Was Sting really that good?
Once again, we're back at it, looking back at wrestler's careers and asking our favourite question; Were they really that good?
I want to start this week’s ‘were they really that good?’ by saying sorry as once again I have fallen behind, this isn’t due to burnout or not enjoying it, I have had some news that has taken me some time to process, so for the lack of articles, I apologise. I should also say that this is probably the hardest one I have written to date! This week’s subject is probably the most requested wrestler for the series, it is none other than “The Icon” Sting. I have never been a big fan of the Stinger, not of his Freedom Fighter/Blade Runner days, not of his NWA days, not of his Crow days and certainly not his Joker days!
Even though I’m not a fan of Sting, I can still appreciate what he has done. Few have achieved what he has, and even less have reached the lofty heights that he has, both figuratively and literally (rafters anyone?). He’s held gold in all but one promotion, wrestled the most iconic names and inspired a generation. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his shortcomings. This week we delve into the career of an icon, this week we ask; Was Sting really that good?
Sting was born Steve Borden in Omaha, Nebraska, but raised in southern California. In high school he played basketball and later found Bodybuilding. It was during his time as a body builder that Sting met Jim Hellwig, better known as The Ultimate Warrior. One day, Rick Bassman came into the Gold’s Gym that Borden co-owned. He had three huge guys with him and asked if he could put up a poster looking for a fourth man for a group he was creating, to break into the world of professional wrestling. The Stinger had no interest or even knowledge of wrestling what so ever, having no way of watching our sport at home as a child and no interest in adulthood, until he was taken to an “incredible” WWF event which featured names like Hulk Hogan, The British Bulldogs and the Iron Sheik on the card, and he was blown away. He was off to train, as one of the original members of the group dropped out, so Borden brought Hellwig along to fill the final space. Interesting fact, Hogan used to visit Borden’s gym, and Borden had no clue who he was!
Power Team USA: Hellwig and Sting on the left and Donahoe and Miller on the right. Managed by Rick Bassman.
Sting was trained by Red Bastien and Rick Bassman and debuted as a member of “Power Team USA” under the name of Flash, alongside Garland “Glory” Donahoe, Mark “Commando” Miller and Justice. Justice was none other than Jim Hellwig. They debuted in All-California Championship Wrestling. It wasn’t long before the future Icon was bound for pastures new and made the move to Memphis based territory Continental Wrestling Association, and he didn’t come alone. He once again brought Hellwig with him. Now wrestling as the Freedom Fighters, originally to be a babyface team, the audience didn’t take to them too well, so they turned heel quicker than Vince McMahon tearing up a script for RAW. They didn’t stay in CWA long and their entire run was very forgettable, apart from the time they ‘broke’ the leg of accomplished star Phil Hickerson.
The Blade Runners in UWF.
The next stop on the Borden/Hellwig "Best Friends Forever" road trip was Universal Wrestling Federation in 1986. Once again, they weren’t there long and only stayed for 12 months. The promotion was run by Bill Watts in Alexandria, Louisiana. Renamed the Blade Runners, Borden, currently known as Flash would make the only name change of his career and adopted the name that would last him a life time, Sting, and Hellwig was renamed Rock (not of the “The Jabroni beating, pie eating, trail blazing, eyebrow raising, heart stopping, elbow dropping, electrifying the dirty south, so Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth” variety though.) It didn’t take long for them to get into the mix of things joining up with “Hotstuff & Hyatt International” a heel group led by “Hottsuff” Eddie Gilbert and Missy Hyatt. The Blade Runners were Gilbert’s dogsbodies in his onscreen rivalry with Watts. Things were coming up Blade Runners in UWF, however their time as a team was coming to an end.
In mid-1986 Hellwig left UWF, rather unceremoniously, leaving Sting without a partner. He would go on to win the UWF tag team championship with Eddie Gilbert twice. Sting was proving to be a real up and comer, and was taking to wrestling like a duck to water. He even won it a third time with Rick Steiner! Steiner would turn on Sting mid-way through 1987 and align himself with Terry Taylor. Ganging up on Sting, Taylor and Gilbert began to beat down Sting, until “Gentleman” Chris Adams came to Sting’s aid, aligning themselves with each other and turning the Stinger face!
