Sting vs. Undertaker: Too late to have an epic match?

PROVIDED The Undertaker vs. Sting is likely for Wrestlemania 32.

It would have been one of the most anticipated matches in the modern history of professional wrestling.

For the past couple of decades fans have yearned for “The Ultimate Showdown: The Icon vs. The Phenom.”

It still might happen. If it does, it will be a featured attraction at next year’s Wrestlemania at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Undertaker and Sting are two of the greatest characters in the wrestling business. Both spent the vast majority of their careers in competing organizations.

So it was a major coup when WWE finally landed Sting, its final major holdout, for this year’s Wrestlemania.

The obvious problem, however, is that it came years too late. And Sting’s first opponent wasn’t The Undertaker, the fans’ overwhelming choice for “dream match” candidate, but rather current WWE exec Triple H.

Sting lost in a match heavy on gimmicks and interference. He broke Triple H’s sledgehammer in half with his bat. A D-Generation X and NWO war broke out at ringside.

All the bells and whistles disguised a carefully orchestrated match. It was Sting’s long-anticipated Wrestlemania moment, but it should have been with Taker.

While the bout may have been of historical import, many fans questioned why Sting would have waited all those years to come to WWE, only to lose. Some suggested that the outcome was politically motivated and represented a final “WCW burial.”

Sting, who was brought in as a novelty act, said one night after the match that he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds, but he is ready to grab whatever opportunities WWE throws his way.

You can bet that The Undertaker will be on the list as WWE attempts to break its all-time attendance record at next year’s Wrestlemania in Taker’s home state of Texas.

The two shared a locker room at Wrestlemania last weekend along with the same flight back to the Lone Star State and talks concerning a potential match.

Sting made it known in an interview last year that he’d like nothing better than to square off with Taker.

A double-retirement match and Hall of Fame induction for both next year would be a major attraction for Wrestlemania weekend.

“I’ve made it clear I’d love to have one last hurrah, one last big match hopefully. And of course I’ve been outspoken about Undertaker being the opponent ... If he’s not done, and he would consider doing it, I’d love to work with him one time. I’d love to wrestle him one time before I call it quits.”

For nostalgia’s sake, such a matchup would undoubtedly be considered a major hit. For years fans have clamored for Sting to step into a WWE ring. But therein lies the problem.

Mark Calaway (Taker), WWE’s longest-tenured performer, will be 51 when Wrestlemania 32 rolls around. Steve Borden (Sting) will be 57. Both are far past their magnificent primes. Father Time takes its toll on all, and despite their unquestioned ring generalship, Taker and Sting won’t be able to depend on younger talent to carry a high-profile match.

One of the best big men of the modern generation, Taker’s body has absorbed a pounding for three decades, and his ring activity this past year was limited to one appearance at Wrestlemania. His legendary undefeated streak, one of the major selling points for a showdown with Sting, ended last year with his loss to Brock Lesnar.

It won’t matter, though, to many fans. It’s about the spectacle, the grand theater that only WWE can create, seeing two of wrestling’s most celebrated icons finally staring one another down in the middle of the ring and on the grandest stage.

But it just won’t be the same.

Sting vs. The Undertaker would have been that dream match back in the day. But that day is over.

Both have said in the past that they never wanted to be “that guy” that fans said stayed around too long.

Some things are best left to our imagination and memories.

Sting vs. The Undertaker should be one of them.

The issue has generated passionate response among readers.

While some fans believe that ship has long sailed, others maintain that a well-booked match between these two larger-than-life characters could produce a lasting memory for the record books.

John Hitchcock harkens back to a lesser-known matchup between the two more than two decades ago.

“Mean Mark vs. Sting wasn’t that good the first time … why would you want to see it now?” he asks, alluding to a match between the two in Greensboro, N.C., on Sept. 1, 1990. Sting was NWA world champion at the time, and a pre-Undertaker Calaway was performing as Mean Mark Callous.

“After (Wrestlemania) Sunday, I’d like to see Sting vs. NWO Sting,” joked Jack Hunter.

Richard Sullivan is among those who believe that the match would still make for great box office and great theater.

“There’s money in Sting/Undertaker,” he says. “Mean Mark was a guy no one knew versus a blond surfer who needed to be carried by Flair. This would be 20-plus years of legendary exploits colliding. And the way they lay out these matches now would be better than those two guys calling it in the ring (an overrated concept for all but a rare few). I hate 90 percent of what WWE does, but they know how to tell big-money epic showdown stories.”

