Sunday, April 14

Face Paint In Pro Wrestling

Face paint has been a key part of pro wrestling for decades, with legendary acts including Sting, The Road Warriors, The Ultimate Warrior, The Great Muta, and Goldust all making it memorable parts of their presentation. Moreover, modern acts like Asuka and Jeff Hardy still carry forward this offbeat transition.


5 Wrestlers Who Looked Better Without Their Face Paint (& 5 Who Didn’t)

While plenty of wrestlers have worn face paint at some point in their careers, a few competitors were better without it.

There’s a great deal about the use of face paint, its history, and stories of the most famous wearers that fans may not realize. From changing types of paint to different purposes to unexpected sources of the idea for certain acts to use face paint in the first place, there’s quite a bit that’s worth looking into.

Wrestlers Have Changed The Kind Of Paint They Use On Their Faces Over The Years

Social Norms And Available Products Alike Have Evolved For Wrestlers Wearing Face Paint

Sting Every Version

  • Wrestlers like Sting used acrylic paint on their faces back in the day.
  • Some male wrestlers may have been resistant to wearing what amounted to makeup historically.
  • Makeup and paint that are more effective for covering skin are now readily available.

In an interview with Esquire Middle East, Sting revealed that early on his career, he and other wrestlers would use acrylic paint on his face. He acknowledged that this choice was a little silly hindsight, as that style of paint is meant for solid, dry surfaces.

Nonetheless, it’s understandable that wrestlers in the 1980s wouldn’t necessarily think to use other kinds of paint, both because of what was readily available in stores and for the machismo of the era perhaps steering them away from makeup that more traditionally worn by women. Times have changed, as has the accessibility of different products used for fashion and costuming alike, offering an array of more effective options for face paint to modern wrestlers.

Sting Credits Dusty Rhodes With The Idea To Wear Brightly Colored Face Paint

Sting’s Bright Paint Was A Key Part Of His Early Presentation

  • In his Surfer Sting persona, Sting was known for brightly colored face paint.
  • Dusty Rhodes encouraged Sting to use bright colors both in contrast to Ric Flair and to align with the style of Ricky Morton, whom Sting was replacing in the short term.
  • Years later, leaving bright colors behind was an easy way for Sting to mark a drastic shift in his character.

It’s hard to imagine Sting wrestling without face paint, but photos from early in his career do show him with little or no covering over his face. He took on the more signature style of Surfer Sting when he came to WCW, though, and worked under the direction of the legendary Dusty Rhodes.


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In an interview with Apter Chat (h/t Wrestling Inc) Sting explained that Rhodes suggested the brightly colored look, including both his gear and his more prominent paint so The Stinger could clash with Ric Flair’s style when he got subbed in in place of Ricky Morton from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express after Morton got hurt in the early stages of a feud with The Nature Boy.

It’s Unclear Who Was The First Wrestler To Wear Face Paint

Great Kabooki

One question that might leap to the forefront for wrestling historians would be who came up with the idea of wearing face paint in wrestling or, more to the point, who was the first wrestler to take this approach. Unfortunately, there is no concrete answer.

The oldest example most historians can agree on wearing face paint regularly on TV was The Great Kabooki, a Japanese wrestler from the 1970s who preceded the very similarly named, mist-spraying Great Kabuki (who also wore face paint).

Face Paint Can Get Expensive For Wrestlers

Wrestlers Are Often Responsible For Paying For Their Own Accessories Like Paint

  • Even beyond the Goldust persona, Dustin Rhodes has made face paint a key part of his career.
  • As Seven in WCW, Black Reign in TNA and under the name Dustin Rhodes in AEW, he continued to wear paint to the ring.
  • Dustin Rhodes has discussed how paying for small tubes of face paint has become expensive at times.

Dustin Rhodes holds an interesting place in wrestling history on a variety of levels, but one of them is as a relatively late example of a wrestler to wear face paint when it was more in style in the 1990s, who has since carried over this element to the modern era. Rhodes first put on paint regularly as Goldust in WWE, but has also worn it as Seven in WCW, Black Reign in TNA, and under the name Dustin Rhodes in AEW.


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When Dustin Rhodes became Black Reign in TNA, it was the worst character of his long career.

In a 2014 interview with WWE Magazine (h/t Still Real To Us) Rhodes discussed having to buy paint about once a month to keep up with his gimmick. Moreover, he noted that this was an expense he took on himself, and buying three ounce tubes of suitable face paint could add up pretty quickly.

Bill Watts Told The Road Warriors To Try Out Face Paint

Animal And Hawk Wearing Face Paint Is a Key Part Of The Road Warrior Mystique

  • The Road Warriors had a memorably dominant run in AWA.
  • The Road Warriors truly became legends in WWE and WCW.
  • The Road Warriors gave credit to Bill Watts for first suggesting their face paint in the Mid-South.