Behind the scenes, people were beginning to see the makings of a huge star in Sting, with Gilbert endorsing him to dirt sheets as a future megastar. Sting was even given the nod to win the UWF Television title until Jim Crockett purchased them. Crockett’s booker at the time was Dusty Rhodes and he decided to the put the belt on Taylor, setting up a feud between UWF TV Champion and the NWA TV Champion Nikita Koloff to unify the two belts, meanwhile Sting was nowhere near the scene. Dusty saw huge potential in Sting and wanted to protect his megastar sheen as much as possible, so he used a fresh-faced Shane Douglas as a transitional champion to get the belt from Gilbert and on to Taylor. Sting was meant for bigger things...
Sting's NWA debut, squaring off against Gladiator #1.
After Sting officially arrived in NWA, he was prominently placed on the card so he could be showcased and his abilities would be on display. With his star burning bright, Sting was one of the only UWF talents to be pushed and regularly used by the NWA. At the inaugural Clash of Champions in 1988, Sting would square off against the man, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the illustrious ten pounds of gold, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The match ran its 45-minute time limit and was exactly what you would expect from a young Sting and prime Ric Flair, it was high energy, full of close calls, beautiful storytelling and meaningful back and forth, with Flair (and Sting himself) making the future Icon look a million bucks! With the time limit expiring and the judges unable to decide a winner, the match ended in a draw, but you can bet your arse that Sting came out of that match with a brighter future than ever before. He would go on to have a couple of non-televised losses to Flair, but later that year, Sting would go to war with the Horsemen, battling the likes of Arn, Tully and Windham.
Road Warrior Animal military pressing Sting during their tag team encounter at Starrcade 88.
Recognising Sting as the most over face at the time, Dusty had the Road Warriors turn heel and beat Sting down, leading Sting to challenge Animal and Hawk for their titles at Starrcade 88, teaming with none other than Dusty himself. Sting and Dusty won the match, but it was via DQ, that way Sting could go over and the Road Warriors status wouldn’t be hurt.
After the programme with the Road Warriors, Sting returned to singles action, in 1989, taking Flair to a one hour draw, after that Sting would get his first taste of wrestling abroad as he embarked on a short tour of Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling, with a rather notable match against Dan Spivey, which was held in the Nippon Budokan in front of 14,000 people!
Sting as NWA Television Champion.
Upon his return to the US, Sting was given a huge push, and rightly so. He had paid his dues, he had worked hard, given some great performances and got himself over organically. Sting defeated Mike Rotunda to win his first ever title in the NWA, capturing the NWA Television Championship. While he was TV champion, Sting faced largely sub-par opponents when defending the title, such as the Iron Sheik, not that he was a bad wrestler, he just wasn’t on the level that Sting was, and was outshone at every turn. Eventually, the NWA gave Sting an opponent who could match his ability, and he was booked against the Great Muta, with the TV title on the line! The match was great and ended with what is now known as a “classic Dusty finish” (looks like JCP learned a thing or two before firing Dusty, huh?) Sting got the three count but the replay showed Muta’s shoulder was up at two, so, the NWA officials declared the title vacant.
Sting and Muta would battle numerous times, with neither coming out on top. Their matches would always end in DQ, with neither man leaving as the champion, this all culminated in a No DQ match at a live event, where Muta picked up the win by smacking Sting in the head with a billy club.
Sting after winning his first World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair.
Skipping over the pointless Robocop bollocks that he was involved in, Sting would return and finally capture his first world title from Flair at the Great American Bash in July 1990, continuing his feud with Flair, moving on to Sid Vicious and then dispatching a masked assailant “The Black Scorpion” which was Ric Flair in a mask. Gripping stuff. The Icon held the world title until January 1991, when he dropped the title back to Flair in the process of recognising a WCW Heavyweight Championship after parting ways with the NWA.
Now, I believe that Sting's star power and shine was built up during these years. He was masterfully crafted as the consummate babyface, booked to the moon and his athletic ability was obviously the lynch pin that held it all together, but I think without Dusty seeing what Sting could be, then he wouldn’t have gone on to reach the heights that he did.
