wrestling / Columns

Cook’s 12 Favorite Sting Matches

March 1, 2024 | Posted by Steve Cook
Sting Clash of the Champions I Image Credit: WWE

AEW’s Revolution event on March 3 will feature the final match of the Man Called Sting. I think there’s a pretty good chance that it actually will be Sting’s match, but then again I believed it when Cactus Jack lost his career at No Way Out 2000. My judgment on these things might not be the best. If I’m right and Sting actually doesn’t wrestle again, pro wrestling will lose one of its most popular figures of the last four decades.

Granted, Sting wasn’t always a good guy. He started out as a heel and had a random run or two in the last couple of decades of his career. However, when you think of wrestlers that seemingly had a natural connection with the fans wherever he went, Sting is one of those guys. Whether you were a WCW or WWF fan, or a TNA or AEW fans, you knew and appreciated Sting. Not too many guys can bring fans together like that anymore.

Today, we look at twelve of my favorite Sting matches. You’ll note most of them are in the same time period, which happens to be my favorite Sting period. Give me Surfer Sting any day of the week! Also, I use the term “Favorite” instead of “Best” because I could do a Best list and have seven Ric Flair or seven Vader matches. “Favorite” means I get to shout out other wrestlers. We’re all about diversity here at the Mania. I know this will confuse people and result in comments about it, but I’ll explain it a couple of times throughout.

12. w/Darby Allin & CM Punk vs. MJF, Dax Harwood & Cash Wheeler (December 22, 2021)

Sting’s AEW run has been a shining example of how to present a legend in the best possible light. Not only has Sting not lost a match, he’s almost always put in position to look the best he possibly can considering his age, and his opponents do everything they can to make him look good. You know Dax & Cash watched the Stinger growing up, and getting a chance to wrestle him was a childhood dream come true. MJF probably wouldn’t admit it, but the same held true for him.

Darby’s alliance with Sting is meant to establish him as the future franchise player for AEW. Whether his body holds up enough for that to happen remains to be seen, but he’s certainly had an effect on Sting, who has done crazier things since joining AEW than he has at any point in his career…which is saying something since he used to regularly rappel from the roofs of buildings for his entrances. Add in Punk, who at this point was turning everything to gold, painting his face like early Sting, and this match was the most fun of Sting’s AEW tenure.

11. vs. AJ Styles (October 18, 2009)

Sting spent eleven years with TNA Wrestling, and became the first inductee into that company’s Hall of Fame for obvious reasons. His name was a great help to TNA getting merchandising deals and television contracts around the world. Whenever Sting was active he was in their World title picture, and usually ended up main eventing their Bound For Glory show.

In a lot of ways, Styles was to TNA what Sting was to WCW. Styles was TNA’s first homegrown star, almost always a fan favorite and could be relied on for exciting matches that would generate fan interest. This match was Sting’s way of passing the torch to Styles, and was one of Sting’s first teases of retirement.

10. vs. Stunning Steve (January 1, 1994)

This match aired on the first edition of WCW Saturday Night of 1994, but was taped before Austin won the United States Championship from Dustin Rhodes at Starrcade. Jesse Ventura did a good job on commentary of establishing Austin as Sting’s equal, which hadn’t yet been the case during their time together in WCW, and wouldn’t be the case several months later after WCW creative lost interest in the bland guy that wore black trunks. Before that happened, Austin was out here getting wins over the Stinger via disqualification.

Sting & Steve had a series of matches through the years that helped both guys look good. One has to wonder what Stone Cold vs. Crow Sting would have been like.

9. vs. Ravishing Rick Rude (May 1, 1994)

I started watching WCW a couple of years after I started watching the WWF. When people these days tell us that having familiar names appear on shows helps upstart feds get attention, I know they’re right because a large part of why I started watching WCW was seeing guys like Rude that I had seen on WWF television. I wasn’t “smart” by any means in the early 1990s, but I knew Rude was good at his job in the WWF and he got even more of a chance to shine in WCW. His ongoing feud with Sting during his time with the company provided a ton of highlights and presented both guys in their ideal roles. Rude was the cocky heel, Sting was the humble babyface, they were pretty much equals physically and both had no problem connecting with the crowd.

This match stands out in my mind because it ended up being Rude’s last. He suffered a back injury while taking a dive from Sting that resulted in them landing on the weird raised platform that New Japan used for all their big events. Rude fought through that injury and still put on a good show in one of the damndest things I’ve ever seen. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug. I still wonder if Sting knew Rude was injured when he worked Rude’s back for the rest of the match. Rude might not have really known either. This wouldn’t happen most places in 2024, but it provided for a hell of a moment.

