Nullifying the Icon

Steve Borden, known better by his ring name Sting, likely wishes he could still brag about being the most high-profile wrestler who never wrestled for WWE. After getting his start in the wrestling business in ’85 in the outlaw promotion All-California Championship Wrestling, Sting quickly progressed through the National Wrestling Alliance territories, Continental Wrestling Association, and Universal Wrestling Federation. Jim Crockett eventually bought out UWF in ’87 to keep the NWA afloat when the WWF was undergoing its ’80s national expansion; Crockett then sold a majority interest of the entire Jim Crockett Promotions to TBS1 on November 1st, 1988. Universal Wrestling Corporation, the legal subsidiary incorporated by Ted Turner to acquire JCP, was renamed World Championship Wrestling, the same name as the popular long-running television program that Georgia Championship Wrestling renamed in ’82 at the behest of Ted Turner himself. Covering just this topic alone could fill a novel, and all this information isn’t the main point anyway, but it was in this environment that Sting became a world champion, and WCW Monday Nitro was later born.

Sting was one of many contracted WCW wrestlers who either chose to stay home and collect money from their guaranteed AOL-Time Warner contracts or stayed home because Vince McMahon did not want to buy out their contracts. Still, when his guaranteed contract expired, he chose to work for the short-lived World Wrestling All-Stars promotion and then joined TNA in 2003. Sting himself said his long-standing hesitation behind signing a contract with WWE was due to a fear of not being given the respect deserved1 or simply not understanding how to use him properly2. He stayed with TNA until 2014 when he finally signed a contract with WWE and made several media appearances throughout most of the year before making his WWE debut at the 2014 Survivor Series. The remainder of his in-ring work for the company would last just 301 days, or nine months and 28 days, depending on how you view it.

How did they do? Well, considering a quick Google search for “Sting’s WWE run was good,” results in countless threads, videos, articles, and blogs criticizing Sting’s run in WWE, not well. He had only four matches, winning two of them, one of which came by DQ, with one of his losses coming at what will likely be his only WrestleMania appearance. It’s worth mentioning Sting’s WrestleMania 31 match against Triple H was his debut match for the company and that after interference from Triple H’s old stablemates D-Generation X, Sting’s old rivals from WCW, the New World Order, bafflingly came to assist Sting. After shaking Triple H’s hand in defeat, Sting disappeared until late August, challenging WWE Champion Seth Rollins for the belt at the upcoming Night of Champions event. His DQ win came against Big Show on Raw when Rollins interfered, and then after John Cena came to make the save, he and Sting immediately teamed up to overcome Big Show and Rollins in a tag-team match. It was his last win in WWE, as he lost to Rollins at Night of Champions and retired at the WWE medical staff’s discretion after taking a turnbuckle powerbomb during his match with Rollins and injuring his neck.

With his run explained that plainly, it certainly doesn’t sound appealing. He was the one to make Rollins tap in that tag match on Raw, but he lost both his pay-per-view event matches. He never got a meaningful win; a roll-up loss to Rollins at Night of Champions and the loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31 with one weak sledgehammer shot to the head as Sting was mounting a comeback after shenanigans extended the match past its expiration date. Stephanie McMahon said it best in the WrestleMania 31 hype package for this match, stating the WWE fans would think he was nothing when Triple H beat him at WrestleMania, and realistically, that’s what happened. What child born after the purchase of WCW and is a fan of only the WWE, in terms of professional wrestling, will care about Sting and his accomplishments when he loses in his first match at the biggest show of the year?

Fans lament the mention of WCW during the build-up to the WrestleMania match, but realistically, it is a point worth mentioning. However, alongside Stephanie McMahon’s “big fish in a small pond realizing he’s a minnow in an ocean” promo, the underlying intentions are more clearly shown as the McMahons getting one more laugh at the expense of their long-purchased competition. Sting stated, “fighting for WCW would be a lost cause,” which is true, but a reason why fans didn’t like it is that it speaks to the lack of creativity the writers had with Sting; despite not wanting to fight for WCW, he sure was painted as the sole surviving soldier of WCW.

