The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame is perhaps the most unique in professional wrestling because honorees must gain support from people across a wide spectrum of voters inside the business. It’s not a situation where one single man affirms or denies candidates based on how he may feel on a particular day. Nor is it open to fan voting and without any physical presence, it exists only in the pages of the newsletter itself, published by Dave Meltzer.
One of the top stars in America of the past generation was Sting, arguably the most popular figure in all of WCW’s lifespan. As it relates to the WON HOF, he is also one of the most discussed candidates who still has not gained enough votes to be inducted. Last November, he garnered 38% (down from 43% in 2011) and fell short by 56 votes. Debate regarding his candidacy continues to thrive, almost right down the middle with people passionately supporting his case and others who vehemently oppose it.
While he is still active to this day, you can watch him weekly on Spike TV under the Impact Wrestling banner, there remains one particular portion of his career, which rises above the other 20+ years.
Thus, this feature will look back at the most lucrative and famous period in the long, long career of Sting: 1996-1998 WCW.
With a week by week look (thanks to YouTube and Daily Motion, a vast majority of this time is available at the touch of a finger) over five parts, you will be able to see again or for the first time the memorable transformation and incredibly slow build that highlighted Monday Nitro for over a year. Is it as awesome as fans remember or will the nearly 17 years that have passed bring it back down to Earth?
Before I start in 1996, here is a (relatively) quick summary of what brought him to this point.
Sting got his start in the Continental Wrestling Association out of Memphis where he teamed with pre-Ultimate Warrior Jim Hellwig. Together, they were jacked, superhero-like physical monsters – or bodybuilders. Remember, it was the 1980s where the bodies were bigger than ever.
The pair ended up in the Universal Wrestling Federation, Bill Watts’ group out of Louisiana. Hellwig left in 1986 (for WWF, where he was groomed to take Hulk Hogan’s spot) so Sting was back on his own as a singles wrestler. Sometime later, he went heel and joined a stable with “Hotshot” Eddie Gilbert and Missy Hyatt. After turning face in 1987, teamed with “Gentleman” Chris Adams against Gilbert and Terry Taylor.
Gilbert, a big Sting supporter, believed he was poised to be a big star in the business. Around this time in the middle of 1987, NWA head Jim Crockett purchased the UWF from Watts and the booker was Dusty Rhodes, who also saw potential in the 28-year-old.
Fast forward to March 1988 and the famous Clash of the Champions match happened where NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair fought Sting to a 45-minute television draw. That match is widely noted as the single event that ‘MADE’ Sting a star for the majority of the rest of his career to this day. Later in ’88, he was working with Flair and the rest of the Horsemen (Barry Windham Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson) and even tagging with Dusty against the Road Warriors, who turned heel for a period.
Finally, after working his first tour of Japan (AJPW), he won his first NWA title when he beat TV champion Mike Rotundo (he would later become I.R.S. in early ’90s WWF) in March 1989. He worked often against The Great Muta until he dropped the belt in September.
Next, he started teaming with Flair for the first time after “The Nature Boy” was attacked by Terry Funk and Muta (Gary Hart’s stable) — the two teams battled inside the Thunderdome Cage Match at Halloween Havoc 1989.
This was the period when Sting joined the Four Horsemen and at Starrcade ’89, he beat (champion) Flair to become #1 contender.
In February 1990 at Clash of the Champions 10, Sting was kicked out of the Horsemen for his refusal to pass on the title shot. In one of the more infamous situations where a significant injury forced a big change in booking plans, he blew out his knee later in the show and the NWA was forced into a new plan because he would have beaten Flair at some point to become champion.
Luger was pushed in the spot but lost his title match (engaged in a battle behind the scenes with Executive Vice President Jim Herd, it was because Flair refused to lose, saying he promised to drop the gold to Sting). Meanwhile, on television, Luger and Sting became friends, a relationship that was often part of storylines for the next decade.
Finally, in July 1990, Sting beat Flair to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the Great American Bash. He worked with Vader and Sid in main events the rest of the year until the ridiculous Black Scorpion gimmick transpired. A wrestler in a mask, referred to as the Black Scorpion, attacked him and they had their match at Starrcade. Sting beat him and when unmasked, the reveal was none other than Flair.
