Sting will allegedly retire from professional wrestling, as first reported by TMZ.com Thursday morning. The announcement brings to an end a legendary career that will culminate on April 2 when the man affectionately known as The Icon takes his place among the greats in the WWE Hall of Fame.
For 15 years, Sting was a cornerstone of World Championship Wrestling. Big stars came and went, but the face-painted hero's loyalty was never in doubt. He was a role model for children, a legitimate merchandise-moving star at a time when the promotion was not necessarily known for marketable babyfaces.
There are few wrestlers readily associated with two different incarnations of themselves, but he is. There is the bleached-blond, neon paint-wearing good guy and the enigmatic vigilante cloaked in black and white. Both had millions of fans, both left an indelible mark on the sport and now both are vanished to the history books, where they will live for generations, their stories passed down from one fan to another and relived through media platforms like WWE Network.
In honor of the man whose career spanned 30 years, and whose journey took him from the Continental Wrestling Association to World Wrestling Entertainment, take this trip down memory lane and relive the greatest matches, moments and feuds of a career that had its ups and downs but will now live in immortality as one of the greatest in sports entertainment history.
To Be the Man...
There was a great deal of excitement surrounding Sting by the time 1988 rolled around. After stints in both Continental and the Universal Wrestling Federation, he arrived in Jim Crockett Promotions where he found immediate success. With a physique chiseled out of stone and a painted face that endeared him to kids, it took management but a moment to generate a push for him.
The very first Clash of the Champions special, airing opposite WWE's WrestleMania IV, saw the energetic young star challenge the legendary "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The match went 45 minutes and could have been an unmitigated disaster, especially given the relative inexperience of the challenger.
But it was not, and a lot of that had to do with Sting's ability to take direction that early in his career. The rest could be attributed to the undeniable chemistry he had with Flair, which would be on display countless times in the years that followed.
Sting did not win that night inside the historic Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina, but he was certainly a made man afterward. That one match elevated him to a level that he may not have been totally ready for, but it solidified him as the future franchise of the company.
...You Have to Beat the Man
Sting spent the nearly two years between the inaugural Clash and the 1990 Great American Bash accumulating ring time. He feuded with The Great Muta over the NWA Television Championship. Though his early matches with Flair typically get credit for his development as a worker, his program with Muta did as much to help him become a competent in-ring worker as his numerous wars with The Nature Boy.
But Sting returned his attention to Flair. After a brief run as a member of The Four Horsemen, designed to keep the world champion's enemy closer and not a threat, he suffered a significant knee injury that threatened to derail his push and kill any momentum he had built for himself.
The infamous segment in which a hobbled Sting was rescued by fictional move character RoboCop only hurt his credibility.
But by the time the Bash pay-per-view arrived, he was healed up and finally ready to battle Flair for the gold that had eluded him for nearly 26 months. With friends like Junkyard Dog and Paul Orndorff surrounding the ring, offsetting any potential interference from The Horsemen, Sting defeated his longtime foe to capture his first heavyweight title.
After a long journey, he had captured the top prize in the industry and should have become the undisputed face of Ted Turner's WCW for years to come, but he did not. Backstage politics, instability in the WCW infrastructure, disjointed booking and an ice-cold product helped doom Sting's title reign.
The company's innate inability to follow up on game-changing matches only hampered his run.
He would remain a main event star, and even hold the world title again, but he never quite became the industry-changing draw some had hoped.
It's Vader Time
The early 1990s brought with them a wealth of new opposition for Sting. There was the feud with Cactus Jack that resulted in a five-star classic Street Fight at Beach Blast 1992 and The Stinger's feud with The Dangerous Alliance that resulted in one of the greatest matches ever—War Games from Wrestle War that same year.
While both of those programs netted outstanding wrestling matches and helped Sting further cement himself as the top babyface in WCW, few had as long-lasting effects as his world title series with Big Van Vader.
The feud featured matches with formulas that are as effective in 2016 as they were 24 years earlier.
Vader was a massive competitor with deceptive speed and agility for a man of his size (6'5", 375 lbs). He was an unstoppable force who tore through the competition en route to a championship opportunity against the biggest star in Turner's wrestling wonderland.
He would pummel Sting, running right over the beloved competitor and attaining his first world title in the States. It was unfathomable that a heel would so dominantly destroy a major star in the way that Vader did. Fans of today's WWE product may recognize that the company replicated that formula with the way it booked Brock Lesnar to go over John Cena as strong as he did at SummerSlam 2014.
As the matches continued and evolved, they featured Sting mounting comebacks, making for much more competitive bouts. He even won some of them, the resilient babyface withstanding the oppressive onslaught of the monstrous heel to pull off the improbable win.
