Sting Unmasked!

New Man, May/June, 2000
(Reprinted with permission from New Man.)

He's one of pro wrestling's most recognizable faces, but his greatest battles happened outside the ring as he fought to regain his family's respect, and challenged an industry known for pushing the envelope.

Torn between good and evil, one man stands accused of betraying his closest friends. The hurtful distrust pushes him into a year of silence and a life of mystery. In the dark corridors he then roams, appearing in an instant with the cool wrath of a modern-day vigilante. With his face painted in black and white, he dons a sleek black bodysuit engulfed by his trademark scorpion logo. He watches from above and swings from the rafters. He suddenly appears in the middle of a large crowd, wielding his black bat, pointing it at his next victim. In a heartbeat, he disappears, and suddenly, it's too've been stung by the man known as Sting.

Welcome to the world of Steve Borden circa 1998.

The professional wrestler was enjoying the fruits of 13 years of hard labor in the squared circle. One of the industry's original superstars, Sting (Borden's in-ring persona), had grown to heights of popularity matched only by big name performers such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Bill Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin. But away from wrestling, Borden was facing a battle unlike anything he'd ever encountered in the ring. He was fighting to keep his marriage to wife Sue from falling apart, and fatherhood amidst the circus lifestyle had not always been a priority.

Well before Borden's conversion in August 1998, he was known as one of the good guys in the business. Never over-the-top or obscene with his wrestling character, he maintained a high level of integrity despite the industry's downward turn.

As a longtime activist for such charities as Make-A-Wish and the Starlight Foundation, Borden had developed a strong, healthy connection with his young fans. Sting was considered an outstanding role model, yet he knew his performance at home wasn't hitting the mark.

"Fourteen years of being a wrestler and being away from my wife and my children took its toll," Borden said. "We went through some really rough times. Everything on the surface seemed to be great, but at one point, I felt like I was losing my family."

Borden was not oblivious to the gospel message, but in fact had been running from God for the better part of two decades.

His salvation experience was the culmination of years of prayer and one-on-one witnessing by his younger brother Jeff. As high school athletes, the Borden boys were local high school sports heroes. The brothers often hosted big parties for the popular set around town, but that all changed when Jeff was dramatically converted at an Easter musical he was attending with his future wife.

Things were also changing for Steve, who was newly married and competing as a professional bodybuilder. In 1985, while managing the health club he owned, Borden was lured into the wrestling business. After working through all of the hot territories, he landed with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which eventually evolved into the Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

"We were suddenly separated geographically, but being two brothers that were sort of attached at the hip growing up, there was still this connection," Jeff explained. "I didn't know this, but Steve was watching us, our children and our marriage. He always had a craving to talk. We would get off to side when nobody else was around and he would ask more questions. He was always hungry."

Around 1997, God began placing people in Steve's path who challenged him to take a deeper look inside. Encounters with fellow wrestlers Marcus "Buff" Bagwell, Marc Mero (a.k.a. Johnny B. Badd) and "Milliondollarman" Ted DiBiase set the stage.

Borden got his hands on a copy of DiBiase's autobiography, Every Man Has A Price, and devoured it. In the book, DiBiase recounts his journey from wrestling bad boy to new man in Christ.

"(Steve told me) he had never sat down and read a book cover to cover," DiBiase said. "He couldn't put my book down because there were so many similarities in that book that he identified with. I just began to gently, on a weekly basis say, 'Hey, Stinger, how's it going buddy?' And he knew what I meant."

Borden also considers a story that Marcus Bagwell related to him as a defining moment.

The story was from Bagwell's pastor, who had asked his church members to imagine they were flying on a jumbo jet that suddenly began plummeting to the ground. The pastor then asked the congregation members what they would do. Most said they would ask for forgiveness and make sure they were ready for eternity. The pastor then asked his church to imagine that the pilot somehow managed to steady the plane and land safely.

