The unthinkable happened at Survivor Series 2014. NWA and WCW legend Sting stepped into a WWE ring for the first time and delivered a Scorpion Death Drop to Triple H.
Sting’s glory days happened 20 years ago, so a lot of younger fans (or fans who grew up watching WWF and never had a chance to be “Little Stingers”) have been asking for an explanation. Why should I care about Sting? He’s an old guy dressed like The Crow. His hair was weird. What’d he ever do that was so great?
As a child of the south in the 1980s and 90s, I can answer that for you, but it requires a little work. Thanks to the WWE Network’s November special and archive of NWA and WCW events, many of Sting’s greatest moments — especially his early, pre-Crow moments — are available to watch for free. I’ve put together a list of the Stinger’s most iconic, definitive and essential matches to make it easy for you. If you can watch these and still not “get” Sting, you probably won’t.
Here’s what I came up with. If you’d like to see a list of the best stuff from the later stages of his career, including late 90s WCW, TNA and beyond, let me know in our comments section below. This man was my wrestling heart for many, many years, and I hope I can share some of what he meant to a Little Stinger.
Clash Of The Champions
Sting vs. Ric Flair
The first Clash of the Champions live special was meant to be pay-per-view quality, and it blew pay-per-view out of the water. The 45-minute main-event is inarguably the moment when Sting “arrived” as a main-event player in the NWA, and the 45-minute main-event is everything good (and kinda cheesy) about the era. J.J. Dillon is suspended above the ring in a cage so he can’t cheat. Judges are scoring the match at ringside, and they’re shady at best. Ric Flair is at the peak of his glory — his work in 1988 and 89 is unmatched by anyone with a brain and a pair of eyeballs — and if you’ve ever wanted to see an arena lose their minds on a dozen nearfalls, this is the match to watch. A young Jim Ross calls the match, and it’s so exciting that it turns him into OLD Jim Ross.
If you don’t “get Sting,” imagine being 8-years old and watching him hit a Stinger Splash on the unbeatable World Champion with 45 seconds to go. Decades later, it still gives me goosebumps.
Great American Bash 1990
Sting vs. Ric Flair
The rematch in Baltimore is Sting fully realized. He’s no longer a scrappy youngster with an opportunity … he’s a hero, painted up like the U.S. flag, his friends surrounding the ring to keep the Four Horsemen at bay. There’s nothing Flair can do to stop him, and he knows it. Rarely has the “irresistible force” been more real and obvious, and the second Flair gets overconfident, it bites him in the ass. J.R. is once again incredible calling the finish. “The Stinger has done it! The Stinger has done it!”
It’s the payoff Starrcade 97 probably should’ve been.
The Stupid Nice Guy
Sting and Lex Luger vs. The Steiner Brothers
On a personal note, this is one of my favorite matches of all time. NWA/WCW was big on tag team matches and the “tag team formula” in particular, but this one tossed it out the window. Instead of faces in peril and one team controlling the match to build to the finish, Sting, Luger and the Steiners go toe-to-toe and hammer each other for 11 minutes. It’s short, sweet, unforgettable and brutal. It also features an iconic Sting attribute: his destructive selflessness.
Sting has the match won. He’s hit Scotty Steiner with a Stinger Splash and is about to lock him in the Scorpion Death Lock. But here comes Nikita Koloff, barreling down the ramp with a chain wrapped around his fist. Sting sees Luger in the line of fire, gives up his chance to win and shoves Luger out of the way, taking the bullet. Luger probably betrayed Sting more than anyone, but if the Stinger’s got a chance to see his best friend get smashed with a Russian sickle or eat it himself, the Stinger’s eating it.
War Games: Sting’s Squadron vs. The Dangerous Alliance
Many have called this the greatest match in WCW pay-per-view history. It’s hard to find one cooler. Sting has assembled the most talented people he can find — Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, Nikita Koloff and a young Dustin Rhodes — to take on the most badass group of heartless motherf*ckers ever assembled: the Dangerous Alliance. Paul E. Dangerously (aka Paul Heyman) leads Steve Austin (yes, that Steve austin), Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and Larry Zbyszko into WCW’s best and bloodiest gimmick match, the WAR GAMES. It’s a staggered-entry team battle inside two rings inside two cages where the only ways to win are to submit your opponent or make them surrender.
