Bill Goldberg, one of the most dominant performers of the Monday Night War era, made it official last week on Raw when he accepted Paul Heyman’s challenge to come back for one more match.
It’s against the same opponent he defeated more than 12 years ago in his final WWE bout. The high-profile match has been signed for the Survivor Series pay-per-view on Nov. 20 in Toronto, Canada.
No doubt crowds will chant “Gold-berg ... Gold-berg” as their hero spears his adversary and finishes him off with his aptly named jackhammer.
Only one problem. That formidable foe will be Brock Lesnar, the most intimidating competitor in not only the wrestling business, but in combat sports in general. And while Goldberg holds a 1-0 edge in their series, he has been out of the business for nearly 13 years and at age 49 is 10 years older than Lesnar.
But the overriding factor is that this match is bound to draw big money for a company that is in need of a fresh, high-profile collision between two of pro wrestling’s biggest names over the past two decades.
Heyman, Lesnar’s advocate, did his usual stellar job in putting over the bout as a dream match. Calling out Goldberg two weeks ago on Raw, he mocked him with his own catchphrase and said, “In Suplex City, You are not Goldberg. You’re next!”
While Goldberg’s return came as a surprise to some, many insiders have long speculated that it was a matter of when, not if, the former WCW and WWE champion came back for one more run. Goldberg has been teasing a return to WWE ever since he left the company more than a decade ago. Not so much for the fame or fortune, which he has enjoyed plenty of both, or even to bring a sense of closure to his wrestling career after ending it on a sour note.
What drove him to finally come back for a final match was his long-standing desire for his 10-year-old son to see his dad wrestle live for the very first time on a big stage.
“I got a generation of kids who don’t know who the hell I am except for looking online,” Goldberg told ESPN. “The biggest thing about being a wrestler, and being Goldberg, gave me was the ability to be a superhero to kids.”
That sentiment isn’t just for public relations purposes, as Goldberg took his role as a hero in the wrestling business quite seriously. He has always contended that his favorite part of wrestling was his interaction with the younger fans. Part of the reason he soured near the end of his incredible run in WCW was an ill-advised heel turn. It proved to be a temporary blow to his enormous fan base, and Goldberg never forgot.
“I should have never been turned heel — ever. It was disgusting. The reality is that a lot of these bad things that happen in the wrestling business, 90 percent are because of certain people’s egos. There’s no question about that.”
The affable Goldberg’s forced transformation certainly wasn’t befitting a role model who routinely aided charitable causes, visited sick children in hospitals, served as a national spokesman for animals rights, and respected his roots enough to decline to wrestle on the high holy day of Rosh Hashana or to change his name to a more convincing ring moniker.
There will be no such problem in WWE, although going up against Lesnar could evoke some split reaction among the fans. The business has changed since Goldberg last took part in it, and WWE fans can be very particular about who they cheer and who they boo.
But if last Monday night on Raw was any indication, fans haven’t forgotten Goldberg, who received a thunderous reception to chants of “This is awesome!”
“The biggest thing I missed, other than kicking (butt), is being a superhero for the kids all around the world. In this day and age, there ain’t enough of us,” he said.
“I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I have one more (butt)-kicking left in me.’ I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I have one spear left in me.’ Then I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I have one last devastating jackhammer in me,’” Goldberg began.
An iconic moment followed.
“So, Brock Lesnar, not only does that mean that you’re next ... but most importantly, it means, Brock Lesnar, you’re last!”
Sixteen-time world heavyweight champion Ric Flair cast doubt as to whether Goldberg’s body could handle the mayor of “Suplex City.”
“The truth is I think Bill would be a nice addition, but, I mean, when you’ve been out of the business as long as he has, here’s the same deal: you’re wrestling Brock Lesnar, brother. That’s not a way to start out. It just isn’t,” he said last week on the Ric Flair Show.
“Not that Bill’s fragile by any means, but when you’ve been away that long, your body hasn’t been in the ring, that’s why I say all the time, ‘Time off is a wrestler’s worst enemy.’ And he’s been off a long time and to jump in there against Brock, who is in peak condition all the time. Because of his dual roles, either MMA or professional wrestling, he stays in top shape and I don’t know that Bill has.”