We then get the non-NWA section of his career, where he played a part in some of wrestling’s most iconic moments, (The Shockmaster anyone?). More importantly this is where Sting began to change and evolve his character. At Halloween Havoc, Sting teamed with the Nature Boy to take on Arn Anderson and Brian Pillman, however, earlier in the night Flair was attacked by Arn and Pillman leaving him unable to compete later on. The match still went ahead with Chris Benoit filling in for Flair, only for Flair to interfere in the match and turn on Sting! The next night on Nitro, Sting beat Flair with the Scorpion Deathlock and refused to let go of the hold. It took Lex Luger to come to the ring and do a bit of convincing for Sting to release Flair.
The Outsiders confronting Eric Bischoff in Kevin Nash's debut.
In 1996, The Outsiders, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, debuted on Nitro, and Sting was the first person to stand up to them. This culminated in a match between Nash and Hall against Sting and the Macho Man Randy Savage, which ended with the famous Hogan heel turn. Over the coming weeks, the Icon’s appearance would change, gone was the patented bleach blonde flat top, instead a dark, longish mop of hair had taken its place. The colourful tights were swapped for black, the face paint remained, but it now had a darker, edgier tone to it. After Sting was done with the NWO angle (for now), he would come out on Nitro and declare himself a “free agent” and said he would visit from time to time, and was subsequently booked to do shows in Japan.
Sting returns in October 1996, complete with an image overhaul.
In October of 1996, Sting returned to Nitro with a completely new look, donning a black leather trench coat, his face was painted white except for his mouth and he had black markings around his eyes. This isn't to be confused with the Sting we’re used to today; this was a phase I like to call “Proto-Crow”, it gave off the vibe that a little piece of the old Sting was there, but it was slowly being swallowed by Sting's darker side. He hit the ring and attacked a “fake Sting” who was still using the old look and had sided with the NWO, and dropped him with his new finisher, the “Scorpion Death Drop”. He then whacked him in the tried and tested Scorpion Deathlock while the NWO members came to the ring, though they didn't intervene, they just stood and watched. After Sting was done, Nash and Ted DiBiase entered the ring and offered the Stinger a place in the NWO. Sting would then speak his last words on TV for over a year saying “the real Sting may or may not be in your price range,” before stating “"the only thing that's for sure about Sting is that nothing's for sure" and then he left.
Week after week, we would see Sting in the Rafters, now that he had gone full crow, just silently watching, he would do bizarre loyalty tests with wrestlers and was eventually joined by Macho Man as a ‘Free Agent’, Macho Man eventually re-aligned himself with the NWO and Sting would accompany them giving off the illusion he had also sided with the New World Order. After the main event of WCW Uncensored 1997, the NWO stood tall, but not for long! Rappelling down from the rafters came Sting, baseball bat in hand and beat down Hall and Nash, and then the betrayer, Macho Man when he tried to intervene. Sting would continue to beat down NWO members in the same manner for weeks!
Sting as a member of the NWO Wolfpac.
Sting, would eventually align himself with the NWO, but not the NWO as everyone knew it. He was part of a new NWO, The Wolfpac, gone was the black and white and in was the red and black, however the Wolfpac only lasted between 1998 and 1999, and Sting was written off of TV in July 1998, when he returned, he was back to his regular unaligned, crow gimmick.
The following couple of years included feuds with DDP, Goldberg, Scott Steiner (before he was the world-renowned mathematician he is today!) and Nash. He had a couple of stints as WCW champion, with one reign lasting only 90 minutes, and that wasn’t even the shortest reign that the title had seen, and even had a stint as the on-screen president of WCW. After the McMahon acquisition of WCW, Sting appeared in the last ever WCW Nitro match against none other than his old rival, Ric Flair, closing out the show. It really had come full circle, on the first Nitro the two squared off in the second match on the card. Quite a fitting ending, you could almost say poetic! After the merger of WCW and WWF, Sting decided to run out his contract rather than jumping stations as he feared McMahon would misuse the character he had created, and I can’t say I disagree, McMahon seemed to be out to thoroughly squash the WCW guys and if DDP’s run was anything to go by, then Sting was more than likely right.
