“People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can’t rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right.”James O’Barrr, The Crow
It’s a crisp Chicago evening. November 26, 1987. Starrcade ‘87: Chi-Town Heat. A young professional wrestler bearing face paint participates in a triple threat match alongside and against some seasoned and even legendary contemporaries. He’d spent some time on the lesser-known territories, but nothing quite like the path he was about to embark on.
Behind the paint, he is Steve Borden. In the ring he is Sting. From this night on, nothing will be as it was. Nothing was ever going to be the same.
In the years to follow, Sting would grow into his element for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), with the occasional excursion to Japan. Blonde, musclebound, and wild-eyed beyond the surfer face paint, Sting forged his mettle against all assortments of opponents and adversity. From The Four Horsemen to The Great Muta to Vader, he became a favorite of the crowds.
Oh, his style was explosive and powerful. There was a strength to it. Every movement was him overpowering the indomitable like a superhero. For children everywhere, this was the equivalent. Even if he lost, even if he got down, he’d get back up again, no matter how much his muscles ached. A lesson that if you fall, you get back up again. The beating of his chest echoed that percussive passion that begat the legend to come.
Years passed. Championships came and went. The NWA had rebranded to WCW. Friends left and returned and some left for good. Yet he remained.
The mid-1990s kicked down the door, eschewing the norms as society knew them. The cultural zeitgeist began to change, and his craft was about to join in the grit and character.
It came in the form of the New World Order. The black and white poison, spread and infected through the steel and flame that was WCW Monday Nitro. It was the venom that turned good men evil and sowed the seeds of doubt among the roster.
It rang in the form of The Outsiders, consisting of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Hulk Hogan would soon join their ranks and Ted DiBiase behind them.
Unfortunately for Sting, this meant stress. The blonde was gone from his hair; it grew and fell, no longer buzzing towards the lights.
A doppelganger came in, and he bore Sting’s signature appearance. From the hair to the paint; all that was missing was the heart. It was just enough to fool everyone.
Accusation by accusation, Sting grew tired of it. By 1996’s Fall Brawl saw Sting defend WCW one last time before declaring himself a free agent. He would not be seen for some time.
Time passed. The heart of WCW had lost its beat. Little by little though, its rhythm returned, and it echoed from the rafters, as he watched the shows transpiring below. A judging angel of a city in hell.
A year of this. 1997 saw but one Sting match in WCW, and it was at the end of the year, Starrcade ‘’97 when he made that iconic entrance and took the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan in controversial fashion.
All that aside, this – this was where Sting became an icon. At the suggestion of Scott Hall, Sting adopted a similar look to the iconic 1994 film adaptation of The Crow based on the 1989 comic of the same title.
The visage of the black and white Sting, wearing a top instead of going shirtless, the white scorpion on his gear remains iconic. When thinking of the name “Sting”, it’s the first thing that comes to mind. The stoic, morose face that could turn into a snarl of justice with the crow’s call and the beating of the chest, the swinging of the big black bat.
This is where I cease waxing historical. His background is well-storied and frankly, doesn’t need further elaboration.
Instead, I’m going to tell you what he means, this symbol of eternal angst and anguish personified into professional wrestling greatness.
The tale of a man abandoned, betrayed, and defeated by the place he called home is a resonant one. A city that no longer claims him, a society that no longer cares. The light that was the yin to the dark’s yang. The overwhelmed balance of it all. So the crow spirals down a collapsed dream, and the only sound it makes is like a concave scream.
For the loners of the 1990’s and 2000’s, this is what Sting represented. No matter what walk of life you came from, you saw the hope emblazoned on the monotone gothic athlete. Speaking nothing yet saying everything with silence until it was time to fight, that was, and is, the life of many downtrodden.
When once he seemed a goliath of muscle, he seemed shrunken, made to exist as a shadow. He was the darkness of those who could not speak but found solace in him. That cool-looking exterior made for an eye-popping visual that could move merchandise off of the shelves and generate cash flow, but for audiences, he was more than that.
