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A classic babyface during the early 1990s and one of the biggest anti-heroes in the history of pro wrestling later in the decade, Sting was one of the all-time good guys both inside and outside of the ring.
Steve Borden was a standout athlete in high school and after graduating he got into the fitness industry, competing in competitive bodybuilding and owning a Gold's Gym in Southern California. Sting was not a fan of professional wrestling but on a whim attended a WWF event in Los Angeles. Blown away by the show, Sting decided to get into the industry and got his start working in Southern California. His original character was as Flash, and he teamed up with Jim "Justice" Hellwig (who of course would go onto greater fame as The Ultimate Warrior) as Power Team USA (now that is a name for the 1980s!). Sting would continue to team up with Hellwig on and off through several other promotions, mainly in Bill Watts' UWF.
In 1987 Sting found his way into the NWA and working out of North Carolina. Sting caught a break at Starrcade '87 when he got onto the card in a six man tag team match, working with Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin. Despite the fact that he was still pretty green in the ring, Sting was recognized as a rising star in the company thanks to his athleticism and charisma. The most defining moment of the early part of his career came in March of 1988 at the inaugural Clash of the Champions event, wrestling then-NWA champion Ric Flair to a 45 minute draw that featured roughly 43 minutes of Sting kicking the snot out of Flair. Sting didn't win the match, but he was instantly recognized by fans as a top star in the company.
With the NWA/WCW losing ground to the rival WWF, Sting offered a new hope for the promotion. As great as Flair was as a top star, he wrestled a certain style and he was associated with an older, more traditional promotion. Sting wasn't the worker that Flair was and he wasn't the promo either, but he was a fresh star with his trademark face paint and his energetic presence was something new for the company. At the time, there was a stigma associated with the NWA and then WCW that is was stereotypical southern wrestling promotion that only catered to the poorer sections of the American south. By having a young, athletic wrestler from California represent the company instead of a bunch of guys from Georgia, WCW got on the right track to becoming a national promotion.
Sting would build on his match with Flair, continuing to feud with Flair and The Four Horsemen and then teaming up with Dusty Rhodes and feuding with The Road Warriors, turning The Road Warriors heel in the process. In 1989 he was involved in a memorable feud with Keiji Mutoh over the NWA Television Championship that helped establish Mutoh as one of the top Japanese wrestlers to ever work in the United States. Sting would later team up with Flair, who was turned babyface during a feud with Terry Funk and the pair wrestled Funk and Mutoh in a Thunderdome Cage match at Halloween Havoc 1989.
Sting would then suffer a knee injury that kept him out of the ring, although he still remained on WCW television and involved in storylines. When he recovered from his injury he was named the number one contender for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and finally dethroned Flair at the Great American Bash 1990. Despite being the champion, Sting suffered through a forgettable run, mainly because of WCW's inept ability to find quality opponents for him to defend against. He was involved in two obnoxiously convoluted feuds with Sid Vicious and then the mysterious "Black Scorpion" who of course ended up being Flair.
Sting dropped the title in January 1991 to Flair, and then began a new feud with The Steiner Brothers. Teaming up with the Lex Luger, the two teams met in a critically acclaimed match at SuperBrawl 1991, and Sting then engaged in a feud with Nikita Koloff. Sting remained an upper-mid card wrestler for WCW as they struggled under the leadership of Jim Herd. His most notable moment came during a feud with The Dangerous Alliance, who targeted Sting because he was considered the franchise of WCW. He ended forming a team, Sting's Squadron and defeated The Alliance in a War Games match at WrestleWar that Dave Meltzer awarded a perfect five star rating.
Sting had won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in February, 1992 when he defeated Luger. WCW finally succeeded in bringing in real strong contenders to work with Sting, starting with Big Van Vader, a 450lb import from Japan. Vader cracked three of Sting's ribs and ruptured his spleen during a match in April, and then Sting dropped the title to Vader at the Great American Bash that July. Sting would then feud with another new-comer, Cactus Jack, before getting back on track against Vader, continuing to feud with him throughout 1993 and 1994. The feud between Vader and Sting really helped keep WCW afloat while Flair was on his exodus in the WWF.
Once Hulk Hogan arrived in WCW in 1994, Sting was unfairly pigeonholed into a lesser role, behind Hogan as the top babyface in the company. Despite the fact that Sting had worked his ass off for the company during Flair's absence, under the new management of Eric Bischoff WCW went in a direction away from Sting. He was still relevant and on all of the shows, but he was reduced to working mid-card championships and was only really in the main event when he was tagging with Hogan and Randy Savage.
When Hogan turned heel and formed the nWo, it opened up a new opportunity for Sting. Abandoning his "surfer-dude" gimmick and inspired by Brandon Lee's performance in the 1994 film The Crow Sting began to appear as a ghostly figure, only appearing on Nitro occasionally, dressed in white makeup and wielding a baseball bat. During this time period it was unclear where Sting stood in war between WCW and the nWo. The nWo recruited their own imposter Sting to play mind games with the WCW wrestlers and the real Sting was intentionally vague in his allegiance. It wasn't until Uncensored 1997 that Sting officially declared what side he was on, when he entered the ring at the end of the PPV and dismantled the entire nWo with his bat. WCW had their hero.