Why sign Sting so late in his career anyway? Were they going to try and run an angle to get him over with their fans, and did they seriously believe this would be the best course of action? If they just wanted to sign up the last of their old competition, make a profit from selling his merch, and bury their rivals one last time, then they executed perfectly. However, if the plan was to give a legend of the business a legacy run to give himself a chance to work in front of a younger generation of fans who may have never seen him wrestle before, it was a complete flop. Sting could’ve been in the ring helping get younger stars over with the audience and solidifying their positions in the industry, but WWE was not keen on using him in that capacity.

It’s always easier to say what should have been done in hindsight or engage in some fantasy booking, but I certainly would have done things differently. Chris Jericho once said Vince McMahon once told him, “nobody cares about the fucking Intercontinental Championship,”4 with the way it has been regarded by the company for the past decade now, McMahon has no one but himself to blame for fans not caring about the belt. A week before Sting made his in-ring debut at the 2014 Survivor Series, Luke Harper beat Dolph Ziggler on Raw to end Ziggler’s 56-day title reign, only for Ziggler to win it back 27 days later at the 2014 TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs event; losing it 22 days later to Bad News Barrett on Raw. Instead, I’d book Ziggler to go over Harper on Raw and have a rematch for the title at Survivor Series instead of being representatives for Team Cena and Team Authority, respectively, in the main event five-on-five Survivor Series match. I’d replace them with two other mid-carders who could use a spot in a main event tag match to get some shine.

Just before Harper is about to hit Ziggler with his finisher and win in this fantasy match, Sting interferes and delivers a Stinger Splash on Harper. Ziggler would be disqualified but would retain the championship. While Ziggler and Harper writhe in the ring, Sting would leave the ring, grab the title belt, and as Triple H begins running down the ramp to intercept him, the lights go out, and when they quickly come back on, Sting is gone. Later that night, Sting can still interfere and hit Triple H with his Scorpion Death Drop, but this time it would be to assist John Cena. The following night on Raw, an enraged Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon would cut a promo, decrying the legitimacy of the Survivor Series main event and demanding Sting return the prized Intercontinental Championship to its rightful owners.

Essentially, the pair would have an in-storyline reduced role in the day-to-day wrestling operations but still had enough power with their corporate positions to announce a ladder match at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs for the “vacant” championship between Ziggler and Harper. The duo would then spend the next handful of weeks unceremoniously showing up on Raw and abusing the sliver of authority they had left to throw tantrums and demand Sting show up and return their property. While Ziggler and Harper battle to set up a ladder in the final stages of their match, Sting would rappel down from the rafters at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs and snatch the title belt hanging above the ring on his way down; wearing the original Intercontinental Championship as well. Triple H, sitting ringside, would chase after Sting, only to be met with a stiff clothesline and swift retreat from the still-silent “Icon.” Fans would be happy to see Sting in action by this point, but their curiosity would be skyrocketing; why give The Authority so much hassle over the Intercontinental Championship, after all? They would receive their answer on the first Raw of 2015 when Sting shows up to interrupt another Triple H tantrum to cut into WWE and what Sting perceives as them disrespecting not only the company’s history but wrestling history.

Sting then launches into a tirade eviscerating Triple H on behalf of WWE’s monopolistic practices. The thesis of this hypothetical promo would be if WWE could take away pieces of history from wrestling fans across the globe, then Sting would finally arrive in the company to snatch a piece of their history from them. Does this make him appear like a bitter old man who can’t let go of a grudge? Sure, but does it blend reality and kayfabe to create a compelling scenario for Sting to show up out of nowhere and put a spotlight on an underutilized prestigious title belt? Absolutely.

Sting shouldn’t be a straight babyface at first since mentions to WCW, the old competition, are unavoidable. However, now that he’s at least given himself a plan and a proper motivation to show up and disrupt The Authority, fans can choose whether or not they want to cheer or boo “The Icon.” Considering the actions of The Authority for years at this point and the legacy of Sting, it’s not hard to imagine he’d be getting cheered regardless of his more morally ambiguous actions. Triple H and Stephanie can laugh him off, stating they’ll never recognize him and have a flood of security guards rush down to surround the ring, only for the lights to go out once more and have Sting disappear until the Royal Rumble. To not displace Roman Reigns’ hotshot to a WrestleMania main event, I will still have him go over and win the 2015 Royal Rumble, but with drastically different events to lead to that result involving Sting.

