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Jan 19, 2011 - 10:04:39 PM

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Five years ago, TNA signed Sting to a contract. It was a big-name acquisition for the company and they treated it as such, with a media press conference among the hoopla. Below is my analysis of Sting's press conference which I wrote originally for the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter five years ago this week.

As you'll read, I saw a lot of warning signs that the issues that plagued Sting's career and really hampered his ability to be a strong consistent draw for WCW like his counterparts in the WWF had been during the 1990s were evident here, such as his half-hearted investment in preparing for the press conference, his mere fleeting familiarity and passion for the product, and his general lack of showing leadership skills. It's just not who Steve Borden ever was, even though he was slotted and paid to be that.

Sting was one of those wrestlers whom fans saw in the top spot in WCW for so many years, that as a young or casual fan, you'd assume he earned that spot through delivering money matches and money promos and was highly respected among his peers. In reality, he never reached that stature in WCW. He got by on his natural charisma and athletic ability, but never really applied himself at the same level that his more successful and respected contemporaries such as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Triple H, The Rock, Steve Austin, and Mick Foley (among others) did. His WCW career was similar to, say Curt Hennig's WWF career where he never reached his level of potential and seemed complacent and self-satisfied. Both had different pedigree and very different reasons for underachieving, but the frustration level was similar for those who recognized their respective potential.

It's not that Sting didn't on occasion deliver, that he wasn't reliable, that he wasn't a valuable player during Nitro's peak years, or that he wasn't generally liked better than average among his peers. It's just that he was always good enough naturally that he could get by on mediocre effort. He also never had that passion for being a student of pro wrestling and really wanting to be the best. It didn't help that he was part of WCW and not the WWF during his peak years, meaning he saw a lot more incompetence and political decision-making rather than the smooth ship Vince McMahon ran, relatively speaking. He was never challenged to be better than he was because he didn't have much competition, and he always had a guaranteed contract where he got paid the same whether WCW drew or not, with no incentives other than to make sure he wasn't crowded out by other rising main eveners come contract newel time.


Sting Speaks: The Sting conference call didn’t make me any more confident that he’d be a savior of TNA. Nor did his PPV performance. A few things stood out to me.

For one, he hadn’t much of a clue about the TNA product. He talked for roughly 75 minutes, was lobbed one softball question after another, and barely came away hitting singles. When asked about WCW reunion PPV event, he hated the idea. He couldn’t understand why someone would want to relive the past. Imagine a top ECW star reacting that way to the prospect of the ECW reunion PPV? Sting is not proud of WCW, and it is easy to be sympathetic to a point. For him, a WCW reunion PPV would mean sharing a locker room with all of the drug addicts, losers, and hangers on for another night. That promotion, though, is his career. He was only there. To not think that a nice reunion show could be put together to honor the memory of the promotion (which would be a perfect setting for the talked–about Rick Steamboat-Ric Flair match) is pretty sad considering how many years he spent there.

I couldn’t see Sting, but from listening, I bet he checked his watch 20 times during the last hour of the conference call. He didn’t once come across as someone feeling sincerely excited about getting back into wrestling. He seemed like someone showing up for a payday, who felt that he ought to care more than he does and feel more passion than he does, and working a lot harder than he should have to to answer the questions the right way.

Then came the questions about TNA specifically, and on those occasions, he talked in generalities. He said it’d be great to be part of another no. 2 promotion that gave WWE a run for its money, but at no point did he seem to have insight into how close TNA is to competing, what it would really take, or even whether WWE is particularly vulnerable at this point. When asked about his partner at the PPV, Christian, he seemed to know nothing about him. “I believe he is a very talented guy,” he said. After receiving a six–figure one–year contract rumored to be in the $500,000 range, it would have been nice if Sting got an envelope full of tapes of DVDs of Impact and took a couple hours out each day for a week and caught up on the product. Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the promotion and its wrestlers. With Sting’s experience, he should be able to walk into that locker room and provide invaluable insight into what each of the wrestlers in that promotion could do to up their game, in terms of image and presentation, interviews, ring work, or whatever. But this is Sting, not any veteran.

