Injuries in professional wrestling are a pretty common occurrence. The real physicality of the wrestlers does take its toll. One injury in particular, dragged an entire promotion down with it. This is the story of how a sudden knee injury to the company’s top babyface had bookers scrambling to figure out what to do next.
World Championship Wrestling had been grooming Sting to be their version of Hulk Hogan. A top babyface, who would be the franchise wrestler. The face of the company. This build up was not overnight, WCW had been pushing Sting to be the guy in WCW for a number of years. The on again, off again battles between Sting and WCW’s top heel Ric Flair was finally going to be coming to a head at the WrestleWar ’90 pay per view.
To get to that point, Sting was booked to join the babyface version of the Four Horsemen. As odd as this unification was….it served a creative purpose to further the storyline between Sting and Flair. As a member of the Horsemen, Sting won a round robin tournament to determine the number one contender for the WCW world title held by Flair. His winning the tourney created tensions within the ranks of the faction. It all was booked to come to a head at Clash of the Champions in Texas in February of 1990.
The storyline had Ole Anderson kicking Sting out of the Four Horsemen and brutally attacking him for not giving up his number one contenders spot. The culmination of the evening would see the Horsemen in a steel cage match against members of Gary Hart’s stable which included Buzz Sawyer, the Dragon Master and Great Muta. As that match was going on, an irate Sting charged the ring to get his hands on Ric Flair. The ending of the main event was supposed to see Sting climb the cage and attack Ric Flair to close the show and get fans to purchase the WrestleWar pay per view two weeks later. Of course, as the old saying goes…”The Best Laid Plans of mice and men often go awry….” and that is exactly what happened here.
As Sting was rushing to the ring, wrestlers like Brian Pillman and the Steiner Brothers were trying to hold him back to no avail. Sting jumped on to the cage to get at Flair, but some blame WCW’s head of security Doug Dellinger for apparently pulling Sting down using too much force and that coupled with the adrenaline of the moment caused Sting to tear up his knee. Flair not realizing Sting was legitimately injured started taking shots at a vulnerable Sting. In the melee, Brian Pillman was also injured legitimately when he was hit in the eye.
Sting would go see renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews and was told his injury was so serious, that he would need surgery and likely miss up to a year of his career. The news naturally put all of WCW’s booking plans into a tailspin and Ric Flair who was not only the world champion, but also head booker to come up with a plan B. The issue was, WrestleWar was right around the corner and WCW was sorely lacking another top babyface to fill into Sting’s title slot.
The kneejerk decision was to give the opportunity to ‘The Total Package’ Lex Luger. Luger was a heel at the time, but was available to be involved in the main event for WrestleWar when his opponent for the show Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams quit the company over a contract dispute. Luger was believed to be a level below Sting, but was still considered a blue chipper for WCW.
WCW’s Executive Vice President Jim Herd was mounting pressure on Ric Flair to drop the title at Wrestle War to Lex Luger as was previously planned with Sting. Flair fought back and refused to lose his world title to nobody but Sting when he returned from his injury. Flair said he had a handshake agreement with Sting agreeing to lose the belt to him and wanted to honor that deal. Some like Herd believed that Flair was just making excuses to hold on to the world title longer and used that as a reasoning. Herd continued to pressure Flair to drop the strap, causing Flair agree to lose it to Luger….if….he could be released from his contract with the company. Jim Herd refused and Flair continued to be the world champion.
Jim Ross recalled that the WCW booking committee didn’t really sit down and think things through. They saw a young Lex Luger as the easy solution and immediately forced him on fans as comparable to Sting. It of course backfired miserably as fans weren’t buying into Luger as a top tier guy to go against Flair. Fans booed and rejected Luger and in the process began tuning out of WCW’s product. Luger simply wasn’t ready to be the guy and Flair himself became overexposed as WCW world champion.
After six months of rehab, Sting returned to action, but by that time Flair was no longer booking and a new booking committee was created led by Ole Anderson. Some fans had tuned out of the product and wasn’t as hot as it was back in early 1990. Sting still went on to defeat Flair for the world title at the Great American Bash in July but it wasn’t a hot angle as what it would’ve been earlier in the year. Overall, 1990 was a very bad year for WCW and it all began with the unfortunate injury to Sting.