Best Booking Options for Sting Following Epic AEW Arrival
Before making his shocking return to wrestling on Wednesday night's Dynamite, The Icon was last seen making a quick cameo on a February 2019 episode of WWE Raw. Otherwise, he has largely laid low since being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2016 and announcing his retirement during his speech.
It was mere months earlier that Sting suffered a serious neck injury that effectively ended his career during a pay-per-view main event against Seth Rollins. Fans were of the belief that he would never be cleared by the company to compete again, though stranger things—such as Edge's recent return—have happened.
Sting made headlines earlier this year when Wrestling Observer Radio's Dave Meltzer (h/t Sai Mohan of Wrestling Inc) reported that his merchandise had been removed from WWE Shop because he was no longer under any sort of contract with WWE. Of course, it wasn't until this week that he finally resurfaced on Dynamite and made an immediate impact by confronting a few of the promotion's top babyfaces.
It has since been made official that Sting is signed to a multi-year deal with AEW as a full-time performer. Although his role on Dynamite has yet to be defined, we should get a better idea of what the future holds for him when he speaks for the first time in AEW next week on Dynamite.
Until then, fans are left to speculate what his role will entail exactly and if an in-ring return is in the cards. These are the five best booking options for how AEW can properly utilize Sting going forward.
Making Him AEW's Equivalent to the Undertaker
Considering how his career ended on such a sour note in WWE, it isn't at all out of the question to assume that Sting will be back in the ring before long in AEW.
At 61-years-old, The Icon should not by no means be wrestling regularly on AEW programming. Although his lack of high-profile wins in WWE was disappointing, the company was wise enough to not feature him too often and managed to book him a special attraction for the brief period he was there.
AEW would benefit from bringing him in a bit more frequently but not every episode of Dynamite. He would likely lose his mystique if that was the case and be in a similar situation to when he was in IMPACT Wrestling. At that point, he felt like anybody else on the roster.
In the near-two years that AEW has been around for, they haven't had any real "part-timers" on their roster, and thankfully so. Their focus on building up their own active roster has been refreshing, but it doesn't hurt to have a legend or two to call on for a marquee match here or there.
In essence, Sting can and should be the AEW equivalent to The Undertaker. Regardless of whether he's wrestling or not, he should only be used when necessary in the buildup to AEW's tentpole pay-per-views and not be wasted on secondary storylines.
The Sting character has long fought to right the wrongs of wrestling, so establishing his motives for coming to AEW will be the first step in ensuring this run for him is a success.
Gradually Building to a Return to the Ring in a Tag Team Match
If any one thing was apparent with Sting's electric Dynamite debut on Wednesday night, it's that the battle lines were drawn between Team Taz and Cody Rhodes' babyface friends. Brian Cage, Ricky Starks, Powerhouse Hobbs and Taz immediately fled the ring once he appeared, leaving The Stinger to show his respect for Cody and Dustin Rhodes, Arn Anderson and Darby Allin.
Needless to say, that was done by design. It wasn't a random segment that AEW thought would be a fitting time for Sting to show up. Rather, the way he walked around the ring and stared everyone down indicated he appreciated what they were trying to do and may be willing to join them in their war against Team Taz.
Sting hasn't wrestled a match since September 2015. It's hard to believe he would sign a multi-year deal with AEW if he wasn't going to wrestle at some point, and although he is well past his prime at 61-years-old, there is a safe way to get him back in the ring without putting his health too much at risk.
His arrival set the stage perfectly for a tag team affair pitting himself, Cody and Allin against Team Taz. If Dustin joins and Team Taz recruits one more member, then it could wind up being a WarGames match, or what AEW would call "Blood and Guts."
That may not be the best first bout back for a Sting because of how physically grueling they can be, so a standard six-man tag team matchup would work better. That would allow him to lace up the boots again and see what he can do without feeling the pressure of having to deliver in a one-on-one setting.
If built up enough between now and February's Revolution pay-per-view, it can generate a ton of buzz. If he has a subpar performance, then AEW can considering other roles for him that don't involve being inside the ring.
Completing Cody Rhodes' Heel Turn and Facing Him at Double or Nothing
Lost in all of the excitement surrounding Sting's AEW debut is that Cody Rhodes, who teamed with Darby Allin against Team Taz in a match that preceded the moment, has been teasing a heel turn for several months now.
