One of the most anticipated moments in pro wrestling history occurred at Survivor Series in St. Louis last night. A business arrangement that many thought would never be sealed lead to an arrival that has been rumored for so long it had become a running joke.
The man called Sting is on the WWE roster, and probably headed toward at least one match on his way to a Hall of Fame induction. Our initial tears have dried and our bodies have stopped shaking...let's try to break down this historic occurrence.
On the one hand:
1) It's wrestling history of a kind we'll probably never see again.
He was the last holdout, or at least the last really meaningful one. Sure, Ole Anderson has never appeared in a WWF/E ring, but all due respect to that mean old Horseman, he's not the Stinger.
This was it. The last nail in the coffin of WCW, and with it any remnant of a time when things that happened outside of Vince McMahon's kingdom mattered to anyone that only followed wrestling via what showed up on their televisions each Monday night.
It's been a long time coming. All the writing was on the wall since his signing the merchandising deal that lead to the video game, action figure and t-shirts we can now buy with Sting's likeness and a WWE logo on them. But until he actually showed up on a pay-per-view (PPV) or Raw, there was always a chance that he would remain the biggest star to never be featured in a McMahon-crafted storyline.
No more. It happened. He's here. We saw it. Sting has joined Goldberg and Eric Bischoff in WWE kayfabe. There will be big moments and debuts in the future. But never again one that can be a first from pro wrestling's most lucrative feud of all time...WCW vs. WWE.
2) At least for one night, WWE Creative showed that they understand his character.
Even as an sphinxlike tweener, Sting's character was driven by a clear sense of right and wrong - and it was gross examples of the latter that spurred him to action.
He was one of the first to stand up to Scott Hall and Kevin Nash when they joined WCW and started running roughshod over the company with which he was synonymous. Having his actions confused with an imposter drove him from that company, but his moral compass wouldn't allow him to stay away. He slowly, mysteriously and profitably returned for his most famous run, and to torment the nWo from the rafters.
That angle got convoluted, as so much of the WCW booking did in its final days. Vince Russo's strange fixation with turning Sting heel marred some already questionable storytelling of his time in TNA.
But, for his debut at Survivor Series, WWE got it right. There were no speeches, or scenes of John Cena recruiting Sting to his team. Sting's best work was as an enigmatic leveler of the scales, and that's exactly what his sudden appearance to ensure a win for Dolph Ziggler and the ouster of Triple H's Authority represented.
3) Steve Borden gains a slightly greater measure of control over his destiny, and rewards his fans with a moment for which they'd been begging.
Like his old running buddy Warrior, until this year so much of Sting's legacy was owned by a man for whom he had never worked. To hear McMahon and Sting talk about it now, there was never any animosity between the two - just circumstances never quite lining up for the parties to do business.
But rumors persisted that there were deeper issues, and you can never quite rule those things out in pro wrestling. Given the way that WWE's ownership of so much of pro wrestling's history can lead to everything from retellings slanted in their favor like The Monday Night War series to near defamation such as The Self-Destruction of The Ultimate Warrior, it's smart of Borden to make sure that his voice is in the room on future decisions about how to present his history.
In the bargain, his fans get to see him do something brand new, under the bright lights of sports entertainment. Sting didn't need to have a program on WWE television to cut a deal with Vince, and his status as one of the all-time greats was secure without it. But it's a nice treat for the people that helped him become a legend (and who made him a lot of money).
On the other hand:
1) There's a difference between a great moment and a great beat in a story.
Sure, we'll never forget the first time Sting strode onto a WWE stage. But that doesn't change the fact that his debut is the latest in a line of context-less interference endings to PPVs, and babyfaces being shoehorned into The Authority storyline.
Having Chris Jericho run in to deliver a Code Breaker to The Game would have made as much sense, and most of hardcore fandom would be up in arms about an unearned ending or a part-time made man monopolizing a story that's supposed to be about the underdog versus the machine. But because of the history and Sting's connection to our youth and/or fondest recollections of watching pro wrestling, we're giving it a pass.
My favorite stories - in wrestling or any other form/genre - are developed, and nurtured, and earned. Daniel Bryan's conquering the forces who conspired to keep him down at WrestleMania 30. Seth Rollins betrayal of his brothers the night after Payback. Sting picking a side at Uncensored.
As cool as it was to see the trenchcoat and facepaint last night, it was out of nowhere, not in any kind of context. To folks telling me to wait for the context to come tonight, or in the future, I ask, "what has WWE done to give me confidence that they'll bother to deliver that context?" I'm still waiting for an explanation of why Bray Wyatt attacked Dean Ambrose and didn't touch Seth Rollins at Hell in a Cell last month, or why the Nexus helped Kane bury Undertaker alive at Bragging Rights 2010.
Sometimes, WWE does these things just for the moment. And...
2) Sting's debut deserved more than just a moment, it deserved a story.
Last year at this time, I was poo-pooing a Sting vs. Undertaker match at 'Mania, and Geno pointed me to his expertly booked build to that match. Even as a guy who's never much enjoyed the Stinger's ring work, his angle sold me on their match as potentially one of the coolest things I might ever see on a wrestling show.
That's what we should have gotten for an historic occurrence like this. Sting showing up was always go to give fans goosebumps, even if it was built up in advance and not a "surprise". No amount of after-the-fact explanation tonight or in the coming weeks is going to make up for not having some kind of motivation or stakes for his actions in advance.
Randy Orton doing something similar to what Sting did at the end of Survivor Series would have made a lot of sense. The Viper was written off of television because Trips and Stephanie McMahon ordered him to be assaulted by the other members of The Authority.
Some fans argued with me last night that having Orton return to RKO Hunter and seal the victory for Dolph Ziggler and Team Cena would overshadowed The Show Off's big scene; that the pop from his hometown crowd would have stolen Dolph's moment.
But if there's any scenario where Randy Orton doing anything (anywhere, even in his hometown) can out-pop Sting finally appearing in WWE, shouldn't that give us pause? Imagine how loud a crowd would have been for a motivated Sting to take out some foes that had wronged him.
3) Moments WWE can do...it's what comes after that gets tricky.
Nexus' debut. The pipebomb and Money in the Bank 2011. Goldberg answering The Rock. Vince unleashing the nWo in WWE. The WCW Invasion.
Vince McMahon and company can make us cheer or boo or shock us into silence extremely well. But a lot of the time, that reaction is either the highlight of an entire story, or becomes lessened by the muddled mess that follows. And when it comes to trying to recreate WCW's magic in WWE, that mess can be really freaking messy.
Is a showdown between a 55 year old Stinger and Triple H really what we always dreamed about when we were begging to see the black and white facepaint in WWE? When was the last time that shoehorning a veteran into a storyline like this resulted in a classic feud or program?
What are the odds that Survivor Series was the best moment of Sting's WWE run?
Final Analysis: Good for a legend finally getting his chance on the biggest stage left in pro wrestling, and more importantly for his millions of fans. But nothing we've been given so far suggests that much thought went into the program that would follow his debut, and WWE's track record isn't great on executing after the debut moment.
I'm 20% Excited and 80% Afraid.
Let me have it, children of the 90s.