Organized Lightning: The Electricity of an Icon


by: A.C. Wright

I have a hard time placing some of the specifics of my history, so I can’t exactly say when professional wrestling made its way into my life – like my love for music and sweet tea – it’s just kind of always been there. I don’t know how your time works, but occasionally I get flashes of the past and disappear for a moment, just to reappear a couple of seconds from when I slipped away. There are random mentally screen shotted memories that I can flip to from a childhood home when my Mom and I lived down the street from my grandma, and I can remember playing with some of my action figures in our car port. I slip to being on a road trip, I had to have been 3 or 4, and playing with some WWF color-forms1. Wrestling has just always been around for me.

     I feel like it had to have been my Grandad, my Dad’s dad, that probably introduced me to it. I remember how he and I would check in with what each other had seen that week. He followed WCW a bit more than WWF, as I’m sure he leaned toward the realistic styling over the more cartoonish nature of the Fed at the time2. We also lived in Alabama, and I’m sure WCW being a mainstay in the South drew him as well. I just loved it all. It was my absolute favorite thing in the world – and still is sometimes. 

     I’ve had a lot of favorite wrestlers at different times over my decades of fandom but there’s always been one that has stood above the rest.

     My love for Sting began long before he was hanging out in rafters and taking out the NWO with a baseball bat. I found Sting in the earlier days with a bleach blonde flat top3, neon face paint, bright colored tights, and fringed bedazzled jackets, out there fighting for all of the little Stingers, like myself, all over the world.

     Sting was electricity personified! 

     This was what would become known as his “Surfer Sting” era and it will forever be my favorite.

1 is that what they were called? – it was this a boxed glossy background of a wrestling ring and crowd and these floppity sticky plastic cutouts of wrestlers like Hogan and Big Boss Man and with the right imagination you could have matches on the go. This would have pre-dated travel game systems like the Gameboy. We’re talking late 80s here.

2 Though I do have a random memory of my Grandad and I talking a day or two after Dude Love debuted and him asking me why Mick Foley was coming out dressed like “some sort of rock and roller or something” and me trying to work out the Faces of Foley as best an 11 year old could grasp. An 11 year old that had not really peaked behind the curtain at all – so it was all still pretty real to me – and that Cactus Jack was going through it. This continued for another couple of years until my friends and I eventually determined that WWF wasn’t real but WCW still was.

3  a haircut that I would adopt for most of my childhood – minus the rattail.

lil ACW Sting 1

     In a territory that did tend to lean a little more toward the reality side of graps4, Sting stood out. Being more colorful than a strong portion of the roster, it made it easy for kids to be drawn to him – but he fought just as hard as anybody else, if not more, so it wasn’t just the lil’ Stingers out there screaming along. You had your older Stinger fans painted up and flexing their non-existent muscles on the other side of the guard rails too.

     There’s some stuff in wrestling that doesn’t hold up when I go back to revisit it now as a grown man, but that isn’t usually the case for Sting5. Sure, there’s some nostalgia that will always be tied to going back and watching those early Clash of the Champions and other shows. I still smile at the old WCW magazine commercials where the kid turns into Sting then back to himself with Sting’s paint and jacket, but somehow keeps Sting’s voice to say, “Where do they get this stuff?!” 

     Admittedly, I know that I look back at a lot of it with rose colored lenses and there’s a chance I’m less forgiving of some of the silliness that other wrestlers have on their CVs than I am of the Stinger, but it is what it is.

     My folks got divorced when I was like 6 months old6 – I forget some of the specifics since I’ve mostly avoided the topic with either parent. They’d been married for 5 years before I was born and dated years before that, and then I made my way into the territory and they decided to separate over “something stupid” – which was the reason I was given as a child. 

     I lived with my Mom but my Dad was still around. I feel a little bad because I do have some memories from that time with my mom, grandparents and cousins, but not as many of my Dad. I know he joined the Navy so he was gone for training out of state – so that’s probably a large chunk of it – but for those first 5 years, I don’t have a lot of memories of him. There are a few that I can sort of piece together, like one of a house with a brown shag carpet he may have had in that era – but I also don’t know if I’m making up memories from old photographs that I’ve seen.