Chris Smith agreed, and thought the two could even pull off a quality match.

“Of course I’d like to see them work a match. They respect each other. A match on the biggest stage would stoke the competitive fire for both to put on the best match possible. I’d be interested as much in the pre-match buildup almost as much as the match itself. Both of these guys have at least one elite quality match left, especially if they have plenty of time to go in healthy.”

The match should happen for posterity’s sake, said Jesse Bouchard.

“There are so many dream matches that have never happened, and never can. In an era where new, big stars are few and far between, and where dream matches will be nearly impossible because WWE is the only game in town, this is probably the last big dream match that can still happen.”

“Undertaker has become the Easter Bunny and Santa. Shows up once a year,” wrote J. Rodney Rhodes. “Sting IMO is overrated. As Jim Cornette said, Sting could never draw real money without Flair. I would rather see (Dolph) Ziggler or other talent given a match on the big stage.

But if it was the last match for both, why not. Even the Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus) won the Masters at 46.”

Sullivan suggested that Cornette might have a short memory concerning Sting’s ability to draw.

“Sting totally has a lot in the tank — in the ring and on the mic. I guess Corny forgot about that one time Sting drew money by standing in the rafters and saying nothing for a year and a half.”

Less is more, says George Lamberth.

“Taker looked good at Mania, but nowhere near his match two and three Manias ago. Sting looked average at best at Mania. I could see a match for the sake of a special dream match because they’re both under contract and Taker should be and is expected to be at Mania, but they need to keep them both out of the ring until then.”

Jack Lord believes the bout would have had a much bigger impact had Sting’s first WWE match been with Taker.

“If they had held off Sting’s debut for a match against Taker, I think it would have drawn in a major way, but by showcasing him already (and in a losing effort), the match means nothing now. It’s a shame really … that could have been a fan’s dream match if handled correctly.”

Under the right circumstances, with both men healthy, some suggest that a Sting-Undertaker match could go down as one of the most intense and emotional battles in Wrestlemania history.

The main question, points out Joe Dobrowski, is who would get the win in a match that would likely mark the retirement for both legends.

“I don’t know what it will accomplish if someone has to go over,” said Dobrowski. “You can see they want to stack this card and center it around Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar. The only way you can sell Sting is by having him work a Survivor Series match and get a win. Wins and losses matter to a point.”

Had Sting worked his first match with Undertaker at Mania prior to the end of The Streak, he would have lost that match as well, opined WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross.

“I know there’s already a rash of angst and anger from fans for Sting losing, but Sting’s goal was always to wrestle The Undertaker at a Wrestlemania and try to break the streak. He would have lost that match, too. But Sting and Triple H told a very good story, and Sting had a lot of moments where he was shining.

“I loved when he threw down that baseball bat and broke the sledgehammer. That’s the moment right there that told the story — Sting is a good guy, a hero who is going to beat you without any weapons. That story is so much more important than the win-loss record.”

Sting admits that he regrets not making the move to WWE sooner.

So do we.

WWE made the announcement Friday that former divas champ AJ Lee has parted ways with the organization.

“AJ Lee (April Mendez) has decided to retire from in-ring competition with WWE. We wish AJ the very best,” read the official release.

The diminutive diva, wife of former WWE champ C.M. Punk (Phil Brooks), recently returned to the company after recovering from a neck injury. She teamed with Paige to defeat the Bella Twins at Wrestlemania and was on the winning side of a six-divas bout the following night on Raw, which was her last match with the company.

Lee had been with WWE since 2009, when she signed a developmental deal.

The relationship between the three-time divas champ and WWE reportedly had become tenuous at best in light of her husband’s vocal stance against the company and a subsequent defamation lawsuit filed by WWE ringside doctor Chris Amann.

Punk walked out on the company, citing medical issues, shortly after the 2014 Royal Rumble. He aired some of his grievances on best friend Colt Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast last November.

Punk revealed that WWE fired him on his and Lee’s wedding day and claimed that Amann had misdiagnosed an antibiotic-resistant staph infection for months while over-medicating him.

The acrimony between WWE and the UFC fighter-in-training obviously put a strain on Lee’s working relationship with the company. Some have suggested that it has put a strain on her marriage as well.

