From his World Championship Wrestling debut as a blonde surfer with colorful face paint and tights in the ’80s to the mysterious Crow-like persona he adopted for most of the ’90s after the arrival of the NWO, Sting has earned his moniker as “The Icon.” As the only WCW Champion to never appear in WWE, Sting made his full-time debut for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in 2006 and has become one of the company’s main attractions. Sting‘s look and demeanor changed again – this time to “The Insane Icon,” an off-kilter character based on Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker – after Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff‘s takeover of TNA over the past couple of years. Having helped restore some order by defeating Hogan for control of the company at Bound for Glory last October, the four-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion has been absent from Impact Wrestling for the past two months. But he made his big return on May 31 by defeating current champion Bobby Roode in a non-title match. But when Sting faces Roode in the main event at Slammiversary this Sunday, it will be for the TNA Championship. As Sting prepares for his much younger opponent, Wrestling with Pop Culture gets to hear from him about his outlook on his career, TNA’s new format and other topics.
Outside of WCW, TNA has been the brand you’ve been most closely identified with. With TNA celebrating its 10th anniversary this weekend with Slammiversary, how does the company compare today to its earlier days in Nashville where you made appearances? When did the moment come about that you decided to make TNA, as you’ve described it, your brand?
It probably came the second or third appearance I made with TNA. Spike was coming onboard and they were interested in my return to wrestling along with Dixie Carter, Jeff Jarrett and, at the time, his father Jerry. So it was just something that I said, “It’s now or never.” I didn’t like the way wrestling ended in 2001 for me, so I just took it on and I loved the brand.
The difference between then and now? Well, we were at the fairgrounds in front of not very many people. The fairgrounds are not even there anymore. Now we’re in 120 countries worldwide, we filled up Wembley Stadium earlier this year, which was phenomenal, unbelievable. The ratings we have in other countries and here in the United States are growing every year. We are a growing company and it feels good. They’ve been good growing pains.
What would you say has been your defining moment during your TNA run?
I don’t know if there’s really one moment. Although I will say that the first time walking through the curtains at the Impact Zone – even the fairgrounds for that matter – was almost a life-changing event for me. It had been so long since I had been in the ring and I was wondering if people had forgotten who I am. Then when I got in there and there were chants of, “You’ve still got it!” That, to me, was the defining moment. It felt good that night.
Who have been some of your favorite opponents in TNA?
I would have to say Kurt Angle at Bound for Glory in ’07. He took me to my limit that night. That one match will go down in history for me as one of my better matches. It was pretty long and intense and we had a really good pace the whole night. A year later I was still feeling that one.
You’re facing Bobby Roode for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship this Sunday, and you’ve faced him in the past, including on last week’s live Impact show. What are your thoughts on how he’s grown as the TNA Champion and how have you been maintaining your conditioning against someone of his athleticism?
Whether you love him or hate him or you’re indifferent, Bobby Roode brings it every single night. He looks the part, he can work with anyone and have a great match and I think he carries himself well. I have personally pushed to keep him where he is, so I think there’s something good there and we’re all witnessing it now.
I’ve been in the gym every day this week and every time I’m put into a situation where I’m going to work with someone like Bobby Roode or Kurt Angle, believe me, I’m trying to get that cardio in and I’ve got a trainer I’ve been working with the last three months. We’ve made some huge strides and I’m just trying to get more mobility and flexibility in my movements and my body. So I’m training a lot differently now and I’m training more consistently and harder than I have in a long time, combined with eating the right way. Last Thursday night I could tell there was a difference in the way I felt in the ring, I had lots of fans and some of the wrestlers make comments, and I think this week will be even better. Over the next eight weeks, 16 weeks especially, I’m hoping to get back to where I was 15 years ago.
With your talk of the future, every year Dixie Carter asks you to stay on another year. Do you see yourself finishing up your career in TNA?
It’s almost ridiculous for me to try to answer that question because every year I think, “This is it. I can’t physically go on anymore” Dixie has been persistent and I’m having a good time. A the same time, we’re growing. We turned WCW into what we turned that into years ago with Monday Nitro and I’d love to see the same situation here with TNA. It’s hard to walk away when we’re not quite there. Some people may think we’re not going to get there, but I think there are a whole bunch of people who think, “Oh, yes we will.” We’re getting ready to launch some new stuff, you’ve seen some bits and pieces of it and it’s only going to get better as time goes on.
As of this moment, yeah. Never say “never” in this business, we all know that. And wrestler’s honor means jack, right? It doesn’t mean anything. But I can tell you that as it stands at this moment I’m happy where I am and if things continue the way they have, I can see myself hanging my boots up right here.