     Either way, him not being as constant in those early years as he would become later, maybe left me to gravitate toward these strong, larger than life guys that were real to me. Not so much that I wanted them to be my Dad – but more that I wanted to be like them – strong and unafraid of anything – able to protect my mom and myself – and there was nobody that I looked up to in such a way at that time as I did to Sting.

4 give or take a Robocop, Black Scorpion, or Yeti.

5 at least when it comes to a fair portion of the WCW run. I can’t speak to much of his TNA run. I mostly lost touch with wrestling after the end of WCW, catching bits of WWE here and there but not really watching or keeping up with any regularity. TNA wasn’t really on my radar, so I’ve only seen certain matches, angles, and pieced together fan videos years after the fact. There’s some great stuff in there like his work with Samoa Joe and there’s some stuff like the “Joker Sting” run where he was torturing Hogan and Bischoff whilst doing his best Heath Ledger cosplay – which pops me now but I don’t know how I would have felt about it in the actual moment.. actually I would have probably been pretty into it.

6 Whoa – sorry – that was a quick left turn… but just go with me here.

My mom has always been, and continues to be, a good sport with my love for wrestling and, as a kid, she would regularly paint my face like my favorites7. I can remember multiple occasions having her paint me up like Animal or Hawk of the Road Warriors, there were maybe a couple of others8, but more times than not I was requesting some variation of the surfer Sting paint9.

ACW Sting 2

     I remember Halloween of 1991, 5 year old me decided that I’d go out trick or treating as Sting and have my mom paint my face pink and black like my Sting action figure10. She was happy to oblige. The action figure was wearing blue tights with black boots, so my blue jeans and black cowboy boots would work just fine. Sting wasn’t wearing a shirt so it was obvious to me that neither would I, despite it being Fall in Virginia and me being a five year old. Mom, of course, didn’t go for this, so as a compromise she painted a white tank top with the same face paint design that I’d be sporting. She’s very artsy and crafty this way.

     The compromise worked for me and I got a slick tank top that I could then wear all the time.

     My mom and I moved to Virginia not long after my folks got remarried – to each other. My Dad had to be there for Navy duties for a handful of months before we moved to London, England where Pops was to be stationed for at least 3 years.

Lil ACW Sting 2

     My love for wrestling continued, though in the UK at the time WCW wasn’t as known or available as WWF was. We only had 1 or 2 television channels that had sort of a potluck of shows. I remember being able to catch WWF on Saturday mornings sometimes and you could find WWF figures in toy stores. The neighborhood kids knew about Razor Ramon and Bret Hart but I’d have to pass on Sting lore through stories like he was this mythical being because, outside of our downstairs neighbor who was from North Carolina and in his thirties, nobody knew anything about the Stinger.

     I got my dosages of WCW thanks to my Grandma who would record episodes of Clash of the Champions and WCW Saturday night from TBS on a VHS and mail them to me in care packages alongside episodes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. So, for the early 90s, Sting’s run was made up of a handful of random matches that I watched over and over rather than storylines that I got to see play out in real time. 

7  I can paint my own face now, thanks – but she totally would if I asked her to.

8 when I was in 5th grade, a friend of mine threw a Nitro Party where everyone was to dress as a wrestler and I picked Perry Saturn, who didn’t have face paint but did have a tattoo of the planet Saturn on his back that my mom was kind enough to draw on for me along with a fake mustache/goatee combo

9  Coincidentally, I don’t remember a time I ever had her paint my face like Crow Sting though, despite that being his longest running and most iconic paint.

10  which would have been the early Galoob figures where the wrestlers would be in a solid pose and couldn’t move any limbs so Sting just stood there flexing and yelling for eternity. I still have this very figure on a shelf behind me.

  I’ve since gotten to go back and see much of what I’ve missed but I’ll still always have a special place for seemingly throw away matches like the Clash where Nikita Koloff mostly beats the mess out of Sting until the very end where Sting catches him with a rollup – and the angle later on the same show where Sting comes out to talk with JR and celebrate with a little Stinger who has the same face paint as him. Soon after, Koloff sneaks back out and destroys Sting in front of the kid and makes eyes like he’s going to hurt the boy too before the kid’s mother hops the rail to shield her son as security gets Koloff back to the back. After Nikita leaves, the kid goes to his fallen hero’s side to try and help him. Real graps.

