It’s no secret that professional wrestling has an extensive and complex history. Throughout that history, countless performers have achieved great success. However in some cases we find that immediate success doesn’t always translate to longevity. In other cases, a wrestler is able to prove their staying power and truly make their mark as an industry icon, and a perfect example of this is Sting.
What Makes Sting An American Wrestling Treasure?
38 years. Multiple reigns as world champion. Several unforgettable rivalries, and the better part of two decades spent as the flagship star of one of the biggest wrestling promotions of its time. Throughout pro wrestling’s storied history, few performers have epitomized the title of icon as perfectly as the legendary Sting. Over the course of nearly four decades, his career has been a prime example of a wrestler successfully evolving with the times. His is a career that no one coud have foreseen. Not even the man behind the iconic face paint.
Growing up, Steve Borden originally didn’t envision himself setting foot in the squared circle. That began to change in 1985. One day he was approached at the Gold’s Gym he co-owned by a man named Rick Bassman. At the time, Bassman and Red Bastien were putting together a stable of wrestlers called Power Team USA. Also among the wrestlers Bass recruited was a young Jim Hellwig. The wrestling world would later come to know him as the Ultimate Warrior and become an icon in his own right.
Sting’s Unlikely Partnership
After accepting the invitarion from Rick Bassman, the future stinger and the future warrior were paired together as a team best known as the Bladerunners. The partnership would last about two years, with them competing in the Continental Wrestling Federation and the Universal Wrestling Federation. During those two years the young tag team got to work with the likes of Bill Watts, Missy Hyatt, ‘Hot Stuff’ Eddie Gilbert, and Rick Steiner.
By 1987 the partnership was no longer, and the two were now on different paths. While Hellwig would move on to the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), Borden would find his wrestling home in Jim Crockett promotions which would later become World Championship Wrestling. His fourteen year run with the company would see Sting truly find his way as a wrestler and cement his status as an industry icon.
Sting becoming The Franchise Star
Fans of Jim Crockett Promotions first met Sting as a fun loving surfer character decked in brightly colored tights and jackets and sporting an unforgettable platinum blonde flat top. They easily fell in love with his infectious, high energy personality, talent and passion. It didn’t take long for the stinger to become one of the company’s most bankable stars. During his time with WCW, Sting would find himself embroiled in several high profile rivalries.
The biggest among them being his feuds with The Nature Boy Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, and Japanese legend, the Great Muta. The Flair feud gave Sting his crowning moment while The Hogan and Muta feuds further established him as one wrestling’s most respected names.
Beating The Man To Be The Man
By 1988 Sting was a massive hit with fans and arguably WCW’s fastest rising star. By 1990 that momentum was still white hot. That year he would deliver a star-making performance when he unseated Ric Flair as NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the GREAT AMERICAN BASH. After two years of not being able to defeat Flair for the NWA world title, the stinger had finally done it. This chapter in his career helped set the stage for even more great things to come.
Sting and Ric Flair’s careers would continue to be intertwined to a degree throughout their remaining time in WCW. In 2001, the two would even go head to head in the final match to air on WCW Monday Nitro. Flair would also be there for Sting’s last match in California at AEW’s Full Gear 2023. Rivals on screen, and long time friends off screen there has always been a great deal of mutual respect between the two wrestling legends.
The NWO Invades WCW
The wrestling world was beginning to change as the mid 90s rolled around. The babyface characters were slowly going out of fashion as fans were now looking for a product with a harder edge to it. The growing success of Extreme Championship Wrestling at the time was a big factor. ECW was well known for its more violent and mature style. While WWE chose to stick with their tried and true formula, WCW began making the necessary moves to evolve with the times. That process began when two ‘outsiders’ came to WCW and began causing a whole lot of chaos upon their arrival.
Time To Evolve
When Kevin Nash and Scott Hall jumped ship from WWE in 1996 and teamed up with Hulk Hogan to form the New World Order, a crucial chapter in WCW’s history began. At the time the NWO started wreaking havoc in WCW. It was becoming increasingly clear that it was time for the stinger to evolve. Fans weren’t responding to him the way they had in the past, and he was taking notice. His relationship with longtime best friend Lex Luger had also begun to fray at this point. Feeling frustrated and betrayed by WCW, Sting declared himself a free agent. That September, he was away from WCW TV for about a month. In October, a very different Sting returned.
The blonde flat top and bright colors were gone now, replaced by longer dark hair and all black wresling gear. A long black coat and baseball completed the look which was inspired by Brandon Lee’s character Eric Draven in early 90s cult classic The Crow.
Going To War With The NWO
Behind the scenes the idea to go this route came surprisingly from Scott Hall who thought Sting could easily pull off a similar look. Upon his return Sting began testing the loyalty of WCW wrestlers and from there it was time to go to war with the New World Order. That war would last until around 1998 when Sting the NWO Wolf Pack.
This feud included his famous Starcade 1997 match with Hulk Hogan and showcased some of WCW’s best storytelling work. Even after Sting’s rivalry with NWO ran its course, he remained one of the most important figures in WCW until its closure in 2001.
Making An Impact Beyond WCW
Sting has continued to evolve long after WCW’s closure. Since then the stinger went on to have very successful runs in TNA and AEW. He even had a relatively short run in WWE which saw him be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2016. His work in AEW has been especially compelling as it has shown him step into the role of mentor for the first time for rising star Darby Allin. Since AEW’s inception, Darby has long been considered Sting’s heir apparent. Sting’s guidance has been vital to Darby’s growing success. Seeing the close bond that has developed between them has been great too. The stinger’s final match will take place at REVOLUTION 2024 and will truly mark the end of an era.
A Series Of Formative Moments
Looking back on Sting’s history, one thing is very clear. His career has been one forged by a series of formative moments. From his early success in WCW beginning in the late 80s to his evolution in the mid 90s to where he is right now. Those moments coupled with great storytelling and impeccable timing have made Sting the icon he’s become. Generations of fans have watched him grow along the way. This icon’s time in the ring may be coming to a close, but the legend of Sting will be remembered for a very long time to come.