Sting is closer to stepping into a WWE ring than ever before, and that should leave fans both thrilled and prepped for disappointment.
The former WCW and TNA star can bring novelty, a magnetic presence and star power to any potential matches he competes in. As valuable a resource as he can be for WWE, though, he's also in no physical shape to make dream matches live up to fans' expectations.
He's a spectacle and a storyteller at this stage in his career, not the athlete fans have been pining to see in WWE for years.
Monday's Raw featured a semi-debut for Sting—an ad for WWE 2K15 starring The Icon.
Some of the fans in the Richmond Coliseum booed when it aired. They were perhaps expecting a full-on debut, hoping the man who has only competed for WWE's rivals would enter Vince McMahon's circus for the first time.
His relationship with WWE is still in flux, though.
Beyond selling Sting merchandise and a video game appearance, fans want to see him in the ring. That's true even if he's 55 years old, a car with hundreds of thousands of miles on it, and even if Hall of Famer Jim Ross believes, as he wrote on his blog, that Sting wrestling for WWE is "a long shot."
What He Has Left
Looking back at Sting's work at TNA in 2013 reveals just how underwhelming his physical skills are at this point but also how his vast experience still allows him to have flashes of greatness.
Sting is slower, less agile and has less spring in his legs than he did during his prime. That's expected with his age and after such a long career in the industry.
It's not surprising either that his pay-per-view bouts last year didn't compel Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t ProFightDB.com) to hand out any five-star ratings.
|Sting's TNA Pay-Per-View Matches in 2013|
|Event||Opponent||Star Rating out of 5|
|Lockdown||(with Eric Young, James Storm, Magnus and Samoa Joe) vs. Devon, D.O.C., Garrett Bischoff, Mr. Anderson, Knux||3.25|
|Bound for Glory||Magnus||1.25|
|Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t ProFightDB)|
Of those matches, the one against D.O.C. of Aces & Eights, was the worst. It was clunky and slow, proof that if WWE wants to get the most out of Sting at this stage, it can't pit him against a big, slow bruiser.
No Sting vs. Big Show matches, please.
Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net wrote of the bout, "Not a good performance from Sting. His punches looked soft and the big one at the end was the worst of the bunch."
There were similar issues with the clash against Magnus.
Not surprisingly, the pace was not a rapid one, but it also lacked spark. Sting just doesn't have the legs to mount a convincing babyface comeback or insert many bursts of excitement into a match.
That led to a good story not having quite the impact that it should have.
Magnus did most of the attacking here, allowing Sting to use his selling skills and showmanship to power the action. Sting's past and lofty status helped the passing-of-the-torch narrative. At this stage in his career, just his presence alone has great value.
Were Magnus to steal someone else's moves, it wouldn't have meant as much.
Sting's best solo effort that year showed what his current peak is. His clash with Bully Ray was the most engaging he had been in recent memory.
Thanks to Sting's pedigree and an attention-grabbing buildup, this had a big-fight feel. A vicious brawl ensued. Sting whipped his foe with the TNA world title, Bully Ray cracked Sting's head against wood and the crowd responded passionately at key points.
The TNA Hall of Famer didn't do all that much physically here. Bully Ray delivered the beatings, and Sting played the warrior with the big heart, kicking out again and again.
That kind of storytelling is what Sting can still do well. Had this not ended with an uncreative Aces & Eights run-in, Meltzer may have rated it higher and it would be remembered as more than just a fun brawl.
WWE can squeeze one or two matches out of him where he leans on storytelling this way. Sting is an attraction, especially now that he resides in a world he had avoided for so long, even if the timing to bring him aboard is several years too late.
How to Best Utilize Him
It's no coincidence that Sting's best-rated match in 2013 was a 10-man tag. The amount of talent involved allowed TNA to use Sting's star power but not have to depend on him to carry a match.
Samoa Joe, James Storm, Eric Young and Magnus could do much of the work.
That's a smart way to handle a potential Sting run. Stick him in a six-man tag with a pair of partners and face off against The Wyatt Family. Use him in a traditional Survivor Series Elimination match. He's the kind of special attraction that could bring in WWE Network subscribers while competing in a non-WrestleMania pay-per-view.
These scenarios allow him to be a big part of the bout's buildup, to make a few spot appearances in the match and let younger, swifter gentlemen do the majority of the sweating.
In terms of singles bouts, fans have been waiting a long time to see The Stinger square off against The Undertaker. Unfortunately, the wait was too long. Sting and Undertaker both need someone else to lead the dance.
Undertaker is six years younger than Sting but didn't look great at WrestleMania 30. He was slower and stiffer than we'd seen him before. His run of spectacular WrestleMania matches ended that night and perhaps his career did as well.
He suffered a serious concussion against Brock Lesnar, and there's no certainty that he will compete again.
If WWE does do Undertaker vs. Sting, it will have a glut of buzz. It will likely be a success financially, as folks will be drawn in by the powerful forces of nostalgia and curiosity.
Once it begins, though, it will leave the audience disheartened.
It's better to have Sting face someone who can be the match's athletic foundation. WWE doesn't want to have another version of Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper from Judgment Day 2003.
Better to give an emerging star a career highlight that could elevate them anyway.
The best candidate for that job is Bray Wyatt. Leading up to this, the promos promise to be excellent. The collision of two dark personas and the story of a young, hungry monster looking to devour a legend make it an easy story to tell.
In the ring, Sting can lean on Wyatt just as he did with Magnus and Bully Ray last year.
Wyatt can play the aggressor, whipping Sting around the ring and forcing the veteran to rely on cunning and guts. In the process, Wyatt can gain a notch on his belt that his peers can't—topping an invading Hall of Famer.
In just about any other athletic endeavor, a 55-year-old star would only be asked to sign autographs or throw out a first pitch. Pro wrestling is a strange beast, though. Its scripted nature allows men like Sting to piece together matches with what little tools they have left.
They can ride their names and their legacies.
Sting brings those elements to any potential matches WWE signs him up for. He has the unique position of being a massive star outside of the WWE spectrum before ever entering it.
That's going to attract eyes to his first match in a major way.
For whatever bout he may be a part of, fans shouldn't fill their heads with images of Sting coming down from the rafters, battling Ric Flair or his early days with TNA. The realistic version of Sting that would step in front of the WWE cameras wears a T-shirt to cover an aging body and runs on an engine that clatters when revved up too high.
Even so, when he lines up at the starting line, the stands will be full, and fans' hearts will quicken before his foot touches the pedal.