In February, she called out WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon on Twitter over the issue of equal pay for women and cited the inordinate amount of television time given to the women of WWE.

“Your female wrestlers have record-selling merchandise and have starred in the highest-rated segment of the show several times,” Lee tweeted. “And yet they receive a fraction of the wages and screen time of the majority of the male roster.”

The 28-year-old New Jersey native and self-proclaimed “Geek Goddess” was one of the most popular performers on the roster.

“I’m not the sexy girl. I’m more youthful and innocent, the girl who wears jeans and T-shirts and sneakers,” she told the New York Daily News in a 2012 interview. “But fans have accepted that I’m a tomboy. There’s a different group of people who find that attractive.”

Lee, who is writing a book, hinted that she might be leaving WWE within the year during Monday Night Raw’s Slammy Awards last December.

“Three years ago, I promised all of you I would redefine the term diva, and I am very proud to say I sure have done that. So I hope that means that next year this award is won by Bailey or Sasha, or Charlotte or Emma, or Paige. Any of those girls can be next in line for the throne, but I’m not done being queen.”

Speculation heightened after her appearance at Wrestlemania last weekend when she hugged tag partner Paige goodbye after their match and whispered that she loved her.

Punk responded to Lee’s departure with a simple tweet late Friday: #ThankYouAJ

WWE has fired back at a blog posted by former ring announcer Justin Roberts that implied WWE revised history in an attempt to exploit WWE Warrior Award recipient Connor Michalek and enhance its corporate image.

Connor, an 8-year-old who died of cancer last year, became the first fan to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last weekend when he was presented the inaugural Warrior Award.

Roberts, who was released by WWE last October, pointed to a tweet from Stephanie McMahon over Wrestlemania weekend that read, “Philanthropy is the future of marketing, it’s the way brands r going 2 win.”

Roberts, who said he felt like he was “punched in the gut” when he read it, wrote that the message raised questions about the company’s motives for its community outreach.

“This past weekend at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, they told a story,” Roberts posted. “While using real-life people and real stories, they did what they do best: they told a story and they didn’t let the facts get in the way.”

In his detailed essay Roberts, who first introduced Connor to McMahon, wrote about his own personal involvement in WWE’s relationship with Connor, and took exception to his removal from that story.

Roberts claims WWE rewrote the story with bigger names, including Daniel Bryan, who presented the award at the Hall of Fame ceremony.

“I just didn’t realize that when they retold this story, it was going to become just like those other reality-inspired storylines I mentioned earlier,” Roberts wrote. “The next week came and went. The plan changed and only Stephanie and Daniel Bryan were interviewed. Stephanie was generous to Connor. Daniel was always good to him when they were face to face at the arenas. Daniel is a quality person and incredible performer. I feel bad that the company put him in a position where people on the outside might assume they were closer than they were.”

Roberts, 35, who worked for WWE from 2002-14, also wrote that he was surprised by the video the company released and later showed at arenas throughout the country during its shows.

“When the video came out, I was surprised, maybe more surprised than I should have been, to discover that reality was not a part of the story. The company told the story the way they wanted it to be told. And then I remembered: that’s just what the company does  —  it tells stories. Maybe I experienced this one too personally to see it distorted, but it was not easy to take.”

“I wish Connor’s Cure and Connor’s induction into the Hall of Fame were driven by sincerity and not strategy,” Roberts added.

WWE issued a response on Friday and defended its philanthropic efforts.

“It is offensive to suggest that WWE and its executives had anything but altruistic intentions in honoring Connor and his legacy with the Warrior Award. In conjunction with Connor’s father, Connor’s Cure was established by Stephanie McMahon and Paul Levesque to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer, and to honor a boy that so many people within the WWE family came to love. The fund is managed by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation and has already raised more than $200,000 for pediatric cancer research.

“In addition, following the Ultimate Warrior’s impassioned Hall of Fame speech last year encouraging WWE to recognize its unsung heroes, the Warrior Award was established in his memory to honor those who exhibit unwavering strength and perseverance, and who live life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of the Ultimate Warrior. With the full support and input of Ultimate Warrior’s widow, Dana Warrior, Connor Michalek was the first recipient of the Warrior Award, and moving forward the award will be given annually to acknowledge other unsung heroes among WWE’s employees and fans.”

Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.