For over a decade, we’ve been imagining it. Some injustice, perhaps in these days being perpetrated by the Authority, is taking place in the ring. Monday Night Raw‘s greatest heroes lay helpless as their enemies stomp them into submission. The lights go out. Today’s crowd begins the sing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” but this time they are mistaken. The spotlight swings up from the stage to rafters. A man sits there, hunched over. It’s the man they call “Sting.”
Well, it turns out, we weren’t all that far off. Sting finally had some in-ring action during a WWE pay-per-view, when he appeared at the climax of Surivor Series to keep the Authority from keeping power. In the process, he also sealed their fate. It was quite an entrance.
Over his nearly 30 year career, Sting has had many angles and personae, it would be difficult to do them all justice in brief. What can be done is telling the story of the (sometimes Insane) Icon through what professional wrestling does best, his matches. Here are some matches to check out in preparation for Sting’s possible return. Even if he doesn’t, its a great journey to take.
Though his first national exposure came in 1986 through Bill Watts’ UWF promotion, it would not be until his arrival in the NWA in 1987 that Sting’s career truly took off. It would be less than a year before Sting had his first World Title Match, which is also our first stop on our journey through some of Sting’s most seminal matches.
Sting vs. Ric Flair (c)
March 27, 1988 NWA Clash of the Champions World Heavyweight Championship
This match was a big deal. Airing against WrestleMania IV, the NWA intended to make their “free” event something to talk about. The crowd certainly felt that way as both Sting and Flair received wild reactions. The NWA also sought to emulate some of the WrestleMania formula, adding in a few special stipulations. First, Flair’s manager JJ Dillon was suspended above the ring in a small, steel cage. There would be a 45 minute time limit to make sure that all the action aired on the TBS SuperStation. The match would also feature a group of celebrity judges. This illustrious panel included former wrestler Sandy Scott, Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen, The New Leave It To Beaver‘s Ken Osmond and, wait for it, everyone’s favorite WCW Superfan Jason Hervey. Wow, the spectacle!
However, the real spectacle here was the match itself. If you happen to watch this after reading, don’t expect fast, wild action. That’s not what it’s about. The match pushes through the full 45 minutes with one single point: These two men are the best wrestlers in the world. Every punch thrown, every throw outside the ring, every slam has a gravity rarely matched in any contest. It doesn’t matter that these things aren’t coming in rapid succession because every move, every look matters. There are armbars in this match that are more exciting than some Smackdown main events.
Just listen to the crowd when Sting hits his Stinger Splash and turns into the Scorpion Deathlock in the match’s last 30 seconds. Its incredible. Ultimately, Ric Flair would retain, but not by pinning or submitting Sting. He won by surviving. Oh, and there were judges too who scored the match too, that was kind of silly.
Though not winning the belt in this match, Sting was affirmed as one of the NWA’s biggest stars, and this was only the beginning. After this match he would go on to be NWA Television Champion and even briefly join Ric Flair’s Four Horsemen. The Horsemen, seeing Sting as a threat to their leader, turned on Sting and he was soon sidelined with an injury. In 1990, Sting returned with his focus on Flair and his World Heavyweight title.
Sting vs. Ric Flair (c)
July 7, 1990 WCW The Great American Bash World Heavyweight Championship
As the commercials for the event said, The Great American Bash in 1990 was the beginning of a “New Revolution.” It also featured awesome, poorly cut-and-pasted pictures of the WCW stars over paintings of the patriots. 1990 was a dream.
Sting entered first, covered in the good ol’ red, white and blue. In this entrance, it was clear who “the man” truly was. Flair enters as champion, sporting white and blue, himself. The crowd is as hyped as they were in 1988, and they know the Stinger’s chances are much better this time. Though this match needed no stipulation, Sting was flanked by his Dudes With Attitudes, namely the Steiner Brothers and JYD. Flair ally Ole Anderson found himself handcuffed to El Gigante. The Horsemen were out of luck.
This match actually holds a lot in common with their tussle in 1988, though its shorter duration allowed for the pace to be picked up substantially. Still, both performers exhibit their knack for not only physicality, but perfect ring psychology. Sting even wins with an inside cradle. He out techniqued the technician. Sting was the future of WCW, and the future began that night. The sheer joy of the crowd proves that point, as does the giant sparkling Sting head ignited on the entrance ramp. I kind of wish I was kidding with that last one.
Sting, now the biggest star in company next to Ric Flair, would continue his run through the roster of NWA/WCW through the early ’90s. Though this era of WCW is largely forgotten these days, Sting and the other stars had some great bouts in this period. The following is a great example of Sting in those less remembered days.
Big Van Vader vs. Sting (title vacant)
May 22, 1994 WCW Slamboree WCW International Championship
Since we last saw our heroes, Ric Flair left with World Heavyweight Title and headed to the WWF. While the belt was on…hiatus, WCW developed their own World Title. Then, when that Big Gold Belt made its way back, it was deemed the WCW International Championship. Flair also came back and then won the WCW World Heavyweight Title. Sting, a month prior, had won the International title, but lost it to Rick Rude in Japan. Rude, who cheated, was stripped of the title. Sting refused to take the belt without competing for it and thus this match was born.
Yeesh. OK…now we’re caught up.
This match was chosen for one element: Vader. If there was ever a missed opportunity in professional wrestling, it was him. This was no fault of Sting’s. Over their feud, Sting allowed Vader’s star to rise along with his own. Weighing in at 451 pounds, Vader was one of the few men who looked like he could annihilate the fan favorite. Even some of the crowd could be heard cheering “Sting Must Die.” Not a technical match by any means, Sting/Vader was brutal. Sting, willing to give Vader the heat he deserved, takes punishment and truly made the crowd believe that Vader was going to walk out with the 10 pounds of gold. Sting was portrayed as the wily veteran, picking his spots and ultimately winning with (this is pretty cool) a frog splash.
