Longevity doesn't equal iconic.
Road Warrior Animal made a comment on his radio show 100.3 KFAN in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that Sting isn't an “icon” until he works in WWE.
"Sting is not in the same league as guys like Triple H, Stone Cold, The Rock. Sting will never be considered a legend or icon until he lets his pride go and joins WWE. He needs to bury his personal issues and just get into the WWE. Sting has to come over to the WWE to be that guy, it's a bigger stage. Impact is one thing, the WWE is a way bigger thing."
For years it has been a major point of contention with me that Sting is given icon status in professional wrestling. I respect Sting, Steve Borden and all that I'm aware they have done in real life along with the wrestling world.
Great talent, memorable matches, kind human being and around a long time—but not an icon.
The dictionary defines icon as a symbol that represents its function and meaning. For the purposes of professional wrestling, an icon is someone who, at the sound of their name and sight of their image, is synonymous with wrestling.
This isn't Sting.
Hulk Hogan, despite the things said about him as a political backstage force or in-ring work, is someone who, at the mention of his name or view of his trademark look, immediately says wrestling. Just as someone who knows nothing about basketball knows Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods to golf and Babe Ruth to baseball.
What name is the most recognizable for pro-wrestling?
Vince McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena join Hogan as names that are recognized by their contributions to wrestling and pop culture.
Google or ask someone about Sting, you get the musician more times than not. I'm not relying on Google to determine icons in wrestling for me—I rely on my love of the history, extensive viewing of the genre and watching tape of before I was born in the '80s.
The fact is there are very few in professional wrestling who are icons, but Sting is frequently labeled as that. It might make a good gimmick for a company that wants to cash in on a guy with an extensive legacy, but don't confuse marketing for reality.
Why is he listed as an icon? He has worked a lot of years, against some big names and hasn't made headlines with negative publicity. He never went to WWE because he wanted to stay loyal to his morals. I'm sure it means something to him and to hardcore fans of his, which is terrific.
Honestly, I think there are less people who care about his personal morals and more who think it's the cool thing to hate on WWE because it's not underground and is too corporate. Sting held out, which makes his an icon. Valid points can be made for WWE's harm on the evolution of the sport, but they are still the top company until someone can remove them. Don't confuse positive morality for reality.
So there is the other side of the argument that says Sting needs to work for WWE to be an icon. WWE is the top company. He does need to work for the top company and draw money for WrestleMania. He has to do that first before any considerations can be worthy of taking place. This wouldn't be hard. If he is promoted one time, for one WrestleMania feud, he will draw no matter who is working with because he is the guy who never came to work for McMahon until then.
You might say Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl, but he is still a legendary quarterback. Apples and oranges. Dan Marino played on one of the 30 teams in the NFL. The WWE is the league, they are the NFL. The NFL is the top league in American Football over NFL Europe, CFL, Arena and everything else.
WWE is the top league in pro wrestling. I don't care about the hardcore arguments claiming ROH has better workers or anything like that. WWE is the wrestling company that makes the most money courtesy of the most fans. You don't find an athlete who plays the American style of football who strives to only make it to the Arena Football League. They might only talk about that because they know they can't cut it in the NFL, but they still would take the NFL if it came calling.
Every promoter, wrestler, referee and ring crew member has dreamed of WWE. They might disagree with WWE's content over the years, but would still answer the WWE phone call. Period.
WWE hasn't always been the top company. We all know WWE was number two to WCW in the middle of the 1990s. Take a look back to when WCW started to get hot in 1996 with the New World Order angle: Sting takes a break from the ring. He takes a year and a half from working matches.
He remains on camera by appearing on television in the rafters with a character take off of “The Crow.” The angle did contain mystery and curiosity of who Sting was going to align himself with, but Sting wasn't being the top draw for attendance or pay-per-views. He wasn't the symbol that everyone associated with wrestling. That symbol was the black-and-white shirt with three letters. Add that to the list—that New World Order y-shirt is iconic to wrestling.
Road Warrior Animal said Sting wouldn't be an icon until he works WWE. Even if and when he works WWE, I don't know if you can ever convince me he is a wrestling icon. If he does work for WWE drawing money for WrestleMania, he at least potentially puts himself on the platform to increase his visibility.
If he works for WWE, he has at least worked the big show. Even when working WWE for a major feud/payday, I probably still won't view him as an icon. He will finalize what is an accomplished career and fluently move right into the WWE Hall of Fame.
But not as an icon.
He works WWE, then I'll tolerate the radical argument that he is an icon in professional wrestling. For a few more seconds than I currently do, at least.