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Sting Speaks as WWE ‘Battleground’ Approaches

An interview with the WCW legend about his joining WWE for the release of its new video game and his possible return to wrestling.

WCW and TNA legend Sting has finally come to WWE. Well, kind of. He’s a preorder special feature in the new WWE2K15 video game, out October 31, and in a trailer for that game, he made his first appearance for WWE on Monday’s Raw. (WWE bought WCW and its tape library back in 2001, but the biggest stars, like Sting, weren’t included in the deal.) I talked to Sting on Tuesday to discuss his legacy, his dream match, and what happens next.

How does it feel to finally be a part of WWE?

It’s an honor. It’s something I always hoped I could do — to somehow or another be a part of the WWE family in some capacity. And here I am.

You’re going to be in the new WWE2K15 game, but fans are salivating at the idea of you actually being on WWE television. Are there any plans for you to be onscreen?

I’ll just say that I’m all in and very willing to participate. Believe me.

For a lot of fans, you’ve been back in the limelight of late because of the WWE Network. I’ve been watching a lot of your old-school stuff, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle because Crow Sting was such a big deal. Who were your favorite opponents from those old days?

Ric Flair’s at the top of the list, of course — him and the Four Horsemen. And Dusty, as well — the color and charisma that he had. Back in those days, being on the road, wrestling every night, learning the trade and Ric taking me under his wing. He’s like a mentor to me. I respect him and love him to this day for everything he did for me. I had great matches with the Great Muta. And Vader — we had great matches all over Europe and here in the States, too.

Flair shared an onscreen moment on Monday with John Cena. I imagine they have a relationship similar to the one he had with you. Who are your favorite guys of the current generation?

I’m a strange breed. When I got into the business I really didn’t know anything about wrestling. I never watched wrestling on TV because we didn’t have it in the area of Southern California where I grew up. So it’s amazing that I even ended up wrestling. I still don’t watch a whole lot. Thirty years and I never really watched anything — I never even watched myself. I’m just now at a place where I’m like, “Let me start to learn some of these newer guys coming up.” I always heard that when John Cena started, a lot of people looked at him as the new Sting. That was flattering. As far as some of the new guys, I love the look of Roman Reigns and I think he has all the ability in the world. Daniel Bryan, I’ve seen him perform. Bray Wyatt, I’ve seen him. Unreal what they do.

You say you never watched, but how aware of WWE were you during the Monday Night Wars? Were you paying attention then?

We had a monitor with our show happening live that we would watch and another one with Monday-night Raw. It was always on in the dressing room and in Gorilla position. Occasionally I’d watch a minute or two of what was going on, but mostly I’d hear all the talk — I would hear more than I saw.

Fans have been dreaming of a match between you and the Undertaker for the past 10-plus years. I’m sure you hear it all the time. Is that something you’ve thought about?

Absolutely. I would love to have that match. I think for wrestling fans it’s a dream match, but really it’s been a dream match of mine for a long time, as well. I know that the streak was taken away by Brock Lesnar at this last WrestleMania, but I hope [Undertaker]’s not done. I don’t believe he is. And if he is going to be around, I’m hoping for an opportunity.

I understand why people talk about you two, but there are lots of other wrestlers during the Monday Night Wars whom you never faced. Is there part of you that wishes you could have gotten in the ring with guys like Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Steve Austin, and the Rock?

Every one of them. You just took the names out of my mouth. Taker is at the top, but absolutely — Austin, the Rock, Michaels. Just imagine. I would love to be able to say I had a great match with Shawn. Of course, everybody had a great match with Shawn. And the Rock, to be able to say you worked with somebody who went so far beyond wrestling. I’ve worked with so many people, but those are some great names that I never had the opportunity to get in the ring with.

A lot of fans believed your promo commercial was the best segment on Raw this past Monday.

One of the interesting things I read about the promo video was that for anybody who thought the generational gap would be not in Sting’s favor, well, we can put that to rest. The way the crowd reacted was amazing — and even the younger kids who don’t know who I am. The painted face, that video — I’m the sort of guy who’s really hard to please, but when I saw that video, with the violins playing, it was great.

A lot of young fans these days love watching Sting on the network and YouTube — kids who didn’t even live through your prime. It seems like you’ve always had that charisma. Where do you think that comes from?

Wrestling fans can see through somebody: Whether they’re really trying to entertain, whether they have a strong work ethic in and out of the ring, whether they can be innovative in the ring and out of the ring and on the microphone. In my era there were a lot of characters, and you had to develop a character, and usually it was just an extension of yourself. I just always tried to involve the fans.

When you think of Sting in your head, do you see Crow Sting or old-school neon-colored Sting?

It’s always the Crow, to be honest. Both are special to me, but the Crow character took the Sting persona to another level.

I heard that when WWE bought WCW back in 2001, you were worried about how WWE would position you and that’s why you never came over. Is that true?

