It is a scene we became all too familiar with every Monday night on WCW Nitro…
The WCW head of security Doug Dillinger approaches a closed door, knocks a few times and the door opens up. A larger than life, bald headed goateed man walks out grunting and groaning. He is surrounded by a security detail of either cops or nameless wrestlers in security shirts. He makes his way to the entrance ramp where smoke and pyrotechnics go off. When the sparks subside, this man blows smoke out of his mouth and nose, lets out a scream and shadow boxes his way down the aisle. Chants begin to envelop the arena…Gooooldberg, Gooooldberg, Gooooldberg. A minute or two later, the match is over, and that larger than life man screams into a camera, “Who’s Next?” This was the weekly occurrence of the man simply named, Goldberg.
For a brief period of time, nobody was hotter in WCW than Bill Goldberg…Not Sting, Not Ric Flair, Not Diamond Dallas Page….no one. For a little over a year from his debut match on September 22nd 1997 to his first defeat on December 27th 1998, Goldberg comprised a win streak of 173 wins to 0 losses. Most of his matches during this period were nothing more than “squashes” or quick wins where the opponent got in little to no offense. He quickly became the face of WCW.
This fall, the WWE will release a 3 disc DVD set on the career of Goldberg simply entitled, “Goldberg – The Ultimate Collection.” This upcoming DVD release has certainly got a number of fans debating the over all impact of Goldberg in the wrestling world and should he eventually be inducted into the WWE Hall of fame. My opinion can be summed up nicely by a Dean Ambrose quote….NOPE!
While his impact was certainly felt, it was all too brief. People who believe Goldberg should be in the WWE HOF use the examples of Pete Rose, Donald Trump and Koko B. Ware being in the Hall, so why not Goldberg? For the examples pertaining to celebrities like Rose, Trump, Tyson or whomever….they are celebrities…not wrestlers. The WWE makes it clear that those people will go into the “Celebrity Wing” of the HOF. and not included with the wrestlers. There is no actual building to speak of as of now, but if and when it is built, that’s where the celebs will be. So that brings me to the hall of famer “The Birdman” Koko B. Ware. Was he a huge star in the WWE? No. Was he a jobber for a portion of that time? Yes. Did he contribute to the renaissance movement of the WWF/WWE in the 80’s/90’s? Absolutely! Many just remember Koko as the guy with the blue and yellow dyed hair carrying a parrot named Frankie to the ring. While the character was very popular for a spell in the 80’s, he also had a much heralded career in Memphis, Mid-South, World Class and Florida before that. Whether he wrestled under a mask as Stagger Lee or teaming with Norvell Austin in the PYT Express, Ware had an accomplished career for a long period of time.
Goldberg had a successful albeit short career, that was never fully appreciated or capitalized on. The bookers may be partly to blame, but so is Bill Goldberg himself. I’m simply on the outside looking in, but it seems that Goldberg just used pro wrestling as a means to promote outside ventures. He just didn’t seem to be the type that fully appreciated the gifts handed to him. The gifts that indie wrestlers work their entire careers just to get a sniff of. He had it all handed to him from day 1 and was allowed to run roughshod through most of a roster that Eric Bischoff really had no respect or use for. So Goldberg destroyed the likes of Mike Enos, Hugh Morrus, The Renegade, sprinkled in with Raven, Perry Saturn, Mongo McMichael and when totally “over” beat Hollywood Hogan. For the most part, it worked well, but it worked with a price.
Goldberg went straight from a training center(The Power Plant) to main event push. He never had to earn his keep, he never had to be taught the rich history of WCW or respect it’s forefathers…he was just pushed, pushed and pushed some more. That alone can and has lead to problems down the road and Goldberg was no exception. I like to use the comparison of spoiling a child and give them everything they ask for, when the parent finally tells them NO, the child reacts by throwing a temper tantrum. They aren’t use to being told no or denied anything. How can they learn to appreciate anything or value anything if they are always just handed things no questions asked? Paul Wight aka The Big Show was another example of this. He went straight from the Power Plant and in his DEBUT match, beat Hulk Hogan to become WCW World champion. When Wight signed with the WWE, his attitude and work ethic was less than spectacular. Vince McMahon sent him down to the developmental system of OVW and got an immediate “Wake Up Call.” He went from being a main eventer and former world champion competing in sold out arenas to wrestling in front of sparse OVW crowds against hungry, young upstarts. He was also required to clean up after the events by putting away folding chairs and taking down the ring. The WWE made it known to him that if he fails here, he’d be out of a job. Wight went on to say in his documentary that it was the greatest learning experience of his life and appreciated Vince giving him tough love. Goldberg never got that same lesson.
