“May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung…”
Sometimes when I write, I try to build my words through a few paragraphs to start. Even though the title of the article gives away who I speak of right away anyway, it feels as though I’m working towards a grand crescendo. In my own little way, I’m giving the man or woman who I’ve chosen to highlight that day their well-deserved flowers. I really enjoy doing it and trying to do it better every subsequent time thereafter.
However, when the topic of the day is not just one of the best professional wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots but is also one of the most popular talents of all time, that crescendo isn’t needed. Because he’s the crescendo.
I’m talking about Sting.
An active in-ring career that began almost forty years ago will see its last bell ring in early March of next year. It makes me legitimately emotional to even acknowledge it in words. I feel this way about most careers coming to an end within this thing of ours, not because it’s all that sad of an occurrence necessarily but because it marks the end of a dream truly lived to its fullest. That is such a rare, yet purely beautiful thing.
I always wonder if they were able to appreciate the little moments as the years passed them by. Not just the big ones. Not just the titles. Not just the sold out stadiums. Surely, they can look back and smile at the journey. The professional wrestling roads aren’t always the smoothest to traverse. It was a different world when Sting first started. The eighties! I don’t know about you, but it was well before me!
I have little doubt that for many wrestlers looking back on finished careers and even on those playing the back nine within their own, the years pass in the blink of an eye. Accolades pour in and collect dust. But memories last forever.
It doesn’t take a lifetime fan to look into the face of the icon and see a man conflicted. Content? Sure. Proud? Without question. But like many who faced this moment before him and the countless others who will after, is there a part of him who will always miss the indescribable feeling that flows through a wrestler’s body when telling a story to fans across the world who love this uniquely wonderful thing as much as they do?
I think that goes without saying. I’ve yet to hear of a wrestler who wouldn’t want to come back and do it all over again if their bodies and minds would only let them. But we don’t get second chances. All we ever have is what we’re facing in the moment. I can’t imagine the moments he has sacrificed with his own family so that his millions of fans across the world would have some of their own to remember. The weight of that gift cannot and will never be able to be quantified.
What Sting has done over his remarkable career is difficult to describe. I think it can best be seen in the evaluation of his very own fans, all forty years’ worth of them. When you chase a dream, and I mean really chase it, you give it everything. You have to. Throughout Sting’s journey, he built a ladder to the stars, and he left it there for others to follow. Not only that, but he also let us fans come with if only for a look into the eyes of true greatness.
He worked hard, sure, but he built this ladder on loyalty. He built it with kindness. He built it with respect. He used his creativity, competitiveness, and compassion. Sting eclipsed the stars on faith. And he took all of us with him. What an extraordinary gift to give the fans of your life’s work. It’s truly priceless.
“May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift…”
By the time I came across WCW Monday Nitro, I was six. Sting wasn’t anywhere to be found. I only first began to learn of him during eerie video packages early the next year. To be honest, they frightened me. I remember that feeling vividly.
With much distance since those last days of WCW, I look back mostly unimpressed with what the company gave us when it could have been so much more. At the time though, WCW was everything to me. It was an escape from normalcy into a world of radical pageantry. My young mind was consistently wowed by both the athletes and their stories. Sting was no exception.
My Grandad would show me old videos when I visited, and soon I learned much more about this mysterious man dressed in black. Surfer Sting. Wolfpac Sting. The Sting who championed WCW when everyone else was too scared to do so. The historic feuds with The Horsemen, Sid, and Vader. So many more.
It didn’t take long to understand the impact this man had on the business I was slowly growing to adore.
When WCW ceased to be, for a long time Sting did as well. I knew little else about the wrestling business at the time other than the WWE. To me, if someone didn’t make the trip over, they weren’t in the business anymore. I was naïve and didn’t understand. I lost favorites, some forever. Or so I thought.
It took years before I learned of TNA. I never became a regular viewer, but I followed as closely as I could, enough to know that Sting hadn’t disappeared. In fact, he was still working at a high level and telling some of the best stories he ever had.
I’ve since gone back and watched much of what I missed all those years ago and I remain in awe of his ability to evolve and take hold of new generations of fans. That’s not an easy thing to do. We are considerably more easily bored than we ever have been as a people. We lose touch easily and our attention is even more difficult to keep. The very best professional wrestlers have an innate ability to sink their claws in early and never let go, no matter how wiggly we might get. And some of us get mighty wiggly. I don’t think I can overstate how magical it is that almost forty years after his debut, Sting remains as popular and as engaging as he ever has been – if not more so.
It's a testament to both the commitment to his craft and his vast talent. It’s so easy to just be one thing across a professional wrestling career. Find something that works and be that. Legends though? Legends take risks. Legends evolve. In doing so, legends live forever.
When he made his debut in WWE, I was shocked. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated too, but I was shocked. He was the only one who had never crossed those enemy lines from so many years prior. In doing so though, I truly felt like he would get his moment. It felt like that final run was imminent and was beyond deserved, right? He’d get to do it like many never do – in front of hot crowds, on a big stage, and on his own terms.