"That's when the real question came," Borden recalled. "Would you remember that you'd begged God to forgive you? Would your life change? Would you develop a relationship with Christ? Or would you just fall back into your wayward ways? At that point I said to Marcus, 'That's enough, let's talk about something else.' It had gotten a little too stiff for me at the time. But it really made me think."

In another incident at a hotel lobby in Orlando, Fla., Borden met a music minister named Simeon Nix and two of his associates. Nix, a friend of DiBiase, was familiar with Borden's plight and boldly asked him if he knew where he would spend eternity should he die that day.

"For some reason, the way he said it, I really thought about it," Borden said. "He could tell I was stumped. The answer was unclear. He asked if he could pray for me right there in that hotel lobby. These guys put their hands on me and started praying right in the lobby with people walking by. I was sweating bullets. I was nervous, and I was embarrassed."

Various times during the next year, Borden asked for God's forgiveness, including at a Promise Keepers rally in the L.A. Coliseum with 30,000 other men. But for some reason, it wasn't until a year later when he felt Christ had truly saved him.

"I felt all of a sudden, at that moment, that the Spirit was there," Borden remembered. "I just felt forgiven and cleansed and it was an incredible experience. I accepted Jesus Christ into my life and that was a long time coming. It should have been a long time ago."

When Steve Borden became a Christian, he was at the height of his fame as a professional wrestler.

Often tabbed as "the franchise" within WCW's ranks, Borden was suddenly faced with the challenge of living a life of integrity inside an often immoral and cutthroat industry. But first, he had to share the news with his longtime wrestling friends.

Individually and in small groups he shared his newfound faith with them all: Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Lex Lugar, Scott and Rick Steiner, and Eric Bischoff, to name a few.

"I know the guys so well and it's a real touchy situation," Borden admitted. "They all know that I've changed. For the most part, everybody has accepted it. They know me and I think respect me for who I am and what my choices are now and the integrity that I have in certain situations. There are really only one or two that just don't understand it and love to talk behind my back, but that's OK. I can deal with that."

Two years after accepting Christ, Borden was still actively involved with WCW. This caused many to question how a believer could remain in a business that often defies Christian values.

"I think God allowed him to stay in order for his testimony and the strength of his walk to be developed," Jeff said. "What would you do if you were the guy who did not know God, you became famous as a wrestler and you became a believer? Are you going to espouse that you would become super Christian immediately and go walking in there and tell Ted Turner 'Hey, I'm a Christian now!' and be a mighty man of God? Fact is, my brother is growing and things are happening. Things are happening in his life and you can see it."

These days, Borden wonders about his future. He openly disagrees with the industry's continuous pushing of the envelope.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm standing alone," he explained. "Being a Christian makes it really hard. I've been around long enough that if I don't feel comfortable with something, I just won't do it. The moment that it does start to go too far and it just continues and I don't see any change, then I'll have to bow out."

Borden is already making preparations for life after professional wrestling. After a recurring role in Hulk Hogan's syndicated action series "Thunder in Paradise," Borden caught the acting bug and took several weeks of dramatic acting classes. He went on to co-star in the independent film The Real Reasons (Men Commit Crimes) and most recently starred in the TNT made-for-TV movie Shutter Speed.

"I would love to get into acting and I'd love to have some opportunities," Borden said. "But I'm always going to stand up with integrity. The roles are just going to be right or I'm just not going to do them. If it doesn't happen and if I don't become an actor or if this movie isn't successful and the phone never rings again, I'm going to be OK. I'm going to survive."

Both in the wrestling ring and in real life, Borden has proven to be a survivor. But with this second chance, he wants to do more than just survive. Borden is determined to make up for lost time with his wife, Sue, his two boys, Garrett (9) and Steven (7), and longs for a fresh start with newborn daughter, Gracie.

"For a long time, wrestling came first," Borden said. "But now, it's God first, and then my wife and children. They're first, and they're always going to be first. I'm glad my life changed the way it did, and now my life is better than it's ever been."

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