In this age of shoot videos, wrestling blogs, and assorted podcasts, the way fans talk about professional wrestling reflects the shoptalk of the industry. Everyone is smart to the business thanks to the slaying of kayfabe. After several years of listening to insiders talk candidly about their craft, the vocabulary of the average fan has expanded vastly. Fans now confidently use parlance that for years had been the dominion of wrestlers and promoters. Whether this makes fans sound respectably knowledgeable or plainly out of their depth is a matter of conjecture. What is more certain is the lingo fans use is not the same as it had been just a decade and a half ago.
The Internet is more responsible for this than any other factor. Rather than a select pocket of fans having access to dirt sheets of yore, everyone has access to everything anyone writes or posts about the business. Fans watch or listen to shoot interviews and feel they’re part of a conversation. Bloggers and podcasters use this unveiled terminology to lend authenticity to what they write and say. This is a natural extension of the exposure of the business. It’s given fans new jargon to toss around. Below are fifteen terms few if any fans tossed around before the Internet got its hands on the business.
Using “workrate” to describe a wrestler’s overall in-ring ability is a perfect example of this shift in language. Prior to the deluge of information that has come with the Internet, fans had to use such hackneyed terms as “talent” when talking about a wrestler’s ability to perform. “Workrate” is specific to the business, but not so particular that it will confuse those less familiar with the lingo. The term more-or-less makes sense and conveys the idea of a wrestler’s ability to work. Actually, “work” is another multi-use term that has entered the language in recent years. Many first heard it as a way to distinguish what is scripted (a “work”) from what is not (a “shoot”). Closer to the context of workrate, using “work” as a verb is using it to replace “wrestle” or “perform.” Some insiders will use “go” instead, as in “…and despite his age, he still could go.” Similarly, “worker” has begun to take the place of “wrestler” or “performer.” The use of any of these terms is a recent, Internet-fueled change.
14 The Product
Everyone seems to use this in reference to WWE more than to other promotions. Frequently, WWE alumni appear in shoot interviews decrying the current state of WWE programming, which they invariably refer to as “the product.” Performers and fans talk about what they think of the product a promotion offers. In decades past, people would’ve been more likely to talk about programming in terms of recent shows, perhaps being as specific as naming pay-per-views or episodes of shows like Nitro or Raw. Today, the whole of what a promotion generates simply becomes “the product.” In some respects, this is a convenient way of capturing everything a company does, from storylines to matches to t-shirts. Conversely, it reduces performances and productions to something that can be consumed. Promotions do put on shows for the sake of consumption. Professional wrestling still is a business. That said, the dismissive tone of “the product” is difficult to overlook.
“Selling” is fundamental in wrestling. With the outcomes being fixed and the moves being designed to look damaging rather than actually being damaging, performers need to make the audience believe the action in the ring legitimately hurts. Often it really does, but “selling” is the art of conveying this in a believable yet dramatic way that helps propel the story of a match. Casual fans of previous decades might have been in on the rigged nature of the business, but how many were familiar with “selling” prior to the Internet? Some probably knew, but not many. The exposure of the business allows performers to talk openly about selling as nuanced skill. Fans of today can watch matches and look for a performer’s ability to sell rather than focusing on the illusion of competition. This changes the way fans experience matches. Familiarity with selling is as fundamental to this experience as selling itself is to storytelling.
12 Drew a Number/House
More phrases than terms, these are a favorites of shoot interview guru Kevin Nash. The terms have similar enough meanings to discuss them together. Nash often references specific episodes of WCW programs having “drawn a number.” He states this as though we all know what he means. To anyone who doesn’t know, he’s talking about ratings. The number is a Nielsen rating. These remain relevant today, but their absolute importance has changed as fans watch programming on devices other than televisions and at times of their choosing. To say a show “drew a house” refers to tickets sold for a live event. Nash and others will refer to specific performances in terms of “draw” and comment on a performer’s ability to “draw.” These aren’t arcane, impenetrable terms, but casual fans weren’t talking much about ratings prior to the famed Monday Night Wars. More fans have talked about this period retroactively on the Internet than did so when WWE and WCW were in the throes of battle.
