Behind the paint of sports-entertainment icon Sting
As so many WWE Superstars vie to be known as “The Face of WWE,” it is an undeniable fact that Sting was “The Face of WCW.”
His colorful face paint, piercing war cry and signature Stinger Splash electrified fans both young and old. In fact, he boasted one of the largest and most loyal fanbases of any in-ring personality in history. On three different occasions, he was voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s “Most Popular Wrestler of the Year.”
“Without the support of the fans — my little Stingers and the big ones, too — I wouldn’t be anywhere near the success I have become,” Sting said after I presented him with the 1990 “Wrestler of the Year” plaque on WCW television. I recall him looking at the shiny prize as it glistened under the TV lights. His smile shone just as brightly.
Still, things weren’t always perfect between Sting and the fans.
When he began his illustrious career in 1985 in Rick Bassman’s Continental Wrestling Association, Sting was a part of a villainous group of bodybuilders known as Power Team USA. Eventually, Sting formed a duo with teammate Jim Hellwig — the man who would one day go on to become the legendary Ultimate Warrior. Together, they became The Blade Runners, an evil tandem cut from the same mold of The Road Warriors.
The tag team burned out quickly, but Sting kept up his wicked ways as a member of Hot Stuff International in the Louisiana-based Universal Wrestling Federation. Under the leadership of Eddie Gilbert, Sting broke the rules alongside Rick Steiner, Iceman Parsons and Missy Hyatt. It was around this time I first met him. Gilbert, who was a friend of mine, called and asked me to come down and see this newcomer who he felt would become a major star in the future.
A few weeks later, I was in a locker room in Baton Rouge with the entire roster of UWF. Eddie had told Sting in advance I would be there as I wanted to do photos for a future story. Sting was so very cooperative, spending almost 30 minutes posing for me before his match.
After he wrestled that evening, Sting came over to me and asked if I would join him for a bite to eat. Along with Gilbert, we wound up at a local Waffle House. For hours, the three of us talked about the wrestling business. It was there that Sting and I established an excellent professional relationship.
We spoke on the telephone a few times a month. In one of those calls, Sting confided in me that he didn’t always see himself being a villain.
I saw the direction things were going and it just wasn’t me."I saw the direction things were going and it just wasn’t me,” he said when we reminisced about that time of his life. “I was probably destined to take the ‘Most Hated’ award back then. It’s something some guys are proud of, but it’s not for me.”
A few weeks later, major disagreements with Eddie Gilbert saw Sting pledge his allegiance to the fan favorites and he began a rivalry with Hot Stuff International. The fans were solidly behind Sting and he loved it. The romance that would last for the rest of his career was underway.
“He was a natural,” UWF owner Bill Watts once told me. “He just needed to find the right path. I always felt he would become someone special in our business and he certainly did. Not only is he an amazing wrestler, but he’s a good human being. A genuine person.”
I learned that firsthand on several occasions throughout the years. There is a fine man behind the Sting persona. Here is one example that I always love to write about.
When my son Brandon was 12 years old, he was a huge WCW fan. Sting’s character captured Brandon’s imagination and he hoped to meet him one day. I took Brandon to a WCW show in Baltimore where Sting was in the main event. After watching a grueling one-hour battle between Sting and Ric Flair, Brandon and I worked our way to The Stinger’s dressing room. He was getting up from the locker room bench, ready to go to the showers when he saw us. Instead of begging off and suggesting we come back later, he looked at Brandon and asked, “Who is this little Stinger, Bill?”
Brandon assumed at the very least he would get an autograph and perhaps a photo with his hero. You can imagine how delighted he was when Sting asked him to sit down next to him. The two chatted away as if they were long-lost friends. Sting asked Brandon where he went to school, what his favorite subjects were and other questions during a conversation that lasted for nearly 15 minutes. To this day, my son has never forgotten the classy way Sting treated him. They have kept in touch and still text a few times a year. As a parent, I could not thank Sting enough for that precious time he gave to my boy. It has resonated for a lifetime.
As a backstage observer for most of WCW’s days, I saw the respect the other wrestlers had for Sting. He was someone most of the talent looked to for advice. During one of my road trips with him, we discussed that element.
“We’re all in this together,” I recall him telling me. “Our mission is to go out there and give the fans the best possible show. I’m no expert, but if someone asks me for advice, I’ll be totally honest. A lot of rookies would ask me, ‘How was my match?’ If I saw it, I would make suggestions, if necessary. I am always flattered when someone wants my input and I will be very honest with my feedback. It’s not about hurting feelings; it’s about improving your match in the ring.”
More than 25 years since he became a good guy, Sting is still a presence in the ring, as well as at numerous charity events. He’s a true legend with a constant drive to always be one step better than the day before. His best days may still be yet to come.