That series of matches, coupled with his wars with Jack and the feud with the aforementioned Dangerous Alliance, represents the greatest stretch of Sting's career.
At least from an in-ring perspective.
When the New World Order arrived in WCW in the summer of 1996, fans were left guessing which wrestlers would defect from the home team to the invaders. In September of that year, the ultimate turncoat, Hulk Hogan, suggested that the nWo had pulled off its greatest coup to date: Sting.
When cameras caught a man looking a lot like Sting attacking Lex Luger and leaving the loyal WCW competitor lying in the parking lot, it appeared as though the company's biggest nightmare had come true.
Except, it had not.
Days later at Fall Brawl, during War Games, Sting arrived, unleashed hell on the nWo (including a fake lookalike) and stomped off into the shadows. Questions regarding his loyalty and his whereabouts dominated episodes of Nitro.
Then, later that year, he reappeared, lurking in the rafters and donning face paint that had him resembling comic book and movie character The Crow. Completely changing the persona of its biggest star was a risk, but WCW took it. And it worked. Fans latched onto the character, rooting for the dark vigilante as he descended from the rafters and wiped out nWo members on a weekly basis, leading to an epic encounter with Hulk Hogan at Starrcade 1997.
The match, a year in the making, drew the biggest buyrate in company history (1.9, as revealed in Eric Bischoff's 2006 autobiography, Controversy Creates Cash). After years as the smiling good guy, it was as the mysterious and brooding antihero that he achieved his greatest success.
Again, though, his championship reign was cut short by the same politics that plagued his earlier runs. The most loyal star WCW ever had was also its most abused. Bischoff and others in management exploited the loyalty and jerked Sting around, creatively damaging his character to the point that it was a caricature of sorts by the time the company went out of business in 2001.
Lending Credibility to TNA
Today, TNA may be a shell of what it once was, no longer particularly revolutionary or even interesting for that matter, but that was not always the case. Some 13 years ago, it was a company still in its infancy, with a core group of talent including AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Jerry Lynn and even Ron "R-Truth" Killings that was generating considerable buzz.
TNA was an alternative to WWE, and, despite the bumps in the road and the creative issues facing the company, many felt it was one big name away from catapulting to the No. 2 promotion in the industry.
Enter Sting, whose return to the national spotlight brought eyes to the TNA product and helped the fledgling promotion achieve television deals with renowned networks like Fox Sports and Spike TV. First, he appeared in tag matches, a special attraction if anything. But then his role in the promotion expanded.
Sting enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, starring in pay-per-view main events against the best and brightest young stars in the industry. And when he had exhausted the available matches against Styles, Kurt Angle, Christian Cage, Abyss and Samoa Joe, he turned to renewing rivalries with Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley and Jeff Jarrett.
Whether he was the elder statesman for TNA or a member of its vaunted Main Event Mafia, his contributions to the company and its continued success are indisputable. He lent his star power and the credibility that came with it to the promotion at a time when it desperately needed a savior, and for that, he is as vital to the history of TNA Wrestling as founder Jeff Jarrett or breakout star AJ Styles are.
In Enemy Territory
In 2014, Sting debuted in WWE, shocking the world by appearing at the Survivor Series and initiating a rivalry with corrupt authority figure Triple H. Just as he had done years earlier during the height of the nWo, he had seen an injustice and sought to rectify it.
Unfortunately for him, Vince McMahon never quite put aside his personal vendetta against WCW and everyone associated with it, so needless to say, he did not get quite the warm welcome he should have.
At WrestleMania 31, his first time ever competing on the grandest stage known to sports entertainment, he lost to Triple H in a match that became less about him saving WWE from the furious rule of The Game and wife Stephanie McMahon and more about proving that the company was superior to WCW.
In many ways, it was an extended trailer for WWE Network's The Monday Night Wars rather than a celebration of the popular icon.
When he returned to the company in September, he found himself at odds with Seth Rollins, The Authority's chosen world champion. Their match at Night of Champions was infinitely better than expected, but it saw Sting suffer the injury that would ultimately end his career.
Looking back at his brief tenure in WWE, there are many questions left unanswered, the biggest being, "What if he wrestled The Undertaker at WrestleMania?" It was the one dream match fans expected to see when he signed with the company but the one that will forever elude them.
Sting's run with the biggest promotion in North America is not all doom and gloom, however. On April 1, as part of the WrestleMania 32 festivities, he will join his greatest rival, Ric Flair, and first tag team partner, The Ultimate Warrior, in the Hall of Fame. As the main event inductee, the ceremony will be a celebration of his accomplishments and a thank you to one of the most humble and selfless wrestlers to ever lace a pair of boots.
For all of the marketing, the epic encounters, the championship victories and unforgettable moments, it is that selflessness that will forever define The Man They Call Sting.