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 once upon a time a whole video of this angle was on Daily Motion or somewhere but it has since been taken down – it’s from Clash of the Champions 15, if you want to find it on the network. It’s worth the time.

My dad finished his time in London in 1994 and we moved back to Alabama where most members of both sides of the family still lived. All of a sudden WCW was back and available to me and all right before the beginning of what would become the Monday Night Wars era.

     Sting was still a mainstay in WCW when I returned and though I had missed many of the classic angles and matches, I was no less a fan. As Nitro started, Sting was still the bleach blonde surfer Sting that I’d been idolizing for years but it wouldn’t be long before Sting would continue his evolution toward the version he has been for decades now. 

     This evolution is likely a big component of Sting remaining relevant over the years. I don’t know that he could have continued being the bright neon wearing ass kicker forever and still had the same effect he ended up having. A lot of that has an expiration date and becomes harder to maintain without people turning against you – just ask John Cena – but still, Surfer Sting will probably always be my favorite. 

     With that era I include the introduction of the NWO and all of the Disney tapings where Sting had lost the bleach blonde flattop and had started letting his natural darker brunette locks grow – but he was still wearing some of the neon colors and painting his face as he had been. Though it was obvious that the grittiness of the NWO would need an equally gritty hero to save the day11

     I’ll never forget the angle at Disney where the New World Order shows up while the tag match is going on between the Horsemen against Sting and Macho before the NWO destroys the backstage and everyone in it. Nash launching Rey Mysterio at a trailer like a dart. Jimmy Hart runs out mid match to try and get the WCW guys back to help but the NWO takes off in their limo with Macho Man hanging onto the moon roof. 

11  There’s, of course, the story that Sting was the backup plan to turn heel and join the NWO if Hogan backed out – and a Sting turn at that time would have been way more heartbreaking and shocking to me.

     It wouldn’t be long though before Surfer Sting and any of the pieces that resembled that era of the Stinger would be no more. WCW had wrongfully mistrusted Sting and turned their back on him leading to the 1996 War Games at Fall Brawl where Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Sting’s best friend Lex Luger were to team with Sting to take on the NWO, who had been parading a false Sting as the real Stinger and beating down the WCW team12.


     Sting was the first to stand up to the Outsiders and wasn’t about to turn his back on WCW and the little Stingers. Right?

     This began the era of Crow Sting that became the iconic look he would continue on, with random variations, to this day. Sting started showing up at Nitro to sit in the rafters to watch segments and occasionally taking some time out of his vulture-sitting schedule to Scorpion Death Drop Jeff Jarrett before eventually letting it be known he was not a part of the New World Order but rather the vigilante anti-hero that WCW needed to overcome them.

     This Sting was different than the one I’d grown up with. He was darker and brooding but this new incarnation felt more cool than the original to a soon to be teenager that was also growing away from some of the interests that I’d loved as a child.

     I’d continue growing with Sting and the stories he was telling on WCW all the way up to the final episode of Monday Nitro where he fought and defeated his longtime rival Ric Flair. After the match the two men hugged and it was a bit of a curtain call for WCW as we knew it13. The two men had fought countless times over the years, including on the very first episode of Nitro in 1995. Now here they were in 2001 to put a period at the end of a historic era they’d helped create.

     This was around the time that I stopped watching wrestling all together. I was a freshman in high school and my love for punk rock that began a few years prior had overtaken my love for wrestling14. I liked some of the wrestlers on WWF but with the end of WCW came the end of my consistent watching of professional wrestling. 

12  who, for some reason, didn’t realize the real Sting was actually wrestling in Japan and I guess no one tried to reach out to him? Long distance calls were expensive back then. I think this was maybe just before Lee Marshall was promoting 1-800-COLLECT every week.

