Well, it’s happening. Twelve years after their first encounter turned into a ridiculous comedy of errors at WrestleMania XX in Madison Square Garden, Brock Lesnar and Goldberg are set to square off at another WWE PPV, this time at Survivor Series, which will take place in the Great White North of Toronto, Canada. And because twelve years is actually a really long time, especially in the fast-paced world of pro wrestling, we thought we’d look back at some of the important things, big events, and even entire WWE careers that have taken place since WrestleMania XX, in semi-chronological order, just to give you an idea of exactly how long it has been since the first time Lesnar and Goldberg stared at each other across a WWE ring.
10. The Radicalz Hit Their Peak, And Then…
Let’s begin at the beginning, with a really depressing story about two Superstars who actually hit the highest point of their careers while Lesnar and Goldberg were headed out the door, but ultimately will be remembered for their tragic ends. We’re talking of course, about Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, who ended WrestleMania XX as the WWE and World Heavyweight Champions, respectively, sharing an in-ring moment that was one of the most touching in wrestling history up until that point. Unfortunately, that moment will never be replayed on WWE TV, because of a cascading series of events which began with Eddie Guerrero’s sudden death from a heart attack in November of 2005. Many wrestlers and wrestling fans took Eddie’s death extremely hard, especially Benoit, one of his closest friends. Many current wrestlers point to Guerrero as one of the reasons why they got into the business, and the pain of his unexpected death still lingers. A year and a half later, in 2007, Benoit murdered his wife and son and then killed himself, sending reverberations through the wrestling industry that still can be felt to this day, especially when it was revealed that Benoit’s brain was significantly damaged due to years of undiagnosed concussions. Benoit has never been mentioned on WWE programming since that day, and likely never will be. These tragedies make it very hard to remember WrestleMania XX in any sort of positive light, and even overshadow the disaster that was Lesnar-Goldberg.
9. The Dead Man Returned
A period that a lot of wrestling fans would like to forget is the four-year span when the Undertaker abandoned his “Dead Man” gimmick to become the derisively-named “BikerTaker”, a character closer to the Undertaker’s real personality, which freed him up to wrestle more like a human being and not an undead zombie, but was also missing a great deal of the mystique of the original gimmick. At WrestleMania XX, a large part of the promotion for the event revolved around the implicit promise that the Undertaker would be returning to the persona which made him famous, after being unceremoniously buried alive by his brother Kane at Survivor Series. This was the evolution of The Undertaker into the version which would somehow manage to become an even better wrestler as he aged, combining the aura of the Dead Man with the more realistic wrestling style he’d developed as the American Badass. In fact, at this point, the Undertaker has been this version of his persona for longer than he portrayed the original incarnation, which lasted ten years before he made the switch in 2000. But on the night that Brock and Goldberg stepped into the ring in MSG, the new life of the Undertaker was just beginning.
8. John Cena, 0-Time World Champion
At WrestleMania XX, in the opening match of the card, John Cena defeated The Big Show to win the WWE United States Championship for the first time. Not only that, it was Cena’s first title of any sort in WWE. Also, he was still the Doctor of Thuganomics and got the win by clocking Big Show with a steel chain. These are all things that would seem unfathomable to most people who have only known John Cena as the multiple-time World Champion on the verge of tying Ric Flair, the Face That Runs The Place, and the guy who has been the center of the WWE Universe for as long as they can remember. In fact, when Lesnar and Goldberg were getting booed out of the building, John Cena was still a year away from winning his first World Title. Twelve years later, as the world prepares for the rematch, Cena is now a 15-time World Champion and one of the most decorated Superstars in the history of the business. Actually, now that he’s started being phased our and becoming a part-time attraction, we can now say that basically the entirety of Cena’s WWE main event career has taken place in between those two matches.
7. Yes, There Was A Time Before JBL
Any newer fan will obviously recognize JBL, the New York (by way of Texas) millionaire who has been a part of the WWE commentary booth for most of the last decade, and before that, was the longest-reigning WWE Champion in Smackdown history. Older fans, of course, will probably remember Bradshaw slightly more charitably as a member of the APA, a pair of hard-drinking mercenaries who fought people for fun and profit and had an office that consisted of a door and a poker table, or as the Acolytes, henchmen for the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. And the tipping point between Bradshaw and JBL actually took place in the weeks after WrestleMania XX (in fact, the APA wrestled in a multi-man tag match at the PPV), as Faarooq moved into forced retirement and WWE decided to push Bradshaw as a singles wrestler, changing his gimmick to that of an updated Million Dollar Man, thanks to his well-known proficiency with the stock market. Unfortunately, as great as JBL was as a character, due to Eddie Guerrero crumbling psychologically under the burden of carrying Smackdown as WWE Champion, he was immediately pushed into the main event and given that aforementioned run as champion. Fans didn’t like it one bit, and JBL had the distinct dishonor of main eventing some of the lowest-bought PPVs of the modern era. After a few years, JBL also retired to become an announcer, where he has remained to this day, whether we like it or not.