Honestly, back then I probably did make rumblings like that. But the truth is that I had a contract with AOL/Time Warner. WWE didn’t assume those. I had 18 months left on that contract, and AOL had to pay me the money they owed me, and they did. I also did an audit for merchandise and got another lump of money there. After 18 months, I had a conversation with Vince. Long story short, when I spoke with Vince it was great, then when the attorneys got involved it wasn’t so great. It never materialized. I let it go at that point.

Now that you have a relationship with WWE, do you regret not signing with the company sooner?

Yeah, you know what they say about hindsight. I can look back now and wonder why I didn’t do this earlier. But it is what it is, and I’m excited right now. It’s like Vince used to say every time I came close to signing but never did: “Don’t forget to cross your t’s and dot your i’s, and someday we’ll do business together.” And here we are. It’s a video game, but that’s for starters, and we’ll see how it develops from here. I’m glad it turned out the way it did.

How much more in-ring action do you have in you?

One more match. That’s what I’m hoping to do, and I’d like it to be Taker, and then I’ll hang it up.

You’re one of the last men standing of your generation. What do you think has kept you going this whole time?

Man, I don’t know. When I started in wrestling I thought I’d be five years and out. I never imagined that 30 years later I’d still be involved and wanting one more big match.

You started out with Jim Hellwig, whom wrestling fans would later know as the Ultimate Warrior. Any special memories of your days with him?

I have so many. It’s unfortunate that we lost him. I was heartbroken because I was looking forward to reconnecting with him and possibly even doing something with him at WWE.

But yeah, we started our careers together. We did a wrestling camp in Southern California for a couple months and then sent out press kits to get ourselves booked — we sent one to Vince Sr., to Japan, all over the world. We ended up getting a phone call from Jerry Jarrett in Tennessee. I remember getting in my ’83 T-Bird and heading across the country with Warrior. He kept talking about the Waffle House and how he couldn’t wait to get one of those omelets and the pecan waffles. He could eat a lot, man. He was a house — I was 260 when we started, and he was even bigger, like 285. He was a gigantic human being, and a bigger personality. Very intense, but he had a strong drive, and he would challenge me and everyone around him.

When you went your separate ways, were you both OK with that?

At the time, I hoped we could keep it going, but we split off and it wasn’t good at the time. It was bitter. He went one way and I went the other. But it was actually the best thing that could have happened for either one of us. We needed to be apart. A year later, maybe a little more, I’m in the ring with Ric Flair, he’s headlining WWF, and the rest is history.

Other legends like Bruno Sammartino and Warrior have come back to WWE in recent years and signed Legends deals with them. In this day and age, did you feel that you had to come to WWE to cement your legacy?

The word “cement” doesn’t mean anything. I look at my career and think, I’ve done just about everything. The only thing I haven’t done is work in the WWE. I haven’t wrestled Taker. I would like to be a part of that family before I call it quits. And here I am, at least in a video game. That’s good, but it has nothing to do with “If I retire, this is the best way to do it.” It has everything to do with the fact that this is the only thing I haven’t done.

I’ve spent this whole interview trying to stop myself from saying “welcome back,” because even though you’ve never been in WWE, this feels like a return. It was just great to see you on Monday night again.

It’s awesome. It seems like everybody feels the same way. And my hope is that it will continue and it will grow.

Oh, what’s that you say? There’s a pay-per-view this weekend? I suppose there is. Wasn’t there one like three weeks ago? There most certainly was. What’s going to happen at Battleground, you ask? Let’s run down the card.

John Cena (Champ) vs. Randy Orton vs. Kane vs. Roman Reigns (Fatal Four-Way Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Regardless of who wins, one thing is clear: The Roman Empire (trademark, Peter Rosenberg) has begun in earnest. With Daniel Bryan injured, WWE needed a new star babyface to balance out the top of the roster. Reigns has assumed that mantle. While he probably won’t win — it’s too soon, and he seems to have a SummerSlam beef brewing with Triple H — WWE will tease fans with the possibility of Reigns’s ascension relentlessly on Sunday.

My guess is that Cena will retain the championship. It would seem capricious to take the title from him on the eve of SummerSlam, and despite the smart-fan aversion to the guy, a championship match will seem like a bigger deal with him in it — especially if WWE is looking for mainstream press coverage and the title match is against this guy.1

Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose


And judging by their backstage bickering, I’d wager that Kane and Orton will come to blows in Los Angeles, so that would likely eliminate those two anyway. Unless that’s the title match and, wow, I’d rather not contemplate that right now.

This is the unofficial 1B to the main event, since the basis of their feud is that Rollins turned on Ambrose and Reigns when all three were members of the Shield, and now Rollins has the Money in the Bank briefcase,2 which makes him the insurance policy for his patron, Triple H, who would prefer Cena and Reigns not hold the belt. (Canny COO, that guy.) Ambrose, for his part, is determined to sabotage Rollins’s cash-in attempt, whenever it comes. Both guys are coming off inauspicious Raw outings — Ambrose busted his mouth when Rollins curb-stomped him onto a platform backstage, and Rollins sold a knee injury during the main event with such aplomb that the entire Internet thought he’d Shaun Livingstoned himself. Don’t be surprised if both un-juries become part of the story on Sunday — Rollins is Triple H’s plan B for bringing the title back to the family on Sunday, and the bum knee may be their reason for Rollins to postpone using the briefcase. And perhaps most important, it might be a reason for Triple H to need the plan C3 that Paul Heyman unsubtly offered him on Raw.

