WrestleMania 31 Preview: Sting vs Triple H

Welcome to Last Word on Mania month at Last Word on Sports! All month long we will be doing articles to build up for WrestleMania 31 on March 29, 2015. Be sure to read everything this month by clicking this link. Enjoy!

WrestleMania is known as the showcase of the immortals, and that is an appropriate nickname, especially when considering the number of dream matches reserved for the show of shows for the last few decades.  We’ve had The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan and later The Rock vs. John Cena, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels and Edge vs. Mick Foley.  This year is no different as “The Icon” Sting battles “The Game” Triple H for the first time ever.

WrestleMania 31 Preview: Sting vs Triple H

The History

For decades, World Wrestling Entertainment fans have been awaiting the arrival of Sting, a man who has managed to stay relevant for over 20 years by constantly reinventing himself and keeping pace with the absolute best of the best.  After his monumental showdown with Ric Flair in 1990, Sting remained a staple in the main event scene of World Championship Wrestling, gaining popularity with each passing year.  Much of this came from his matches with the likes of Vader, Goldberg, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, and the aforementioned Flair, but another part of Sting’s unrivaled popularity was his unending loyalty to WCW.  While every single one of his peers jumped ship to the WWE at some point in their careers (including WCW icons like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and his best friend Lex Luger), Sting remained faithful to the company that made him a superstar.  That commitment is part of his legacy.  Even after WCW closed its doors in 2001, Sting opted to sit out his contract and then work for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, rather than sign with WWE, citing issues with their schedules and content.  Because of this, Sting’s legacy and mythos only grew among WWE fans.  The legendary relic of a forgotten era.

Despite what he may say on television, Triple H and Sting are two sides of the same coin.  Triple H, another youth obsessed with bodybuilding and professional wrestling, started making an impact early in his career, and like Sting, continued to climb the ladder of success by both reinventing himself and elevating his game to the point that his nickname became “The Game”.  The biggest difference between Triple H and Sting is that while Sting was beloved for his never back down attitude and his unwavering moral compass, Triple H was reviled by fans and his peers for his cowardice, willing to sell his soul if it meant staying atop his throne as the “King of Kings”.  Although his conscious was questionable, his loyalty to WWE wasn’t.  Like Sting, the “Cerebral Assassin” never abandoned Vince McMahon for the greener pastures of WCW, even in their darkest days when all seemed lost and Triple H was receiving offers for better money and the chance to test himself against the best of a generation.  Men like Goldberg and “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and his idol Ric Flair.  Men like Sting.  In the end, Triple H’s allegiance paid off and eventually all of WCW’s top stars and legends came to WWE, fell at his feet, and eventually bowed down to him.  All that is, except for Sting.

Eventually, Triple H accomplished everything he could in WWE as a wrestler and took on the new challenge of controlling the company from behind the scenes.  He was appointed the Chief Operating Officer of WWE, which allowed him certain powers, including the power to sign new talent.  With this new power, Triple H saw the opportunity that had eluded him for 14 years.  He might not have been able to fight off the invasion of the Alliance in 2001, but since then, Triple H has made it a point to defeat every one of WCW’s major stars, a way of retroactively burying whatever remains didn’t burn down in the Monday Night War.  Now, with WWE firmly in his grasp, Triple H remembers those that tried to destroy his career, and take away what would have been his legacy, his company.  Despite his best efforts, there was a part of WCW that remained unburied.  The heart of WCW still remained beating inside of Sting, and like the unnamed narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart”, it drove Triple H to madness.  Driven by obsession, Triple H pursued Sting like Moby Dick hunting his White Whale, and last year, Sting signed a WWE contract.  His quest was complete.  Sting’s days in the ring were over, so there was no way for Triple H to physically exert his dominance, but as a WWE employee, he still answered to Triple H.  In his own mind, Triple H had finally completed his collection of vanquished WCW main eventers, and if he couldn’t crush Sting, he was satisfied with keeping him under his thumb.  The problem with Triple H’s assessment was that Sting spent 20 years answering to no one, and he wasn’t about to start now.

The Present Reflects The Past

For months, WWE went about its business as usual, with the King of Kings ruling over his kingdom with an iron sledgehammer.  Denying opportunities to the deserving, and physically tearing down anyone who dared to disagree with his law of the land.  As Sting watched from the shadows, things must have seemed oddly familiar to him.  In 1996 he was driven to the rafters by an oppressive army intent on imposing their will across his home.  Well WWE was his home now, and like before, if no one would stand up and fight for what was right, he would.  So it came to pass at Survivor Series that Sting emerged to attack the Authority and cost them the main event match, leading to their unceremonious exit from power in WWE.  The battle lines had been drawn.

Triple H found his way back to power, but Sting remained close behind him, watching his every move, and righting the wrongs when and where he could, raising the ire of the Game with every instance of justice served.  Eventually, Triple H realized that Sting was not going to go away unless he suffered the same fate as his WCW brethren.  He would need to drive him out with force.  One way or another, Triple H was determined to make Sting kneel before the King of Kings.  The challenge was laid out at Fastlane, and with a single gesture of his trademark baseball bat towards the WrestleMania sign, Sting made this dream match a reality.

