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You'll hear a lot about how WCW let down two men in 1994 – Cactus Jack and Steve Austin – two guys who would go onto to be massive stars for the WWF later in the decade, but you never hear about Sting in 1994. His suffering was more hidden in plain sight, and not one necessarily the most obvious. But Sting started 1994 as one of WCW's biggest stars, and he ended it as such too, but too often he was used as a foil for bigger things.
In truth, standing still in WCW in 1994 was incredibly difficult as top of the WCW totem poll changed in composition quite considerably. The year began with Ric Flair and Vader as the companies two top stars, flanked by people like Sting, Rick Rude, Ricky Steamboat and Cactus Jack. Remember also that both Sid Vicious (the man who should've been theman in 1994) and the British Bulldog were feature names within the company in the late months in 1993.
By the end of '94, Flair had “retired”, Steamboat had legitimiately retired, Rude had dissapeared and Cactus Jack was tearing it up in ECW having been released. In their place: Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Brutus Beefcake, Earthquake and Kevin Sullivan. The two that remained were Vader and Sting.
Both very much fit similar moulds for the company in 1994. Important guys, capable of headlining shows (they main evented Slamboree against eachother), but guys that weren't quite up to the needs of the new world of WCW, the world of Hulk Hogan.
But unlike Vader, who was still able to have a couple of excellent singles matches in 1994 (vs The Boss at Spring Stampede and vs Dustin Rhodes at the Clash in November), Sting's card was often unmoved. At Bash at the Beach in July he was pulled from the card due to injury, but even then he was only scheduled to face Lord Steven Regal. At the Clash in August he was advertised in a “race against time” to replace the 'injured' Hogan. Hogan made it back to the arena, Sting appeared in the final moments.
Sting did twice have good matches with Vader, once at Slamboree (although he was meant to face Rick Rude), and once at Fall Brawl. But it was a match fans had probably seen too often in too short a space of time. Sting's role at Halloween Havoc would be limited to a front row spectator, before briefly getting involved in the main event attempting to stop Sensous Sherri interfering.
Sting would eventually return to a main event program after Flair's “retirement”, joining forces with Hogan and Dave Sullivan to take on the three faces of Fear. Whether John Tenta (playing Avalanche in WCW) was Sting's idea for one of his bigger matches of 1994 we'll never know.
So why was Sting so underutilised in 1994? The “Hogan” answer is perhaps a little too simplistic, forgetting the fact that Hogan only made his in ring debut in July. Sting did headline the Slamboree PPV in May, and the Clash in June, but both were simply working towards unifying his WCW International Title (formerly the NWA Title) with Flair's World Title.
Sting was the #2 babyface in 1994, but WCW suffered from a real lack of #2 heels to put him up against. Beyond Vader, once Rude retired in May there wasn't much for him to face. Probably the worst indictment for Sting in 1994 was that he never really had a feud to sink his teeth into. He was regularly being moved around to fill in and help out.
Did Hogan's presence hurt him? Certainly – it had an impact on probably everyone on the WCW roster, some good – mostly bad. But once Hogan arrived and eneveloped the top spot, where could Sting go? Had WCW had more foresight, they could've looked towards Sting vs Steve Austin, or Sting vs the heel Cactus Jack. It was a company that often that year relied on one main feud to sell a show, and usually that was a babyface Flair or a babyface Hogan. Second was nowhere.
Sting would end the year back near the top of the card, but tucked firmly in Hogan's shadow involed in a limp feud with the three faces of fear. Sting, more than most, was a guy who was over more than he was pushed, and that certainly showed in what wasn't a vintage year for him in 1994.