Goldberg’s deal reportedly calls for only one bout with Lesnar.
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross believes that — win or lose — it will be the final match for his fellow Oklahoman.
“Cynics hanging their hats on the last match the two wrestled are reaching, IMO, as the lay of the land is much different this time around. I expect a straightforward, physical match with Lesnar winning in what I expect to be the last pro wrestling match that the Oklahoma native and former WCW phenom likely will ever have.”
Don’t be so sure, however, as WWE could be setting up a rubber match for next year’s Wrestlemania at the 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
In some ways, Goldberg’s win in their first and only match in April 2004 at Wrestlemania 20 was a fluke, mainly because he had opted to let his contract run out and wasn’t planning to return. When Lesnar abruptly declared his intention to leave the company after that match as well, WWE reversed course and decided to send out the popular Goldberg out with the victory.
With both of them on the way out, and with most fans knowing beforehand, the match was so severely booed that guest referee “Stone Cold” Steven Austin gave both Goldberg and Lesnar a stunner at the end to give the crowd something to cheer about. Both left WWE the very next day.
Since returning to the company in 2012 following a successful stint in UFC, Lesnar has established himself as the most dominant force in WWE.
Goldberg and Lesnar are both featured in the company’s new WWE 2K17 videogame. It wasn’t until his involvement with WWE 2K17 that a Goldberg return became a legitimate possibility.
The 6-4, 270-pound sculpture of muscle is in fighting shape and doesn’t look far removed from his days as WCW champion and his meteoric rise to stardom during the late ‘90s. He was one of the main reasons why the now-defunct company’s popularity soared during that period.
It was considered a major coup when WWE owner Vince McMahon landed Goldberg in March 2003 after almost two years out of wrestling following the demise of WCW. The relationship had gotten off to a shaky start when he butted heads with company standard-bearer Triple H (Paul Levesque) a couple years before even joining the WWE.
“Hunter and I had some really bad times prior to me coming to WWE,” Goldberg admitted at the time. “I’m a professional athlete. I’ve been paid since I was in my early 20s to go out there and fight with guys who were 40 or 50 pounds heavier than I am, and fight for my life. I got into a business where people make decisions based on some of the most stupid things. I cannot tell you how dumb some of these decisions are, and how inadequate and mentally unprepared some of these people are.”
Disillusionment set in quickly for Goldberg when the WWE creative staff tried to introduce a “human side” to the intense performer and even turned him into a comedic act in a series of backstage vignettes that only served to tarnish Goldberg’s reputation. His tenure with the company, Goldberg acknowledged at the time, was one of the most miserable periods of his life.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s easy. I’m not saying I’m a booker and can put things together — I can deliver them but I can’t put them together — but I guarantee you that Kevin Nash could write better shows than any wrestling show out there right now. I liked the business when it was pure and it didn’t have all the crap associated with it.”
Coming out of high school in 1985, Goldberg went on to become a record-setting nose guard at the University of Georgia where he was an All-SEC selection from 1987-89 and was selected to UGA’s all-decade team for the 1980s. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1990 NFL draft. He played three years with the Atlanta Falcons and the Rams before an abdominal muscle tear ended his career. He entered the wrestling business after meeting mat stars Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl) and Sting (Steve Borden) in an Atlanta-area fitness club.
“Sting is the guy who made me want to become a wrestler,” said Goldberg. “Many people tried, but Sting’s advice to me and Sting’s going out there and being able to do it with a smile on his face made me do it. “
Goldberg went 173 matches in a row in WCW without losing a bout, although that number was inflated by the promotion.
Goldberg already has had an impact on the ratings. Last Monday night’s Raw drew 3.130 million viewers — up 13.5 percent from the previous week’s 2.758 million viewers. It also marked the first time that the show has drawn more than three million viewers since football season started.
Lesnar is scheduled to appear this week on Raw in Minneapolis to respond to Goldberg accepting his challenge.
No matter the outcome of their Survivor Series showdown, it’s bound to bring back a wave of nostalgia for fans of the genre.