It is hard to argue that this could be considered anything less than a dream match on paper.  It is two icons from the Monday Night War battling it out in a never before seen match up.  The bigger issue comes into play when you realize that the Monday Night War was over in 2001.  Part of what made the idea for this match so salivating years ago was the prospect of getting a true WWE vs WCW showdown.  A lot has changed since then.  For one thing, WCW doesn’t exist anymore.  There aren’t even people dedicated to keeping their company name alive in a misguided effect to hold on to the past like you have with Extreme Championship Wrestling.  At least not until this match was announced.

Both men are different too.  Sting was a wrestler who peaked early on in his career in terms of what he could do in the ring.  Because of this, his gimmick and charisma has been used to get him over with the crowd, and to his credit, he has done a masterful job of doing that for over two decades.  Despite this, the fact remains that Sting may not be able to deliver the kind of performance the fans are expecting of him in a WrestleMania setting.  It won’t be enough for him to fake his way through the match and rely on nostalgia the way Hulk Hogan did in 2002.  For Hulk it was a homecoming.  Fans wanted to cheer him and get behind him because of nostalgia.  Because the Monday Night War was so long gone, Sting might still be considered an outsider by some fans, especially if WWE continues to promote him as such.

Triple H has come a long way since 2001 as well.  Although he did play an important role in the attitude era of WWE, he was by no means the driving force behind it like Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock.  Times change and now Triple H is the most important wrestler on the WWE roster, simply because he is also the Chief Operating Officer for the company.  His work in the ring has aged well, like a fine wine, and some of his best matches have occurred in the twilight of his career in WWE.  A perceived stark contrast to his opponent for March 29th.

This could be the reason Sting was paired with Triple H rather than the obvious choice of The Undertaker.  Many fans doubt the two aging superstars could have the kind of classic encounter that they have come to expect from WrestleMania dream matches.  They are likely aware that the hype of Sting’s first match with WWE is not enough to carry it past any kind of bumps in the road he may encounter, so pairing him with Triple H will at least give it a better chance of success compared to the disaster that could be a Sting and Undertaker showdown.

Of course, in-ring work isn’t everything.  Sting has made a career out of hype and crowd connection, and done quite well for himself.  So why is there doubt that he can do it at WrestleMania against one of the best ring generals today?  It comes down to believability, a concept that one must tread lightly upon when discussing professional wrestling, as the entire business itself is built on perception.  Since this match was announced, Triple H has made sure to remind us of the Monday Night War at every turn.  It is understandable why he needs to do this.  For many current WWE fans, until recently Sting was a myth.  A character from wrestling’s past they had never been exposed to.  The fact that Triple H needs to remind fans who Sting is and why they should be excited is not a promising sign of success for this match.

More importantly than that however, it feels forced.  Without the reminder that 15 years ago these guys worked for opposing sides in a battle for Neilson ratings, what reason do fans have to be invested?  Triple H and Sting have never had words outside the company to indicate a deeper personal issue, and Sting suddenly coming to thwart the Authority at Survivor Series feels more like a story that came to be as a side effect of the match, not the other way around.  In the end it comes back to The Undertaker.  If this match had been booked in 2001 or even 2002, fans would be angered over the fact that each company’s brooding conscious were not squaring off against each other.  It is the true dream match fans have salivated over for years.  Triple H and Sting may have an absolute classic at WrestleMania 31, but it will still feel like a consolation prize to the real reward fans have waited patiently over a decade for.

Icons and Kings

That being said, I believe there is still a way that WWE can make this match an absolute classic, using an example they themselves created over a decade ago.  At WrestleMania XIX, Vince McMahon faced Hulk Hogan in a match that was nothing but pure spectacle.  Neither man was in the prime of their life, so they made up for it with tons of gimmickry and nostalgia.  Everything from Vince dropping a Hulk Hogan leg drop, to a surprise appearance from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, this match was a cacophony of mayhem, and it remains one of the most memorable in WWE history.  I’m not suggesting that Sting and Triple H get rid of anything resembling a wrestling match, but a little showmanship could go a long way, especially on a show known just as much for its pageantry as it’s athleticism.  I could easily picture the match breaking down and having members of the Monday Night War resurrected to take side sin the fight.  WWE never has a shortage of legends backstage at the showcase of the immortals, why not have Ric Flair run in and help out his most famous opponent, especially after Triple H abused him a few weeks ago?  Diamond Dallas Page just made an appearance at the Royal Rumble looking pretty good, who wouldn’t want to see Triple H get nailed with a Diamond Cutter?  Kevin Nash was just announced as an inductee to the Hall of Fame Class of 2015, so we know he’ll be at Levi Stadium.  What if he came out to even the odds as both a friend of Triple H and a former foe of Sting?  Combine that with some armed combat using some iconic weaponry, and you have a formula that could equate a WrestleMania moment, if not a classic.

The more interesting aspect of this match lies in the questions that will be answered once it is over.  Can a feud from 15 years ago still resonate with today’s fan?  Does Sting have what it takes to make it in WWE, and if he can’t, can Triple H elevate him to the fan’s expectations?  More importantly, what will happen to the man who loses?  If Triple H doesn’t crush Sting under the heel of his boot on Sunday, how long until he begins to unravel as his obsession consumes him?  After all, an incomplete collection can drive a man mad.  If Sting can’t stop Triple H, will he lurk back into the shadows, doubtful of not only his place in WWE, but his place in history?  Most importantly, when the bell rings at the end of Triple H vs. Sting, will the memory that remains be worth the 14 year wait?

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