AEW's Sting, 64, goes out his way -- with death-defying stunts and family by his side

Sting, one of the most decorated wrestlers of his generation, will compete in his last match Sunday in Greensboro, North Carolina. All Elite Wrestling

Sting headed up to the catwalk of Propst Arena at Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, about two hours before the start of the show, an ascent he's made in hundreds of arenas across the United States going back nearly three decades.

On Wednesday, it would be the final time. The last segment of All Elite Wrestling's (AEW) Dynamite television show called for the legendary wrestler to rappel down from the rafters and save his tag-team partner, Darby Allin, from an attack. Sting first started doing the stunt in the defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1997. He even did it in the same Huntsville building on Apr. 7 that same year.

Once Sting, 64, was all hooked into a harness with a wire and carabiners used for mountain climbing to keep him safe and steady, he descended more than 60 feet with his trademark baseball bat.

"You climb and step over that rail, and it's like, 'It's time to let go now,'" Sting told ESPN. "I used to say my sphincter muscle gets very tight in those moments. And it does. It can be scary. I had one little pang when I was up there. It was like a 30-second pang when I realized I'm getting ready to do this here again.

"We're having this casual conversation. 'All right, you ready to go?' I'm ready. Let's go."

Sting might as well have been saying the same thing about his in-ring career, which will end after 39 years Sunday at AEW's Revolution pay-per-view in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sting and Allin, the AEW tag-team champions, will defend the titles against the Young Bucks, Matthew and Nicholas Jackson.

The California-raised wrestler, whose real name is Steve Borden, went through many character iterations in those four decades -- from brightly colored surfer; to brooding, black-trench-coat-wearing "Crow" lookalike; to a zany, Joker-inspired misfit. He was a top act in all those characters, whether in WCW, Total Nonstop Action (TNA) or WWE.

Sting will depart wrestling as the world's most face-painted and fearless near-senior citizen, a daredevil who has jumped off ladders and balconies through tables during his more than three years with AEW, despite being well into his 60s.

Outside of the guy he plays on TV, Borden will get a chance to go out his way -- which he couldn't do when he tried to walk away years earlier -- while surrounded by family. His two sons, Garrett Borden and Steven Borden Jr., were part of a segment leading up to the Revolution match with the Young Bucks. His daughter-in-law (and Garrett's wife), Katelyn, works behind the scenes with the promotion.

"I've had my run, I've had my time, and it's just time for me to bow out," Sting said. "It's just time. It makes perfect sense. And gosh, I was given an opportunity through [AEW owner and promoter] Tony Khan to not just bow out or just disappear like I had other times in the past, where you disappeared with your tail between your legs, so to speak. This time, I was given an opportunity and Tony was willing to kind of let me go out under my own terms."

The match that put Sting on the map happened in Greensboro, a 45-minute time-limit draw against Ric Flair on Mar. 27, 1988. AEW Revolution, in the same city, will be sold out for his final match 36 years later with a crowd of more than 16,000, per WrestleTix.

Sting says that match against Flair remains his favorite of all time, as it sent him to another level of stardom. After that, Sting became a six-time WCW World Heavyweight champion and the franchise babyface -- good guy -- of the promotion until it was bought and shut down by WWE in 2001. In 2016, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

But Sting's career had more starts and stops than many other icons of the sports entertainment business. After WCW closed down, he did not immediately jump to WWE like most of his peers. Instead, he announced his retirement in February 2002 before resurfacing in TNA a year later.

After a long run there, including big matches with Kurt Angle, he finally signed with WWE in 2014. A year later, he sustained a severe neck injury in a match with Seth Rollins. Sting, then age 57, announced his retirement again during his Hall of Fame induction on April 2, 2016. This time, it seemed it would be for good.

It was not.

On Dec. 2, 2020, Sting made a surprise appearance on AEW Dynamite. AEW was launched in 2019 by Khan and emerged as the first significantly bankrolled competitor to WWE in two decades. Khan, the son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner and billionaire Shahid Khan, is a longtime pro-wrestling fanatic who landed AEW a television deal with Warner Bros. Discovery immediately.

The initial plan for Sting's return was for him to perform solely in cinematic matches -- pretaped, action-film-like bouts that became popular during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of crowds. There was some doubt he could effectively perform in regular, live matches at his age.

The first cinematic match occurred on March 7, 2021, at AEW Revolution. Sting teamed with Allin against Ricky Starks and Brian Cage. It became clear that Sting and the similarly face-painted and mercurial Allin were a good pair, so Khan made them a consistent act. It was also clear to many that Sting had more in him than just those production-heavy, special-effects-laden matches.

