In 1997, Sting had one of the most memorable years in wrestling. He reinvented his character and became the hottest babyface in WCW, if not the hottest face in the whole business, while only wrestling one match that entire year. That is WCW, brother. To their credit, WCW was patient with Sting and it paid off big time at Starrcade 1997. There were stumbles along the way, however. Not to worry, though; I’ve got the answers. Here is how I would book Sting’s 1997.
The downfall of WCW carries a lot of weight in the wrestling business. Putting business aside (particularly the AOL/Time Warner merger), it felt like WCW could have lasted longer if it were not for creative blunders. One of the most infamous of said blunders was the match between Sting and Hollywood Hogan at Starrcade 1997. It was the culmination of a year-long storyline that fell apart due to the politics of the wrestling business.
The story saw Sting, the Franchise of WCW, having his loyalties questioned by his peers as to where his allegiances lay – WCW or the NWO. Hurt, Sting turned his back on WCW and his return, as a silent, Crow-like avenging angel, would finally lead to the downfall of the NWO.
On paper, this sounds great. In the 2nd half of 1997 however, the Sting storyline was in autopilot mode. The crowd would chant, “We want Sting!” Randomly Sting would make grand entrances typically repelling from the ceiling to thwart the NWO. Sometimes a fake Sting would show up. The focus of WCW vs NWO was an afterthought by this point so how could it be improved?
For starters, I would not change a thing from Sting walking out on WCW at Fall Brawl 1996 to him declaring his allegiance to WCW 6 months later at Uncensored 1997. There are minor imperfections along the way, but I am attempting for reasonable armchair quarterbacking.
The stage is set for Hogan vs Sting at Starrcade, but WCW needs to fill in 9 months of television and pay per views. This was a challenge for WCW since they had a character like Sting that did not talk or show much emotion. Hollywood Hogan became the main voice in the feud.
The NWO focused on dismantling the Four Horseman which came together perfectly with the arrival of Kurt Hennig and the sudden retirement of Arn Anderson. Who is a common link between the Four Horseman and Sting? Lex Luger.
Eric Bischoff has explained that Luger was never his favorite, but Luger got over with the WCW crowd even with his imperfections as a wrestler. While I think WCW got more mileage from Luger than the WWF did, there was still more they could have done.
Luger Needs a Series of Promos Building Up to Starrcade 1997.
These promos do not need to be complicated. “Sting, I just want to let you know, I haven’t been the best friend, and I’m sorry for ever doubting you.” WCW desperately needs a leader and a mouthpiece against the brash NWO.
“I recognize we need to band together here in WCW. As a veteran in the locker room, I hope to lead by example. Sting, I promise WCW we will be behind you 100% at Starrcade. I take full responsibility if we let you down again.”
Simpler the better for Luger who was never a great promo. His go-to line from this period was, “I’m damn sick and tired of the NWO.” By the end of 1997, WCW wrestlers came off as whiny babies who did not help each other for some reason.
Instead of encouraging his friend Sting that he had his back, Luger instead feuded with Buff Bagwell to decide who the real ‘Total Package’ was. This is bad booking considering how involved Luger was in the angle a year ago.
There was a powerful image that closed out Fall Brawl 1996: Luger crawling on the floor, beaten by the NWO, shouting for the help of his best friend (in shoot and kayfabe) Sting. Luger was oddly disconnected from this storyline as the months went on. Why? The connection was there.
Sting and Luger were tag team champions in 1996 before the NWO showed up, they always had each other’s backs, and they even represented team WCW against the Outsiders at the most important match in WCW history: Bash at the Beach 1996.
Many forget that Luger was injured early on in the Bash at the Beach match against the Outsiders (it was an extremely weak injury bump but I digress). Unlike Sting and Macho Man, Luger had not turned his back on WCW and had tried to carry it on his back (figuratively and literally). The story was there. Luger would do the right thing but continued to disappoint his best friend. WCW was never great at paying attention to detail, however.
Have Sting Acknowledge Luger Winning the Title.
Beating Hogan in a match, clean no less, rarely happens. Luger beating Hogan for the title (even though it was hot-shotted back a week later) was a big deal for WCW. The match headlined the 100th episode of WCW Monday Nitro and proved to be a landmark moment. The WCW locker room came out to celebrate with Luger. The moment was powerful and memorable but cheapens the celebration at Starrcade 1997 because they repeat the same celebration.
