Sting and Dick Slater: Their Dirty, One-Sided Backstage Fight

“Dirty” Dick Slater was a bruising brawler whose fights outside the wrestling ring are as noted as his accolades inside. Of his many altercations, one of the most famous is his encounter with a then-young rookie called Sting.

This is the story of the apparent one-sided beatdown between Sting and Dick Slater that ended in humiliation for the future “Icon!”

This one-sided fight between wrestlers "Dirty" Dick Slater and a then-young Sting ended in humiliation for the future "Icon!"
“Dirty” Dick Slater and Sting. Photo Credit: WWE.

Dick Slater: Tales of Toughness

In the words of Dick Slater’s idol Terry Funk, “Dirty” Dick was “one of the toughest guys you’d ever want to meet.”

Dick Slater as The Rebel during his brief stint in the then WWF.
Dick Slater as The Rebel during his brief stint in the then WWF. Photo Credit: WWE.

There is a cache of tales about Slater’s toughness, and his hot temper and short fuse were bad news for anyone who crossed his path.

For example, when Wahoo McDaniel once pistol-whipped a man outside a bar, Slater was shot in the leg. Despite the bullet blowing “a hole the size of a tennis ball at the back of my knee and about the size of a quarter in the front,” as Slater once told Mid-Atlantic Gateway, he would be back in the ring within three weeks.

Stories of Dick Slater’s Fights

Former NFL player John Matuszak was on the losing end of a fight with pro wrestler Dick Slater.
Former NFL player John Matuszak was on the losing end of a fight with pro wrestler Dick Slater. Photo Credit: Raiders on Film.

The tales of Dick Slater’s fights are legendary.

While at the University of Tampa, Slater got into a dispute with future NFL Super Bowl winner John Matuszak- apparently over a woman.

After Matuszak referred to Dick Slater as a “phony wrestler,” Slater did not take too kindly and reportedly knocked out the 6-foot-8 giant with a single punch. Slater then left a note in his hotel telling him not to leave his room until he apologized.

Jim Ross, when re-telling the story, claimed that Matuszak had to write a note “asking Slater’s permission if he could come out of his room!”

Dick Slater Takes Care of One of Wrestling’s Greatest Mat Technicians

Bob Roop, one of pro wrestling’s greatest mat technicians, was once bloodied by Dick Slater during a fight.
Bob Roop, one of pro wrestling’s greatest mat technicians, was once bloodied by Dick Slater during a fight. Photo Credit: ICW.

Another famous story talks of Bob Roop.

Roop had a reputation for stretching and taking liberties with young rookies hoping to break into the business. This was a common practice until Dick Slater came along.

Ric Flair noted on the Steve Austin Show how, at the end of the scuffle, “Roop was laying cold in a pool of blood.”

To put it bluntly, in the words of Jim Cornette: “You didn’t want to **** with Slater.”

Yet the most infamous of his altercations is with Sting.

Dick Slater’s Relationship with Wrestling Valet, Dark Journey

Dick Slater and wrestling valet Dark Journey.
Dick Slater and wrestling valet Dark Journey. Photo Credit: WWE.

In Mid-South, “Dirty” Dick Slater drew heat through his relationship with wrestling valet Dark Journey.

Slater reportedly met “Dark Journey” Lynda Newton in a strip club. Slater brought the beauty into Mid-South after convincing her to enter a business she knew nothing of.

The couple were massive heat magnets, and Dark Journey was regularly spat on, called racially insensitive names, and even groped by fans while making her way down to the ring.

After the couple split up in the summer of 1986, Dick Slater took business into his own hands when a young newcomer by the name of Steve Borden appeared to be getting too close to Dark Journey.

Sting Rides With Dark Journey

Sting (right) in The Bladerunners with Dutch Mantell (middle) and the future Ultimate Warrior (left).
Sting (right) in The Bladerunners with Dutch Mantell (middle) and the future Ultimate Warrior (left). Photo Credit: NWA.

