How Knowing A Few Key Phrases Completely Changes Wrestling

Category: Beer Humor
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The following collection of words will sound like total goddamn gibberish to most of you, but hardcore wrestling fans will know exactly what I’m saying: “Can you believe the canned heat they just piped in for that jobber? It was supposed to be a basic promo, but he worked himself into a shoot, and now smarks are going to be crying about how he needs a mouthpiece.”

This is one of the greatest parts of wrestling to me: the behind-the-scenes terminology. It says so much about the industry, once you know what it all means. Most of it was started in a time when wrestling was presented as a legitimate competitive fighting sport. They were code words that were only known to the people who were in the business. For instance, “jobber” is code for a sort of no-name wrestler whose sole purpose is to lose to bigger stars. But if it’s 1970, and you’re telling the world that the sport is “real,” you can’t exactly give away the fact that this guy’s job is “professional loser.”

But it gets better …



“Mark” is a straight-up conman term. It was used by carnival workers back in the ancient times when people went to carnivals on purpose. A “mark” was the victim of rigged games or the target of a con. So let’s say you were a worker who was running a game booth where the object was to knock down a stack of milk cans with a baseball, but one of them was filled with concrete … when someone walked by, showing interest, you’d think, “Here’s the mark who’s about to make me some sweet milk-can money.”

Outside of the “con” aspect, it was a carnival term that was used literally. If you were paying for your ticket, and the person in the booth spotted that you had a lot of money, someone would grab a bit of dirt or chalk and discretely mark your clothes, so the game-booth workers would know who had money to spend and who didn’t. That way, they didn’t waste their time on broke-ass punks who were just there to look at the shiny prizes.

A mark in wrestling is someone who gets really into certain performers or heavily buys into the story lines. You’re falling for their performance in the same way that you’re falling for the milk-can trick. In the most basic sense. In the world of wrestling fans, “mark” is often used as an insult. So if someone’s a fan of John Cena, and I often picture John Cena on fire, I’d insult that fan by saying, “Oh, so you’re another Cena mark, huh? What are you, twelve?”

At the same time, it’s a term of endearment. “Holy shit, I totally marked out when the Dudley Boyz returned!” Wrestlers typically love marks because it means they’re enjoying the show for what it is. Well, that and marks are pretty easy people to sell t-shirts to.

“Smarks” are a different story. It means “smart marks,” and they are typically people who keep up on the behind-the-scenes aspects of wrestling. They know when a performer has been legitimately injured, versus a story-based fake injury. They know which performers are dating. They know that the reason Chad Wrestleman has not been on TV for a month is because he got busted for snorting oven cleaner. Wrestlers. Fucking. Hate. Smarks.

You see, smarks are the ones who can get an entire crowd chanting about real-life controversies, right on the air. Recently, John “Bradshaw” Layfield has been in wrestling news for allegedly bullying one of the announcers right out of the industry. He’s been known as a piece of shit for years, but the newest story is what got smarks to lead the audience in a chant of, “FIRE BRADSHAW!” Smarks are the ones who got Nikki Bella to respond to them with this:

Via Twitter

That looks like a spilled Scrabble board to regular readers. A regular fan knows that when John Cena comes out, there is a long standing tradition of half the crowd chanting, “Let’s go, Cena!” The other half chants, “Cena sucks!” Smarks knew that Nikki Bella and John Cena had started dating in real life … so they modified that chant to, “You suck Cena!” Smarks aren’t exactly known for their wit and charm, but that shit made it on the air.


Work Yourself Into A Shoot

This is probably my favorite wrestling phrase, because it says so much about the psychology of performing. In general, when a wrestler picks up a microphone and goes into his or her spiel, that’s called “cutting a promo.” Everything they’re saying is adding to the promotion of a match, a story, a pay per view, a movie … whatever project needs pushed. All of the stuff they’re saying — in character and adhering to the story — is called a “work.” It’s scripted. It’s planned out in advance. I mean, obviously, they’re not going to let them grab a mic and start going off about how Hitler did nothing wrong. Unless the story demands it, in which case, it’s fair game. The point is, their words and actions are controlled. They’re worked.

A “shoot” can mean either 1) really fighting in the ring, like when Perry Saturn legitimately beat the fuck out of Mike Bell for botching a move, or 2) when a wrestler drops the character and starts talking about real shit. You mostly see this happening in interviews, outside of the WWE. Here’s Jim Cornette shooting about “accidental” nudity that happened in WWE matches in the past:

And here he is, shooting on the idea of shoot interviews:

“Working yourself into a shoot” can happen verbally or physically. It happens when you start off talking or wrestling as planned (a work), but as you go on, something legitimately pisses you off, and you start “throwing live rounds,” as Blue Meanie so eloquently put it (a shoot). The part that fascinates me is that the trigger that pisses you off doesn’t have to come from an outside source. Simply acting and getting too into the role can do it.

The best example of it happening, verbally, is on an episode of Talking Smack. That’s a scripted show (or at least partially scripted) by the WWE. On one episode, Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan called “The Miz’s” wrestling style cowardly. He wasn’t talking about his in-story fights. He was talking about him as a performer, playing things too safely. Though Miz tried to bring things back around to a character-driven response in the end, everything else is him legitimately losing his shit. Note: That is just my opinion, based on knowing how he sounds when he acts mad. If this is all acting, he deserves an Oscar:

The thing about a shoot is that it’s a double-edged sword. Say too much and badmouth the wrong person, and they’ll fire your ass. But do it in just the right way — which means getting lucky, because you’re in no position for self control when you’re that pissed off — and the critics will praise you forever. That video above is considered to be The Miz’s best work of his entire career.