Bray Wyatt vs. Chris Jericho


In real life, too!


See hyperlink at the end of previous paragraph.

Jericho’s back doing what he does best — being entertainingly defeated by up-and-coming talent. The comer in this case is Bray Wyatt, who seems to be semipermanently occupying Undertaker’s traditional slot on the card — the biggest match as far away from the title as possible. WWE put out a press release that revealed Jericho’s entire schedule (and his three-to-eight-month runs are such a foregone conclusion at this point that I hardly feel like it’s a spoiler), so we know he’ll be gone two days after Night of Champions, but there’s a chance he could win on Sunday to set up a bigger return match at SummerSlam. Or vice versa — lord knows Jericho doesn’t need to win to keep his heat. All I know is that I’ll be looking forward to this match. Jericho’s not in his prime anymore, but both of these guys are high-level workers and it’ll be a joy to see them play off one another.

Jack Swagger vs. Rusev

So far, Rusev’s run in the big leagues has not been particularly distinguished. All he has done is conspicuously attack every African American wrestler on the roster and stand around grimacing while his manager, Lana, extols the virtues of Vladimir Putin. But I still believe Rusev has that special spark to achieve great things in WWE. And he’s already achieved the impossible by making fans cheer for Jack Swagger. Swagger, the tea-partying über-mensch toiling under the tutelage of manager Zeb Colter, is the Facebook posts from your crank relatives come to horrifying life. So far, Swagger and Zeb have beefed with foreign-born good guys and have been totally boo-able except for their great catchphrase. Now, though, they’ve set their sights on Rusev, the Bulgarian-born Russian nationalist who, along with Lana, has inspired such loathing4 that they’ve turned Swagger into Hulk Hogan and Zeb into Uncle Sam. For the first time since his debut, Rusev looks like he could actually lose, and for the first time in a year, Swagger looks like he could actually make people care.

The 20-Man Battleground Battle Royal for the Vacant Intercontinental Championship


And a great sign on Raw this week: “Putin 3:16.” It would have stood out more, but for this mind-blowing one.

With Wade Barrett sidelined due to a shoulder injury, his IC belt will now belong to the winner of Sunday’s battle royal. The good news is that Barrett will be at ringside to present the belt to the new champ, so he must not be that hurt. Here are the competitors, in descending likelihood of winning: Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Bo Dallas, the Miz, Sheamus, Kofi Kingston, Rob Van Dam, Big E, Alberto Del Rio, Fandango, Heath Slater, Titus O’Neil, Ryback, Curtis Axel, Xavier Woods, Sin Cara, R-Truth, Diego, the Great Khali, and Zack Ryder. Your likely candidates end with Sheamus, and if Barrett is actually close to a return, you can probably bump Dallas, the Miz, and maybe Cesaro down the list. Unless WWE decides to use Barrett’s return as a chance to capitalize on his burgeoning popularity and turn him face, you can also drop Dolph, Sheamus, and maybe Cesaro.

The Usos (Champs) vs. Harper and Rowan

This is a rematch from Money in the Bank, and my guess is it’ll end the way I thought that match would end: with the Wyatt Family boys winning. I like the idea of the Wyatts versus the Fabulous Painted Rhodes Brothers at SummerSlam, because Luke Harper getting sprayed with gold confetti is a major-show-worthy moment.

AJ Lee (Champ) vs. Paige; Naomi vs. Cameron

Two Divas matches on one card? What is this, SHIMMER? Anyway, kudos to WWE for having enough nuance in the women’s division to have two separate feuds. The latter bout should be either a springboard for Naomi or a showcase for the Cameron–Alicia Fox duo, but bet on Naomi for simplicity’s sake. The title match, on the other hand, has as much complexity as any women’s match since probably the Attitude Era. The way AJ made her triumphant return and stole the spotlight (and title) from Paige turned AJ face and Paige heel in a matter of seconds. Now Paige has the chance to regain her strap and establish herself as a formidable villain; AJ has a chance to cement herself as the Diva star of the Reality Era. If they can pull that off, this could be the Trish-Lita of our age. Or they could throw them all into a lingerie battle royal for the title at SummerSlam, in which case forget I ever wrote this paragraph.

To sum it up: Nobody knows what’ll happen Sunday, and nobody knows whether it’ll end with fans salivating for SummerSlam or groaning and regretting their fandom. It’s the same with Sting: Maybe his WWE stint will end with a WrestleMania match against the Undertaker, or maybe it’ll end with a video-game commercial. You never know. That’s the joy and that’s the heartache. SummerSlam is looking good, even if that means Battleground will lack surprises. Sometimes we’re happy to watch a great plan A unfold, but we’re all secretly dreaming of a great plan B, or really, a shocking plan C. Even when we can all see a plan coming, it can still be a fun ride.