8. vs. Lord Steven Regal (June 16, 1996)

I remember constantly hearing during Regal’s WWE in-ring career that other wrestlers found it difficult to adjust to his style. Maybe I just didn’t notice it since I wasn’t on the Internet as much during the 1990s, but I don’t remember hearing about WCW wrestlers constantly whinging and moaning about Regal’s style. I do remember Regal’s WCW matches generally being better than his WWE ones, as he seemed to mesh better with the variety of opponents he faced there. Sting hasn’t exactly been credited as one of the best in-ring technicians of his era, but he more than hung with Regal in their matches and was willing to work the mat more than he typically did.

The story behind this was Regal’s annoyance with the Blue Bloods not getting the type of opportunities they deserved from WCW management. So he called out WCW’s franchise player, who happened to have nothing else going on since his Tag Team Championship partner was getting a World title shot against the Giant. Regal kind of steals the show here with his heel mannerisms & trash talk, but the fans are more into it than they usually were because Sting was there. I do think Regal could have gotten more of a run after this if the NWO didn’t become a thing at the same time, and he didn’t develop a drug addiction before eventually leaving for the WWF.

7. vs. Diamond Dallas Page (April 26, 1999)

As much of a disaster as most of 1999 WCW was, the year truly had some highlights. One was the Nitro in Cincinnati in March that was randomly a pretty damn good show that I am not overselling because I was a teenager in a luxury box for the show. Another was a night in Fargo that saw the World Championship change hands twice. The first time is the one we’re talking about, where Sting defeated Page to become a six-time world champion. Fargo was a pretty strong market for the company, drawing over 11,000 fans to the Fargo Dome. The fans were hyped, and the roar at the end of the match is something else.

DDP has taken some heat over the years for his tendency to script out his matches. Many older wrestlers will tell you that everybody should always call it in the ring. Page’s work was tight because he was a perfectionist that wanted everything to go right. During this time period, it usually did.

6. vs. Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (December 27, 1995)

1995’s edition of Starrcade gave us the World Cup of Wrestling. WCW’s best faced the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling, inspiring young future wrestling promoters to open forbidden doors once they were able to. After WCW scored the victory in the best of seven series, the World Championship was determined between four of the company’s biggest stars ever. Sting, Flair & Luger faced off in one of the first triangle matches I remember seeing, and the winner would challenge Randy Savage for the championship. Sting had just finished a match with Kensuke Sasaki, but the deck being stacked against the fans’ favorite wrestler was nothing new.

The formatting of this show was something, as the triangle match went over 28 minutes while none of the eight other matches on the main card went half as long. Whoever set it up must figured that Sting, Flair & Luger had wrestled each other so many times in so many different situations that they’d have no problem filling the time. The broadcasters didn’t have much problem filling time either. Bobby Heenan & Dusty Rhodes were from two different worlds, and neither had much of a clue what the other was talking about most of the night. I think it was a rib on Tony Schiavone, who had to direct traffic. Either way, Flair got to do his Sting match at the same time as his Luger match, and it was pretty interesting. Things were a little slower when Flair was on the ring apron, but you’ll have that. Flair ended up winning via countout, and I’m a little surprised they stopped including that as a potential finish in triple threat matches since it got over pretty well with this crowd.

5. w/Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes & Nikita Koloff vs. Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton & Larry Zbyszko (May 17, 1992)

When people watch current versions of War Games presented by WWE and say they want the old War Games back, this match is the kind of thing they’re talking about. The Dangerous Alliance didn’t draw a ton of money, but it did have one of the greatest collections of heel talent that wrestling has ever seen. I mean, look at that roster of folks facing Sting’s team. Austin wasn’t at his peak yet, but Rude, Anderson, Eaton & Zbyszko certainly were at or near it, and all were masters at making the fans boo them. They also had Paul E. Dangerously & Madusa at their side, both pretty hateable characters. The folks opposing them were pretty great at making fans cheer them, so this whole thing worked.

One of my favorite things about this match is how they blamed Larry accidentally jabbing Bobby in the arm with the turnbuckle for making Bobby submit. Most heel factions would be lazy and blame the guy that submitted, but anybody that knows anything about Bobby Eaton knows that it would be impossible to be mad at him. They had to stick the most despicable people on the planet with him for most of his career to make it possible for him to achieve his potential as the best heel tag team wrestler of his era. Larry Z was a much easier scapegoat.

