This weekend a true wrestling legend returns to the ring for the first time since 2015. Sting, the former WCW World Champion who was one of the biggest stars of the “Monday Night Wars” in the 1990s, will be teaming up with Darby Allin at All Elite Wrestling’s latest pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, on Sunday, May 30. The two will be facing off against Ethan Page and Scorpio Sky, who have been antagonizing Allin for weeks. It marks a surprising in-ring return for Sting, who wrestled a pretaped cinematic match in March, but hasn’t performed in front of an audience in almost six years. It’s just the latest surprise in a career that’s been full of them.
Late last year All Elite Wrestling made a surprising decision: instead of waiting for a pay-per-view, the company ran its biggest possible match—Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega for Moxley’s AEW Championship—on its weekly TV show. That match main evented a special episode of AEW Dynamite that was branded as “Winter is Coming”—a bit of synergy with AEW’s Warner-owned cousin HBO. Although that was a huge match with a major ending that has set the groundwork for most of 2021’s main event storylines, perhaps the most surprising and talked about part of “Winter is Coming” happened earlier in the night, when the legendary wrestler known as Sting made his unexpected AEW debut. Sting wasn’t the first wrestler to jump to AEW after a notable stint in WWE, but he was the biggest name to do so, and that still remains the case, six months later.
If you grew up watching the NWA or WCW on Ted Turner’s cable channels in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, you know that Sting has been one of the biggest stars in wrestling since his historic time limit draw against Ric Flair at the first Clash of the Champions in 1988. He hit another level of popularity in 1996, when he became the main WCW holdout against Hulk Hogan’s NWO at the peak of WCW Nitro’s ratings dominance over the then-WWF. It was during that time that the formerly bleached blond Sting lost his sunny California disposition and turned into a grim-faced Goth shadow in the vein of The Crow. He’d cloister himself up in the catwalk every week on Nitro, wary of the NWO but distrustful of the WCW fans and wrestlers who had seemingly lost faith in him. This new look of the mysterious loner would become Sting’s defining role, largely persisting throughout the rest of his time in WCW and his 11 years in TNA.
Sting finally arrived in WWE for the first time in 2014, after two decades of being the biggest American star to never work for Vince McMahon. During his brief in-ring career with WWE, he made a surprise debut at a Survivor Series, wrestled in a marquee match at a WrestleMania, and headlined 2015’s Night of Champions pay-per-view in a match with then-champion Seth Rollins. An injury that night seemingly ended his career; the following year he entered WWE’s Hall of Fame and officially announced his retirement. He made a final WWE appearance on Raw in 2019, and then his relationship with the company quietly came to an end later in 2020.
There was speculation that Sting could wind up in AEW, which formed in 2019, when his merchandise was removed from WWE’s website in 2020. It still seemed unlikely, though; although AEW had signed up some top stars of the ‘80s and ‘90s to serve as agents, trainers, and on-screen managers, Sting didn’t fit any of those roles. He was too big of a star to work backstage or as somebody’s second. And if he wasn’t going to wrestle, what would be the point of bringing in him, many wondered.
Sting’s role in AEW became clear very quickly into his first appearance on AEW Dynamite. A relationship with Darby Allin—a young daredevil wrestler who, like Sting, wears face paint and had established a character as a sullen loner—began that night, with Sting ultimately serving as the younger star’s on-screen mentor. Sting has been a great complement to Allin’s overall package, imbuing Allin’s electrifying wrestling and creative filmmaking with Sting’s superstar aura. Allin has bumped his way into the upper echelon of AEW’s lineup, with Sting watching his back along the way.
Sting’s not just there to play Allin’s cool older friend, though. He’s gotten physical when needed, shockingly taking a powerbomb from Brian Cage back in February, and then wrestling that cinematic tag match with Allin against Cage and Ricky Starks in March. He hasn’t wrestled a match in the ring since that fateful night in 2015, though. That changes this weekend, at what will be AEW’s first show with a full crowd since before the pandemic flared up.
Paste recently talked to Sting about his return to the ring, his relationship with Darby Allin, and how AEW’s backstage atmosphere compares to other companies he’s worked at over the years. We also touch on a certain big-name WWE match that Sting and fans clamored for for years but that never wound up happening: a rematch with an old WCW rival who used to be known as “Mean” Mark Callous.
Paste: This Sunday is your first live, in-ring match in almost six years. How does it feel to be returning to the ring?