He only wrestled in WCW, he only shined against three opponents, all of whom were in the midst of their primes when he was able to fave them in feuds—Ric Flair, Vader, and Cactus Jack. He has some solid matches with Rick Rude, also, in the midst of Rude’s prime. Sting has never elevated anyone else. He has always been carried. And he hasn’t seemed genuinely engaged in what he’s been doing for years. But he has just enough natural charisma and had the right gimmick and opponents at the right time, plus a lack of stiff competition for the top babyface spot, to seem to be a bonafide top star.

In reality, Sting welcomed the burden being lifted of being the top babyface. When asked about whether he was upset when WCW invested in Hulk Hogan, Sting said he was relieved. “People would constantly ask the question, 'Does it bother you that Hulk came in here and pushed you aside?' I said, 'No.' It lifted some of the burden from me and it lifted the whole company.” Now, it’s not a bad answer in some respects, but it does offer insight into his competitiveness. It was a relief to have the burden lifted off of him? That’s like a starting point guard on a struggling NBA team saying he is “relieved of the burden of starting” when replaced by a big name free agent acquisition. Not exactly awe inspiring.

Most telling, though, was his lack of mentioning Jeff Jarrett. Ostensibly, Sting has been signed to a big money contract because there is money to be made with him against TNA’s top stars. Jarrett is pushed as the top heel star, and thus is the most natural opponent for Sting. But despite repeatedly being asked about whom he was looking forward to wrestling, not once did Jarrett’s name come up. In fact, from listening to Sting talk, you wouldn’t even know Jarrett was part of the promotion. Imagine if WWE had signed Sting, and Triple H was the top heel, and in 75 minutes, Sting didn’t once mention Hunter, but he did get around to talking about Shelton Benjamin, Kane, Chris Masters, and Carlito. It would say something. Sting did talk about Samoa Joe, Abyss, A.J. Styles, and even The Rock, but not Jarrett. If there is money in Sting vs. Jarrett, wouldn’t it come up naturally in the course of 75 minutes of talk about dream matches and potential opponents?

The fact is, even Sting knows that facing Jarrett in a PPV main event is hardly a match that record buyrates are made of. That’s why it didn’t come up. And because Sting is only half involved in any wrestling conversation he’s taking part in, it didn’t strike him as perhaps a good idea to wedge in a mention or two of Jarrett considering he’s not only the lead heel, his opponent less than a week later, but, oh yeah, essentially his boss.

Also telling about the conference call was that Sting mentioned how intimiated he felt watching X Division wrestlers on the occasion he has seen TNA. He referred to the X Division wrestlers in generalities. At no point did he specifically mention the crisp execution of Styles or Roderick Strong, the fascinating matwork of Alex Shelley and Austin Aries, or the areial athleticism of Sonjay Dutt or Petey Williams. Why? Because Sting hasn’t seen much TNA, and because TNA doesn’t do much of anything to differentiate the X Division wrestlers. Samoa Joe stands out, of course, but the rest are pushed as if they’re just “highspot guys who can’t talk and can’t draw.” Sting played right into that.

If I'm Bob Carter or Dixie Carter, I wouldn’t want to hear the highest paid star in the promotion talk about how he was intimidated about returning because he can’t match what other wrestlers in the promotion do. Shouldn’t the highest paid star be better at something than the current crop of wrestlers already signed for much less money? Some would say no, because star power is what matters. TNA, though, has Spike TV. They can create stars. It’s what WWE does all the time (to varying degrees of success).

John Cena, Batista, Carlito, Mikie James, Shelton Benjamin, and Chris Masters were not household names a few years ago. TNA has a chance to use its TV exposure to create stars based on giving TV time to its most talented stars and giving them a chance to establish a name for themselves. But instead, TNA is spending money on shortcuts—basically buying another chef’s meal rather than learning to cook themselves with great ingredients they’ve got in the kitchen.

Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, would be a great acquisition. He’s just entering his athletic prime, he’s a bigger star than Sting in the eyes of today’s fans, he can have great matches with anyone on the roster (including Sting), he can cut much better promos than almost anyone on the roster, he can still be a top star in three years, and he has more recent PPV main event experience.

The Carters have lost $20-plus million dollars in TNA so far. If they spend another $4 million on a four–year deal for Lesnar (he’d sign in a second due to the lighter schedule), that $20 million could finally pay off. If they get stingy now when a true difference–maker may be legally available soon, the $20 million will be tougher to recover.

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