In 1991, WCW formally left the NWA and this led to a weird period where there were WCW and NWA belts in the picture.
Flair beat Sting for the championship in January (his seventh reign). Afterwards, Sting teamed with Luger for a period (including the great match against the Steiner Brothers at the first Superbrawl) before feuding with Nikita Koloff.
That summer, Sting beat Steve Austin to win the WCW U.S. Championship before dropping it to Rick Rude about three months later. At Starrcade, he won the Battle Bowl.
By 1992, Sting was considered the franchise of WCW, especially since Flair bolted for WWF in the fall of 1991. Therefore, he feuded with Paul E. Dangerously’s Dangerous Alliance and separate from them, WCW Champion Lex Luger (who turned heel).
Sting won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in February by beating Luger (this was his final WCW appearance until he returned for Nitro’s premiere in September 1995, leaving for the World Bodybuilding Federation and WWF). He next formed Sting’s Squadron with Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes, Windham and Koloff to fight the Alliance. Dave Meltzer rated their War Games match at WrestleWar 92 five-stars — the final WCW match to be denoted as such by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Next, he defended the title against Vader who legitimately injured him (broken ribs, ruptured spleen) with a splash. After recovering, they had their rematch in July and Sting lost his belt. This led him into programs with Cactus Jack and Jake Roberts (Coal Miner’s Glove!) before beating Vader (who dropped the belt in August to Ron Simmons, after injuring his knee) at the Starrcade 93 King of Cable Tournament.
Their feud went into the spring with Sting winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in March (Vader regained it previously) in Europe before dropping it back in Ireland days later. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith joined the company after he was fired by WWF for receiving human growth hormone shipments and became Sting’s babyface friend.
Eventually, Ric Flair returned in 1993 and with his career on the line (not for the first time); beat Vader at Starrcade in one of the most memorable WCW matches of the ’90s.
Sting worked with Rude and Vader in 1994, winning the WCW International Heavyweight title before losing it to Flair, who turned heel again, at Clash 27 (this match unified the international strap with the main heavyweight championship).
Hulk Hogan came over in the spring of 1994, so Sting teamed with him against the Faces of Fear and Dungeon of Doom.
In 1995, Sting won the U.S. Title from Meng and in September, the Monday Nitro era began. Around this time, Flair and the Horsemen again tricked him which led to yes, another feud. He won the U.S. strap again in November but dropped it to Kensuke Sasaki in Japan. At Starrcade 1995, they did the U.S. vs. JAPAN gimmick and Sting beat Sasaki to win the World Cup of Wrestling.
In early 1996, he won the WCW Tag Titles with Luger from Harlem Heat, but throughout their reign, Luger would use heel tactics behind his back. This team ended with Booker T and Stevie Ray regaining their gold.
Finally – Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, The Outsiders appeared on WCW television beginning in late-May. As summer arrived, the pair hinted at having a third man join them and people wondered.
At Bash at the Beach, it was Luger, Sting and Randy Savage against Hall, Nash and their mystery partner. Some thought it was Luger, others thought it was Sting, and this is what was played up leading into the event. Of course, we know it was neither of them but Hulk Hogan who finally turned heel after 12-years on top as a babyface (and we’re tired of John Cena’s 8-years so far?). The NEW WORLD ORDER OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING (BROTHER) was born and WCW had a license to print money.
At Fall Brawl in September, Sting and Luger teamed with Flair and Anderson (the four set aside their differences) against Hogan, Hall, Nash and another mystery partner. The nWo teased WCW that it was Sting with the help of a Fake Sting (the fourth member) who attacked Luger in the parking lot leading into the pay-per-view.
Sting tried to tell everyone it was not actually him but naturally, Luger and WCW didn’t trust him. In the War Games match, Sting entered the fray and cleared house of the nWo, though he flipped off Luger and asked “Is that proof enough for you right there?” bolting to the back. The nWo beat Luger, Flair and Anderson.
This leads us to the September 16, 1996 edition of Nitro and what will begin this great series on The Evolution of Sting from 1996-1998. Part two will be posted early next week.