Dana Carvey had this bit years and years ago about the, let’s call it ‘testicular fortitude’ of being a kid named Gordon deciding to change his name to a verb – present tense. You can watch it here. Be forewarned. He used a curse word.
And as right as he is about that, can you imagine what it takes to not only change your name to a verb – present tense, but to change it to a verb – present tense, that someone else has already chosen as their verb-based name? Luckily for us, we don’t have to imagine it. It happened.
Steve Borden, a midwestern kid in his mid-20s, trying to make it in the world of professional wrestling first changed his name to a verb in 1985, when he adopted the moniker, Flash, a name already held by two different DC Comics hero’s, Jay Gerrick, and Barry Allen. But the name of Flash was short-lived for Steve, perhaps because he learned it wasn’t original, but probably not. Perhaps because he bore no resemblance to a super-speedster in a red suit, but probably not.
Because in 1986, two years after The Police broke up, and in the midst of Sting (Gordon Sumner, not Steve Borden)’s triple platinum debut solo success, Steve Borden swapped one verb-based name that was already in use for another verb-based name that was already in use. No one will confuse us, the thinking went, because one of us is a world-famous musician from England, slight of build and with spikey blonde hair, and one of us is a platinum blonde body-builder with midwestern roots and a California upbringing, who paints his face and screams, “Woooo!”
And it worked.
Sting became a massive success in the professional wrestling world. And no one ever said, “Isn’t it weird that this guy changed his name to a verb that someone else was already using as their name?”
But you know what else no one else said was weird about Sting, that in retrospect maybe should have come up once or twice? It’s that “Wooo!” thing.
There was one other guy who was a bigger star in the WCW, the wresting promotion where Sting made his name (or also, made Sting into a name, or where he made Sting his name. I don’t know anymore.) His name was Ric Flair. The Nature Boy! Who, coincidentally is not the first wrestler to call himself “Nature Boy” That honor goes to “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, and then to “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel, before Flair took it as his own, but that’s neither here nor there.
If there’s anything you know about Ric Flair, it’s probably that he’s a limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, son of a gun. You might also know that he’s known for his stylin’ and profilin’. Or quite possibly that he’s known to shout “WOOOOOOOOOO!” as loud and as often as he can.
Something else that Sting saw, liked, and pretended was his own.
And no one seemed bothered by this.
Possibly because Flair was the third Nature Boy and people were just letting everything slide at this point.
But it’s weird right? This guy took two verb-based names that were already widely in use and then copied his signature “Woooo!” from someone else who had taken as his nickname something that had been used twice before, with pretty great popularity.
So it should come as no surprise that Sting’s greatest move as a professional wrestler was when he quit dying his hair blonde, changed his face paint and went from a California body-builder-type to a complete replica of Brandon Lee in The Crow. And he did this while another wrestler was pretending to be Sting. His allegiances were called into question, as was his identity. But you know what no one said? “Hey, how come Sting is stealing this Crow gimmick from the dead son of a martial arts legend?”
As I watched Sting last night in the WWE Night of Champions, I finally had all of these thoughts and wondered why it took 30 years to realize how odd this all was.
Imagine just one of these things happening today.
We’d all raise an eyebrow if John Cena decided to call himself Diddy, or T-Pain, or Jay-Z. Or Bono. He’d probably be sued for trademark infringement, or at the very least gimmick infringement, which is a real thing that wrestlers accuse each of doing with good reason (see: above example of three guys named “Nature Boy” or there being two Stings at once in the mid-1990s).
People would call shenanigans if a John Cena tried to adopt “If you smell what the Rock is cooking” or “That’s the bottom line cuz Stone Cold says so” and act like it wasn’t already famously being used by someone more famous than they are.
Or, let’s say John Cena suddenly started dressing as Michael Keaton’s character from Birdman. That would be weird, yes?
Now, let’s say John Cena did all of those things.
All of which is to say, isn’t the career of Sting the damnedest thing you’ve ever heard of from start to finish?