by VINCE RUSSO
Unless you were in my shoes, nobody would ever understand the anxiety, nervousness and tremendous stress level that went with moving from one professional wrestling locker room to another in 1999. Prior to Ed and I leaving the WWE, no matter how much calculated strategy Vince McMahon puts into his childish and futile attempt to smear my name and credibility in 2015—the company was as close to a family as you were ever going to get in professional wrestling. Together, we had achieved greatness, and through it all we had a love and respect for one another.
When Vince McMahon blatantly told me that my family didn’t matter in 1999, as a traditional and honorable Italian man, he gave me no choice but to walk away from him and his company. If you have one drop of Italian blood in your body—you will understand exactly what I mean. To this day I don’t regret for one minute leaving WWE for WCW, because nobody—I don’t give a damn who you think you are–is going to tell me that a damn, fictitious, make believe wrestling show should take precedent over my own flesh and blood.
But, the transition wasn’t an easy one. Going into that WCW locker room I knew that a bulls eye was going to be pasted on my head. At that point I understood the business, and what was involved in it. I understood the paranoia of the boys, living in a world that was designed to put themselves first over everybody else, simply in a calculated effort to “protect their spot”. For me, there was also the overwhelming pressure of having to walk into a locker room and work side-by-side with three of the all-time greats who I had never even met before. I grew up on Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Sting, just like everybody else in my generation did. The three had a tremendous hand in shaping the history of professional wrestling.
So, walking into that locker room . . . I was a fan, first and foremost. I cannot begin to tell you the respect I had for all three of these men. Never, in any way, or at any time, did I look at the situation like I was now going to be their “boss”, simply because I was never worthy of that. At the time what I cared about more than anything was their legacy, and the way they were going to be perceived at this crucial point in their careers. This weighed heavy on my mind, because just two weeks prior, Hulk and Ric wrestled the main event on Nitro, and in my opinion, they were being exposed, by simply being used as just two wrestlers on the card. At this point, Hulk was 46, and Ric was 50, and their better wrestling days were behind them. One of my first and top priorities at WCW at the time, was to get both Hulk and Ric out of their semi-full time wrestling roles, take them off of TV for a while, and bring them back in a position that better suited them for where they were physically at that point in their careers. I wanted to assure that both icons would be looked at, and perceived as legends, as they came into the twilight of their careers.
That, of course, would eventually backfired on me, as due to that paranoia thing, both wrestlers perceived my strategy as “trying to get rid of them”, which was the furthest thing from my mind at the time. Some 15 years later, I was extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to personally set the record, and my intentions, straight with the Nature Boy, on his podcast WOO Nation.
So now, as it pertains to Sting—the situation with Sting was a bit different at the time for two reasons, one being that Sting was only 40 at the time, and the other was that by donning the make-up, Sting just had the perception of being “timeless”. As we get older, the first place we start to see age is in our face, everything just begins to fall, and you can see the wear and tear of our lives through the lines, and crevasses of our masks. That was never an issue with Sting–in his full regalia at 40 years old he still looked like the super hero that he had designed himself to be when he first came into worldly prominence.
I was intimidated by Sting early one, simply because he was much more quiet and mysterious then Hogan and Flair, always keeping to himself, saying very few words. It was like he was trying to figure this New Yawker out, without having any perceived thoughts, or notions, about anything he had read about me. I just had the feeling that Sting was going to be “fair”. My relationship with him was going to be based on one thing—-my relationship with HIM.
One of the very first encounters I had with Sting wasn’t a monumental deal by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a moment that has stayed with me. I remember being backstage, working one of the shows, when a father approached me with his sick child. The father explained to me how Sting was his son’s hero, and if there was any chance that I could arraign for his son to meet him. At the time, I mean, we were right, smack, in the middle of a show, but it was really times like this in which that didn’t matter. I asked the father to stay put with his son, and I’ll see what I could do. At that point, I went and tracked down Sting, who was preparing to go out in just a few minutes. Now, rule of thumb in the wrestling business is that you usually don’t approach the boys right before they are ready to go out. At that time, they are usually in the zone, and putting their game faces on. However, in this instance . . . I knew this sick, little boy, was more important than anything any of us were going to do in the ring that night. So, I approached Sting and told him of the father and son, and without even blinking an eye Sting said, “where are they?” He immediately followed me to their location, and within a few minutes . . . he had made that kid’s life.
Being in and out of WCW for 2 years, I never had the opportunity to form a relationship with Sting, primarily because I was just trying to survive my own living hell. It really wasn’t until I went to TNA, that I had the opportunity to form a bond with this man, that has had an impact on my entire life. That situation, more, or less, begin one night just outside the Nashville Fair Grounds.
The situation would change my life forever.
END of PART ONE. Read Part two on Saturday.
(There is ONE WEEK left to join Vince Russo’s THE BRAND for just $2.99 a month-4 LIFE. Just go to vincerussobrand.com and use the code: brand. Next Monday, an exclusive one-on-one with the Nature Boy!)