There’s a trend on the internet currently, known as “Literally Me”. It’s when anyone sees fictional characters and finds relatability in them. Sometimes it’s problematic villains such as Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho” and sometimes it’s Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”. Other times it’s heroes of a cause such as Batman and Spider-Man. More often than not, however, they also exist as anti-heroes.
Some of these characters are idolized, for better or worse. Some even miss the point as to why these tragic characters are not the role models they believe them to be. Cautionary tales that are meant to ward off those easily influenced.
Sting was, and is the opposite of that. For those of us who grew up with The Icon grappling on our screen found in him a reflection of us. And we weren’t alone. We were given hope. From his mission to his in-ring style to his gear. That scorpion crawling the infinite dark of his singlet, the obsidian tears that spread down his pale face, the dark hair that flowed to meet it. It’s a darkness that brings comfort. The joy of earlier childhood was stripped away, dimmed by the loneliness of growing up. The quiet before the thunder that rumbled life into the universe.
I’m not going to pretend to know anyone else’s experience. But for a collective, seeing a man left behind by the world, ignored by its injustices, and still fighting against it for a better tomorrow, with a face etched with sorrow?
That’s what makes his character evergreen.
All the little Stingers who cheered from the crowd and their couch have likely felt that, the frustration and pain of a neglectful environment. And we may not have realized it at the time. We do not recognize our souls until they are in pain.
Of course, he wasn’t constantly serious. Sting was known for a laugh or two – you only need to look at his Joker Sting run in TNA. But at the core, when Sting was represented properly, he carried the heft burdened to the public consciousness. Our pain was his, and we could see it within him.
Why wouldn’t you believe me? Why won’t you listen to me? Why am I not good enough for them?
While his career has been on a rollercoaster of sorts, with highs and lows, the collective sentiment was largely the same; Sting is one of the greatest to lace up a pair of boots. We grew up and he was still there waiting for us.
If you still feel an attachment to a favorite thing from your childhood, that’s how strong the connection is years later when it comes back. Yes, even the twinge of excitement or annoyance when a remake for it is announced. But just like when Steve from Blues Clues told fans how proud he was of them after a rough pandemic or when Elmo from Sesame Street simply asked how everyone was doing, the fans were compelled to interact with them. It may have been funny, it may have been sweet, but they’re still there for you.
Sting’s AEW run in its entirety has felt like that. The cinematic match at Revolution 2021, the many tag matches he’s had with Darby Allin and other parties, and the memorable performances from Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Great Muta Final “Bye-Bye” to the tag team casket match against Swerve Strickland and Christian Cage all felt respectful.
From the moment he stepped foot into the wintery arena of Daily’s Place, the rose-tinted glasses were placed on fans, and remained glued on ever since. This was the Sting fans always envisioned in WCW, TNA, and WWE but hadn’t quite had the consistency remembered. In AEW, Steve Borden’s character was true to his spirit.
This is his goodbye, and what a fitting way to do it. All of these memories synonymous with professional wrestling will be preserved in the memory of all the things fans know him for. It feels surreal we are about to live in a world where Sting isn’t active anymore. After Revolution 2023, that all changes. The wrestling industry will be a different place. There’s something about Sting that cannot be replaced.
I’m selfishly not ready. I’ve held off on writing this article for that very reason, as though it would somehow prevent it. After all, isn’t the one thing that’s certain with Sting is that nothing is certain? Brittle hopes against an inevitable truth.
I’ll never take for granted every instance I was able to see him wrestle again. I thought he never would following that match with Seth Rollins at WWE’s Clash of Champions in 2015, but what we’ve got pushes that out of memory. These past few years have been fortunate ones, filled with memories that will send off the crow into the night’s Plutonian Shore. I’m glad he’s been able to have one last ride and to do it with friends and the Little Stingers who were inspired by him.
Doubtless, the adjustment may be hard in retiring a second time. No more cheers from pulling back his foe’s legs in the Scorpion Deadlock. No more wind rushing to his ears as he lunges for a Stinger Splash. No more resounding thud from a Scorpion Death Drop. No more watching from the rafters. Life is just a dream on the way to death.
Because at some point, all things must end. It can’t rain all the time.