"[Former AEW wrestler and current WWE star] Cody [Rhodes] and Darby, and all the guys that I was wrestling with said, 'Oh my gosh, you can still do this -- you can go, you can still hang,'" Sting said. "And the rest is history."

Sting has had 27 matches now with AEW, all of them of the tag team variety with Allin and others. It would have been fine, and frankly sufficient, for him to be in those for a few minutes, do his signature moves like the Scorpion Deathlock submission, and send the crowd home happy. That is not at all what he did. Sting wrestled in nine hard-core-style matches, meaning the use of weapons and moves being performed sometimes violently on the outside of the ring. He started jumping onto people from the top rope, sending them through tables. Several times, he leapt from an arena balcony onto awaiting victims.

"Sting is doing more crazy things in his 60s than he's ever done before," Tony Khan said in an interview this week with Fanatics View. "Sting in AEW is this extreme version of Sting. He has gone from being 'The Franchise,' 'The Icon,' to a hard-core icon, and ... I think some of the best Sting matches he's ever had have been in AEW and that's one of the greatest careers of all time."

Last June, Sting completed, without incident, the most dangerous stunt of his career, if you don't count all the times he rappelled down from the tops of buildings. He climbed to the top of a tall ladder inside the ring and leapt off it, onto wrestler Sammy Guevara, who was laying on a table outside the ring. The jump and fall must have been around 20 feet.

"The ladder jump was just insane," his son Garrett told ESPN. "I couldn't believe it.

"His AEW run, I feel like, has been some of his coolest work. He's done the craziest stuff ever, where you're like, 'There's no way he's going to do that.' And I'm thinking that the whole time, 'No way, no way. Oh, there he goes. He's in the air.'"

Sting said his desire to do dangerous stunts like that was just a natural evolution of his character and career.

"I was always the guy that wanted to be balls to the walls, no matter what," Sting said. "Didn't want to coast, didn't want to go halfway. I didn't want wrestling fans to be bored out of their minds, or feel like I was giving them a second-rate performance ever. I saw the guys that operated like that and just collected a paycheck. Wrestling fans could see through that kind of stuff."

Sting is in excellent shape at 64 years old. He said he stopped doing steroids in 1990 and quit painkillers in the late 1990s when he became a born-again Christian, which he credits for his longevity. For as long as he remembers, Garrett said Sting was always working outside his home in the yard and staying disciplined in the gym. That continues until now at Sting's property in the Dallas area.

"If he has gardeners out there that are like redesigning, redeveloping the place, he's leading the charge with them," Garrett said. "He's dirty at the end of the day, he'll pull an eight-hour shift with them. And ever since I was a kid, that's what he has done. But of course, he's got the gym at his place and works out frequently. I've never experienced my dad not in an active state of working out. Like he's always training, always on top of it. And that's definitely helped, too."

Sting said he shielded his children, sons Garrett and Steven, and daughter, Gracie, from the wrestling business when they were younger. But as they've grown, he's pulled aside the curtain, so to speak. Garrett and Steven were even part of an AEW segment. They were in the front row during an episode of "Dynamite," only to be the victims of a storyline beatdown by the Young Bucks. Sting said he's always been close with his children, but maybe not as much as they all are right now with everyone seemingly a part of his final run.

"All three of my kids are texting me constantly," Sting said. "All the things that they're writing to me about what I'm doing and how cool they think it is, and it's almost like strengthening our relationship even more. This whole thing, it's very cool. So, I love having them involved. It's just been a great experience and what a way to end it, you know?"

But it will come to an end on Sunday. Sting said he might remain part of AEW in other capacities in the future, but Revolution will mark his final match. He accomplished his goals in AEW, to elevate the fledgling company and make Allin and others bigger stars. And now, it's time to give way to the next generation in earnest.

"I signed a multiyear deal originally just thinking, 'We'll see what happens and see how it is and what the atmosphere is like,' and every step of the way the guys just had just so much love and respect and a willingness to want to play [ball]," Sting said. "And I am just blown away and just grateful as all get out for that, because otherwise none of this would've happened. I mean, it's just impossible."

Even before the past few years, Sting was an all-time great in professional wrestling. His time with AEW has only added to his legacy -- especially since he did it his way, when previous runs were cut short for reasons out of his control.

And what could be more Sting's way than rappelling from the rafters on a wire at age 64 on Wednesday night, the same way he did unforgettably for the first time in 1997?

"It's almost like a moment in time that I wish would just kind of stay still, because it's been so exhilarating," Garrett said of his father's last few months in wrestling. "Everything that he's done has just been so cool to watch. And every time you think he's done all the cool things, he just pulls out something else and just blows everything else out of the water.

"The rappelling [Wednesday] night? I mean, just shivers. It was crazy."