Except that’s not what happened. I have my thoughts on that WrestleMania, which I won’t get into here. It was what it was. Then, the injury. At the time, I found it heartbreaking. If anyone deserved to write their own final chapter, surely it was Sting. Wrestling doesn’t owe anyone anything though. Times change. Injuries happen. The business moves on with or without you. We’ve seen it time and time again.
Years passed. Until one night in late 2020, when winter came.
I wasn’t sure what the Icon would do or mean to AEW when he debuted. It was an emotional night and one I look back on fondly. But by the time it was over, I felt I did know two things. Sting would wrestle again, and All Elite Wrestling had entered a new era.
If they could orchestrate Sting’s final act as beautifully as we all hoped they would, it would add a level of credibility that had truly been lost in professional wrestling for years. Could legends once again be respected and featured with class and honor? Would it be possible to highlight his abilities but help mask what age inevitably does to us all? Could he adapt and perform with some of AEW’s new age stars?
The answer to all these pressing questions would quickly and resoundingly be proven affirmative.
Sting was immediately shown the respect he had earned over his legendary career, by all on the roster. Featured in a way that would be impossible to argue against, AEW proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wouldn’t just be a destination for legends to come to smile, wave, and take an RKO. It could be much more. In AEW, one could leave a career with as much honor as it was built on.
Debuting during the pandemic was probably less than ideal for both parties. I’m sure Sting would have loved the reception of a packed house. I know AEW would have. But there was something uniquely intimate and beautiful about the way it happened. In its way, Sting’s debut is more memorable without the extra pomp and circumstance. He walked in during a time of vast uncertainty, when we all were looking for something to smile about. In a career of smiles given, he began his last run gifting us one when many of us needed it the most.
As far as being able to work and compliment those new stars – some very unique – that AEW had featured prominently? Yeah, we found out right quick that Sting wouldn’t have any problem with that task. Toe to toe with Orange Cassidy. Face to face with Danhausen. Side by side with Darby Allin. A company man from the beginning, I truly hope the younger stars of All Elite Wrestling have taken notes and continue to take them.
“May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong…”
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but it’s been difficult for me to watch him lately without getting a wee bit misty-eyed. This is a man who debuted in 1985. A full decade plus before I had any remote idea what wrestling even was. He is living, breathing, and wholly legitimate professional wrestling history. He bridges generations, and he competes with the same vigor and respect as he did decades ago, and it’s obvious. I’d challenge each of you to try to look into his eyes next time he’s in the ring. If you look close enough, I bet you can still see glimpses of that little Stinger, the one who laced up his first pair of boots. I’ll bet you can still see the awe, and the fire, and the near disbelief that he’s lucky enough to get to do what he does.
What is more emotional than that? What could be more impactful?
Professional wrestling is so much to so many, but at its very core, it’s a business of dreams. And for the Stinger, business has almost always been good. How can we be forty years in (well over my entire time on this planet), and I’m still not ready to close the door on him forever? That’s professional wrestling for you.
If I could pass along anything to my favorite franchise, I’d simply want to say thank you. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the passion. For the laughs and the tears. For your magical stories told. For your sacrifices.
Come Revolution, when you look out into the crowd for the very last time from within those ropes, I hope you realize what you have truly done for all of us who have watched you perform for so many years. You wore many faces, but the one you’ll wear last – after the paint comes off for the final time – is the one I’ll be thankful for most. You talk about being truly blessed in your life, and that makes me so beyond happy. Please always remember the ways in which you’ve blessed all of us.
A truly selfless gift to the people you’ve entertained for a lifetime.
Soon, the snow will cease to fall. Winter will have ended in AEW. Face paint vendors will sigh, and ringside tables will exhale in relief. A career will breathe its final breath, but for all he’s given and all he’s sacrificed – for wrestling and for all of us – Steve Borden may walk away proudly, but Sting will live forever in the hearts of millions.
For forty years, Sting made us all feel like we were in there with him. Only the greats can manage that. And only the greatest of them can wrestle for four whole decades and still have fans pleading for just one more match, forever and always.
It’s sad, but it’s not. He gets to end things his way. I’ll cry at Revolution; you can be sure of that. But my tears won’t be tears of sadness. Not at all. They’ll be tears of gratitude and happiness. They’ll be tears from that young girl scared of creepy vignettes but fascinated with what was coming. They’ll be tears from the first time I saw him in Joker makeup. They’ll be tears from his AEW debut and the memories that followed. And they’ll be tears because for the first time in all time, the only thing for sure about Sting, is that this is the end of the road. The finality of it all, even in professional wrestling, is quite a heavy reality to absorb.
I’ve used some words from Bob Dylan throughout to help me tie this piece together, so it’s only fitting I end with a few last lines that I believe with my whole heart apply to the man of the hour in the lead up to his last time in front of us all. May he enjoy and feel in his retirement what he’s always made us feel throughout his career.
“May your heart always be joyful, and may your song always be sung. May you stay forever young.”