The worst character change Sting went through.
Sting then appeared with WWA, a start-up company consisting mainly of unsigned, ex-WCW guys. Sting had 12 months there before jumping to TNA, the place he would call home for the next 11 years of his career, elevating the company just by being there. The Stinger was also giving back to the company, raising the homegrown talent to main event level, guys such as Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Matt Morgan, just to name a few. When Hogan and Bischoff came onboard, the old NWO storyline was restarted, this time named Immortal, seeing as it’s the only story they know how to pissing tell, and Sting once again tried to become the “saviour” and overthrow the heel authority figures. Fans were bored of this story and the old soap opera way of doing things wasn’t what fans cared about any more. They wanted wrestling and wrestling was the main focus now. The crow character also morphed once again to become yet another lifted movie gimmick, Sting was the crow no more, but instead a rip-off off version of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the Dark Knight. What an abomination that was, it was so bad that I’m not even gonna talk about it, it can f*ck right off.
Despite the horrible Joker gimmick, Sting had a lot of success in TNA/Impact, he had numerous runs as champion, including the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship, four runs as TNA World Champion, a stint as a tag team champion with Kurt Angle, numerous “match of the year” awards and a hall of fame induction.
Sting debuts for WWE at Survivor Series 2014.
Enter November 2014, Survivor Series. Sting makes his first ever appearance on a WWE show, dropping Triple H with the Scorpion Death Drop and costing the Authority the match. Sting was ONCE AGAIN feuding with the authority figures, can we please just let that shit go, please? It’s as boring as watching Eva Marie wrestle. He only had a total of four matches with WWE, one of which was at WrestleMania against Triple H, basically became a pissing contest between NWO and DX. The match felt like it was set up to drive that final nail in the WCW coffin with Triple H going over. I disagree with the winner. Sting’s first match in WWE, it’s at WrestleMania, he should have gone over, not f*cking Paul “the burial shovel” Levesque! The next was a throw away match on RAW against Big show to set up the main event tag match with John Cena against Seth Rollins and Big Show, excellent use of Sting being in the WWE, obviously he was booked the correct way by the always right Vinnie Mac, and that leads us in to his final match with the dubs. Sting tackled Seth Rollins at Night of Champions. Sting lost and suffered a legitimate neck injury at the hands of the ultra-safe Seth Rollins and his buckle bomb. Sting was then inducted into the WWE Fall of Fame, after which we didn’t see the Stinger for a long time.
Sting's AEW Debut om the "Winter is Coming" edition of Dynamite.
December 2nd 2020, Sting’s contract with WWE was up, he was a free agent once again and winter was coming... on AEW Dynamite that is. Sting appeared fending off Team Taz, FINALLY he isn't tackling the on-screen authority figures, and at the time of writing has currently aligned himself with Darby Allin, because you know, they both have black and white face paint and sit in the rafters. He hasn’t had a match yet, but his name alone is pulling in the viewers, it’s going to be interesting when he does finally step into the ring and have a match, purely to see if, at 61, he can still wrestle.
So, finally, after covering a 36-year career in about 3000 words, I think we’re finally ready to ask that question? Was Sting really that good? I would have to say yes. As someone who isn’t a fan of the Stinger, even I have to hold my hands up and give him props. Going back and watching his old NWA matches, he was certainly very good in the ring, and I much preferred his NWA days to his Crow days, controversial I know, but there is little doubt that he managed to evolve and keep himself fresh and relevant, except the Joker which was a few years too late. There are little, almost miniscule intricacies in his technique that show just how adept he was at his craft, things like how he would cradle his opponents when slamming them, the way that he grips his hands in rest holds, how it looks like he is really connecting with his punches. There are also things I dislike about Sting, but the things I dislike doesn’t discredit his overall talent and ability, they’re just my preference, and that’s just my two cents.
Thank you for reading!
Who do you want to see me cover next week, let me know in the comments and I’ll catch you all next week in another “We’re they really that good?”