Sting is WCW yet he keeps his distance at this point. I would have Sting stand at the entrance ramp, Luger acknowledge that this is a rare occurrence, Sting point the bat and shake his head in approval, and Luger celebrate further, elated at getting acceptance from his best friend.
This way, when Luger loses the title less than a week later, it means more. Luger would be devastated to let down not only WCW but also Sting who finally showed approval.
Better Entrance for Starrcade 1997
It seems odd that WCW would not go all out with a creative entrance for Sting for the biggest show in company history. Instead, he just walked out into the arena like any other wrestler. You could say that he is officially a part of WCW now, but that theory does not fit the booking of Sting. Sting would keep his distance from WCW considering this is the biggest match of his career.
First, I would have the entire NWO come out with Hogan. Why wouldn’t they?
The theme of Starrcade 1997 was solidarity. WCW wrestlers were shown several times in attendance. What better time than there and then to face off with the NWO? Have them hit the ring and dispatch the NWO to the back, leaving Hogan alone in the ring. Enter Sting from the rafters. Game on!
Scrap the Fast Count Finish
Bischoff and Hogan were concerned with the fitness level of Sting going into the match. Bischoff has admitted that Starrcade 1997 was the one time where Hogan flexed his creative control. I would prefer to have a clean finish for the biggest show of the year, but you cannot change Hogan’s ego and his contract.
WCW wanted to capitalize on Bret Hart and the Montreal Screwjob. If you want to spoof the Montreal Screwjob, why not do it right and have Hogan apply the Scorpion Deathlock to Sting. Nick Patrick, who was the former NWO ref, could call for the bell immediately with no signs of Sting tapping.
Bret Hart comes out with Randy Anderson, says his line about getting screwed and Anderson restarts the match. Bret Hart being involved makes more sense now. This plan is also foolproof from Hogan putting Nick Patrick in a tough spot politically.
I would personally use Bret Hart differently coming into WCW, but that is for another article. This way the storyline progresses the same going forward. Hogan claims he won the match and shows the replay of Patrick calling for the bell. Patrick gets suspended but eventually comes back to screw Hogan.
Sting and Luger Embrace to Close The Show
Stinger Splash and Scorpion Deathlock get the win for Sting. WCW, already at ringside, celebrate with him. I would also have Sting not say “Mamacita” to the camera. Sting had not spoken in over a year and his mystique was shattered after that moment.
Sting should be slightly subdued with his victory, looking for his best friend through the plethora of WCW wrestlers swarming the ring.
Luger stands at the entrance ramp in pain. Instead of Luger beating Buff Bagwell earlier in the night, Luger loses to the overwhelming numbers of the NWO and gets helped to back by the referees. Later we would cut to the backstage footage of Luger getting taped up by the medical staff.
Sting notices Luger at the ramp and heads over. Luger apologizes for not being there and offers a handshake. Sting, reluctant at first, goes in for the hug. Luger raises the arm of the new champion. Roll credits.
The Opening Segment on The Following Nitro Should Be About Sting
This is an aspect where the WWF gets it right. If Steve Austin wins the title at WrestleMania, you better believe he’s going to be the focus of the opening segment on Raw. Starrcade 1997 was the crowning achievement for WCW. Not only did they regain the World Title, but they also maintained control of Nitro.
Nitro begins like normal. Tony Schiavone mentions how last night was the biggest night in the history of our great sport. He then throws it to JJ Dillon, who is standing in the ring to start the celebration. Dillon admitted months before that WCW needed Sting. WCW should be doing everything they can to keep him on their side for good.
Dillon is in the ring with a podium that is covered. He thanks WCW for uniting and most importantly Sting for bringing the belt back to WCW. Dillon calls for Sting to come out to unveil the title to Sting. The belt has been restored and the NWO spray paint cleaned away. A fresh start for WCW. The NWO will naturally interrupt the segment, demanding satisfaction, thus setting up the rematch later in the night with Luger in Sting’s corner.
That is how I would book Sting’s 1997. Long-term storytelling in wrestling demands a lot of attention to detail. WCW just ran out of creative gas along the way. It is a shame because the first act of the story was crafted so beautifully.
What would you do differently?