Here is a term that essentially is a creation of fans talking on the Internet. For several years, fans have used “incident” to commemorate any controversial event in wrestling. Its first use might coincide with the event frequently blamed for the contemporary exposure of the business: the MSG Incident. Since that night in 1996, seemingly every event involving some echelon of unscripted calamity has become an incident. Combined, these form a chunk of wrestling’s history. Some have become nearly common knowledge among fans, such as the Mass Transit Incident in ECW (also taking place in 1996, but later in the year). Others remain slightly more obscure, like the somewhat ghastly Mike Levy Incident and the even worse Gypsy Joe Incident. A preponderance of these incidents take place in relatively small indie promotions, often in matches captured only by fan-held cameras. Calling them “incidents” is akin to the pop-culture phenomenon of attaching the hyphenated suffix “-gate” to any social or political controversy.
10 Gorilla Position
Fans of a certain age grew up with the late Gorilla Monsoon calling some of the most iconic moments in wrestling. Most of these fans didn’t know about Monsoon’s backstage role until after his death. Famously, Monsoon would watch matches from right behind the curtain of the backstage entrance, observing and taking mental notes. He’d be there waiting for performers as they returned from the ring, ready to impart his thoughts. Any booker or veteran who does this today is said to be in “the Gorilla Position.” Some performers shorten this to “Gorilla.” No fan would need to know the role of someone in this position if kayfabe continued to exist. Anyone who hasn’t kept up with recent additions to wrestling vocabulary might be thrown by this one, as its meaning would be difficult to surmise without context. Thanks to the internet, most contemporary fans immediately know what a performer means by saying someone was waiting “at Gorilla.”
9 Go Over
To “go over” generally mean to win a match. A typical use would be “…the Warrior was booked to go over that night.” Like most jargon in most industries, using this as a substitute for the more straightforward “win” gives insiders a sense of ownership of the language. Insiders no longers own this one. Message boards, forums, and comment sections are filled with fans debating who will “go over” at some upcoming event. Just using the more pedestrian “win” now makes a person seem less in-the-know. “Over” has at least one other meaning. It refers to how popular a performer or gimmick is with the audiences. Being “over” is synonymous with being popular. Saying someone will never be “over” anywhere is an attack on that performer’s potential. Any use of “over” is tied to the term’s appearance in interviews, podcasts, and blogs. Not many fans in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s would’ve talked about whether Jake Roberts was going to “go over” Rick Rude, or about how “over” the Bushwhackers were.
8 The Boys
Referring to those in the locker room as “the boys” has an antiquated feel to it, especially at a time when women in wrestling are commanding such respect. Fans wouldn’t know of this reference to performers without hearing performers speak out of character. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, fans would’ve had the impression that heel and face performers wouldn’t be able to share space without attacking one another. The internet has opened the locker room doors so fans can hear (allegedly) true stories of the off-camera antics of “the boys.” Knowing who was considered one of “the boys” helps reveal the dynamics of locker room politics of a given time. It also gives a glimpse into the fraternal lives of wrestlers, complete with traditions of hazing and ribbing.
7 Go Home
Casual fans almost certainly wouldn’t know this expression without the business having been exposed. Another expression with multiple uses, “go home” often refers to wrestlers ending a match. Sometimes one will signal this to another, but the referee really is there to give this cue. Because the expression is so tied to the scripting of matches, it would’ve been protected information in the days of strict kayfabe. Today, fans listen to performers tell story after story about being ready to “go home.” The alternate use of the expression is less particular, but also has entered the popular wrestling vernacular just recently. A “go home show” is the episode of a television broadcast directly preceding a pay-per-view or other major event. Outsiders aren’t likely to pick up the meaning of this one without some context. Its obscurity makes it all the more special to those wanting to claim jargon as their own.