He's come across as cocky during most of his promos and his mannerisms during his matches have resembled those of a villain. If turning Cody into a bad guy hasn't been the plan this entire time—and it's the most natural role for him—then he hasn't done the best job of endearing himself to the audience.
Sting signing with AEW shouldn't change Cody's current trajectory. In the weeks and months leading up to Wednesday night, it appeared as if him betraying Allin and cementing his heel turn was the ultimate goal. That can and should still happen, but it would be even more effective if it came against the beloved Sting.
Cody's father Dusty had a rich history with Sting in WCW, so Cody wanting to align himself with Sting going into the aforementioned tag team match would make perfect sense. After they pick up the victory, that could be when Cody finally flips the switch and betrays The Icon.
Since leaving WWE, Cody has excelled at bringing the best out of his opponents and giving them great matches fans didn't know they were still capable of. Look no further than when he and his brother Dustin stole the show at Double or Nothing in May 2019, so a Sting vs. Cody could match could realistically be different if Sting is back in ring shape by that point.
Cody would also the safest possible opponent for The Stinger and would likely ensure he doesn't reinjure his neck. Sting vs. Cody would be an outstanding attraction for Double or Nothing next May, and following a loss to the self-proclaimed Prince of Pro Wrestling, Sting can adopt a different on-air role in the company.
Becoming Darby Allin's New Mentor
Despite Cody Rhodes recently claiming he has no interest in pursuing a rematch for the AEW TNT Championship at the moment, it's safe to say that he has unfinished business with current champ Darby Allin.
They successfully teamed up on Wednesday night, but their alliance won't last long. Rather, it's more a matter of when than if Rhodes will turn his back on him—and that's where Sting should come in.
After losing the previously pitched match to Rhodes at Double or Nothing, the next best role for Sting on AEW TV would be serving as Allin's mentor. The promotion already has more managers than they know what to do with, so Sting appearing regularly on Dynamite and standing in Allin's corner a la Arn Anderson with Rhodes isn't going to do either of them any favors.
Of the four wrestlers Sting confronted on Wednesday's Dynamite, he appeared to be the most intrigued by Allin, who sports similar face paint to him. Allin is more of his own person than he is a modern-day version of The Stinger, mind you, but their characters have a bit in common when it comes to not trusting many people and marching to the beat of their own drum.
Allin is on the ascent right now and having someone as legendary as Sting as his mentor would cause longtime fans of The Icon to familiarize themselves with Allin and boost his profile and credibility. Sting wouldn't need to be around all the time (nor should he be), but lending the occasional advice to Allin and helping him on his climb to the top would do wonders for his career.
Adopting an Authority Figure Role
Once his alliance with Darby Allin runs its course, which hopefully won't be for a while, Sting would make for a fine authority figure on AEW Dynamite. While wrestling would benefit from having less on-air authority figures and not more, AEW could be one of the few promotions that strikes the right balance and doesn't overexpose the person in charge of running the show in storyline.
Sting has experience as an authority figure from his time spent in TNA, and it was a role he surprisingly thrived in. After staying silent for most of his career up to that point, the gig allowed him to become a better talker and serve as an ambassador for the brand without always dressing up in the patented face paint and ominous attire.
That could be exactly how he's handled as a general manager of sorts in AEW. William Regal makes the perfect amount of appearances as NXT GM and AEW would be wise to take a similar approach with Sting.
Again, this would allow him to represent AEW and bring in new viewers who are familiar with him but not the company. He could continue to wrestle after that if he wanted, but that's only if his first two matches went well and there were opponents that made sense for him to face.
From a storyline standpoint, there is no formal structure of power on Dynamite. The audience is aware that members of The Elite are also EVPs and that Tony Khan is the president of the promotion, but Khan isn't an on-air wrestling personality and The Elite rarely discuss their duties behind the scenes.
Appointing Sting as the official match-maker would clear up that confusion and lead to many more interactions between himself and the talented roster. Anything can change in the coming months and years for as long as he's under contract to the company, but these booking options would be the best way for AEW to capitalize on his star power and get him off to a strong start.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.