It's hard to fully describe how big of a babyface Sting was in 1997. The nWo was the heel group of invading wrestlers, most of whom had allegiances to the WWF and bullied the WCW wrestlers. Other top names in WCW, such as Luger and the Steiners had come up short against the group, and the only real beacon of hope for the company was Sting. Sting, who had carried the company since the start of the decade, was the perfect babyface to combat the invaders. In addition, he changed his gimmick completely from what got him to his current position in the company. This was a dark hero for dark times.
The feud culminated at Starrcade 1997, where Sting dethroned Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The build-up to the massive event paid off, as it drew a 1.9 buyrate, the highest in wrestling history at that time. However, instead of booking Sting to simply defeat Hogan cleanly in the middle of the ring, WCW got way too cute and ended up completely overbooking the moment, with Hogan originally winning the match, only for it to be revealed that referee Nick Patrick had fast-counted Sting (even though he didn't) and then the match was restarted, only for Bret Hart to run out and ring the bell as Sting had Hogan in the Scorpion Deathlock in what ended being a sloppy echo to the Montreal Screwjob which had occurred just one month previously.
More controversial booking followed as during a rematch on the inaugural episode of WCW Thunder between Hogan and Sting ended in similar fashion with two different referees claiming each man was the rightful winner, which led to the vacating of the championship which Sting won back at SuperBrawl 1998. Sting would lose the championship in April to Savage, who was helped by Kevin Nash that would lead to the formation of the nWo Wolfpac. Sting would later join the nWo wolfpac and continued to feud with the original nWo group, now called nWo Hollywood. Sting would feud mainly in tag team matches and instead of being the one, shining babyface in WCW he just another cog in the machine.
By 1999 WCW was falling apart and Sting was one of the victims of a disintegrating company. He won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on an episode of Nitro, only to lose later that night to Diamond Dallas Page, giving Sting a mighty 90-minute title reign. Despite the fact that less than two years before Sting was the top babyface in the industry, he was relegated to incomprehensible feud after incomprehensible feud for the remainder of the company's sad existence.
After WCW folded Sting was not bought of his contract by which was now with AOL Time Warner, WCW's parent company. He announced a temporary retirement before returning to the ring with World Wrestling All-Stars, a group that put on PPV events in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He then began appearing in Jeff Jarrett's TNA promotion, where he wrestled consistently for the next 11 years.
There is a lot of debate about what Sting's career had been like had he gone to WWE right after WCW had folded. Sting obviously wanted time off and the WWE schedule at the time was too busy for his liking. Instead he went to TNA, where he wrestled a much lighter schedule and had more control over his character. While TNA greatly benefited Sting personally, when it comes to his overall legacy it doesn't really move the needle that much. He had plenty of matches and won all sorts of championships, but it was done on such a small stage that his success in TNA does not really mean that much towards his overall impact on the industry as his success in the UWF did earlier in his career. It didn't help that he worked a limited schedule, even by TNA standards and as he aged into his 50s his athleticism diminished and he became a limited performer.
Had Sting gone to the WWE in the early-2000s instead of the victory lap he took in 2015, would his career be any different? It is tough to say. Of the big WCW stars who went back to WWE after the company folded, really only Hogan and Ric Flair can claim any form of success. Nash, Scott Hall, Page, Goldberg and Scott Steiner all had forgettable runs. Sting probably would have gotten to work with The Undertaker and that would have given him an advantage, but considering how badly WWE botched the Invasion storyline, it is no guarantee that Sting would have gone on to great success in WWE had he immediately gone there after WCW closed.
The reason Sting does not rank higher on this list is for two reasons. The first is because as good of a babyface as Sting was, he was unable to become a successful heel. There is nothing wrong with being a great babyface, but a majority of the wrestlers on this list had great runs as both a babyface and a heel, so when comparing Sting to those stars he loses some ground.
Another reason is that while Sting was a top name for over a decade in WCW, the fact of the matter is that he was doing it mostly for a B-level promotion that rarely turned a profit. It is a fact that during their entire existence, WCW only broke into the black during three years (1996, 97 and 98). The numbers for TNA are not available, but even if they are in the black (and I doubt they have had one truly profitable year throughout their existence) it is a miniscule profit in the grand scheme of professional wrestling promotions. That means that while Sting was a main event wrestler for 25 years, in only three of those years was the company he was working for profitable. I'm not blaming Sting for those shortcomings, they rely on management because according to all sources, Sting always gave it his all, but it does hurt him when he is compared to other wrestlers, especially contemporaries such as The Undertaker, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock and Vader, who all made money hand-over-fist for their promotions.
Outside of the ring Sting holds a tremendous reputation with his fellow wrestlers as a stand-up guy who takes faith and his family very seriously. Despite the fact that he wrestled in WCW during a time when seemingly everybody hated everybody, Sting holds a pristine reputation, rarely do you ever hear anything even remotely negative about him. Stars like Foley and Bret Hart spoke highly of him in their books and contemporary stars like AJ Styles and Seth Rollins have also praised him tremendously. While Sting was often not in the greatest environment for positivity, he always did his job with a smile and a positive attitude, which is really just as impressive as the arenas he sold out and the PPV's he main evented.
Next week #39 will be revealed, a brawler who became as famous for his bloody matches as he did for selling out arenas
The Top 50 so far:
50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik