Rick Sterling — otherwise known simply as RICK — dove into the spotlight by claiming ECCW’s 2011 Pacific Cup last month in Vancouver. With his black hair, menacing blue eyes, a tattoo of Marvel Comics’ X-Men on his right arm, and an Egyptian ankh on his left, and tribal tattoos on his neck and leg, he has an intimidating presence. However, in person, at a brown rice sushi restaurant, he’s an intelligent, thoughtful and personable, a vegetarian, a Jack Daniels connoisseur and a country boy through and through.

RICK shows off the Pacific Cup.

The ECCW Pacific Cup is a very prestigious annual tournament. The tournament consisted of three rounds, which meant normally in one night a competitor had to defeat three opponents at minimum to win. This year RICK came out of nowhere. In fact, RICK was not even originally one of the participants in the tournament, but only an alternate for any wrestler who might be injured. After El Phantasmo won his second match he was attacked by someone wearing one of his old masks, who injured his knee, taking him out of the rest of the tournament. RICK took his place in the final and when asked about it simply said he deserved to be in it more than El Phantasmo. Rick then defeated last year’s winner, Artemis Spencer with a small package — which is what made his win that much more shocking.

The 30-year-old RICK described the ECCW Pacific Cup as the hardest match of his career because he had such high personal expectations for it. But he’ll always remember the hard part: “Artemis Spencer’s top rope sky twister landing on me; he landed right on my mid-section.”

Currently, the 5-foot-8, 187-pound RICK wrestles as a heel in ECCW and he loves it. “It’s closer to who I am as a person. There are other wrestlers who pretend to be a heel, but when I go out there and say things to the crowd it’s because I mean it.”

Perhaps the image that epitomizes RICK’s work best as a heel can be seen in his entrance video on the ECCW website. In the video RICK can be seen pushing his knee into the back of his opponent’s head while his opponent’s neck is draped over the middle rope. You can see the referee admonishing RICK, and as the referee is counting, RICK is smiling and counting along with his fingers before finally taking his knee off his opponent. When RICK won the Pac Cup, in typical heel fashion he let the audience have it: “What are you going to do Vancouver? Riot? I guess Canada can’t win a @!#% thing this week can you??! My name is RICK. I am the 2011 Pacific Champion, and you can all kiss my @!# goodnight.”

RICK sees the Pac Cup win as vindication for years of hard work, which started back in 2005 in Australia. Originally from a small town called Blackbutt, near Brisbane, RICK grew up playing soccer and rugby. “Before I got into wrestling I didn’t actually know anyone in the business. I did a lot of travelling when I was younger; and I went to a show by the Gulf Coast of Australia and it happened to be that the guys in front of me were all workers. So from there I got into the business.”

RICK’s training began in earnest. He described his first day of training consisting of taking bumps on the concrete floor. “It was a test to see if I would stick it out.” From there he went on to the basics, like lock-ups and arm-holds. Once the basics were done, RICK moved on to mini-matches in training. “I was kind of thrown into the deep end right away. My first show was in front of 36 people and it was a tag team match. My partner was a biker and my opponents were two goths. Well during the match my partner turned on me and he and the goths beat me up. Needless to say I took the fall.” Yet RICK would go onto victory in his second match against a stoner wrestler called Blunt, beating him with a DDT. Later on in 2005 one of his early trainers James Blade would teach him what would become his finishing moves: the TKO and the Brain Buster Fisherman Suplex. (Later training came via Obie Cartel and Artemis Spencer.)

From there, RICK continued his career, initially in Australia, wrestling for the MIW, XSE, PWA Queensland, PWA, and PWA Canberra promotions before coming to Canada with his girlfriend (now wife) in 2007. RICK than plied his craft with the Power Zone Wrestling (PZW) promotion in Lethbridge, Alberta, before moving to British Columbia in 2007.

“We were looking for somewhere to wrestle and train at and those guys (ECCW) were local; we went pretty much from there,” he said. In subsequent years, RICK would also wrestle for All-Star Wrestling in British Columbia and in the U.S. for the now defunct National Wrestling Alliance promotion in Washington. Favourite opponents have included Artemis Spencer, Ryan Eagles, Obie Cartel, Harv Sirha, and Mark Davis.

ECCW owner Scotty Mac said he immediately liked RICK upon meeting him, and described RICK as one of the friendliest and funniest people that he knows. “He is a good worker that has gotten even better since he’s been here in Canada. He was a great babyface and an even better heel. If I had known how good of a heel he was I would turned him sooner.” He felt that RICK’s performance in the 2011 ECCW Pacific Cup was impressive, even if it was just in one match. “His promo after the Cup put the exclamation mark on it!”

