Taylor Baucom/The Players' Tribune

I have no idea who came up with the saying “don’t meet your heroes,” but they probably spent time in the wrestling business. For whatever reason, this business has a way of bringing out the worst in certain people — especially on their way out. When some wrestlers get to the end, that’s when you see a lot of bitterness and selfishness and just all-around piece-of-shit behavior. And really those guys are products of an environment. They saw the guys before them take instead of give, so they feel entitled to pass that down. It’s a shitty cycle.

When I got paired with Sting, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s funny — for weeks they had me up in the rafters, and I wasn’t sure why. You’d think I would’ve put two and two together, but I didn’t. I was just like, “Sit in the rafters? OK cool.” But then at some point someone said, “Yo….. you know why we’re doing this, right? Sting’s coming.” And I just remember thinking how crazy that sounded. Like, I couldn’t process it. STING? And in his first show back…. he’s going to have a staredown with ME? Haha what the fuck.

An hour before the show, Cody pulled me aside. He was like, “Alright. Sting’s here. I want you to meet him before you go out there.” Then he walked me over to Sting’s trailer. It happened so fast, I barely had time to remember how nervous I was. But there was nothing to be nervous about. We started talking through the segment, and it was actually wild: there was no ego from him, no big-timing, no This is how it’s gonna happen, kid. None of that. If anything, it was the other way around. He was asking me how it’s gonna happen, and if I was OK with this, this and this, and if everything was cool. We’re talking about a guy who’s headlined some of the biggest shows ever, made shitloads of money, been on top longer than I’ve been alive. He’s showing up for this massive return. And his main concern is that I’m feeling comfortable. A 27-year-old nobody who he’s probably thinking jacked half his look. I was just like, WHAT IS HAPPENING. THIS IS INSANE. HOW IS STING SO NICE.

That was December of 2020 — the start of this amazing ride. 

And now that the ride’s almost over, I can tell you for sure: Sting really is that dude. For the last three years, no matter what situation we were in, he’s always been the same person I met in that trailer. And I think that’s part of why he’s done so well here. He could have easily come to AEW and just said, Fuck off I’m Sting, hit a Scorpion Death Drop or two and gone home. People still would’ve loved it. The checks would’ve cleared. Seriously, Sting had nothing to prove to fucking anyone. But he worked his ass off and he proved something anyway. To the fans, to the locker room, to the business, and I’m guessing most of all to himself. Not in some bullshit “you’ve still got it” way. But in this much more powerful way of like…. taking back what was stolen from him. Which is the right to retire on his own terms.

He went out and fucking did that.

I respect him so much for it.

Taylor Baucom/The Players' Tribune

And now we’re here.

Sting’s dad passed away recently, which you probably know — only a couple of weeks before his final match. You probably also know that Sting’s sons have been a part of this story we’ve been telling over the last month and a half. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that as the match has gotten closer. I’ve been thinking about what a legacy is, and what a career is, and even what a life amounts to. For someone like Sting, it’s impossible to wrap your head around. The guy has been loved by literally millions of people, across five decades. He’s wrestled Ric Flair, who was born in 1949…. and Nick Wayne, who was born in 2005. There’s this hugeness to it that’s so insane. But what’s special about Sting I think is how he hasn’t let that hugeness define him. Moment to moment, person to person — he’s just lived his life, decided what’s important to him, and cared.

He’s cared about what it’s meant to be a man of faith. And his father’s son. And his kids’ father. And a co-worker to each wrestler he’s worked with. And “The Icon” to each fan who’s bought a ticket to a show. And for the last three years? He’s cared about what it’s meant to be my mentor, my partner, my friend. He’s cared about what it’s meant to be all of that — deeply. And with some fucking integrity.

That’s Sting’s legacy to me.

And that’s what we’re celebrating on Sunday.

But we’re also celebrating Sunday on Sunday. Man, I know it’s such a small part of Sting’s career in the big picture, this one match, but I’m so glad it’s happening. And I’m so glad Tony Khan paired us together, and that he’s giving Sting this incredible sendoff. So many guys end their careers on the worst possible note. Either the business embarrasses them, or they embarrass it, or both. It’s depressing. Like I said — wrestling can be a shitty cycle. And if there’s one last chapter of Sting’s legacy that gets written, I hope it’s this: Cycles can be broken. The wrestling business, it actually can treat older wrestlers with respect, and not spit on them on their way out. And older wrestlers, they actually can give instead of take. They can go out with grace and not like a bitch.

Before the match, I’m going to tell Sting the same thing I’ve been telling him this whole time — which is HAVE FUN. That’s it. That’s the one rule. Nothing else matters. 

After the match, I’m going to tell him the only thing there’s left to say: Thank you.

I didn’t just get to meet a hero, I got to find out he’s a hero worth having.

It was an honor, truly. It’s been the time of my life.

To paraphrase Tony Schiavone —

It’s fucking Sting.