And then, they signed Hogan. Days after this, Sting would drop the WCW International Heavyweight Title, losing a unification match with WCW World Heavyweight champion Ric Flair. Flair would lose his belt to the debuting Hogan the next month. Sting was still considered “Main Event” talent in coming years, and he certainly didn’t lose the crowd, but it was Hogan who garnered most of the spotlight. Then, in one of the most genius moves in the history of professional wrestling, Sting’s gimmick evolved into something very new.
In the Summer of 1996, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash formed the villainous nWo, making them the hottest heels in wrestling. Sting, with his “crow” image beginning to take shape, was one of the few WCW wrestlers willing to stand up to the nWo. After numerous failed attempts to stop Hogan’s rampage, Sting did something unheard of. He stopped. Sting, now more into his dark persona, would haunt the arenas of Nitro. For over one year, Sting did not compete in a match. Until he got THE match.
Sting vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan (c)
December 28, 1997 WCW Starrcade WCW World Heavyweight Championship
“The Most Anticipated Match in the History of Wrestling” might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly was the most anticipated of its time. The match opens with something very telling: Hulk Hogan, the champion, and supposedly the biggest star in wrestling, entered first. The crowd had been waiting for Sting and nothing was bigger than that. Not to be sullied by a terrible laser rock show and underwhelming pyro (even then, it sucked), Sting finally walked to the ring, heralded by thunder and lightning.
Let’s be honest though, the match itself isn’t all that great. There is some decent storytelling in the middle, but the finish doesn’t make much sense. An overblown attempt at making it look like nWo business as usual. What makes it great is what it accomplished at the end. This match put Sting back in the place he deserved to be. Much like Daniel Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30, at the end of the night all that mattered was that the belt was on the right waist. Sometimes its the match that sends the crowd home happy that makes the most difference.
WCW was at its peak, and then it began to fall. Sting stuck with the brand through its ups and downs. As the ship sank, the captain stayed on board.
Sting vs. Vampiro
June 11, 2000 WCW Great American Bash Human Torch Match
I’m sorry, I love you. To tell the story of Sting through his matches, it is necessary to acknowledge the last months of WCW. At least with this match, we have something to talk about.
Building over a few months with a variety gimmick matches, Sting and Vampiro’s long feud (a rarity in the later days of WCW) would come to a head in a Human Torch match. As you probably figured out, you have to light your opponent on fire to win one of those. While not comparable to the other matches on this list thus far, the crowd did seem interested in this contest. It was an opportunity to see one of the biggest stars in wrestling and maybe see them get lit on fire. Not a bad hook.
Though not the main event, it certainly was portrayed to be quite important in the ongoing struggle of the older talent and the so-called “New Blood.” Sting, having moved the torch to the top of the NitroVision, took his time getting to the ring and conspicuously wore a lose fitting t-shirt. What little actual wresting there is in the match is pretty solid, though they are in the ring for less than 2 minutes. Seriously, check it out…it’s ridculous.
The gimmick overpowered the performances of both wrestlers, and what should have been a decent fall off the set fell flat. It isn’t long before both men are on their way back up to the top. This is where it gets down right goofy. The lights drop as the “gasoline” drenched wrestlers near the torch. The warpainted men exchanged blows for a few moments and then disappeared. I’m pretty sure this would have had more impact if the crowd could see anything. Vampiro grabbed the torch and lit a man who is clearly not Sting on fire. Not Sting then takes a really nice front flip off of the NitroVision onto a crash mat. Welcome to WCW 2000.
By April of 2001, WCW was no more. Sting and Flair closed Monday Nitro with a final main event and Sting, with his guaranteed contract, moved out of the spotlight. In the coming years, he would make occasional appearances for multiple promotions, but it would not be until 2006 that he returned full time to ring in TNA Wrestling.
Sting vs. Jeff Jarrett
October 22, 2006 TNA Bound For Glory NWA World Heavyweight Championship (Title vs Career)
This match makes the list for two major reasons. First, it is Sting’s first 1 on 1 World Title match as a real member of TNA’s roster. Second, it is this period that represents TNA at its height of importance. Sting comes out in a look unique to his time in TNA and to the six sided ring they were known for at the time. The match even has Kurt Angle as a special guest enforcer.
TNA was showing their hand and in 2006, it was an exciting reveal. While not the over the top antics of TNA’s much lauded X-Division, Sting/Jarrett was what you would hope from two great, long lasting superstars; great storytelling and solid ring work. There was even a rather ingenious moment where Angle, seeing that both men were about to be counted out, Olympic slammed the ref and took over. Sting would gain the belt after powering through a guitar shot and locking in the Scorpion Deathlock. The man called Sting was back.
Over the next 8 years, Sting would stick with TNA. He would go through many new variations on his character and occasionally take some time off. Even with TNA’s ups and downs, he remained one of their biggest attractions. In January of this year, Sting lost a match to then TNA World Champion Magnus, and as a stipulation, left the company.
So what does his surprise appearance at the 2014 Survivor Series mean for Sting’s future in the WWE? The truth is very few people know what is going on with The Man Called Sting. I think we all want it to be at least one more match to add to his great story. Maybe even a WrestleMania moment.
* A version of this article originally appeared on July 14th, 2014. *