It’s often said that professional wrestling is about the moments.
This past week on Dynamite, just as it looked like Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin would be beat down by the heels, the lights went out, prompting snow to fall from the ceiling. This particular episode was titled, “Winter is coming” so it made sense to have the blustery precipitation on the show, and the title itself wasn’t necessarily a give away that something specific was on the horizon, simply because events like “Fyter Fest” have been used before while NXT used various WCW names for certain weeks on television. On the surface, these specific names might be used as a way to make a title match that was scheduled for TV stand out more than just another standard production.
However, as the snow fell, Sting, the legendary grappler that closed Nitro in a memorable bout against Ric Flair nearly two decades ago, made his return to TNT, methodically making his way to the ring. The visual was incredible and it had an atmosphere of a truly special moment. In an era where everything is exposed in professional wrestling and can be posted online immediately, this was one of the few times that there was truly a surprise in sports entertainment in the modern era. Ironically, the same could be said about Sting’s WWE debut at Survivor Series in 2014. Granted, there was some talk online a few months ago when WWE Shop discontinued Sting’s merchandise and there was some brief speculation that AEW might be an option at some point, but it’s doubtful that just because WWE Shop didn’t stock new Sting merchandise that something like his AEW debut was thought to be this year. It could’ve just as easily been that his contract expired and they didn’t get terms to renew the licensing agreement. Keep in mind, Sting was promoted under the WWE banner for several years, they’ve done the Hall of Fame induction, the DVD set about his career, and a slew of merchandise already.
Despite what any jaded fan might claim after the fact, Sting’s AEW arrival was a surprise and it was definitely a major moment in professional wrestling history, especially given his extensive tenure on the network during his career.
That being said, as amazing as it was, outside of the tremendous effects used in the arena, one of the reasons that most didn’t immediately assume Sting would sign with AEW is because the tough question is, what can Sting do in AEW? Don’t get me wrong, the smoke and mirrors in this scenario were fine, but outside of the nostalgia pop, what’s there to do for Sting at this point in his career?
By nature, the draw on nostalgia yields diminishing returns over time since it reflects upon what was already in established in the past, not something that will progress the future. There’s a fine line between reminiscing about the past, and a “been there, done that” environment. Despite the AEW announcement that Sting signed a multi-year deal to work there full-time, I’m very skeptical about what options the promotion would have to use Sting on a full-time basis. Remember, each time Sting is in the ring, there’s a chance that he gets exposed, which isn’t meant as a jab against him, but rather to point out that at 61, he or anyone else won’t be the performer they were in their prime. The physical aspect is really the key to the entire scenario because if he can’t land some of his signature spots in the ring then it’s somewhat of a disappointment, but at the same time, a major injury would be terrible, both for Sting and the company. His last match was in 2015 against Seth Rollins at the Night of Champions event, where he suffered a serious neck injury and that eventually led to his retirement announcement at the Hall of Fame the following year. He opted not to get neck surgery and seems to have recovered from the incident, but how much he can still do in the ring five years after it remains to be seen. Sting’s last appearance on WWE TV was during a Ric Flair segment last year that was used to set up the Batista/Triple H match at Wrestlemania so other than the occasional WWE Network show, it seems like his run with the WWE on-screen had concluded so maybe this stint in a new promotion will give him a fresh chapter of his career. The draw for Sting, especially at this point, is the aura he has as the icon of the industry, a performer that always projected a sense of decency, both in the ring and behind the scenes. Protecting that mystic is key to his run in AEW because while the face paint camouflages his age to a certain extent and he’s still in good shape, nobody wants to see a scenario where he looks like a 61-year-old that shouldn’t be in the ring. There’s a reason most would rather ignore Ric Flair’s TNA run.
That aside, I think there are a few select situations where the promotion could maximize his star power without any risk to his credibility. I’d guess his face-to-face interactions with Darby, Cody, and Dustin were meant to have some level of foreshadowing involved for what he might be booked for in the promotion. I’d say three tag matches on pay-per-view with Darby, Cody, and Dustin respectively are a way to get Sting on PPV and even in the ring with minimal risk to his health as well as his legacy. Let Sting get the hot tag, hit a few Stinger Splashes, and then let the younger star on his team get the win for the team. Again, at 61, Sting isn’t there to add a new dynamic to his legacy, all he has to do is play the greatest hits so to speak and it’s mission accomplished.
From purely a business prospective, you can’t blame Sting for taking the cash, and all things considered, he had a very lucrative run, especially for someone that only appeared a handful of times for the WWE. He was one of the highest paid performers for the majority of his tenure with WCW, secured a mega contract with TNA to work a limited schedule, took the money when the WWE deal was right, and it’s a safe bet that he’s getting good money to ink an AEW deal. Plus, he made great money on merchandise over the years. Obviously, there must be a level of precaution because of the neck injury that prompted his original retirement, but this run in AEW might be a way to provide a better conclusion to his in-ring career. After he finally hangs up the boots or perhaps for most of his stint in AEW, it would be cool to see Sting take a mentor role for Darby Allin because of their similarities of the face paint, and the association with Sting could be the spotlight on him. As mentioned, professional wrestling is about the moments, and as far as cementing its place in wrestling history as something more than just an upstart company, AEW certainly had a memorable moment when Sting returned to TNT to debut for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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