At this point, I think my love of Sting is pretty well-documented. I know it’s nostalgia, and I know it’s my weird thing for watching old men continue to push their bodies well beyond the point of sanity, but I care for this slab of aged beef and want him to do well or flame out spectacularly or whatever it is that wrestlers seek to accomplish once they reach the age where fans who don’t share my incredible taste for wrestling begin to complain about things like taking spots from wrestlers who are less likely to die taking a powerbomb.
I also want someone to teach Sting how to blend.
More professional wrestling
- The Best Sting Is the Sting Who Doesn’t Wrestle
- A Short Interview with NJPW Young Lion Kevin Knight
- Minoru Suzuki, King of Wrestling Fashion
A point of order here: I don’t mean “blending” in the traditional sense, where one applies their makeup in a way that leaves a natural-looking appearance, nor do I mean a full beat. While I’d love to see Sting fully contoured and dewy, Sting’s makeup is, was, and always will be in the realm of the Butch Wrestler. Blending, for him, means the most basic application of the term—recognizing that the shape of his face demands that he use the full canvas, pushing his white facepaint beyond the pentagonal lines that currently define his look, out to the sides of his face and up to his natural hairline.
Power and Paint
I think Sting’s problem begins with the fact that his now iconic full face of makeup, a look borrowed from Brandon Lee’s turn as Eric Draven in The Crow, was a switch made after a decade or so of bleach blond hair and half-naked beats with facial hair that should have been shaved. Initially one half of the Blade Runners—one of a trillion Road Warrior imitation acts notable because the impersonators were Sting and the Ultimate Warrior—Sting quickly turned face, and his makeup morphed from Road Warrior-inspired designs to the brightly-colored designs that worked out from the eyes to cover half of his face with something that looked jagged, like a firework in its first second of bloom, but also elegantly rounded. A man of many facets, if you will.
Let’s take stock of “Surfer” Sting here. For one, he’s got a lot of forehead to play with, which he takes advantage of by running a hard black line across the top. Meeting another line just shy of his left temple, that’s the point at which all three colors of the scheme—red, black, and white—meet. The negative space, his flesh, allows him to be an expressive babyface. He can smile. The movement of his forehead is legible. This is a prototypical power and paint look, that classic gimmick where someone who works out a lot wears facepaint that either says “I love to party!” or “I like to torture people in silence.”
As the Crow Flies
After graduating sad rafter clown school, Crow Sting covered his entire face, ostensibly to mask the shame of his friends’ belief that he’d joined the nWo. He never smiled, never spoke, and because he wasn’t wrestling, never had to sell. That white-and-black facepaint on a stone-still face stood in sharp contrast to the wild emoting of men like Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, who took on the rictus grins and frowns of Greek theater masks.
The above design—the straight-up Crow version of Sting—got fancier as time wore on, but in this promo still you can see both the strengths and weaknesses of his going full face. He pushes the paint out to his sideburns and along his jawline, the stark white base coat making him look like a vengeful ghost, the black lips and eyes suggesting a man whose soul was hollowed out by betrayal. But even then, he had problems with his hairline. That uneven line across the top should rise to meet it—there shouldn’t be an inch of flesh.
In the late 90s, these errors were obfuscated somewhat by Sting’s long mop of hair, and the fact that sweat and flesh-on-flesh contact would wear it away. But he’s older now, his hairline has receded, and that mop is brushed straight back. When Sting shows up on Dynamite with his face painted like there’s still hair hanging over it, it sticks out. It’s like the way changing the face of a create-a-wrestler in WWF No Mercy was a simple palate swap that didn’t change the shape of the CAW’s head to accommodate it. It makes his face, ostensibly the image most people conjure when they think of Sting, look small.
Don’t Sweat the Technique
This is nitpicking, I know. Possibly to an absurd degree. But I notice it every time, and I know he knows better. When he was in WCW, he mostly pushed that paint where it needed to go. When he was goofing around in Impact Wrestling as the Joker, the white base was more or less flush with his sideburns, even curving around it so the jawline looked seamless. In WWE, he never rounded out his hairline completely, but he went most of the way. My obsession (I can unfortunately call it that, given how often I tweet about it) with the way he wears his makeup in AEW is rooted in sentimentality. I like him, I like the fact that he’s willing to ruin his aging body despite being a millionaire, and I want the best for him. That means I want someone to teach him to blend.
One argument against Sting going up to his hairline is that it would make him look older, as if there aren’t a million other ways to tell that someone has aged, as if aging is a bad thing. I honestly think it’s a technique issue, a thing where he’s established a routine that he’s stuck to for 20 years, a thing that technically isn’t broken and technically doesn’t need fixing. But, look, the thing about doing your makeup is working with the face you have, and not against it. Look at this photo of the Great Muta applying his paint before a match, for instance:
This eventually becomes a black-and-red design, the eyes blacked out, with kanji over the cheeks, the red meeting his hairline exactly. But you can see what he’s up to here, using a fine brush to hit his sideburns and delicately round out underneath them. Keiji Mutoh is young here—this photo is from 1992—and when he eventually shaved his head the Muta character wore an elaborate mask, which is something Sting only does when he needs to convince his foes that he is not Sting.
Muta’s method works with what his face provides. It’s rounded, but sharp. It’s angular, but smooth. He’s supposed to look like an ageless demon, and he achieves it. Sting’s looks good in still photographs, where he has the benefit of being shot in profile by a photographer who is not at eye-level, but the lighting at Daily’s Place looks different in motion, the cameras are either at his eye level or above, and the tweaks available to a ringside photographer are not to the people working in the production truck. Does it ruin Sting? No, but it breaks the illusion of him, to a larger degree than his labored breathing after a sequence does. He looks human before physical exertion reminds you that he looks human.
So I rounded it out. And excusing the “fan at an episode of Nitro” quality of the black (I was using children’s face paint and children’s brushes), I think my theory bears out. My hairline is different than Sting’s, but go back up to that photo of this look from 1996—he never quite matched his hairline. Working with the fact that faces aren’t sharp lines, pushing as close to the edge as possible, makes the stark black-and-white of Sting’s makeup look spookier and more wraith-like, even in the broad daylight of my backyard.
It’s a small tweak, but when you’ve been doing your makeup for as long as Sting has, most significant changes to one’s routine are. Run with what nature gave you, Stinger. Show some love to the parts of your face that you’re leaving exposed. You’ve earned those thin slivers of extra flesh. Make them work.