One interesting aside is that RICK wasn’t able to truly follow professional wrestling until 1996 because there wasn’t cable where he lived in Australia. Pretty much the only way up to that point that he got to see any shows was through tape trading. Then in 1996 WCW Monday Nitro hit on one-week delay. “As a kid I liked ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, but when we got cable I followed Sting and Diamond Dallas Page. DDP’s feud with Macho Man was great.”

Yet none of these wrestlers RICK cited as being who he saw as his top role model in the business. That distinction went to Arn Anderson. “He really had the whole package and great intensity. If I ever got the chance to wrestle him it would be the biggest learning experience I could think of.” In fact, RICK described the wrestling style of the 1980s National Wrestling Alliance, the Four Horseman, and the Brain Busters tag-team (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) as influencing him the most.

However, his biggest personal inspiration remains his wife. She is a former professional wrestler named Penni Lane, who wrestled for many of the same promotions as RICK and is also from Australia. When she was active in the ring much of her persona was a rock ‘n roller.

Penni commented that she both loved and hated wrestling at the same time. “I loved making the fans feel like they are in the ring with me, love the people I have met that have been like kin to me, and love the path it put me on resulted in me finding and marrying my best friend.” What she loathed though was being a part of a diminishing and underappreciated art form, the delusional egomaniacs and the toll it has taken on her physically. Sadly, Penni had to retire due to a serious neck injury. She now works in the private sector.

Like any wrestler, RICK has had to fight through injuries. He has wrestled with a tendon injury in both of his shoulders, broken hands, broken toes, and a torn tendon in his knee. “The worst was my shoulders. The tendon was severely inflamed. It was chronic and took nine months to heal. It didn’t change how I wrestled though. It hurts and you keep going. Man-up and get through it,” he explained. One injury that RICK has managed to avoid is any neck injury. He attributes that to a degree of doing his best to ensure that injuries don’t happen, his style of wrestling, and his training regimen. That training consists of biometrics and involves heavy weights, push-ups, and pull-ups. To improve his health and as a personal choice he also became a vegetarian one year ago.

Wrestling brought him to Canada, and wrestling has helped him see parts of Australia and his new home that he might not have otherwise.

The hard part is being away from home. “Sometimes it can be hard, but my wife has been involved in the business and she understands when I’m gone. She was a professional wrestler for seven years so she knows the ins and outs of the business; we even tag teamed twice.”

Penni said she has met a lot of wives and girlfriends who resent the time their partners spend in pursuit of their passion and that she couldn’t relate to it: “I guess no one understands the wrestling allure better than another wrestler,” she said. As a tag team, she compared the two of them to being like chalk and cheese. “It was super fun to goof it up together.”

RICK bridges out during a bout.

RICK, though, doesn’t just work as a professional wrestler. He also works for an IT company where he runs a support department, which makes the dedication to his craft all the more remarkable. He explained that he structures his time very efficiently so nothing ever clashes. He can pay his rent and continue to travel the world pretty regularly.

Of course talking about life on the road inevitably led to discussions about the ribs that the wrestlers pull on each other, and RICK had a particularly good one to relay. “It was done to me by a wrestler in Australia. He and the other wrestlers convinced me his girlfriend had no hand. Well I was legitimately excited to meet her because they had been telling me this all day. However, when I went up to shake her hand I was surprised she had one. It doesn’t sound as good in the telling, but it was really funny.”

To pass the time on the road RICK listens to music on his iPad and brings along comics to read. His favourite comic books are the X-Men. “I’ve been re-reading the X-Men Age of Apocalypse storyline. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run is just sick. The Joe Madureira and Byrne/Claremont runs were pretty good too. I’ve been reading on DVD up to issue 172 (of Uncanny X-Men), but I also like to get the Marvel Omnibus hardcovers and the DC Absolute hardcovers.”

Top amongst the current wrestlers that he admires is CM Punk. “His heel work is setting the standard.” Of the current wrestlers he would most like to work with, he surprisingly picked John Cena, yet when he explained why it made perfect sense. “It would make me a fortune.”

So what is next for RICK? Well he would like to wrestle some I QUIT matches and Iron Man matches and become the first Australian to win the Canadian Heavyweight Title. Yet, it may be surprising that one of RICK’s goals is not to wrestle for World Wrestling Entertainment. Ideally down the road he would like to go over to Japan.

One certainty is ECCW owner Scotty Mac is very impressed with RICK. “I have no idea where RICK is going, I’m not certain of his goals. One thing for sure is that if he stays around here he’ll always have a spot in ECCW.”