As Sting has abruptly reached the end of his WWE journey, it's hard not to look back and dissect the steps he took to get there.
The Vigilante will not get another shot at WrestleMania glory. He will leave dream matches on the table. And his stay with the company was only a blink of an eye in the course of a Hall of Fame career.
It's a career that will end at the advice of doctors. TMZ reported on Thursday, "Sources connected to Sting tell us he was evaluated by several doctors who all agree—it's just too risky for the wrestler to get back in the squared circle...so he's decided to hang up his singlet."
According to TMZ, cervical spinal stenosis is forcing his hand. It is the same condition that led to Edge's early retirement.
Sting suffered the neck injury during a title match against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions last year.
Rollins hurled the challenger into the corner with his patented Buckle Bomb. The Stinger then staggered forward, unable to stand, tumbling awkwardly onto his back. That will prove to be his last moment in the ring, surely not the exit he envisioned.
Fans are now left with questions swirling in their heads.
What if he had come to WWE sooner?
When WCW folded in 2001, Sting chose not to join the company that swallowed up the one he helped build. While Diamond Dallas Page, Booker T and others found a new home with WWE, The Stinger waited things out.
TNA was born a year later, and Sting was soon one of its centerpieces.
So instead of being a part of the invasion storyline, competing at WrestleMania and SummerSlam or being a part of the most prominent wrestling company in the world, he helped spearhead a burgeoning brand.
Had he instead come to WWE, we could have seen Sting battle the likes of The Rock, Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. Had he left TNA earlier, he could have been a key part of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Sting vs. John Cena and Sting vs. Brock Lesnar are among the matches that will now only play out in the audience's imagination.
As successful as Sting was with TNA, he would have been an even bigger star had he been performing on the bigger stages that WWE provides. TNA was a parallel universe where the lights didn't shine nearly as bright.
David Shoemaker wrote for Grantland, "He had some good moments in TNA, but in terms of continuing his legacy in mainstream wrestling mythology—the history of the sport, over which WWE holds unilateral sway—it was a lost decade."
Then again, he just as easily could have been undervalued.
When he finally signed with WWE at age 55, the company treated him like a superhero. Crows cawed as he materialized. He chased off The Authority with a baseball bat in hand.
Without the decade-long TNA run on top of his WCW stint, would WWE have offered him that kind of welcome? Anything from a world championship run to being hampered with a comedy gimmick was a possibility. Dusty Rhodes went from headliner to polka-dot-wearing, dance-happy midcarder with WWE.
Sting may have had a similar path ahead of him.
What if he had won his debut?
Sting will enter the Hall of Fame with just a 2-2 WWE record, according to Cagematch. He lost both of his pay-per-view bouts, including his debut at WrestleMania 31.
His match with Triple H was chaotic, nostalgia-rich fun. It was certainly a spectacle befitting WrestleMania, but many will forever question the result.
With all the hoopla around his arrival, and with WWE presenting him as the squared circle's version of Batman, it was odd to see him fall in his first official contest.
That rubbed some of the shine off his aura. This was a missed opportunity to give a legend an emphatic welcome, to boost his momentum for whatever WWE had planned for him afterward.
Many fans will see that defeat as just another chance for Vince McMahon to remind us all that he ultimately won the Monday Night Wars. It could well have been a glimpse of how WWE would have booked The Stinger if he had signed with the company earlier.
In an interview with Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated's Extra Mustard, Scott Hall said, "You need to remember that Vince is never going to go with something he didn't create."
What if he didn't get injured?
A narrowing of the spine rushed Sting into his swan song. In his mid-50s, he certainly wasn't going to compete for much longer, but any last hurrahs he had in him will now never happen.
Had he come out of Night of Champions healthy, WWE could have had him lead a Survivor Series team up against The Authority. He could have taken part in the Royal Rumble for the first time. And when WrestleMania 32 rolled around, he would have made an intriguing puzzle piece to insert into the card.
Bray Wyatt taking on the veteran would have been a valuable addition, especially with all the injuries that have forced WWE to rearrange its WrestleMania plans.
There will no be no farewell tour, no retirement match. Sting is done.
That realization makes it more frustrating that WWE wasted two of Sting's four WWE matches on battles with Big Show, a guy he took on several times over with WCW.
What if he had faced The Undertaker?
The match that has long been a part of fans' imaginations is never coming to fruition. The bat-wielding avenger will never meet The Deadman.
Undertaker vs. Sting ran the risk of being a major disappointment due to both men's age. That didn't stop fans from pining for it. That didn't stop them from crafting their own promos for the bout.
WWE may not have been planning on going with that matchup anyway, but now it's not an option. Instead, it will be the dream match that stays a dream.
Miami Herald's Scott Fishman put that reality into perspective:
And while some fans may be unsatisfied with how everything turned out, Sting has every reason to be content with his accomplishments. Jim Ross told Raj Giri of WrestlingInc.com, "I could tell you that fans that think that he hasn't had the run he needed in WWE, they're more worried about it than he is. He's objective about it. It's not the NFL. It's closer to Broadway."
As a cornerstone for WCW, the first man to earn a spot in the TNA Hall of Fame and the headliner of the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame class, one can't imagine that Sting is filled with regret about what never came to be. No man can take every possible road in front of him.