March 27, 1988 will always be the day I became a wrestling fan. As the news came out yesterday that Sting was officially retiring due to his neck injury, I couldn’t help but take myself back to that day almost 28 years ago to the day. A lot of wrestling fans were busy being enamored with “Macho Man” Randy Savage winning the WWF Title at WrestleMania IV that same night. I, however, was focused on Clash of the Champions where the champion Ric Flair was doing all he could to fend off this young, energetic, face-painted madman named Sting. Even though he came up short, Sting was officially “my guy”. Whatever “my guy” meant at the age of three. Funny enough though, 28 years later Sting will retire, still “my guy.”
It’s easy to say that Sting’s WWE run was a dud or a failure, and maybe it was. WWE never fully seemed to know what they had with him. His words the night after WrestleMania 31 seem almost eerie now. “I Don’t know what opportunities WWE are going to throw my way, but whatever they do throw my way, I’m going to reach out and grab it. If they don’t throw anything my way, well that’s just too bad. It’s a crying shame as far as I’m concerned.” Despite an entire arena chanting for a match with The Undertaker, for a while there it looked like it would be a crying shame. Then, WWE decided they needed something big to not let there be a post-SummerSlam lull and called Sting. In a cruel twist of fate, it was that impromptu decision to dust off Sting for a match he really didn’t belong in, that would lead to his premature retirement.
I don’t even blame Seth Rollins for what happened. Although, who really thought it was a good idea to have a 56 year old guy who had wrestled once in the last year, take two high impact bumps with those buckle bombs? I have a good friend who happens to be a former WWE Tag Team Champion and he called me immediately after the match, knowing what a big Sting fan I was. He then proceeded to curse Rollins to no end for the “irresponsible” decision he made to take advantage of Sting’s trust in him and to take advantage of the fact that Sting was going to be willing to do anything just to prove he could hang with someone the freakish athlete that Seth is. So it’s hard not to blame Seth for that. Really though, maybe this is just fate. It was just fate for Sting’s run to end uncerimoniously. A reminder of what could’ve been, had he not waited so long to come to the company.
All that being said, Sting’s legacy looks a lot different today than it did 17 months ago when he debuted at Survivor Series 2014. That’s what’s important. Before that fateful night, depending on how you viewed him, Sting was the either the admirable face of a franchise that went down with the ship, or he was the stubborn quasi-star that never reached his full potential because he never moved his profession from Atlanta to New York. He was floundering in TNA, buried between bad storylines and bad personal gimmick ideas. “Joker” Sting anyone? There was a whole generation of fans who clearly weren’t watching TNA that would never hear of The Man Called Sting. They would never see the bleach blonde flat-top having epic battles against the likes of Ric Flair, Vader, & Lex Luger. They would never see the metamorphosis he made to become “Crow” Sting and how just a few cosmetic changes and not talking for a year, led to the largest PPV buyrate in history. Sting’s legacy would end the same day WCW did, with no fanfare. When you’re not in WWE and WWE owns your history that matters, you’re history and you don’t matter.
Let’s rewrite history a bit and picture Sting’s career without WWE in it. Let’s say Sting decides that Triple H just isn’t enough of a dangling carrot to finally come aboard the WWE machine. Let’s say that he sticks to his guns and it’s Undertaker or nothing. How do we view Sting today? He most certainly isn’t the headliner for the Hall of Fame at the biggest WrestleMania ever. Would he even ever get into the Hall of Fame? Is he still in TNA helping the likes of Drew Galloway and Ethan Carter III, or is he done wrestling completely, maintaining his health but quickly going into obscurity?
It’s these questions that make the decision he made to finally give WWE a chance, the right one. A lot changed in his career in a short 17 months. No matter whether he was underutilized or whether he clearly should’ve won his match at WrestleMania 31 or whether he deserved a better ending than he got, the end officially justifies the means. Sting has put the exclamation point at the end of his career. There’s a new generation of Sting fans out there now. Merchandise, action figures, and DVD sets have flown off the shelves and he’s validated everything he’s ever done inside the ring.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend the Hall of Fame live to see him inducted, as well as being fortunate enough to get to meet him at Axxess the night before. When it comes my time in line, I’m going to tell him two things. Thank you for being a hero to me for almost three decades and thank you for coming to WWE. The next night, I look forward to it being Showtime and for the WWE Universe to join me in saying, Thank you Sting.
Thank you Sting.