Sting: It’s exciting. Especially exciting because we’ll have a full crowd. [Laughs] No-one is going to deny the fact that it is different wrestling in front of a Covid audience, with the distancing and nobody there. It’s different. I know those NBA players and everyone had to have felt it the same way. To have all the people is going to be fantastic. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t forgotten all those matches in the past in front of big crowds and how exciting that all is, and I know it’s going to be just the same. It’s going to be incredible on Sunday.
Paste: How are you preparing for the match? Doing anything special after such a long layoff?
Sting: I’m trying to work a lot on mobility, that’s for sure. I don’t recover as quick as I used to, either, so I have to really watch how I train, so I don’t overtrain because, I’m telling you, you just don’t recover the same. I’m still feeling the effects of the powerbomb that I took from Brian Cage [in February 2021]. There are a few kinks I still have from that one. Otherwise I’m preparing the same. It’s the same kind of stuff, I just have to think about when I do it and what intensity levels and all that. I’m trying to get the heartrate up as much as I possibly can, so the stamina’s there to go with these young guys. Yeah, I’m getting ready—I am ready.
Paste: A few months ago you and Darby Allin teamed up in one of the many cinematic matches we’ve seen over the last year. As a performer, how do you feel about cinematic matches compared to traditional matches?
Sting: I’ve always loved filming movies, TV, commercials—I love the Hollywood aspect of things. It was overall a good experience, but it was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. I’ve got to tell you. It was tough filming that. Physically, just so demanding—it’s almost easier to go out and have a 20-minute match than it is to film what we did. Still, it was a great experience, lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to just going back to the basics, nothing cinematic. We’re just going to have a straight-up match in front of a crowd and I can’t wait.
Paste: Where did y’all shoot that cinematic match?
Sting: It was filmed in Rome, Georgia.
Paste: Oh, seriously? I live in Atlanta, so not too far from Rome. How did you wind up in Rome for that?
Sting: There’s a great site there, a great filming location. It’s indoor, outdoor, I think it’s like 10 acres. I don’t know, there must have been three or four different buildings, just gigantic buildings, like old warehouses, some kind of stack of some kind. Big structures, just really interesting looking. Apparently a ton of Hollywood stuff is filmed out there.
Paste: That makes sense. They do a ton of movie stuff around Georgia right now. And the setting for your match had that cool, blasted out, dilapidated old ruins look that really helped out.
Sting: It was perfect.
Paste: Speaking of Darby Allin, you’ve been partnering with and kind of mentoring him for a while now. How did that relationship come together? Was it something you thought of or was it pitched to you?
Sting: Just to be straight-up, it was something that was put in front of me. It was Tony Khan. I’m grateful for that. To be honest with you, I don’t know who’s mentoring who. [Laughs] Of course I do have some things I can bring after 35 years of being in the wrestling industry. But one thing that I found after being out of it for five, six years, as far as actually physically being in the ring and wrestling, is that it evolves, it changes. And man, it changed a ton. And Darby, he’s kind of getting me up to speed, to be honest with you. He really is. He’s a go-getter kind of a guy, for sure—very talented in the ring, and extremely talented outside the ring. He’s got a mind for the entertainment industry in general, from his own reality shows that he’s getting ready to do, and the innovation that he brings in the ring, the creativity that he has, not just for himself but for others. You know, I was him all those years ago. I feel like I came into my own during those “Crow” Sting years, you just, after all the years, you kind of… it’s not that you’ve arrived or figured everything out, but you really have your finger on the pulse of the wrestling industry and the fans, and what they think, and how to manipulate, and how to just be victorious in your storytelling, let’s say. And Darby, he’s that guy. He’s that guy right now.
Paste: And he does all of his films himself, right? He shoots them?
Sting: Oh, yeah. He’s pretty much semi-producing, and he’s directing. A lot of these things he’s doing. And the things I’m doing with him.
Paste: His short films are fantastic. They’re so unique for wrestling and you’ve been a great presence in them since you’ve started working with him. What’s your off-stage relationship like?
Sting: It’s good. We get along great. He’s been out here to the house on a few different occasions in Texas, and I sure want to see his place. He’s in North Carolina. We have a good friendship, a good relationship. We have so many things in common, you know, from my past, the way I kind of developed over the years as a young man wrestler, I always wanted to be different. I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. I wanted to be different even with my character, my look, my moves, the way I wrestled. I didn’t want to do the old school, I wanted to change things up. And that is Darby, the same way. He has that California look with the skateboard, and mine was the California look with the surfboard and the blond hair, the paint on the face, the mystery behind the character and all that. It’s just kind of amazing the way there’s so many likenesses between us.
