The WWE’s pay-per-view Night of Champions was set for September 20. Though not one of the company’s larger promoted shows, it was expected to sell out the Toyota Center in Houston.
At the top of this card in the main event, are two names. One which is familiar to generations of wrestling fans and the other a rising star who hopes to one day take the reigns and be the face of the company.
The WWE World Heavyweight Title was between Seth Rollins and Sting. The age difference between them is nearly three decades with Sting at 56 and Rollins, the champion, a young 29.
The sport of professional wrestling is a unique platform for entertainment and this match is a perfect example. Wrestling provides a time capsule that can keep its wrestlers young. Wrestling has a fountain of youth.
The age a wrestler begins can be anywhere from 17 to early twenties. They take years or decades plying their craft on the independent wrestling circuit. They wrestle in smaller venues for little pay in order to train and hopefully catch the eye of a wrestling industry titan.
By the time a wrestler has gone past the indies and worked their way up to the main event in a company like WWE or New Japan Pro Wrestling, they tend to be in their late twenties or early thirties. To compare this with any other professional sport, football players, basketball players, and even baseball players are just reaching their sweet spots.
The difference with professional wrestling is how long that sweet spot can last.
Sting has been wrestling since 26 and the fans are still able to make him as important now as he was then. The fans are the secret elixir that allow wrestlers to go until their bodies can’t take it any more.
Fans of the WWE product have been wishing for Sting for almost as long as he has been wrestling. He was the man that they could never get their hands on.
Sting wrestled for National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling, and Total Nonstop Action, all competitors of and ultimately killed by WWE. Through it all he was the holdout, the man who couldn’t be brought in for one reason or another.
Early last year, the man that no one thought would appear in a WWE ring broke down that barrier and appeared. Sting later wrestled in a largely forgettable match at Wrestlemania, the WWE’s largest show.
He has the flashes of his younger days, the charisma and mental ability that allowed him to be the man for decades. His body, however, tells a different story.
He has been slowed by age and injuries taken while on the job. It makes no difference to the fans and because they believe in him. He has the ability to hang tough with whoever they put him in the ring with.
He has achieved legend status and will stay young until the fans decide that they are done with him. Sting is not an exception or a real outlier, he is an example.
Wrestling is a snapshot of history at points in time. The only place where the two men locking up can be decades apart and still seem exciting.
Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, and Sting… each man sustained a career well into the twilight of their athletic peaks all because of how much the fans wanted to believe. They literally willed their bodies to do things that shouldn’t be done at that age simply to please the millions of people cheering them on.
Age is just a number in wrestling. The will of the fans and their support can cause wrestlers to overlook speed and quickness for pure nostalgia’s sake.
Careers can be given a second wind and new life out of sheer nostalgia. To some that may make a mockery of competitive sports but others realize it can provide some moments that only wrestling can produce.
How many times do fathers and sons get to play together in any organized sport? In wrestling, it can happen whenever necessary. The age gap between legends and the current wrestlers who grew up idolizing them allows for interactions that simply cannot happen in other places.
Sting is in some ways unique. He has wrestled once on a pay-per-view for WWE fans and yet he is a legend in the sport. That status provides him legitimacy that allows him some leeway with the fans.
In wrestling, legends are rewarded by being allowed to simply entertain and help younger wrestlers grow in their craft.
Sting may not have won on Sunday, and that’s okay. He is a legend and this recent match will not make him more loved or hated, it will just further the business he works in.
The wheel of time keeps going and for all legends and wrestlers, no matter what age, there comes a time to call it quits. Wrestling keeps on going. The art form will continue with or without Sting in it.
His job on Sunday was to set the stage for the next generation. Tell a story that can continue without him, because even this fountain of youth dries up.
So on Sunday we saw the unique case of a nearly sixty-year-old man wrestle a thirty-year-old. Saw the story being told. Watched the wheel of time turning.
Legends never die. We witnessed a true legend pass on the torch.