Kieran Fisher looks back on the career of Sting following his retirement from in-ring competition…
After an illustrious 30-year career, Sting is expected to retire from professional wrestling, following an injury picked up against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions last year. The Icon’s decision to call it quits comes as no surprise, but it is upsetting for fans who were hoping to see him don the face paint and brandish the bat one last time to end his short-lived WWE career on a high with a victorious Wrestlemania moment. That being said, The Stinger’s impact on the business has been monumental; as one of the biggest stars the industry ever produced, he’ll go down in history as one of the immortals, placed in the upper echelons of wrestling’s most revered legends. However, despite his status in the business, his career was one beleaguered with more mishandling than triumph.
Sting was born as Steve Borden on March 20, 1959. In 1985 he broke into the wrestling business after being discovered while he was part of a corporeal weightlifting collective known as Powerteam USA, along with Jim Hellwig (who would go on to become The Ultimate Warrior). They would begin their respective careers together as a tag team known as The Freedom Fighters, paying their dues in Memphis and learning their trade. After a brief stay there, they would move on to Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion (later renamed the Universal Wrestling Federation) and wrestle as The Blade Runners. Six months later, Hellwig would move on to pastures new and begin his transformation into one of the biggest mega stars the industry has ever produced; Sting would remain in UWF and do the same in his own right.
His rise to stardom would garner momentum in 1987 after joining Jim Crockett Promotions. The NWA bookers took an instant liking to the rising star, and his legacy would be solidified early on when he wrestled Ric Flair to a 45-minute draw at Clash of the Champions for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1988. The Nature Boy would serve as an adversary for Stinger throughout his entire career; from NWA to WCW, and even a brief spell in TNA, their morally diametric characters would clash regularly; in turn creating one of the greatest rivalries ever within the squared circle.
During this period, Sting would feud with the likes of The Great Muta, The Road Warriors and Flair’s henchmen, The Four Horsemen. In turn, propelling him as the biggest babyface in the company. He would even join the latter faction for a short spell, but his stay in the infamous stable was merely a stepping stone to defeating Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship – which he would eventually win in July, 1990 at The Great American Bash. Prior to his title win, he would even briefly align himself with Robocop at Capital Combat, with everyone’s favourite cyborg police officer rescuing him from a mugging at the hands of Flair’s cronies in one of the greatest WTF moments in wrestling’s oft-ridiculous history.
Sting would drop the title to Flair in January, 1991. It wasn’t quite the game changing run that the company had hoped for, given that their history of booking title reigns afterwards was inconsistent to say the least. Sting’s career was far from derailed, but it wasn’t quite reaching the heights everyone expected either. However, as World Championship Wrestling began to forge its own identity in 1991, Sting would play a vital role in establishing the promotion. Throughout the year and the following one, he would engage in an acclaimed rivalry with The Dangerous Alliance, further cementing himself as the top babyface and gaining respectable plaudits for his in-ring work. At Wrestlewar, in a WarGames match, he would come out victorious with his Squadron stable against The Dangerous Alliance in a match that was awarded five stars by Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer publication.
The feud with The Dangerous Alliance would plant the seeds for an even more arduous task, however. Big Van Vader was on a wave of crushing momentum throughout 1992; a brutal tour de force decimating his opponents en route to the top prize, where he would win his first World Heavyweight Championship by destroying Stinger at The Great American Bash. This would trigger one of the fiercest and most captivating rivalries in history, as Sting would play underdog and try to overcome the monster heel in a series of innovative matches that lasted until 1994. For many fans, this was the most enjoyable period of his legendary career.
In the mid-90s, a tectonic shift happened in wrestling that would change the business forever. As the Monday Night Wars introduced edgier content, characters had to evolve with the times to stay relevant. The New World Order changed the landscape of the business; wrestling became more mainstream than ever and a cornerstone of the entertainment Zeitgeist. Pop culture in general was changing, therefore wrestling became less cookie cutter; fans started embracing anti-heroes and heels, as being bad had become cool. Throughout ’96 and ’97, the NWO had been running roughshod over WCW as an unstoppable force. A hero was needed. Enter Sting. But not the blonde surfer people had grown to know and love. The new Sting was much darker and more vigilant, operating as a silent, mysterious enigma that lurked in the rafters and carried weaponry. He would model his appearance on The Crow, and act as dark harbinger of justice.
The build going into Starrcade ’97 was huge. The excitement in the air to see Sting face off against Hollywood Hogan was tangible. When he beat Hogan for the championship, it was one of the best booking decisions WCW ever made – but like every other good thing ever to happen to the company, it was ruined shortly after by backstage politics, creative cluelessness and too many cooks in the kitchen only interested in feeding themselves. Sting would be forced to vacate the title the next night on flagship show Nitro and wouldn’t reclaim it until Superbrawl in February, 1998. While Sting was always a main event calibre talent in the company, his progress was stifled regularly in favour of lesser talents with more power and influence. And like every other wrestler in the company, he would find his way into a NWO faction eventually, when he teamed up with the Wolfpac in 1998.
The rest of Sting’s WCW tenure reflected the confusion and inconsistency that contributed to the company’s downfall. He was one of many stars who deserved so much more, but he was in a better position than most. When the company went under in 2001, his loyalty was rewarded as he closed out Nitro against his oldest nemesis, Ric Flair. The image of them shaking hands at the end of the match couldn’t have been more fitting or sentimental; it was the perfect way to end an era for a company that, despite its flaws, forever etched its imprint on sports entertainment.
Initially, the folding of WCW came with an air of optimism and excitement. The prospect of dream matches that came with the availability of so many high profile free agents and rising stars was mouth-watering for wrestling fans; then the Invasion storyline happened and suddenly our mouths went dry, as the major stars who were contracted to Time Warner were content to sit at home and receive a pay cheque until their deals expired while the roster members who did make the jump were buried. But in 2002, the original NWO arrived in WWE, followed by Rey Mysterio later in the year and Goldberg in 2003, and the possibility of seeing the best of WWE and WCW collide was a reality once again. But Sting never came, instead opting for up and coming rivals Total Nonstop Action as had problems with the way WWE booked talent.
TNA’s acquisition of Sting was huge, and it brought more eyes to the product – and prestige. During the formative years the company was exciting to watch, but it lacked mainstream star power and Sting brought that in abundance. Criticism is rightfully thrown at the TNA product, but as you look back on his career, you could say that it was the only company that valued him highly and booked him accordingly. He renewed old rivalries with the likes of Hulk Hogan, and faced the very best the company had to offer; feuding with company legends like Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles – along with rising talent. He played an integral part in the company’s growth when they really needed a star, and his efforts were evidently appreciated.
Sting’s arrival in WWE at Survivor Series 2014 was a shock to all, and it’s probably the last time we’ll ever see a moment of that magnitude ever again in wrestling – at least in our lifetimes. He was the last of the immortals to step foot in a WWE ring, and his sudden appearance to help overthrow The Authority embellished the vigilante justice that made his character so compelling. The less said about his run afterwards the better, as it was hampered by a selfish booking decision at Wrestlemania 31 that ultimately brought his momentum to a shattering halt. His next high profile loss to Seth Rollins made sense – he should have won at ‘Mania, but the decision to put Rollins over was the right one. Unfortunately, the injury he would sustain in that match would put him on the shelf, and result in his imminent retirement.
It can be interpreted that Sting was a victim of the ego booking that kept him away from WWE for so long, but an underwhelming final chapter shouldn’t deter from the incredible journey that was his storied career. If this is truly the end, he’s left behind a legacy worth celebrating. Thanks for everything, Stinger.
Kieran Fisher – Follow me on Twitter
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