13  WWF had purchased WCW, so nobody knew what would come of the wrestlers under contract

14  I’d even briefly joined my high school’s wrestling team earlier in the year but left the team, informing the coach that I wanted to focus on my music career – which at the time was just a band made up of a couple of friends from another school and myself playing in basements, garages, and a safari themed put-put golf place that would let us throw shows in their party room for a cut of the door.

     Had Sting found his way to WWF/WWE at that time, would I have kept watching? I don’t know – maybe – but probably not for long. It was just my time to move away from wrestling. Most of it didn’t feel like it was for me anymore and my interests in playing music and wanting girls to like me made it hard for me to make time for it. Like I mentioned, TNA wasn’t really on my radar and even when I heard that Sting was wrestling there, I was too far outside of the world of graps to care.

     I’ll save you the long of it15 but I got into AEW not too long after Dynamite started on tv in a time where I was trying to escape some sadness and fill a void in my own life. After 15+ years, my love for wrestling had been re-ignited thanks to folks like Jon Moxley, Butcher & Blade, Eddie Kingston, and so many more. With the pandemic, I also had all this time to go back and see a lot of what I’d missed in WWE and get introduced to more soon-to-be favorites like Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Sasha Banks, and others.

     This included a surprise run by the Stinger, who had a brief stint in the Fed feuding with The Authority and losing a match at Wrestlemania 31 to Triple H after some weird run ins from members of DX and the NWO, who Sting was never actually aligned with. The run came to an end at Night of Champions 2015 when Sting received a legit neck injury in a match with Seth Rollins after being power bombed into the turnbuckles.

     It was overall a very disappointing end to a legitimate icon’s career. I mostly try to block it out. It was very sad to think of that being the end for him.

     I continued watching all the wrestling that I could, using it as a salve for the sadness that was sweeping my life. Covid was in full swing, relationships with longtime friends had ended, my band broke up, my grandmother had recently passed away, and my dad’s health had taken a turn. He had beaten cancer before but this time it was taking a toll on him and he was having a hard time fighting it off. 

     Also I had just quit drinking.. which had been a primary source of escapism for too long. So wrestling was the one thing that I had that I didn’t have to think about. I could throw it on to fall into this other world and sort of forget about the heaviness of life for a couple of hours.

     Then in December 2020, out of nowhere16 on an episode of Dynamite titled Winter is Coming – the lights go out after a tag match, with Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin still in the ring with Arn Anderson after having defeated Ricky Starks and Powerhouse Hobbs. 

     Snow starts falling and out walks Sting.

15  *too late*

16  in hindsight there were some signs but they snuck in pretending to be homages

I was speechless.

     I legitimately teared up. 

     I didn’t see it coming as I was too caught up in the story surrounding the night’s main event between Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega for the World’s Title.

     So when my favorite childhood wrestler, this beacon of strength and hope, walked onto my screen the week after my Dad had a stroke, it choked me up. This guy that was a symbol of overcoming the odds to me as a kid just happens to return in a time where I maybe needed just such a symbol. 

     I know it’s just wrestling, but it felt special17.

     That’s exactly what Sting’s AEW run has felt like for me.  Just really special. I’m so glad that he got to re-open the book of his career and is getting to write the end how he wants it to be. Going out on his own terms and getting to leave his mark on a new generation of fans and wrestlers. 

     I won’t break down all of the great matches he has been a part of in the territory, or talk too much about how he might be considered to AEW what Terry Funk was to ECW – putting his body on the line in questionable ways for his age and helping to lift younger talent – because I’m a wordy such n’ such and have already been going on too long – but you really should go back and check out his whole run in the company. All of the matches are great – a few moments that were a little scary seeing him jump from balconies – but all from a man that seems to be having a lot of fun getting to finish out his ride.

     We know that time is coming sooner rather than later. Sting’s last match will be at Revolution 2024. It will be sad for it to be over, but I am so thankful that we got this chapter and it didn’t have to end in 2015. We got so much more from him than we ever thought that we would.

     Sting deserves that – to go out his way and to be able to go home and rest knowing that he never took more than he gave and we are truly lucky to have been around to see him do the dance.

     I don’t think there will ever be another quite like the icon that is STING.

17  I’m very grateful to note that my Dad did beat cancer again and is still here kicking tail and taking names. Toughest guy I know.

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