Still needing transport to attend shows, Dark Journey reportedly started hitching a ride from “Sting” Steve Borden, then a member of The Bladerunners tag team alongside Ultimate Warrior.

It was hinted, albeit never confirmed, that there was more to this relationship than simple sharing rides.

Bushwhacker Luke, who claimed to be present on the night of the assault, recalled on with Wrestling Shoot Interviews, “Someone spread the rumor they were an item. You know what I mean when Dark Journey was Dickie’s girl: not only in his management but in real life.”

Dark Journey has since denied that she would be driven in Sting’s car. Instead, they would carpool together, as Sting did not even own a car during that period.

Nonetheless, Slater saw it as a violation.

In the words of R.D. Reynolds: “Sting got his rocks off, and then he got rocked.

“As Calm as Taking the Garbage Out”

Wrestler Dick Slater.
Wrestler Dick Slater. Photo Credit: People.

Taking place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tracy Smothers remembered how he knew something was awry when the normally isolated Slater was playing cards with Terry Taylor, whom he hated.

Smothers recalled how Slater already had his hands taped, a precaution to let him punch harder without breaking them. Ron Fuller (aka Col. Robert Parker) described Slater as having “the best right hand I’ve ever seen.”

In Bill Watts’s Mid-South (later the UWF), the locker room was divided between face and heels. Slater crossed the threshold to find Sting, whom Shane Douglas, Ricky Morton, and Missy Hyatt confirmed was putting on his face makeup before a match that night.

“The Franchise” Shane Douglas, in the locker room, stated that Slater walked in as casually as he walked out. He recalled seeing Slater leaving remarkably calm, saying it was as if “he was taking the garbage out.”

Shane Douglas also noted how Slater commonly taught the rookies a lesson, adding, “Bill [Watts] would let things like that go on, and if somebody were getting a little too big for their britches, Bill would book them with Slater.”

Sting and Slater: A Bathroom Beating

Wrestler Dick Slater.
Photo Credit: WWE.

Missy Hyatt, in her memoir First Lady of Wrestling, documented the encounter between Sting and Dick Slater.

“Slater beat the living crap out of him. Sting didn’t even put up a fight. He just let himself get beat up.”

Hyatt continued, “First, because [Sting] knew he’d been caught, and second because he had just started out the business, and Slater had a lot of buddies who could have screwed with his career.

“Sting never talked about what happened, not to me, but I heard from a couple of wrestlers in the dressing room that night that he came staggering out of the bathroom with his eyes swollen shut and, his mouth busted up, and cheekbones bruised.

“The worst was that afterward, [Sting went] back into the bathroom for his makeup, over cuts and bruises, and [headed] out to the ring [to] wrestle.”

Tracy Smothers later stated that Sting “looked like a truck had hit him.”

A Swirlie For The Stinger

Surfer Sting In WCW.
Surfer Sting In WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

What follows is one of the most remembered aspects of the Slater and Sting conflict: Slater gave Sting a “swirlie” by holding his head in the toilet and flushing it.

It is said that Slater had his friend and The Hardliners tag team partner Dick Murdoch guarding the door. Some versions of the story describe Murdoch as sequestering Sting’s partner, Bladerunner Rock (the future Ultimate Warrior), by under-hooking him and pinning him against the wall.

In Bill Watts’s book, The Cowboy and The Cross, he notes how such a practice was commonplace during the time.

Watts stated, “Sometimes if a guy insulted us, we’d wait until he was into the bathroom and follow him in with another guy stationed outside the door to keep anyone else from going in. The other rest of them will go in and beat up the guy, stick his face in the toilet, and walk out.”

Slater was Begged Not to Kill Sting

"Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert with The Bladerunners (Sting and Ultimate Warrior).
“Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert with The Bladerunners (Sting and Ultimate Warrior). Photo Credit: WWE.