Instead, Goldberg was given the keys to the WCW kingdom and allowed to pick and choose who he wrestled and so on. When a young and hungry wrestler wanted a Goldberg “rub” and manufactured his own program with Goldberg, he was immediately turned down. Not only did Goldberg refuse to lose to the kid, he also refused to even work with him and subsequently blew up the angle by destroying the kid with a patented spear. That kid was named Chris Jericho who got so fed up with the WCW hypocrisy left the company and the rest as they say, became history.
Goldberg was protected and I guess rightfully so, considering he was one of the very few things working right for WCW that the company actually had any use for. The talented cruiserweights and luchadors were regarded as side show attractions. Many wrestlers who had potential to be big stars were overlooked in favor of Hogan’s guys or Nash’s guys. You either jobbed to Goldberg and make HIM look good in the process or you didn’t have a job at all. Case in point, the highly respected wrestler from Blackpool England, Steven Regal. Depending on what story you hear or who you choose to believe, I remember that match as clear as a bell. In February of ’98, Regal was selected as the next victim to job to Goldberg….only it wasn’t the typical squash match everyone expected. Steven Regal came out fighting, using some stiff moves and wrestling holds that obviously caught Goldberg off guard. A 1 to 2 minute squash became a 6 minute wrestling match. Regal did lose the match, but exposed the very green Goldberg in the process. After the match Regal was fired from WCW. Some say he was fired due to his continued abuse of drugs. Others say it was a direct result of this match. Even Steve Regal went on record to say the match was nothing more than a series of miscommunications rather than a shoot style match. Whatever you believe, Regal did expose Goldberg’s weaknesses intentionally or not and was fired immediately thereafter.
So I think what exactly made Goldberg into a short lived phenomenon? Was it his sharp, silver tongue that gave out memorable promos? Probably not, unless heavy breathing, grunts and one word answers are your thing. Was it his 5 star wrestling skill set? Hard to tell, seeing most of his matches were shorter than the commercials that Nitro aired. Was it the fact that he went through most of the WCW roster like a buzz saw? Not totally impressive considering the fact that most of that roster, with the exception of Hogan, Hall, Nash, Sting and maybe DDP were valued as nothing more than enhancement talent. Was it that Goldberg was perceived as a real tough, bad ass? Maybe, unless you heard of the legend of Goldberg meeting JBL aka Bradshaw in an airport lounge in 1999 and Bradshaw giving Goldberg “Ric Flair” like chops and physically intimidating him. Did he sell others well? Other than legitimately looking lost in his infamous match with Steven Regal, I’d be hard pressed to recall many matches where he made others look good. So what was it that attracted fans to his character? What really made Goldberg into a WCW superstar??? My theory, his entrance and the aura that entrance gave him. From Dillinger knocking on his door to the long walk to the ramp swamped with security, to him breathing in the pyro smoke, shadow boxing and the music. Ah yes, the music of Goldberg…
It was a simple enough tune…no lyrics, just an instrumental song entitled…”Invasion” written by Christian Poulet and Jean-Yves Rigo. It was originally intended to be the entrance music for the returning Sting…but changed to Goldberg and fit perfectly. The flow of the music blended well with the chants of Goldberg that ensued. (Whether the chants were piped in at various times in different arenas is a whole other debate) It helped build the character and get him over quickly. To me, it was all about that entrance and theme music. Disagree? Well, what happened when the creative wizards decided to give Goldberg a more modern theme? You remember the theme performed by Megadeth called “Crush ‘Em?” Goldberg suddenly wasn’t as over as he once was.