6. Hulk Hogan, Non-WWE Hall of Famer
Whatever you think of Hulk Hogan, the person, there’s no doubt that his contributions to the wrestling industry make him a guaranteed Hall of Famer. We would argue that any wrestling Hall of Fame that doesn’t include Hogan has legitimacy issues. And yes, even though he’s off the website, Hogan remains a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, just one that they never talk about. However, when WWE basically re-opened their Hall of Fame for WrestleMania XX, one of the names that did not make that historic class was that of the Immortal Hulkster. In fact, at that time Hogan was on the outs with WWE after the disastrous “Mr America” angle (basically the last time Hogan was anything close to a full-time wrestler), and was actually setting up to work with upstart promotion TNA (which he ended up backing out of at the last minute, to the surprise of nobody). Hogan would not return to WWE until his Hall of Fame induction in 2005, which means that the first Goldberg-Lesnar match took place at a time when Hulk Hogan, the man who was at least partially responsible for changing the fates of two different wrestling companies forever, twice, was not actually a WWE Hall of Famer. It seems incredible to think about, but it’s true.
5. The Animal Was Unleashed
At WrestleMania XX, though he was still a member of Evolution, Batista was basically a non-factor, the fifth wheel in a 3-on-2 handicap match between Evolution and the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection, a man with little role beyond “big muscular guy who never talks”. This diminished role was likely because recent attempts to put him in singles matches had resulted in near-disaster, with the fairly inexperienced Batista still not able to hold up his end of a match. However, after WrestleMania XX, his association with Triple H and Ric Flair began to pay dividends, as well as working with top wrestlers like Edge, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, and Chris Benoit on a near-weekly basis (while still disguising his flaws in multi-man tag matches). By the end of that year, it was Batista who had become a fan favorite (while still remaining ostensibly a heel) for his improved ring work and subtle flashes of personality, organically becoming a huge star who won his first World title at Wrestlemania 21, and never looked back. After several years of dominance, Batista decided to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood, and left WWE in 2010, two years before Brock Lesnar returned to the company. That’s right, basically the entirety of Batista’s main event career took place while Lesnar was away, denying us what could have been a potential dream match.
4. Money In The Bank
At this point, it’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a Money in the Bank briefcase in play. Since its origins as a featured WrestleMania match, Money in the Bank has grown in importance at a rapid rate, eventually becoming the focus of its own self-titled PPV, with the guaranteed World title match held within the briefcase seen as one of the few “sure things” in WWE. In it’s lifetime, the briefcase has only failed to result in a new champion twice, and has given 9 WWE Superstars their very first World title. However, at WrestleMania XX, the very concept of Money in the Bank was just a twinkle in Chris Jericho’s eye. In fact, it would debut one year later at WrestleMania 21, as a six-man ladder match involving some of the very best wrestlers in the company not already involved in title matches.
3. The Rise And Fall Of ECW, Part II
While Lesnar and Goldberg were around for the original brand extension (in fact, their match at WrestleMania XX was actually cross-brand, as Goldberg was a Raw Superstar and Lesnar was part of Smackdown), they did duck out before WWE went insane and tried to add a third brand by reviving the spirit of Extreme Championship Wrestling, which happened in 2006. In fact, the WWE version of ECW not only came into being two years after Brock and Goldberg left, it saw 14 different wrestlers hold the ECW Championship, had the worst-bought PPV in WWE history, went from being treated as the equivalent of the other brands to needing a “talent-sharing” program with Smackdown just to fill out its roster, and disappeared forever two years before Brock Lesnar made his big return. From this, we can determine two things: first of all, a lot of stuff can happen in twelve years, and secondly, the revival of ECW failed miserably on nearly every level.
2. Two “Indie Darlings” Got Their Due
CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have undoubtedly been two of WWE’s biggest main event stars of the past decade. But when the lights went down on WrestleMania XX, neither was even close to stepping foot in a WWE ring. Punk wouldn’t even sign his developmental contract until later that summer, and debuted as part of WWE’s ECW re-launch in 2006. Bryan, meanwhile, didn’t make it to the company until 2009. By the time Brock returned in 2012, Punk had already dropped his infamous “Pipe Bomb”, and was in the midst of his incredible 434-day reign as WWE Champion. Punk would actually wrestle Brock in a single match, at SummerSlam in 2013, before leaving the business entirely in 2014. Bryan didn’t even get that much interaction with Brock, as after winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XXX, injuries forced him to vacate the championship and cut short a planned SummerSlam match against Brock. Bryan would return for a brief period the next year before retiring. That’s right, in the time between two Goldberg-Lesnar matches, we saw the entire WWE careers of two of the biggest stars the company has ever seen.
1. Who’s Left
After realizing how many wrestlers have come and gone in the twelve years since the first Lesnar-Goldberg match, we decided to look at the participants of WrestleMania XX and figure out just exactly how many Superstars who wrestled at that show are still on WWE’s active roster right now. The list, unsurprisingly, is fairly short (though actually longer than we expected).
– John Cena
– Big Show
– The Undertaker
– Randy Orton
– Chris Jericho
– Triple H
– Mark Henry
Let’s see, Triple H and The Undertaker are all but retired, Big Show has basically announced WrestleMania 33 will be his swan song and he’s barely been on TV in 2016, Mark Henry has vanished off the face of the earth, Jericho is still awesome but also comes and goes as he pleases, and Cena is quickly transitioning into a part-time attraction as you read this. That leaves us with one true full-time performer in Randy Orton, and Kane, who is also still around for some reason. The fact of the matter is, it has been so long since the last time Lesnar faced Goldberg, that only WWE’s biggest names and longest-tenured Superstars are even halfway active wrestlers at this point.