The terms “rib” or “ribbing” aren’t owned by the wrestling world. People with no practical insider knowledge of wrestling know these as references to practical jokes. Fans might have a difficult time thinking about them in any non-wrestling context thanks to the Internet. Compilations of shoot interview rib stories are all over YouTube. Interviewers love asking performers for rib stories. Some of the stories are a bit harrowing, suggesting a few performers were thoroughly heinous people. At the very least, rib stories let fans know what kind of respect codes seemed to dominate locker rooms of years past. Again, kayfabe had to die for fans to have access to stories of performers behaving off-camera in ways that might make their on-camera characters cringe.
Figuring out the meaning of “blow-off” would be tricky without context. With the help of the internet, fans know it to be the culminating match of a feud. For as long as wrestling has existed, feuds have been part of the draw. Building up a feud is why anyone ever thought to put a microphone in front of a wrestler. There’s a reason those raging and rambling interviews are called “promos.” Feuds always have come to an end, but in recent years, casual fans have had something to call these final confrontations. Today, fans are used to hearing podcasters talk about how a tag team will blow of their feud at some upcoming event. Did anyone call Hogan and Savage’s match at WrestleMania V a “blow-off?” Prior to the Internet’s proliferation of the term, fans would’ve talked about wrestlers “settling scores” or feuds “coming to a head.”
4 Blow Up
Totally unrelated to “blow-off” is “blow up.” This is one of the few terms on this list that has application across the world of sports. To “blow up” is to get winded during a physical performance. Sure, professional wrestling is staged, but each performance requires significant athleticism. The fast-paced, high-flying style so popular today demands cardiovascular fitness. When a wrestler can’t keep up and needs a rest, he or she has “blown up.” Getting tired can be worked into a story, but when it happens at the wrong time, it conversely can undermine the story. Shoot interviews have revealed how wrestlers have tried to blow one another up intentionally, either to show off or to make another performer look bad. Some apparently have done this as a rib. None of this should be surprising, but how do fans know about it with such certainty? Thank you, Internet.
Fans can thank the internet for revealing a term for something that otherwise would be difficult to describe. Getting “heat” is getting a negative reaction from the crowd. Think boos and jeers. Ideally, this is deliberate. A heel character strives to get this kind of reaction. Some will get “cheap heat” by attacking an audience’s local sports teams or by flatly insulting audience members. Others will seek the ire of the audience through traditionally dastardly deeds. “Heat” is part of the show, except when it’s unintentional. Sometimes a performer will get “heat” by saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, inadvertently offending an audience. More damning might be when a performer upsets “the boys” in the back by subverting some time-honored respect code. Performers in shoot interviews and on podcasts often talk about the real “heat” between performers who legitimately did not like one another off camera. In place of the generic “tension” or some clumsy way to describe any of this, fans now can use “heat” to talk about the business’s angrier moments.
How aware were fans of “botches” prior to the Internet? Wrestling is remarkably difficult. Rehearsed as some moves might be, they still require timing. This timing can—and does—go wrong. With nearly the entirety of wrestling’s recorded history available through just a few clicks, fans can scrutinize every match for the most minute mistakes. Can this conversation move forward without mentioning Botchamania? This popular series of videos featuring botches old and new has become part of wrestling culture. Rather than the Internet just reporting about wrestling, Botchamania is an example of how it influences the performances. Audiences can be heard chanting “Botchamania!” whenever a performer makes an obvious mistake. One has to wonder how obvious these mistakes would be if fans weren’t looking for them and how much of a reaction mistakes would get from the crowd. It’s fun and frustrating simultaneously. Once again, thank you, Internet.
1 Pipe Bomb
Most of the terms on this list existed as business jargon before fans adopted them via the Internet. Not “pipe bomb.” Out of all these, this one is a child of the Internet age. When CM Punk donned a Steve Austin t-shirt and delivered his famous seated promo in 2011, the Internet embraced it as “the Pipe Bomb.” Punk had referred to the microphone as being a pipe bomb in his hand (although he said this after the promo that everyone calls “the Pipe Bomb”). Since that night, any promo that seems to be a thinly veiled or unscripted attack has become a “pipe bomb.” This is similar to the way “incident” has been used. The expression now is part of the wrestling lexicon. Unlike others on this list, “pipe bomb” always has been owned by the fans and never has been an insider expression. It still gets most of its mileage thanks to the Internet, though.