The Road Warriors had a storied career in wrestling. They’re best remembered for their early dominant run in the AWA, followed by major tenures wrestling for WCW and WWE. There were a number of iconic elements to their presentation from their ring music to their spiked shoulder pads to their non-traditional haircuts to their incredible physiques. The face paint Animal and Hawk wore to the ring was especially memorable.

In The Road Warriors’ book, they credited Bill Watts with the original idea for them to wear paint, during a forgotten early run working in The Cowboy’s Mid-South territory.

Sting’s Face Paint Transformed Because Of A Suggestion From Scott Hall

Scott Hall Had An Incredible Mind For The Wrestling Business

  • The Crow version of Sting got even more over than Surfer Sting.
  • The darker version of the character, in black and white paint, was Scott Hall’s idea.
  • The concept borrowed from The Crow film and what The Undertaker was doing in WWE.

While the Surfer Sting look was legendary, The Icon may be even more famous for the Crow version of his character that he took on during The Monday Night War as a principal rival to the nWo in WCW.


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Sting is a legend for having one of the best career resurgences in professional wrestling.

Sting, Scott Hall, and Eric Bischoff have all agreed across their accounts that the darker version of the Sting character was Hall’s idea as he referred the babyface to The Crow film in addition to suggesting he borrow elements from The Undertaker’s presentation. That included going from multiple bright colors to a more monochromatic look with mostly white face paint and black highlights.

Adrian Street’s Face Paint Evolved Organically

Street’s Face Paint Look Was A Sign Of Its Times

  • Adrian Street capitalized on a prevailing culture of homophobia to draw heat with his androgynous heel character.
  • Adrian Street incorporated glitter and makeup into his appearance.
  • Face paint was the next step in Adrian Street’s evolution of his presentation.

Adrian Street had a successful run in the 1970s and 1980s. A big part of his heel act was playing up to fans’ homophobia by taking on more feminine or androgynous presentation.

Street wound up one of the more famous wrestlers to wear face paint, but this was less where he started than an evolution from incorporating elements like glitter and makeup to the ring, before he built up to full on face paint.

It Can Take As Little As 15 Minutes For A Wrestler To Apply Face Paint

Experienced Hands Can Put On Paint Quickly

Sting applying his paint

  • Sting has reported he could put on his face paint in about fifteen to twenty minutes.
  • Sting has many years of experience applying his paint.
  • Sting’s face paint designs aren’t always all that intricate, which may allow him to apply it more quickly than some others.

Different wrestlers have taken different approaches to face paint over the years, but it’s telling that Sting revealed in his interview with Esquire Middle East that he’d typically only spend about fifteen to twenty minutes applying his face paint before a match.

This quick prep probably speaks to a combination of Sting usually wearing relatively simple face paint designs as well as how much practice he had over the years, given how long his career was and the fact that he applied his own paint for decades.

Jeff Hardy Considers His Face Paint A Mode Of Artistic Expression

Jeff Hardy Uses Face Paint In Lieu Of A Traditional Canvas For His Art

  • Jeff Hardy is a famously eccentric wrestler.
  • Jeff Hardy hasn’t always wrestled in face paint.
  • Jeff Hardy has described painting his face as a form of art that he particularly values when he’s on the road and doesn’t have the chance to paint on canvas.

Jeff Hardy is an interesting and unusual case of a wrestler to wear face paint. He rose to national prominence before he started wearing the paint, hasn’t always worn the paint consistently, and hasn’t tried to hide his unpainted face from the world.


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Jeff Hardy has had several runs in WWE, but in 2021, a live event incident forced the company to issue him an ultimatum.

Nonetheless, Hardy has worn paint to the ring for a significant portion of his career. In an interview with the staff (h/t Sportskeeda), Hardy discussed that face paint is a form of artistic expression for him. He has a well documented history as a visual artist and musician. The Charismatic Enigma articulated that painting his face was a stand-in during his busy schedule on the road, taking his art to his body when he couldn’t conveniently access a proper canvas to execute his visions.

Face Paint Phased Out As Pro Wrestling Moved Towards Realism

Not As Many Pro Wrestlers Wear Face Paint In Modern Times

  • A select few wrestlers in mainstream wrestling still wear face paint.
  • Wrestling on the whole has shifted toward a more realistic, sports-oriented presentation, making face paint stand out even more.
  • It’s hard to predict trends in wrestling, and it’s possible face paint will make a comeback.

While there are those modern wrestlers who still paint their faces on a regular basis such as Asuka and Darby Allin, it’s telling that most of the wrestlers who do so nowadays seem to do it largely as an homage to past wrestling acts more so than as individual expression of their characters or personalities.

There’s no definitive explanation why face paint has largely disappeared from pro wrestling. One reasonable explanation, though, is that as wrestling transitioned to a more realistic, sports-oriented presentation, the theatrics of face paint simply didn’t have as much of a place in the mainstream product anymore. Like so many things, though, there’s no telling if this style might cycle back around.

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