Rather than have Ziggler enter at No. 30 and Adam Rose enter at No. 18, I’d swap those two and have the lights go out briefly almost as soon as Rose’s music starts playing to introduce him as the No. 30 contestant. When the lights come back on, Sting is in the center of the ring, and he begins clearing people out. Furious, Triple H and security guards rush down the ramp to stop “The Icon,” only to get mixed up with the match in the ring, giving Sting the chance to escape and provide Reigns with a more leveled playing field to win amongst the chaos. The next night on Raw, an enraged Triple H can make his way to the ring at the top of the show and issue a challenge to Sting for a match at WrestleMania, provided he return the company’s title belt. Sting would then appear, and after a handshake and handing over the belts, heel contenders for the Intercontinental Championship would come out from the crowd and assist Triple H in beating up Sting, finally able to get his hands on the elusive “Icon.”

After delivering his finisher, the Pedigree, to Sting in the ring, Triple H would taunt “The Icon,” stating he “can’t wait to see you at WrestleMania Stinger,” announcing an eight-way ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship on the same card as well. This way, we can ensure that the fantastic ladder match from WrestleMania 31 still happens, but now Triple H has heat on Sting in the month leading up to the event. After weeks of sporadically showing up on Raw to boast about how Sting wouldn’t even make it to WrestleMania, Triple H would finally be run out of the ring by a baseball bat-carrying Sting on the go-home Raw before WrestleMania. As far as how the match itself goes? Nothing spectacular; stick to brawling and clean wrestling tactics before interference from DX that Sting can fight off, and then as Sting locks in a Scorpion Deathlock, follow it up with interference from the nWo, who also come to fight on Triple H’s behalf. The numbers appear overwhelming at first, but Sting does take out the reinforcements and fire up for a babyface comeback, delivering a Stinger Splash and Scorpion Death Drop to finish Triple H and pick up the win at WrestleMania. While it is a bit overbooked to have all that interference, it is thematically appropriate to have Sting overcome all these foes; practically a metaphor for what he endured competing against WWE5.

The match didn’t need to be drastically different, but the psychology and the finish needed to be tweaked. Where do we go from here, though? Perhaps my fantasy booking does make Sting look respectable as an icon of the business, but what’s left for him after this angle? His disappearance after losing reaffirmed my previous points of the McMahon’s subtly burying his legacy. Unlike reality, however, Sting got the win at WrestleMania in my scenario; he can afford to disappear for a little bit. Still, what to do when he comes back? Challenge Rollins for the title like in real life? It might agitate some people, but yes, that is what I’d have him do.

Let’s assume he still gets injured and is forced to retire later in the year since he was 56 years old at this point; what else could he do to get more over than he already was anyway? He has the one match with Triple H that he wins, disappears for months, and then comes back to challenge Seth Rollins just as he did in real life; I don’t see how losing to Rollins makes him appear weak. Sting going over Triple H grants him the legitimacy necessary to go against the younger members of the roster; by doing the job for Rollins, Sting gives that rub and further legitimacy to Rollins. Is it disappointing I gave Sting two fewer matches in WWE than he did in real life and still came out with a .500 record? Maybe, but it’s undeniable he would appear more competent under these circumstances.

A match with The Undertaker sounds like a no-brainer in theory, but that’s what it is, just good in theory. The two likely could have had a decent match even in their old age; a clash of styles wouldn’t have been an issue; it would have come down to booking and telling a story. Who wants to see either of them lose at that point in their careers? Pit Undertaker and Sting against each other at WrestleMania, and what you’ll end up with is people thinking it sounded good until they got what they wanted. What we got could have been good enough, but rather than utilize a wrestling icon to place a spotlight on whoever and whatever he’s working with, WWE squandered it to remind us they won the Monday Night Wars.

Editor’s Notes

  1. WWE Network News – 12/10/2020 – Throwback Thursday: NWA World Championship Wrestling (Dec. 24, 1988), As Seen on WWE Network
  2. YouTube/Grilling JR – 9/18/2020 – Sting shoots on not Coming to WWE after WCW
  3. YouTube/Maaz Jilani – 8/21/2007 – Sting Explains why he didnt go to the WWE
  4. Ringside News – 10/7/2020 – Vince McMahon Told Chris Jericho ‘Nobody Cares About The F*cking Intercontinental Championship’
  5. It would have also cemented the idea that D-X and the nWo were “sister stables” and a fitting metaphor for WWE’s corporatization with these two groups, essentially representing The Kliq, coming to aid Triple H, thus also cementing him as the heel in this match.

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