Friday, 31 December 2004

Goldberg's Year in the WWE

Almost a year ago, Safeco Field and World Wrestling Entertainment were abuzz with the news that Bill Goldberg, possibly the last superstar WCW ever created, was finally coming to McMahon-land. Having heavily criticised the product over the past few months, and cancelled many meetings with the powers-that-be, both sides finally reached an agreement. Finally, the man that wrestling fans had wanted to see in a WWE ring since the beginning of the Invasion in June 2001 was here.

Bill Goldberg's arrival in the locker room apparently ruffled a few feathers. Some were apparently unhappy with the fact that he was given main event status upon his arrival in the company. One, Chris Jericho, was still unhappy with the fact that Goldberg had cancelled their proposed program in WCW five years previously. Others welcomed him, with The Rock being the head of the welcoming committee.

But while Goldberg was a sensation in his early days in WCW, the opposite was the case at the beginning of his WWE tenure. Booked in a program with the self-proclaimed People's Champion, Goldberg was pushed to the top of the card in a feud that would headline the Backlash pay-per-view.

But the build-up left something to be desired. In WCW, Goldberg was a virtually unstoppable force, tearing through everything and everyone in his quest to become World Heavyweight Champion. Nobody stood in his way, not Scott Hall, Diamond Dallas Page, Ric Flair, Booker T, not even the immortal Hulk Hogan.

It's probable that a great deal of the creative team didn't know much about Goldberg, which is why, to begin with, he was made to look something like a fool. He was paired with Goldust in a comedy skit, the only reason being that they both had the word "gold" in their names. Seeing old Bill sitting there in a blond wig did not make for compelling viewing.

When Goldberg arrived on Raw, proclaiming that The Rock was going to be next in his long-line of victims, many thought he would dominate the ensuing feud. The Rock was off to Hollywood, after all. In his plans, wrestling was going on the back-burner, and he always had a reputation of putting what was right for the business ahead of his own personal needs. But just a short time into this feud, Goldberg was left helpless in the middle of the ring having taking a pasting at the hands of The Rock. This so-called unstoppable force ended a
episode of Raw lying on his back staring at the lights. He hardly looked unstoppable.

At the Backlash pay-per-view, Goldberg and The Rock finally met in a one-on-one encounter, and while the match can hardly be termed a mat classic, it served it's purpose. The Rock could go off to Hollywood knowing that he had done his job, and Goldberg could move on to the next feud.

Having blown through Christian and various mid-carders on Raw, Goldberg's next feud was born out of a real-life situation. As mentioned before, Chris Jericho was still annoyed with Goldberg because he cancelled the proposed program between the two in WCW a few years previously. Jericho had played the feud in a comedy style, which annoyed Goldberg, who claimed he was too serious a wrestler to fit into such a situation.

Things got a little heated backstage when Jericho found out that Goldberg had apparently been badmouthing him to others. Annoyed, Jericho sought out Goldberg, and a few choice words were exchanged. Fortunately, it didn't go any further than that. Handshakes and apologies were then traded, and the two moved on to promoting their upcoming match at Bad Blood last June.

Rivalries played out on a wrestling show that are borne out of real-life situations can sometimes make for compelling viewing, and although the build-up segments for the Jericho/Goldberg feud were entertaining, they weren't the best reason to watch Raw. Their match at Bad Blood served it's purpose, but at the time, stories began to appear that Goldberg was getting frustrated, and that the fans were getting frustrated with him. Just days before the pay-per-view, Goldberg got into a heated verbal exchange with a group of fans outside an arena, and with the Internet being what it is, word of this spread around the world, and even had an effect that was visible on the pay-per-view. Having defeated Jericho, Goldberg left the ring and got into another verbal exchange with a fan at ringside, this time live on world-wide television. Not much was shown of this exchange, but enough was.

Having conquered all before him, in a less than spectacular manner, there was now only one place for Goldberg to go - the World title. His feud with Triple H and his Evolution cohorts was the next logical step for his career, and again, this feud was connected to another real-life situation a few years previously. At a merchandising fair, Goldberg and Triple H traded insults with each other, and the situation was listed as one of the reasons Goldberg didn't sign for the WWE before he did. But with this situation resolved, the two were able to move on to their upcoming program.

With the one-on-one main event booked for Summerslam, the WWE's second biggest pay-per-view of the year, everything looked good, until Triple H suffered a severe groin injury during a post-Raw altercation in July. The injury was serious enough that the entire main event match was changed, and for the first time since it's introduction at the Survivor Series the previous November, the Elimination Chamber was introduced into the mix, as were Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Kevin Nash & Randy Orton. This was needed to protect the champion's injury.

With the news of the groin injury circulating around the world, every fan watching Summerslam that night thought that Goldberg would leave the cage the champion, and for the first time in his WWE career, he looked the business. Showing us the old Goldberg we hadn't seen since the height of his WCW career, Goldberg tore through every man he could in the Elimination Chamber. The crowd went wild as he took down Chris Jericho, Randy Orton and Shawn Michaels. As the stunned Triple H cowered in his inner-chamber, the entire world thought they were about to see the crowning of a new World Heavyweight Champion.

And Goldberg certainly was crowned that night, but not in the way that everyone wanted. With the help of his trusty sledgehammer, and his Evolution cohorts, Triple H took Goldberg down. For the first time in his WWE career, the machine had been beaten.

