Only in pro wrestling can a 61-year-old retiree make a surprise guest appearance, do nothing besides hold a baseball bat and stare at some people, and absolutely steal the show.
Wednesday night’s much-hyped edition of All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite very much delivered on expectations, as the main-event title match between Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega ended not only with the company’s title changing hands for just the second time in 18 months, but also with a shocking crossover between AEW and rival promotion Impact (formerly known as TNA).
However, the most talked-about moment from this week’s episode came about 55 minutes before its conclusion, and it featured the reappearance of a somewhat reclusive legend who hadn’t wrestled in over five years. After months of rumors that I don’t think anyone really believed, Sting—yes, Sting, the guy who along with Ric Flair is synonymous with wrestling on TNT—got an epic reintroduction complete with snowy effects, Bowser’s castle music, and the thrilled voices of announcers Jim Ross and a particularly nostalgic Tony Schiavone.
In a sense, Sting came out to the ring to save the good guys, since the lights went out in the middle of a beating. But, as one would expect from a man in his 60s whose career was thought to be over, there was no action in the segment. Sting did little besides absorb the cheers and stare down four men from three different generations of wrestling—Arn Anderson and Dustin Rhodes, his contemporaries; Cody Rhodes, who idolized Sting as a boy; and Darby Allin, who came of age well after the Monday Night Wars had concluded and WCW had folded.
Sting is pretty solidly past my time—I was about 18 months old when he switched to the iconic black-and-white costume—but even I thought this was awesome, and his locking eyes with Darby especially makes me eagerly anticipate what AEW has in store for him on his since-announced multi-year deal (which hopefully includes a lot of dramatic moments but little-to-no in-ring action). I can’t even imagine how much of a thrill it would be if you grew up watching Sting descend from the rafters every week.
Only in pro wrestling is there a powerful enough love for the past that this long-dormant performer’s return to the spotlight comes off as extremely cool and not even a little bit sad. There was a brutal thread of tweets last night that put AEW Sting side-by-side with old athletes playing for teams you forgot they played for—like Allen Iverson on the Grizzlies or Manny Ramirez on the Rays—but it’s simply not possible to compare this to anything that could happen in sports. The best point of reference I can reach for is that the crowd in Jacksonville felt like my movie theater when Harrison Ford reappeared as Han Solo a few years back. Sting doesn’t need to be able to still convincingly hit the Stinger Splash or the Scorpion Death Drop to be impressive. He just needs to be Sting. And he did a great job of that last night.