The Spirit of Sting

On paper at least, the current concept of Sting isn’t particularly unique. The headliner of yesteryear, an icon that remains active, bringing some star power to his brand of choice. That’s mostly familiar, with Sting stepping through the ropes for a single match every few months, protected in a tag setting and ultimately standing tall, still the conquering hero that once inspired a generation. That’s a simple formula and certainly, Sting ticks all of those boxes and more, but it just feels different to me.

At 62, Sting is a physical miracle and it’s impressive to see him remain so capable, thirty years removed from his athletic prime. To me though, that’s not the story here. Indeed, even after Sting worked the majority of a match with one of the industry’s greatest tandems, my focus is elsewhere. Unquestionably, his execution is absurd for a man that’s been deemed finished multiple times in recent decades, his ability still formidable for any man, let alone a legend of his age.

Personally though, that’s not the true charm of Sting in AEW. To me, his painted face encapsulates the story better than any Stinger Splash ever could. Stoic on arrival, there’s this palpable sense that Sting doesn’t want to be the star of the show, he just wants to help it along the way. Coming out first as the calm and collected counterpart to his chaotic, frenetic ally, Sting is a supporting character, refusing to leave that role no matter how much his peers’ respect demands otherwise.

Those efforts don’t limit Sting’s energy though, as before long, he’s swept up in the emotion once again. With the passion of the audience and frankly, the gravity of these moments fueling him, Sting’s energy is endearing, one of AEW’s most consistent bright spots. That energy is what made last night so special in my view, as Sting refused to be a mere novelty act, producing an admirable effort and with some assistance of course, very much belonging opposite two of the world’s best.

There was a desperation to Sting’s showing, a sense that he wouldn’t let anyone down, an obsession with keeping this thing on track. When Sting steps through the ropes, he strives to perform at a level befitting his presentation. Since arriving in AEW, Sting has been treated with reverence, positioned proudly as the promotion’s ultimate legend. With each outing, he looks to validate that, providing himself to new fans and not letting anyone down along the way. Sting’s presence brings pride to long-time fans, not that familiar sadness or shame.

This stint has been spirited at every turn, packed with pride and while perhaps, that’s no feat worth celebrating, there’s an emotional weight to this particular case. Twenty years ago, Sting brought an end to one of wrestling’s most exciting eras, standing tall in Nitro’s final main event. For more than a decade, Sting had been a constant in that setting, long before Nitro, long before the nWo. Sting was the heart and soul of that promotion, so often the victim of betrayal, so often the brand’s sole moral compass.

There was a symbolism to that, as Sting’s many efforts were consistently undercut by things above his famed paygrade. After all, there was only so much he or any other individual could do, but for better or worse, Sting was WCW. Within the collection of calamities, there was usually an essence of hope, one very much defined by Sting’s calming presence. That identity was eventually solidified on-screen, as Sting protected WCW from the greatest threat of all, producing some of the industry’s most moving television.

As always, the happy ending came with a gut-punch in the process though and only three years later, the end was nigh. For much of the decade following WCW’s demise, Sting led TNA uphill, but that magic was never truly recaptured. That’s not to dismiss Sting’s lengthy stint in the IMPACT Zone, it just wasn’t that or this, unfortunately existing in a frustrating tier below. Sting’s infamous WWE run followed and that was all she wrote, seemingly bringing a somewhat sad end to his illustrious career.

If that was indeed the case, I don’t think anyone would’ve lost sleep over Sting’s final chapter but after seeing this extension, I’m so thankful it’s here. In WCW, Sting was a symbol of justice, an embodiment of everything good and in the end, an almost tragic victim of all the bad surrounding him. Now, two decades later, Sting doesn’t have to fight uphill, he doesn’t have to complete mission impossible, he just has to play his part on a winning team.

With each week, wrestling slowly regains the balance that was lost over twenty years ago, returning the industry to an enthusiasm and excitement that once seemed cemented as a mere memory. It’s a different time with different talent, but it’s still Sting, back on TNT and inexplicably, somehow as spirited as ever. I don’t know where this story is going and after the last two years, who could? I’m sure Sting doesn’t know either, he just knows that he can’t let history repeat itself.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this, I probably am in truth. To me though, Sting’s performance suggests otherwise. I truly believe that he’s here to right wrongs, he’s here to fix the problems that his peers produced. Sting isn’t the star of the show, he’s its spirit, an example that regardless of age or experience, you can reinvent yourself in this setting. Sting is the promotion’s central tribute to one of its most obvious inspirations, a nod to what was and a sincere signal towards what they hope will be.

That’s a beautiful thing, whether you’ve watched Sting for 35 years, 6 months or somewhere in-between. AEW is proud of pro wrestling history but with each outing, Sting feels increasingly like their own history, tying the promotion with its predecessor, the brand that he so famously led. Right or wrong, Sting stands for something to me, and that’s a credit to his pristine reputation as well as his enduring on-screen presentation. Either way, there’s still an optimism to Sting and in AEW, that hope finally feels at home.

“When a man’s heart is full of deceit, it burns up, dies and a dark shadow falls over his soul. From the ashes of a once great man has risen a curse, a wrong that must be righted. We look to the skies for a vindicator, someone to strike fear into the black hearts of the same men who created him. The battle between good and evil has begun. Against an army of shadows lies a dark warrior, the purveyor of good with a voice of silence and a mission of justice. This is Sting.”