. Fans have seen wrestlers give shoot style promos before, but this sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen in the WWE. CM Punk went from being a popular wrestler to a legend in a matter of minutes.

The consensus appears to be that the WWE gave CM Punk permission to do a promo at the conclusion of Raw and allowed him to speak his mind. However, the WWE didn't know what he'd be saying. So McMahon was ready with his finger on the button the moment CM Punk went too far. This may be the greatest worked shoot promo in wrestling history.

2. 1964: Lou Thesz vs. Karl Gotch

This is the most famous example of a challenger turning a worked title match into a shoot. But 50 years ago and even further back, this type of thing happened quite frequently. That's why major promotions, such as the NWA, AWA, and WWWF wanted legitimate tough guys and technical wrestlers, such as Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne, and Bruno Sammartino as their world champions.

Legend has it that Karl Gotch, who was challenging Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, tried to turn this match into a shoot. In fact, he broke Thesz's ribs. However, the NWA Champion fought through the pain and defeated Gotch. This is a classic case of a scripted outcome that turned into a shoot.

1. 1997: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels

When WWF Champion Bret Hart signed a contract with WCW, it put Vince McMahon in a bind. Obviously, he needed Hart to drop the title before leaving for WCW. McMahon couldn't let the prestigious WWF Championship suffer the same fate that the Women's belt did on WCW Nitro. But Hart was unwilling to lose the title to Shawn Michaels in Montreal.

So Vince McMahon ordered referee Earl Hebner to award the match to Michaels even though Hart did not actually submit. Clearly, Hart wasn't in on this plan, thus making it a shoot. For years, Michaels claimed he wasn't aware of the plan either, but he later admitted he was. The Montreal Screwjob is perhaps the most famous shoot in wrestling history.

Endnote on viewing these work or shoot incidents

Where video exists of these work or shoot incidents, they can be viewed by clicking on the work or shoot link in each paragraph. However, Russo's shoot promo is not included due to his heavy use of profanity.

Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of pro wrestling. Patrick's favorite wrestling promotion was Mid-South Wrestling back in the 1980s. Patrick's favorite wrestling angle of all-time was the NWO and his favorite wrestler is Roddy Piper. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.

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