4.vs. Vader (December 28, 1992)

Sting had two perfect opponents. One was there to make him a star. The other was there for Sting to make him a star. I’m sure somebody else could have made Big Van Vader a star, but Sting was the right man at the right time and had the perfect chemistry with Vader. The two never had a bad match from anything I saw. Even when Vader squashed Sting to win the WCW title in a one-sided affair, it was still a good match. Five & a half months after that squash, Sting & Vader met to determine the King of Cable at Starrcade 1992. Vader was pretty dominant here, but Sting was able to take advantage of a mistake and make Vader suffer a rare defeat. Vader would rebound by defeating Ron Simmons for the WCW World Championship two days later. Sting & Vader would later trade the title during a European tour in March 1993.

I could have included several Vader matches on this list, but in the interest of getting more names mentioned in this column I limited myself to my favorite one. Just assume anything with Sting & Vader in it is great and watch it.

3. w/Lex Luger vs. Rick & Scott Steiner (May 19, 1991)

This match stands out from others during the time period for a couple of reasons. Wrestling promoters didn’t want to split the crowd back in the days before “Let’s Go Cena/Cena Sucks” became a thing. That meant you wouldn’t see a lot of matches pitting fan favorites against each other, and tag team matches with two popular teams would be even more rare. I’m not sure the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express ever wrestled the Fantastics, but both teams feuded with the Midnight Express for years at a time. So the idea of the vastly popular Steiners taking on two of WCW’s most beloved singles wrestlers was rather novel.

Another thing that made this work was the size & strength of the people involved. There weren’t too many people that could throw Sting, Luger & the Steiners around, but they could throw each other around. Neither team bothered trying to play heel here for the traditional tag team formula, they just suplexed each other around and did big moves that popped the crowd. Sting was still in his Crazy Young Sting phase at this point, doing crazy dives that people his size probably shouldn’t be doing. Sting & Scott Steiner both had lengthy stints with TNA Wrestling, which feels like mentioning here since this match was Total Nonstop Action. The finish with Nikita Koloff was pretty lame, but I get why they wanted a run-in to cause the finish and start an issue with Sting & Nikita and not devalue anybody in the match.

2. vs. Cactus Jack (June 20, 1992)

Mick Foley himself considered this the best match of his career for multiple decades. He got things out of Sting that other people weren’t able to. I can’t argue that. Sting’s best matches were against people that took him out of his element, and Cactus Jack was definitely one of those guys. Beach Blast 1992 took place during a transition in management and a couple of days after a Clash of the Champions, so that PPV failing shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody.

Cactus being the stupid bastard he was, he’d do multiple moves on concrete. Bill Alfonso was the referee here, and he let the rules slide a lot more than he did in ECW a few years later. I feel like Jesse Ventura was always a bit protective of Jack on commentary, and he did a great job on this match, wondering why Sting would even agree to this match. Sting got a pin on Jack on the ramp, which was kind of insane considering all of the other threats Sting had on his plate at the time…but it was Cactus Jack. Maybe wrestling executives didn’t get Cactus Jack, but most wrestling fans did.

1. vs. Ric Flair (March 27, 1988)

Sting’s earliest days in pro wrestling saw him teaming with the man who would eventually call himself Warrior. The Blade Runners were green as grass during their time together, but were ready for the spotlight by the time 1988 rolled around. Both men would reach another level that year, and their star-making moments couldn’t have been more different.

Warrior ended the 454 day Intercontinental Championship reign of the Honky Tonk Man at the first SummerSlam in under thirty seconds. Several months earlier, Sting had gone 45 minutes with NWA World Champion Ric Flair at the first Clash of the Champions. Both matches accomplished exactly what they were supposed to. In Sting’s case, hanging with one of the best in-ring wrestlers to ever appear on TBS put him on Flair’s level in the eyes of the fans.

Some people complain about the finish here. Yes, it was goofy having Jason Hervey and an in-character Eddie Haskell at the judge’s table not doing anything, and judge decisions ending in draws are always kind of lame. However, not having a clear winner kept the theme of Sting being on Flair’s level going, along with the overarching theme of Flair escaping a title defense by the skin of his teeth. Maybe it was unsatisfying, but it made perfect sense, as did 1988 Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen judging that the Nature Boy won.

Looking back, it becomes more clear to the critical eye that Flair did much of the work here. It’s one of the best performances to put somebody else over that I’ve ever seen. Still, it’s not like Sting didn’t hold up his end, and Flair wasn’t able to make everybody a star the way he did Sting. Sting would have better individual efforts in the years ahead, but this match still stands out as the one that everybody remembers. It’s no wonder why his retirement match will be in the same location this one was, the Greensboro Coliseum.

Thanks for reading! Hit me up at [email protected] or on the social media with thoughts, comments or suggestions. Also, feel free to list some of your favorite Sting matches in the comments below, as there are no shortage of choices. Until next time, true believers!

article topics :

Sting, Steve Cook