The last few months I have been going back and watching old matches from ten to fifteen years ago to see how my interpretation of older matches has changed. Much of the wrestling I have been looking at lately seems to always bring one match up in particular. That match would be Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. Sting. I have wanted to write about this match for some time now, but circumstances or other priorities have led me to write about other topics. With Summerslam and HardCORE Justice quickly approaching I found it hard to squeeze this topic in, but I think the Hogan-Sting match is still relevant today in how wrestling storylines and matches should be structured.
When the NWO was born in July of 1996, the big match from the get-go that fans wanted to see was Hulk Hogan vs. Sting. Hogan had just turned his back on WCW and his loyal fans while Sting, always the WCW franchise player, would not lead the charge against the threat WCW now faced. WCW became known for their willingness to blow big matches on free TV just to beat Monday Night Raw in the ratings. Within the first couple of months that WCW Monday Nitro was on the air in 1995, they put Hulk Hogan vs. Sting on TV to draw viewers and outdo Raw. The match had a DQ finish that left the door open for a rematch down the line. When Starrcade 1997 rolled around, Sting and Hulk Hogan had been building up their inevitable showdown for a very long time.
When the NWO first showed up, Sting was a charismatic surfer-looking jock with colorful outfits and face paint. He was the classic baby face. Creating a whole new dimension to the WCW-NWO feud, as well reinventing Sting’s character, NWO tricked WCW into believing that he had turned his back on them. When even Sting’s best friend Lex Luger fell for it, Sting broke down. He declared himself a free agent and retreated to the arena rafters, turning to a sad, silent enigma. Never again would he be the same. From September of 1996 to December of 1997, Sting did not wrestle. He stalked both WCW and NWO wrestlers before he finally fell back to WCW’s side and silently claimed he would only return to the ring if he got a title match with Hulk Hogan, the devil behind the scheme that had ruined his life.
The match was set for December 28th at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. In an age when big matches were blown on free TV constantly, WCW did a spectacular job of holding off on Hogan-Sting for nearly eighteen months. They milked the match for all it was worth and had a spectacular build. Obviously, the match could in no way live up to the hype. Hogan appeared as his cocky self as he entered the arena first. Sting’s entrance was reminiscent of an Undertaker entrance. He entered the ring and took off his coat without taking his cold, dead stare away from Hogan. The match began with Sting staying his cold self in the ring with Hogan heelishly interacting with the crowd and staying to the outside perimeter of the ring. The way Hogan danced around him was very symbolic of the way everyone had danced around Sting since his character makeover. While Sting had to come across as interesting and heroic despite a blank glaze over his face, the rest of the roster bent at his will to sell for his superhuman strength as he beat and pummeled a dozen men at a time during WCW-NWO mêlées. Hogan took to the offensive in the match quickly. A comical attribute of Hogan’s heel offense was his back scratch. He would use both hands and rake his claws down his opponent’s back. The problem was that Hogan wore gloves! If anything, that back scratch should have felt good. With Sting having to deemphasize his facial expressions, he had to use his energy and work in the ring to express his energy and captivate the audience. He was able to communicate that energy properly for most of the match. The match itself didn’t seem all that bad until it ended out of nowhere. Hogan hit his legdrop with little climax and gained the three count. Bret Hart claimed Nick Patrick’s count was too fast and ordered the match restarted. Sting quickly locked on the Scorpion Deathlock and won the WCW championship.
One of the biggest matches in WCW history fell flat because of a screwy finish. There was no fast count. Some speculate Hogan working out a deal with Patrick to count normally and make it look like Hogan won the match. Maybe it happened, but maybe it didn’t. If there was ever one thing WCW was horrible at, it was the execution and follow-through. WCW was very good at building up programs, but they never went anywhere. They would just sort of trail off. The Hogan-Sting match was no exception. This feud should have ended with Sting claiming his spot at the top of the card. Instead, it the belt was back on Hogan within months and Sting was out of the title picture until late 1999.
Regardless of everything that transpired from Starrcade onward, one thing has always fascinated me about Hogan-Sting. It was in no way the match fans had envisioned. Back then there were a lot of dream matches in wrestling. You could safely say that from 1990 on, Hogan-Sting was a dream match. When Hogan joined WCW in 1994, wrestling moved ever so close to realizing that dream (on a side note, WCW pulled off a beautiful move when Ric Flair and Sting unified the WCW and International titles in June of 1994. The winner was slated to Hulk Hogan in his debut match. While it was fairly obvious that Flair would win and face Hogan, how many times in wrestling history have you seen two men fight knowing who the winner would face and seriously believe that either way the resulting match would be huge?). Hogan and Sting were two charismatic, classic baby faces whose showdown would be reminiscent of Hogan-Warrior. Even when they faced each other on Nitro, Hogan had been going through a character change where he dressed in black and bordered on being a heel. When they met at Starrcade, gone was the red and yellow. Gone was Sting’s colorful face paint. They had become two different characters. The Hogan-Sting dream match that people had envisioned for years never actually happened. Instead, it became a classic good vs. evil match that both men had participated in for much of their career. In the end, the match may not have been as good as people had hoped, but both men had undergone changed to make them relevant in a time when their classic 1980s façade would not cut it. A great talent of a worker is their ability to change with the times. While both men may not be keeping up currently, both reinvented themselves to make their characters more interesting than they had been in years.
I am anxious to know what those of you reading this think when you look back on this match and how it affected professional wrestling. Have any thoughts? Send them over to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.