That brings us to the part of the article where we discuss Bill Goldberg’s wrestling acumen…His often quick squash matches were done by design. Put him in the ring with a bump machine like Jerry Flynn (Not to be confused with Jerry Lynn) and he looks unbeatable. Whereas you put Goldberg in the ring with an accomplished wrestler and superstar like say Bret Hart and bad things happen. Bad things did happen at Starrcade 1999, when Goldberg used a superkick on Bret Hart that was way too stiff knocking Bret Hart into next week and suffering a severe concussion. Bret being the consummate professional continued the match, but being dazed by the botched kick suffered further injuries. Bret would then suffer from post concussion syndrome and his career would never return to its former greatness. He eventually retired from wrestling and in 2002 after falling from his bike, suffered a stroke. Hart wrote a column in the Calgary Sun documenting his match with Goldberg saying, “He had a tendency to injure everyone he worked with.” That’s coming from someone who knows wrestling more than anybody seeing as how he was born and raised in the business.
A while after WCW’s demise, Goldberg signed a lucrative deal with the WWE. After hyping and advertising his debut like only the WWE can do, he arrives to start a program with the Rock. After the Rock, much to his dismay I’m sure, worked a program with the guy he dismissed in WCW, “Y2J” Chris Jericho. Somehow, Goldberg just wasn’t catching on with fans like he once did. As a matter of fact, during a conference call with share holders, Linda McMahon said that the WWE was disappointed by Goldberg’s early run with the company. A remark that to this very day still irks Bill Goldberg.
Despite not delivering on expectations, the WWE continued to push him, even winning the World title. What was the problem with Goldberg in the WWE? Simply put, he was expected to work. He wasn’t going to be utilized as the buzz saw he once was. McMahon and company had too much pride in their roster to just let Goldberg destroy all of them and that hurt his marketability. Goldberg never understood that philosophy and became discontent. His final match in the WWE was against another departing wrestler in Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20. The match was an epic failure and the fans let both know right away the weren’t amused. If you watch the match today, you can see both Lesnar and Goldberg were visibly upset by the booing and taunts from the crowd. Goldberg wound up winning the match to no one’s care, but got a Stone Cold stunner as a parting gift from the WWE.
Since his WWE departure, Goldberg has been outspoken about the business and his displeasure with it. He’s focused more on his Hollywood career than a wrestling career. While I certainly don’t want to besmirch his outside ventures, it does bring us full circle in this discussion. Is Goldberg worthy of the Hall of Fame? Would he even appreciate such an honor if it was bestowed upon him? A direct quote from Goldberg…”What kind of moron would go to work for half the amount of money, when they could sit at home and collect what’s written in a contract? I guess in many ways that remark makes sense, but I think of the guys who do this more for the love of what they do, than the money. It takes a special breed of human being to be a professional wrestler. They have an undying passion for it 24/7. Almost like an addiction, whether the adulation of fans, the physicality of the matches or the love of story telling…wrestlers for the most part, love what they do. While being paid millions is a definite plus, the truly great ones do it more so for the passion of it. Goldberg, with that quote, proved he isn’t one of them at all.
In conclusion, let’s review the “hall of fame” credentials of Bill Goldberg…He is the man who compiled a record of 173 wins and zero losses for over a year against mainly wrestlers who valued their job security. He is the man who refused to be in the same ring with a future superstar because, well just because. He is the man who carelessly ended the career of a legend and injured countless others. He is the man, who was content to sit and do nothing but get paid, rather than compete which the greats do. He threw fits when things didn’t go his way. He is the man who to this day, doesn’t have the itch to get back in the biz that gave him a name and gave him fortune.
Think back to that unique entrance of his…the knock on the door (Sorta like when an actor is given a cue..1 minute till showtime)…flocked by a security detail (If he was so big and bad…why did he need them anyway? Maybe to protect him from all the enemies he was making?) The quick squash match (To not expose himself as a green, careless wrestler) and out the door he went….with a big paycheck in hand….Give me Gillberg for the Hall over Goldberg any day. (At least you know he’d appreciate it.)