Paste: Cool. Speaking of AEW more broadly, what’s the atmosphere in the company like, compared to other places you’ve worked?
Sting: It is a place where you’ve got a bunch of male and female soldiers all sort of marching in the same direction, and pretty much everybody’s marching to the same beat. There isn’t really any factions or cliques or groups of people. Everybody is looking out for everybody and everybody wants AEW to succeed. Everybody wants… they’re really involved with other matches. They’re watching, and somebody will finish a great match, and they’ll walk back out and you’ll hear the entire locker room area clapping and applauding. I think there’s a great unity, really, to be honest with you, with most everybody there in AEW. Something that I’ve never experienced. The closest I ever got was WCW, years ago, when Eric Bischoff took over and he was up there in the nosebleed sections, listening to fans and how they were reacting to the storylines and to each individual wrestler. You’ve had some of the biggest names in the business, Hall and Nash and Hogan, all of us, Luger… we were all sort of like walking together. Everybody was looking out for everybody else, and the creative juices were flowing, not just for yourself, with no hidden agendas. We had about 12 months of that, I’d say, and then it all ended. But here, I’d heard that’s the way the atmosphere was in AEW, and I walked into it and have experienced it firsthand now for six months, and that’s exactly the way it is. It starts at the top, and filters its way down. Tony [Khan] is a very personable guy, a very approachable guy. I’ve noticed he’s like that with just about everybody, it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s a good atmosphere.
Paste: Yeah. Cool. That sounds like the opposite of every story ever told about every other wrestling company, with all the politics backstage and everything. So it sounds like a great environment that they’ve fostered there.
Sting: It really is. It really is. It’s not a perfect place, but there isn’t a place that’s perfect, you know?
Paste: So obviously you’re a legend. I grew up in the South, with the NWA and WCW as my main wrestling, and you were a major part of that. As you said, you’ve been in the business for 35 years now. Is there anything in wrestling that you haven’t accomplished that you still hope to?
Sting: There really isn’t anything, no, that I feel like I have to accomplish. No. At one point I thought it was a cinematic match, at least, against Undertaker, you know when I was with WWE. But that was not going to happen. And I thought, you know, I didn’t want to just disappear, either. Yeah, I retired. I did a retirement speech and got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, blah blah blah. I don’t want to just disappear. I always wanted to have that last match, and that never happened. And then Tony Khan called me, and I figured I’d just call Tony back, and see what’s going on. The rest is history. I’m glad I did what I did. It’s been a great experience. If I had to go out now, I could at least say I did a cinematic match with some very talented people, and got rave reviews. What a way to go out. I don’t care about who I wrestle, I just want people to walk away saying, “oh, that was so good, that was incredible. What a great match.” And as far as me personally, it’s like, “how does he do it, at his age? How does he do it?” I want them to say, “he’s still bringing it.” I love to entertain the people.
Paste: You just mentioned the Taker match, something for years everybody talked about, everybody was anticipating. You mentioned it several times—I remember there was that WWE videogame event in 2014, I think it was your first media appearance for them, where immediately everybody was talking about wanting that match between Sting and Taker. Did they ever give any explanation to you why they didn’t want to do that, or why it never happened?
Sting: No. No. To this day, I honestly don’t know. I don’t even know, it could be Taker. Maybe Taker just never really wanted to work with me. Maybe they brought it up and he kind of snubbed his nose and said he didn’t really want to do that. For whatever reason, even though Taker and I have always gotten along great. I don’t think he has issues with me, I certainly don’t have any issues with him. I just have a great amount of respect for him. But I have no idea why that match never happened. I think it was not right that it didn’t happen. It’s something that I believe should have happened. I said it for 20 years, I made it clear, you know, “I’d love to have that match, I’d love to have one with that guy.” With the two characters, I had so many ideas of how we could’ve done that, and made it definitely a night that nobody would ever forget. But you know what, I’m here, I’m with AEW, I love what’s going on here, and I love what’s getting ready to happen. And I’m glad I made that move and came here.
AEW Double or Nothing airs live on pay-per-view on Sunday, May 30, at 8 p.m. ET. Serena Deeb defends the NWA Women’s title against Riho in the preshow, starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.