These guys leave their blood (and probably some of their guts) in the ring, and the finish revolves around an unconfident man’s hubris and the dangerous of disassembling the turnbuckle. It’s violent, messy and perfect.
Beach Blast 1992
Falls Count Anywhere: Sting vs. Cactus Jack
Sting gets hardcore.
Hey, do you like watching Mick Foley kill himself during wrestling matches? Do you like when Jim Ross calls Foley killing himself? Imagine all of that four years before WWF made it iconic, with a younger, healthier, more willing to put himself through stupid levels of pain Cactus Jack. A lot of the matches on this list rely on the classic NWA drama of a back-and-forth match, but this one’s just mayhem and violence. In Foley’s book Have a Nice Day, he called it one of Sting’s best matches. He’s not wrong.
Interesting note: it’s not even the best match on the show. If you’re going to watch Beach Blast 92, watch the entire thing.
King Of Cable Tournament Final: Sting vs. Big Van Vader
If you only know Vader from his time in the WWF, good lord. The NWA and WCW in the early days were built around a certain level of realism. There were ridiculous people and things happening (including a “Chamber of Horrors” match where the finish was putting a guy in the electric chair), but the physical action usually felt grounded and tangible. Guys like the Steiners and Steve Williams flourished in this environment. The greatest of these was Vader, a man who showed up in a steam-spewing mastodon helmet and forearmed people in the ears so hard you thought he would pop their skulls.
Some of Sting’s greatest matches were against Vader, for two reasons:
1. Sting was not afraid to take a beating, and
2. Sting was freakishly strong.
People remember the idea of Sting, but they rarely remember what a physical athlete he was. That was part of his charm. He was the best parts of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior without their absurd invulnerabilities. He would get MAULED in matches. He’d lose. A Sting match was rarely a guaranteed win. He had a signature “no-sell” spot (usually reserved for Ric Flair’s chops), but it never meant “okay, now it’s time for Sting to win.” Also, the man was IMPOSSIBLY strong. Watch him throw the 400-pound Vader around, carry him on his back or superplex him if you need proof. You never quite knew if Sting had a limit.
Also, check out their encounter at Great American Bash 1992. Sting had a really great 1992.
The White Castle Of Fear
Strap Match: Sting vs. Big Van Vader
“I’m gonna hurt you, brother. I’m gonna hurt you bad!”
Sting and Vader were perfect opponents. The best example of that, for me, is their strap match at SuperBrawl III. There’s a weird backstory about Sting having to go to Vader’s “white castle of fear” via helicopter, but pretend that doesn’t exist. Just focus on the fact that WCW’s most popular performer was letting the world’s stiffest and most dangerous wrestler beat him to death with a leather strap for 20 minutes.
Good advice: If you see “Sting vs. Vader” listed anywhere for any reason, watch it.
The End Begins
Clash Of The Champions XXVII
Title Unification Match: Sting vs. Ric Flair
Ric Flair and Sting wrestled a lot, but this is thematically the end of their championship “trilogy.” It began at Clash I, continued at the Great American Bash ’90 and ended at Clash 27 in 1994. It was the biggest story WCW could create. Sting vs. Ric Flair to unify the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship. One would leave the arena the Undisputed Champion of the World.
Unfortunately, this is also the night Hulk Hogan arrived.
The match itself is top shelf. Sherri Martel helps Flair cheat throughout, and ultimately costs Sting the match. Before you can even breathe and grab a shot of someone holding two belts, Hulk Hogan shows up, immediately dispatches Flair and threatens to punch Sherri in the face. Flair is sent packing. Meanwhile, Sting — WCW’s stalwart workhorse company man who’d just fought for 17 minutes to unify its top championships — just kinda lies around in the background. The show goes to commercial with Hogan’s music playing. When they come back, Hogan’s cutting a promo about how he wants Ric Flair.
The end begins.