One of the biggest stars in WCW during the Monday Night Wars was undoubtedly the monster known as Goldberg. He debuted with an incredible undefeated streak and became one of the few people to cleanly beat Hulk Hogan in WCW history, and if not for the poor decision-making of those in charge, was well-prepared to carry the company into the new millenium. When WCW inevitably fell apart, Goldberg remained one of the most notable mainstream stars of pro wrestling. This eventually led to a WWE contract, one filled with missed opportunities and disappointment, which ended in one of the more bizarre matches ever seen. Twelve years later, Goldberg made a shocking return, declaring that he still had one more match left in him. So, for those who might not have been around the last time Goldberg prowled the squared circle, here’s a detailed look at the incredible career of The Man.
A Start In Football
Quite frankly, Bill Goldberg is exactly the type of athlete who ends up as a professional wrestler. He was a decent college football player who got drafted by the NFL in the later rounds, then struggled to earn a starting position. He bounced around between the NFL and the CFL for a few years, suffered a massive injury that made him a risky prospect for any team, and finally, after failing to catch on with the expansion Carolina Panthers, retired from the sport. While his injury may have kept him off the gridiron, however, it didn’t prevent him from wrestling, and after a chance meeting with Lex Luger and Sting while working out, he signed with WCW and began training at their developmental program, also known as the “Power Plant”.
An Understated Debut
A guy with Goldberg’s look and pedigree, in the middle of the Monday Night Wars, doesn’t get to stick around in developmental until he fully learns his craft, because there’s a ratings battle to win. So, in very short order, after a few months of training and a handful of non-televised matches, Goldberg made his debut on WCW Monday Nitro in an unpromoted match against Hugh Morrus, effortlessly defeating him in what was seen as a massive upset. The businesslike Goldberg barely reacted to his first big win, only holding up a single finger to indicate his first victory, then walked out of the ring and headed backstage. Of such beginnings are legends created.
173-0, More Or Less
It was impossible for someone like Goldberg to remain under the radar as he amassed wins in incredibly short, brutal matches. Sure, his matches didn’t involve much actual wrestling on his part, but they didn’t need to, because Goldberg was made to look so physically dominant that it was fully believable that he could defeat anyone with a limited arsenal. Eventually, WCW began to shine the spotlight on Goldberg and his undefeated streak, and he became a highlight of the weekly show. He got a unique entrance, with a camera following him from his personal locker room, surrounded by security guards (the guards weren’t to protect him from harm, it was said, but to protect innocent bystanders from his uncontrollable power), while a gladatorial march played him to the ring to the chants of “Goldberg”. Hilariously, Goldberg’s music originally belonged to another wrestler, Pat Tanaka, who was decidedly less successful. At any rate, as the wins mounted, and the fans got behind their new hero, it looked like WCW might actually have found a new star that they could use to take the fight to WWE.
Goldberg rose through the ranks quickly once his streak reached unbelieable numbers (literally unbelievable, because WCW was artificially inflating the total, which would eventually come back to bite them), winning the United States title almost as an afterthought, which some questioned if it was even a good idea, since who would ever beat him to win the title back? Whatever the case, the direction for Goldberg’s career was obvious: straight to the top, and an eventual date with the seemingly eternal leader of the never-ending New World Order, Hollywood Hogan. And with WWE making a massive comeback and actually beating WCW in the ratings, Eric Bischoff managed to convince Hogan that the time was right for Goldberg to beat him. Shockingly, Hogan went along with it, but allegedly had a condition that he would eventually “get his win back” in the future, something which would lead to problems down the road. Then, with minimal advance promotion, on an episode of Nitro, Goldberg entered a sold-out Georgia Dome and cleanly defeated Hogan to become the WCW World Heavyweight Champion, in one of the biggest moments in the company’s history.
Ending The Streak
Unfortunately, Goldberg’s big win could only help WCW for a short period, as even as WCW Champion, he didn’t have the clout (or seeming interest in playing political games) to be treated as more important than the legendary Hogan and his cadre of associates. As a result, Goldberg went back to his usual routine of destroying midcarders in a couple of minutes, while it was Hogan who main-evented the PPVs and was still the face of the company. And inevitably, the decision was made to end Goldberg’s streak, an honor which, in a series of political moves designed to make Hogan look like he was willing to let others have the spotlight, went to Kevin Nash at Starrcade. With the help of Scott Hall and a cattle prod, Nash defeated Goldberg in the main event of WCW’s biggest show of the year, ending the streak and his run as WCW Champion, the only one he would ever get before the company imploded. In hindsight (and, frankly, even at the time), there was no real reason to have Goldberg lose, he was still the most popular wrestler on the roster by a large margin, his merchandise was still a top seller, and he was even improving as a wrestler thanks to working with some higher-quality opponents during his title reign. But like many of WCW’s bad decisions, it was done so they could “surprise” people, and maybe get another ratings victory when fans tuned in to Nitro to see the fallout.
The Kick That Finished A Legend
In the year that followed his loss, Goldberg existed in limbo, regularly getting screwed during title matches, preventing him from ever regaining the WCW World Title, but still fairly popular in the eyes of the fans. He even started to wrestle longer matches, although he was still, even a few years into his wrestling career, one of the least skilled performers on the roster. But fortunately for WCW, they had one of the best in the world on the roster as well, and in mid-1999, Goldberg began working extensively with Bret Hart, both wrestling against and teaming with the Hitman. And in an unfortunate twist of fate, during a match between Goldberg and Hart at Starrcade 1999, Goldberg accidentally delivered a stiff kick to Hart’s head, causing a massive concussion that immediately resulted in the end of the Hitman’s legendary career. Hart always felt it was the ultimate irony that someone who had never injured anyone in the ring would have his career ended by what he saw as an under-trained wrestler who didn’t know enough to be aware how careless he was, and it was a black mark against Goldberg that would dog him for the rest of his time in wrestling.