Canned Heat Vs. Legit Heat

You’d think that “canned heat” and “legit heat” would be opposite terms, but they’re fairly unrelated. Both are important, though, in understanding the psychology of the business.

Sometimes, an audience simply isn’t into a character. Maybe he’s just a boring turd. Maybe the crowd is exhausted after a couple hours, and they’ve lost the energy to cheer and boo at every little thing that happens in the ring. When an on-air wrestling promotion wants the people at home to buy into the illusion of excitement, they’ll “pipe in” boos or cheers. I don’t know if wrestlers call it “canned heat,” but fans do.

This is especially useful if the promotion wants a certain character viewed in a specific way. If the crowd suddenly starts liking and cheering a heel (bad guy), they might replace those cheers with pretaped boos and even new commentary. Personally, I couldn’t give less of a shit whether they do it or not. I just find it interesting that crowds are unpredictable, and sometimes for the benefit of the overall product, you have to steer the at-home viewers in a specific direction. If I had the time to rig it up, I’d pipe in canned heat every time I entered or exited my house.

“Legit heat” is what gives smarks their gossip boners. It can sometimes be used to describe a crowd that legitimately hates a character, but it’s more frequently used among fans to talk about performers who are in real-life, behind-the-scenes tiffs. Here are a bunch of wrestlers talking about legitimate backstage heat in the form of beating the urine out of each other:

But “legit heat” can also mean getting in trouble with the big dogs. Vince McMahon is fairly notorious for losing his shit on wrestlers who screw up or say the wrong thing on the mic … or, hell, just don’t look the way he wants them to look. Put “Vince McMahon heat” into YouTube, and you’ll get 127,000 results.


But that says a lot about the business to me. In a testosterone-fueled industry where your main job is doing physically demanding stunts and pretending to punch each other, sometimes arguments are settled backstage by actually punching each other. It doesn’t seem to happen as often in the modern era of wrestling, but “legit heat” absolutely still exists because humans are humans. It just means, now, that someone is mad at you because you’re a big ol’ stupidhead.


Working Stiff

Hehehehe. “Working stiff.”

OK, that’s enough of that. Working stiff is a real thing, and it has nothing to do with their big ol’ hogs. When you’re timing a punch, it’s not all about stopping your fist just short of hitting the guy straight in the suckhole. Some wrestlers do that. Some use punches that actually land — they’re just done in a way that isn’t as painful or face-destroying as a full-on, “real” hit. They keep their fist loose, and the impact lands in a very specific spot. There are many ways to make a punch look real if you have the talent (and your opponent has the talent) to pull it off.

Others will actually clock you and demand that you clock them back. Not full-on, mind you … but enough contact that you’re definitely going to fucking feel it. Sometimes, that’s done to make the match look more realistic. Sometimes, it’s done to test new members of your roster. When The Dudley Boyz entered the WWE, they were put into a match with The APA, and … well, the Dudleys can tell you about it:

It basically boils down to, “We hit them about as hard as we could hit them. And they hit us about as hard as they could hit us. Then we went backstage and hugged, and it was awesome.” You know, like one does.

One of the stiffest wrestlers on the current roster is “Sheamus.” He’s known for laying into forearms, punches, and kicks to the point that at last week’s pay per view he kicked Jeff Hardy’s tooth right out of his goddamn skull.

These days, it’s not so much about punishing a new wrestler. It’s mostly about making the matches look real, because if you’re making actual contact, that’s about as real as it gets. The only way you can mess that one up is … well, if you knock a dude’s tooth out of his facehole. But it’s still pretty amazing that the recipients of those shots take it and keep on performing, because they know that the more they sell it, the more they’re worth as performers. Personally, I’d just start crying until I puked if they did that to me.



One thing casual fans take for granted is a wrestler’s ability to work a microphone. It’s not enough that he’s huge, athletic, and able to pull off the match without hurting anyone. If he can’t speak in front of a crowd, he’s just a meat prop. And if he’s boring, people will simply make a concerted effort to not give a fuck. That’s where a mouthpiece comes in.

A “mouthpiece” is someone who speaks for the wrestler, while he just stands in the background, looking like he’s about to rip your entire fucking head off. It sounds stupid, but when you put two people like Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman together, it’s pure magic:

When Jack Swagger picked up a microphone, he caused tens of thousands of people to fall into a mass coma. He couldn’t even get them to boo, and that’s what we as fans like to do the most. So what do you do? Do you turn him into a jobber and then fire him? Well, they actually did that, eventually … but at the time, the obvious solution was to create a militant, racist character named Zeb Colter and let him do his thing:

The only words spoken by Jack Swagger in that entire promo is, “We the people.” That’s it. His entire job was to stand there like an indoctrinated soldier, while Zeb preached his racist message. The crowd hated them, which was exactly what the WWE wanted. Sure, eventually people turned the other way and started cheering them because the world is an ever-growing ball of crazy, but the point is that the mouthpiece was the savior of that character.

All of these terms boil down to psychology. Manipulating people’s emotions and perspectives to get them to react the way you want. It’s why I love wrestling so much. It’s not just “two oiled-up dudes, violently hugging each other.” It’s an emotional magic show. “We’re going to get you excited. Now, we’re going to piss you off. Now, we’re going to make you laugh. Now, we’re going to make you think you run the show.” It’s brilliant, but the thing you see on TV is only the curtain. The real tricks are being done behind it.

At the very least, you should know what that ridiculous quote from the beginning of this article means, now.

John Cheese is the head of columns for Cracked. You can also find him on Twitter.

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