And this displeased the vast majority of wrestling fans. They claimed that they had been screwed, that because of his injury, Triple H should have done the right thing and passed the torch to Goldberg, that he was once again looking out for number one.

The fact is that many didn't take into account the bigger picture. Goldberg had been booked perfectly in this match. He was now viewed as an unstoppable wrestling machine who could only be taken down with weapons, and when outnumbered. They also forgot what the original plan was - a one-on-one encounter between Goldberg and Triple H. By booking this ending, they not only portrayed Goldberg as the unstoppable monster, but also portrayed Triple H as the cowardly heel champion, something that wrestling promoters have been doing for decades.

And so the feud continued to the following pay-per-view, Unforgiven. Triple H, still suffering from his groin injury, met Goldberg in the long-awaited encounter in which Goldberg also put his career at stake. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, Triple H lost cleanly, and Goldberg became the new World Heavyweight Champion.

It was a situation that Goldberg seemed happy with. His performances on television on Raw seemed to indicate this. After he recovered from his injury, Triple H returned to challenge for the title at the Survivor Series. Despite the interference of his Evolution team-mates, Goldberg retained the belt. However, Goldberg would remain as champion for only a few more weeks. As 2003 ended, Triple H pinned Goldberg in a triple threat match that also featured the other unstoppable monster of the Raw brand, Kane. Goldberg would then
begin to move away from the World title picture, as the seeds for his next feud had been sown one month before at the Survivor Series.

In a backstage segment at the Survivor Series, Goldberg interrupted when Smackdown's Brock Lesnar was being interviewed. There was no physical exchange, and no exchange of harsh words. The looks said it all.

Two months later at the Royal Rumble, Lesnar confronted Goldberg while he was being interviewed. Goldberg was in the lucky situation of having drawn number thirty in the Rumble, and many fans thought that he was a dead cert to win that night and go on to the main event at Wrestlemania. This confrontation was turned up a notch.

Goldberg entered the Rumble last, and once again ploughed through the opposition. He looked unstoppable, taking care of everyone who stood before him. Until Lesnar came into the equation. Having just defeated Hardcore Holly, and not being an official entrant into the bout, Lesnar attacked Goldberg from behind, unleashed the F5 on him, and left him laying in the middle of the ring. Stunned, Goldberg was an easy target, and Kurt Angle eliminated him moments later.

And so the feud began in earnest. Goldberg was annoyed that Lesnar had cost him a chance at the title, but could do nothing about it because his opponent was on a different show. Enter Steve Austin, complete with ticket for the No Way Out pay-per-view the following month. Austin handed Goldberg the ticket, and gave Goldberg carte blanch to do anything his liked, and despite the warnings of both Vince McMahon and Smackdown General Manager Paul Heyman, Goldberg went to No Way Out and took his ringside seat.

As Goldberg position himself in his chair, Heyman, and moments later Lesnar, came marching down to the ring to warn Goldberg off. While Heyman didn't want any kind of physical encounter, Lesnar goaded Goldberg into the ring. The fans went wild as he climbed over the security wall and jumped into the ring. He then proceeded to hand Lesnar's backside to him on a plate. Seconds later, Goldberg was arrested, and many
thought that this would be the last they saw of him that evening.

Wrong. As Lesnar defended his title against Eddie Guerrero in an excellent match, Goldberg, having apparently paid his own bail, came down to the ring and attacked Lesnar before he could attack Guerrero with his own title belt. Ultimately, Goldberg's interference led to Lesnar losing the title, as Latino Heat was crowned WWE Champion.

Because of his interference, Goldberg was suspended from active competition on Raw. But this wasn't enough for Lesnar. Getting down on his knees in the middle of the ring, Lesnar begged McMahon to sign a cross-promotional match at Wrestlemania with Goldberg. The following week on Raw, McMahon announced that he was very reluctant to do so, citing that the confrontation would be so heated, nobody would be able to control it. Enter, once again, Steve Austin, as he volunteered to be a special guest referee for the bout. McMahon agreed.

Which leads us to this point - Lesnar v Goldberg, Madison Square Garden, Wrestlemania XX, March 14th, 2004. This has to be one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in wrestling history, and the granddaddy of them all is the perfect stage for such a match. Unlike Lesnar's match at Wrestlemania XIX, fans aren't expecting a mat classic. They're expecting a confrontation between two unstoppable monsters. And that's just what they'll get.

As it stands right now, this may be the only match ever between Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg. While Lesnar has become a superstar in the business, and something of a locker room leader in the Smackdown brand, Goldberg's one year contract is coming to an end, with no sign of an extension in sight. Vince McMahon paid big bucks to get Goldberg under his wing, and over the past year has had to justify what at times has been a disappointing investment to his board of directors. McMahon would love Goldberg to stay, even though he
hasn't really delivered an increase in ratings or pay-per-view buy-rates, but can only keep him on at a reduced wage, while Goldberg, who has said on more than one occasion that he doesn't have a deep love for the wrestling business, can certainly earn more money competing in far fewer matches in Japan, picking and choosing where and when he wrestles.

So will Wrestlemania XX be the swan song for Goldberg in the WWE? It's hard to say, but if I could sum up his one year in the big league, I would have to use a phrase my teachers used on me many years ago, on more than one occasion - good, but could do better.