Sting returns to action this Sunday for AEW’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view. He is teaming with Darby Allin against the team of Scorpio Sky and Ethan Page, and though he has already wrestled a cinematic match for the company, this will mark his first time wrestling inside an AEW ring.
The last time Sting wrestled in front of a crowd on pay-per-view was WWE’s Night of Champions show in September of 2015. Facing Seth Rollins for the WWE title, this was a long-awaited chance to see Sting—an icon of the industry that starred in WCW and, later, TNA—do the unthinkable by winning WWE’s top title. In the match prior, Rollins had dropped the U.S. title to John Cena, and it was not out of the question to see Sting finally claim WWE gold by dethroning Rollins in the main event.
Right from the start, with Sting hitting his signature Stinger Splash on Rollins, the match was back-and-forth action. But it took a dark turn when Rollins hit Sting with a turnbuckle powerbomb. The manner in which Sting hit the turnbuckle led to whiplash, causing trauma to his spinal cord. He tried to regain his composure and continue the match, until collapsing in the center of the ring.
“I knew something was really, really wrong when my legs would not work,” said Sting, whose name is Steve Borden. “They just wouldn’t function. They felt like rubber bands, which is when I went on all fours.”
The crowd in Houston, Texas at the Toyota Center was acutely aware that this was not part of the plan. The match was stopped, and it appeared that it would not continue.
“It made me think of when I first started in the business,” said Sting. “Eddie Gilbert, who managed Rick Steiner and me and Jim Hellwig, he’d always talk to us about the finish. ‘The finish, the finish, you’ve got to get to the finish.’ That’s stuck with me all these years. So that night I was thinking, ‘I can’t not finish the match.’ I had to finish. I remember thinking, ‘Please God, let me get back on my feet. Don’t let me end my career in a catastrophe.’ I remember my legs coming back to me, and I wanted to finish the match.”
As he started to regain strength in his legs, Sting received a genuine boost from the crowd’s thunderous ovation. Those in attendance refused to see Sting suffer a career-ending injury, and it was as though their energy helped power him back to a healthier state.
“The fans knew something wasn’t right,” said Sting. “They started chanting, and they started chanting some more. I’ll always remember the way that made me feel. That made up my mind–I needed to find a way to finish.”
Sting continued the match. And the crowd erupted, nearly willing into existence a miraculous moment as he seemed on the cusp of winning the WWE title. This happened twice, with the decibel level swelling to a fever pitch when Sting appeared to snatch victory from defeat, locking his trademark Scorpion Deathlock onto Rollins. Due to his weakened state, it is arguably the least convincing manner of the hold he had ever applied, yet somehow, it personified everything beautiful about pro wrestling. And the crowd did everything possible to provide an extra jolt, sending goosebumps throughout the arena—until Rollins rolled up Sting for the win.
“I will never, ever forget that night,” said Sting. “The way the fans reacted, it was so organic. It meant the world to me.
“People still say to me, ‘You should have the belt. They shot themselves in the foot by not doing it.’ We had a really good match up until the point of my injury, one I’m proud of wrestling. And I was so happy to finish the match.”
Sting made an impact throughout all of his WWE appearances, from the surprise Survivor Series debut in 2014, the most memorable WrestleMania loss of all-time against Triple H at WrestleMania 31, and a thrilling Raw main event where he teamed with John Cena against Seth Rollins and The Big Show.
“WrestleMania is a great memory, too,” said Sting. “I know so many fans have said to me, ‘You should have won that match.’ But when you think about that WrestleMania, what do you remember about it? Hulk, Hall, Nash, and DX, that was surreal. I hope that’s what people remember.”
Sting has been an integral part of AEW since his surprise debut this past December. Yet it is possible that he never would have left WWE had he been given a chance, even in a cinematic manner, to have a match with The Undertaker.
“I wanted that to happen,” said Sting. “I was very clear publicly, and I was very clear with WWE, as well. I wanted my last hurrah against Taker.
“For whatever reason, it just never materialized. To this day, I don’t know why. Maybe Taker never wanted to work with me. I have no idea. I mean, I’ve had good conversations with Taker and we’ve always got along. I don’t know why the match never happened, but it should have happened. Because it wasn’t going to happen, and I knew it, and that wasn’t the only reason why I left WWE, but it’s one of the reasons why I left. I wanted that one last match.”
WWE, specifically Vince McMahon, saw no in-ring future for the former face of WCW. Enter Tony Khan, who already had a pre-existing relationship with Sting. And the visionary that created AEW also found a way to persuade Steve Borden to reapply his face paint and lace up his boots for a true farewell run.
“I’d known Tony Khan long before AEW, and he had put in a call to me and we had a great conversation,” said Sting. “He made a few pitches to me, I liked what I was hearing, and I’m glad I did.”
Sting’s run has enhanced AEW’s mid-card and provided the company with a genuine legend. Unlike WWE, where Sting was never given legendary star treatment afforded to someone of the stature of The Undertaker, he is treated like an icon in AEW. Working with younger stars—like Darby Allin, Brian Cage, Ricky Starks, and now Scorpio Sky and Ethan Page—has also introduced him to a new generation of emerging stars seeking to make a lasting imprint on the industry.
“When I started in AEW, I remember getting asked if I planned on being a mentor or teaching,” said Sting. “And of course I do, but after five or six years of not being involved on a heavy level, wrestling can pass you by. The wrestling industry has changed a lot. Most of the guys, these young guys, they’re teaching me. I’m learning a lot about the wrestling business, how it has evolved, and how the way to tell a story has evolved. Even the moves, everything is completely different. I really appreciate it for what it is now, and I’m still trying to figure out how to plug myself in, taking the old school and mixing it with the new school. So far, it’s been a good balance.”
AEW has provided new life for Sting, and a chance to rewrite his final chapter. More twists and turns still remain for the 62-year-old before he hangs up his boots, including the Double or Nothing tag match with Darby Allin.
“Even though I was retired, I didn’t want to disappear,” said Sting. “And it was the way in which I departed WWE. I’d rather go out making some sort of statement. I just love to entertain and I love to learn, and I’m learning a lot from these young guys. I wish I could have ran up and down the road with some of these guys 20 years ago, especially Darby Allin. He is just so talented.”
Sting’s tag match in March at Revolution was a cinematic street fight, but the Double or Nothing match will be different. This is his chance to work in the ring again, hearing the roar of the crowd as he applies his brand of wrestling justice. And despite an abundance of experience, Sting noted that he can already feel the nerves building in anticipation.
“35 years of being in the wrestling industry, there hasn’t been a time when I walked through the curtain and I wasn’t nervous, so I’m happy this time isn’t any different,” said Sting. “Once that first lockup happens, all the nerves will go away. I’m really looking forward to being in front of a big, live crowd again, and I won’t forget where I came from.”
Nearly six years removed from WWE’s Night of Champions, Sting will be given the chance to hear the crowd again at Double or Nothing.
“I appreciate the fans every day,” said Sting. “Every time I came back to WWE, either on Raw or a pay-per-view, and now with AEW, hearing the crowd, I marvel over the way they care about me. I’m very grateful for it, it means the world to me. And it goes both ways—I love those fans, too. I’m thankful that God has given me the ability to do this, even now at this age, and I appreciate the fact that fans still love it. And I plan on delivering for them on Sunday.”
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