To make matters worse for Goldberg, only days after the incident with Hart, he suffered the first major injury of his wrestling career, one which almost cost him his life. During a backstage segment on an episode of Nitro, Goldberg’s instructions were to use a length of pipe to break the windows on an escaping limousine, which contained the mysterious “Powers That Be”, the people in charge of WCW who were supposedly conspiring to screw him over in his matches (go ahead, guess who was head writer for WCW at this point). The problem was, Goldberg somehow lost the pipe he was supposed to use to accomplish the stunt safely, and rather than just not do it, he attempted to break the windows with his fist. The reason why that is a bad idea is because punching through a window leaves you with an arm surrounded by broken glass, and Goldberg ended up slicing a sizeable gash in his forearm, which bled profusely and saw him rushed to a local medical facility. In the aftermath, it was revealed that he had lost so much blood that it was very nearly a life-threatening injury, and only quick reactions had averted disaster. Goldberg went on the shelf, and while he recuperated, WCW quickly spiraled out of control.
Worst Heel Turn Ever
When Goldberg returned in mid-2000, WCW was basically circling the drain, and once again in the hands of Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff. And they had an incredible plan that they must have believed would turn the company’s fortunes around, because otherwise there’s absolutely no reason why they would have gone through with it. After a few months of fans eagerly awaiting the return of Goldberg, one of the few wrestlers who still had a chance to be a legitimate draw and who fans could really get behind, they decided to promise a truly shocking moment at the Great American Bash PPV, which ended up being Goldberg turning heel, a move which nobody saw coming because nobody thought they’d be that dumb. Needless to say, it failed horribly, and thanks to another injury that took Goldberg off TV, it was scrapped shortly afterwards, with Goldberg moving into a feud with Russo where he was forced to duplicate his original winning streak or be fired. Inevitably, Goldberg lost due to heel shenanigans, and disappeared from WCW just in time to miss the ultimate destruction of the entire company, as it was purchased by WWE.
One Year In Purgatory
Following the shuttering of WCW, Goldberg stayed home, with all the security that an iron-clad guaranteed contract with Time-Warner (as opposed to WCW itself) could provide. However, in 2003, Goldberg was approached by WWE, who were desperately seeking any and all former wrestlers from the Monday Night Wars in an attempt to halt sliding ratings. The company bought out the final few months of his Time-Warner deal, and Goldberg signed a lucrative one-year deal, beginning the day after WrestleMania XIX, when he debuted and entered into a feud with The Rock. And despite only having Goldberg for a limited time (he repeatedly made it clear that one year was all he was interested in), WWE constantly waffled on what to do with him, repeatedly putting off an inevitable World title match and keeping him in a holding pattern until his deal was mostly up, then taking the title off of him only a couple of months later. Even though there were strong indicators that fans might be willing to accept Goldberg as a conquering hero, most notably at SummerSlam, where he was an overwhelming crowd favorite before losing to Triple H’s trusty sledgehammer, WWE continued to fumble the ball. The good news was, they had one heck of an idea for Goldberg at WrestleMania XX…
Going Out With A Whimper
In 2002, WWE had debuted their own rookie monster, a former NCAA wrestling champion by the name of Brock Lesnar. In his first year on the WWE roster, Brock defeated some of the company’s biggest names, and won the WWE Championship on two occasions, with the hope that he would be the star to carry the company into the future for years to come. And with a star on the level of Goldberg making it quite clear that WrestleMania XX would be his last appearance with WWE, plans were enacted to use Goldberg’s remaining star power to put Lesnar over in a highly anticipated match of two huge wrestlers with powerful offenses. The plan was put in motion when Lesnar cost Goldberg his spot in the Royal Rumble, and escalated when Goldberg responded by costing Lesnar the WWE Title. All things looked good for the match at WrestleMania, until suddenly, mere days before the show, Brock Lesnar announced that he was quitting pro wrestling, a fact which quickly leaked out to the fanbase at large. What had originally been a huge featured match suddenly became an opportunity for a massive fan revolt, as the live crowd at Madison Square Garden viciously rained down boos on both men, deriding Goldberg for his mercenary attitude and Lesnar for his lack of loyalty. After Goldberg ended up winning the match (until Lesnar’s announcement, it had been fully expected he would lose), both he and Lesnar disappeared immediately from the company.
Life Without Wrestling
Goldberg seemed perfectly content in retirement, and the only times he ever addressed the world of pro wrestling was to talk about how unhappy it had made him, especially his year in WWE. For the most part, he ignored any questions about a possible return, distancing himself from the industry that had made him a rich man, and indulging his interest in classic cars and MMA instead. For over twelve years, Goldberg was a non-entity in pro wrestling, aside from a couple of non-wrestling appearances at small shows on behalf of old friends in the business. There was never any indication that he missed wrestling, and WWE seemed okay with letting one of the biggest stars of the Monday Night Wars disappear from the public consciousness. That is, until a deal made with 2K Sports to have Goldberg appear as a DLC character in WWE 2K17 opened the door one last time, leading to Goldberg making one final appearance, a retirement match on his own terms, at the 30th annual Survivor Series, facing a familiar opponent in Brock Lesnar.