When you talk about changing your diet and your workouts, that doesn’t sound like somebody that’s thinking about ending your in-ring career anytime soon. Is that the way you look at it right now?
No matter how hard I train, what trainer I get or what I do, the bottom line is I am aging. After a while you just can’t go. There have been times where I don’t know if I can do another match. But, I come back and heal up and start to feel better and train differently and things go well. I’m training because whether it’s a month or a year, I want to be remembered as the Sting who can still go.
TNA has received criticism for relying too much on the older guys at the expense of fresh talent. How would you respond to that?
You cannot please everyone. It boils down to, do we pay attention to everything we read on Twitter or all the blogs, websites and dirt sheets, or do we listen more to what the wrestling fans are saying in the arenas live? How do they react to each individual wrestler? Furthermore, what are those ratings like every quarter hour? These days you can break it down to a five minute rating. The answers are there and you’re not dealing with a bunch of idiots who don’t have brains. There are people behind this machine that want to make it the best it can be. So they’re not going to try to cram something down somebody’s throat that’s just not going to work. They’re going to at least come up with a good blend of some of the older guys and some of the younger guys coming up – i.e., Bobby Roode and Sting. I think that is paying off, it’s working.
You’ve been a main event wrestler for more than 20 years and you’ll be in another main event pay-per-view title match this Sunday. What keeps you excited and motivated about wrestling after all these years?
There was a time when it was really hard for me to find the love and get motivated again. But in the last couple of years, especially the last 12 months, there’s been something that has sparked in me and the interest and motivation is much higher. I’m having more fun now than I think I ever have. I’ve taken some risks, I’ll admit, changing my character up a little bit. Some people like it, some people don’t. But I think overall people have enjoyed watching it. I love the group of people I’ve been working with; Dixie Carter has been so good to work with and seems to get better every single year. A lot of fans don’t know this about me, but I’m still nervous walking through those curtains 25, 26 years later.
How difficult was it to take those risks and change things up a bit?
It’s scary. There’s no other way to say it. The last time I felt like that was when I changed from the blonde flattop haircut and slowly but surely emerged with a white face, trench coat and baseball bat up in the rafters. It’s one of those times when you think, “Well, wrestling fans are going to fart all over this and you’re done or it’s going to work.” To step out, especially at my age and with all my years of wrestling, and try something like that, I think it was pretty gutsy. I know it’s a gamble and I know there are potentially people who are going to absolutely hate it, fart on it and then you’ll be remembered as going out as this horrible character. But for me, I think you have to take risks. I’m trying to tell some of the younger guys to do that and trying to show them that taking risks is good.
You’re the only WCW Champion never to appear in WWE. You said in another interview that you did come close to appearing at WrestleMania in 2011. How close were you to actually going over for WrestleMania?
On a scale of one to ten, I think the first three times or so over the years that I spoke with Vince McMahon, there were probably a couple of times that I got up to a six or a seven. This last go-round, we were probably at about a nine. It was very, very close. I was actually surprised that things turned out the way they did.
What was your reaction when Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff joined TNA a couple of years ago and what has it been like working with them again?
My reaction when they came in was guarded, but at the same time with open arms. That was then, this is now. It’s a completely different time and we all have a different frame of mind and different agendas now. I think we’re more on the same page now than we were then, so I think it’s been good.
Following their arrival and the subsequent changes they made in TNA, your on-screen demeanor changed quite a bit and you did some things that were uncharacteristic of what we had seen from you previously in TNA. Considering the more recent changes going on in TNA, which sort of started at Bound for Glory 2011 when you defeated Hogan to give control of the company back to Carter, what are some recent or upcoming changes that you think will maybe undo some past mistakes and put TNA where you all want it to be in the wrestling world?
Only time will tell. Although I may not agree with every single thing that I’ve done in the last year or two, or for my whole career for that matter, there are times when I’m still willing to try it because I’ve got a group of people saying, “I think it’s going to work. Let’s try this.” Then it gets to a point where you’ve just got to say, “OK. I’m just going to make this the best I can possibly make it. Whether I feel it or not, I’m just going to get out there and do my job and do it well.” I think with some of this new stuff we’re getting ready to do, the more reality-based stuff, there are going to be wrestlers that surprise everybody and who will emerge. And there’s probably going to be other wrestlers who may not be able to find a niche in all this. If we honestly all go into this with the right frame of mind and say, “Let’s just make it the best we can possibly make it,” then I think we have a really good chance of creating something that has never been done before. And I think wrestling fans will probably get on to it.
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