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Who is a great worker?

The term “great worker” gets thrown around by fans and wrestlers. But what does it mean? And who really is a great worker?

WWE.com

In a previous article, I outlined why I believe The Rock’s People’s Elbow is the greatest move in wrestling history. I received some great feedback and counterarguments, and to the readers who chimed in, thank you for your responses. Some of you even took me down memory lane with your replies, and I always appreciate that.

But one comment in particular caught my eye regarding The Rock and how one reader felt that the People’s Elbow was ridiculous, saying:

“The whole thing is like a satire blended in with wrestling. Because of this, I can never rate The Rock’s [sic] as one of the top workers. He was great on the mic but he was an average wrestler at best.”

Initially, I was stunned by that statement. One could call The Rock many things. But to say he’s not a top worker?

Hmm.

I’ll return to that later. But first, we must all be on the same page. Therefore, I’ll ask the question that will ultimately help us to determine who is a great worker:

What is a worker?

One could spend an entire day scouring the internet for the precise wrestling definition of a worker. To some, the ability to work is the ability to perform a match. By that definition, how one performs in the ring, from the way they deliver their offense and receive it in return from others, makes a wrestler a great worker.

But perhaps the best definition of the term worker is the one given by wrestling superstar Al Snow, whose exploits as a trainer at Ohio Valley Wrestling are on display on the Netflix series Wrestlers. According to Snow in a 2020 shoot interview:

“What’s a work? Well, a work is a lie. It’s a sham. It is my ability to make you believe something that’s not true; that’s what it is, no ifs, ands, or buts. A work is to make you buy what’s a lie, and the only lie in wrestling is that it’s not predetermined, that I’m really out there trying to win and trying not to lose.

“A worker, a worker, is a guy who is very adept at being able to make or convince a large amount of people in a lie. It has nothing to do with his physical ability. It has nothing to do with how many moves he can do. All that matters is — it doesn’t matter how he does it — is to allow you to believe in who he is and why he’s out there doing it.”

Snow reiterated that stance earlier this year in another shoot interview, but the explanation he gave three years ago was precise. In Snow’s opinion, being a great athlete does not make one a great worker. And that’s where fans, and even modern wrestlers, according to Snow, get confused.

Pro wrestling was once a legitimate sport until it wasn’t. Newspaper articles going as far back as the late 1800s have long reported on the rigging of events and matches. Over time, wrestling lost its credibility and became more spectacle than sport. Still, it was important for the wrestlers to maintain kayfabe, which Snow defined as an unwritten contract between the performers and the audience where the performer essentially commits to staying in character, at least for the duration of the performance.

There, the work begins.

Despite being beaten over the head by newspapers that wrestling was phony, a portion of the fans in the United States still believed that wrestling was legit, which allowed the performers to work a con. In 2023, it’s impossible to convince modern fans that wrestling is real. Then again, today’s wrestlers don’t have to.

More than ever, pro wrestling is a television show that doubles as a trailer for a movie, which in this case is a premium live event or pay-per-view offering. Wrestlers, therefore, are characters in these plays, and they only need to be believable enough to get the audience to suspend their disbelief for a couple of hours.

In reality, a professional wrestler is no different than an actor. But how does one determine who is a better actor between Anthony Hopkins and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Both are great at what they do. But Hopkins could likely never pull off being The Terminator, just as Arnie would never make for a great Hannibal Lecter. Instead, they played roles that fit them best, which allowed audiences to buy into their performances.

So, now I return to what the reader said about The Rock not being a top worker. Going by the definition I presented, that person is correct in their judgment. To them, Rock wasn’t believable, as The People’s Elbow was a piece of satire, their words, which suggests they didn’t buy Rock’s work (pun intended).

Some people may disagree with the reader’s assessment, and that’s fine. The Rock may not have been an in-ring performer like Bret Hart or Bryan Danielson, wrestlers who can make people believe in the physical art of wrestling, but Rock got fans to believe in his character and the stories he told. Then, there are stars like CM Punk and Brock Lesnar, who easily persuade fans into believing who they are and that what they’re doing in the ring is credible.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Which wrestler is most convincing to you as a performer? Therefore, the definition of a great worker is in the eye of the beholder. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer.

It’s simply what you believe.

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