Tracy Smothers also noted how Eddie Gilbert, who had been placed with The Bladerunners to help them get over, was “begging [Slater] not to kill him.”

Ron Fuller explained that giving swirlies was Slater’s “modus operandi;” he apparently did as such to at least two other men. Dutch Mantell has alluded to one of those men being Slater’s partner Bob Orton, whom Slater later described as the “greatest partner I ever had.”

Debate and Controversy

"Dark Journey" Lynda Newton.
“Dark Journey” Lynda Newton. Photo Credit: WWE.

There is scope for debate over the validity of the lavatory-based lashing.

Dark Journey, for her part, states that no such toilet-flushing swirlie took place.

She has pointed out that Sting was in peak physical conditioning while Slater suffered from a bad equilibrium. Given these conditions, she rhetorically asks: “Who the **** do you think would have won?”

Fallacies in the Story? Yes, According to Some

Sting during his time in WCW.
Sting during his time in WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

The viewpoint that the swirlie did not take place is also subscribed to by Erik Watts, who believes the years have distorted the details of what happened, much like a game of Chinese Whispers.

Instead of a one-sided conflict, according to Watts, the two locked up with the better-built Sting able to subdue Slater.

It should be noted, however, that the perspective Watts tells comes from Sting himself.

Both those who were there and those close to the situation have backed its validity, such as Tracy Smothers, Shane Douglas, Bushwhacker Luke Williams, Ric Flair, Jake Roberts, Ricky Morton, Missy Hyatt, Doug Gilbert, and Ron Fuller, amongst others.

Later Run-Ins Between Stick and Slater

Slater and Sting were parts of the main event at Clash of the Champions VIII.
Slater and Sting were parts of the main event at Clash of the Champions VIII. Photo Credit: WWE.

Dick Slater was not long in the UWF and would leave the following week after the incident. He would go on to have a brief stint in the then WWF.

Sting and Slater would cross paths again many times.

The most notable run-in between the two was at 1989’s Clash of the Champions VIII: Fall Brawl when Slater was a substitution for The J-Tex Corporation’s Terry Funk as he and The Great Muta took on Sting and Ric Flair.

“It Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Sting”

Photo Credit: WWE.

Despite being an obvious short-term negative for the future “Icon” Sting, Tracy Smothers reflected on the encounter being a productive lesson for Sting, describing the fight as the “best thing that ever happened to Sting.”

The one-time Freddie Joe Floyd notes how the brawl consequently encouraged the improvement of Sting’s in-ring work, helping him draw money.

Dick Slater on Sting in the Aftermath

Dick Slater remained largely quiet about his fight with Sting throughout his life.
Dick Slater remained largely quiet about his fight with Sting throughout his life. Photo Credit: WWE.

Slater remained largely quiet on the subject throughout his life.

Dick Slater’s lack of comments on the story further fueled speculation.

He has since described Sting as a decent man he was able to get along with, and in 2005, dismissed the conflict as “just a little problem, and that was about it.”

As such, the story has transcended eras and has become the stuff of wrestling legend.

Upon the death of Slater in 2018, his fight with Sting was even reported in some mainstream media, such as the Daily Star.

Radio Silence From Sting

Photo Credit: WWE.

Considering Sting’s radio silence on the subject, Slater’s death, and the differing testimonies, like many backstage fights, we will never truly know the whole story.

From most accounts, it seems a relatively clear-cut story of Slater taking personal business into his own hands.

Actions like this encapsulate why promoter Jim Barnett gave “Dirty” Dick Slater the rather fitting nickname “Mr. Unpredictable.”

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Griffin Kaye is a life-long pro wrestling fan and historian with a love for '80s and '90s WWF, the NWA, WCW, ECW, and AEW. His favorite wrestlers include Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, William Regal, Tito Santana, Stan Hansen, Mr Perfect, Ric Flair, and Chris Jericho. He can be reached on Twitter @GriffinKaye1, as well as on Instagram at @TheGriffinKaye and @WrestlingInTheYears.