I’m relieved. When I heard the news that Bill Goldberg would make his return after a 12-year hiatus, I expected something along the lines of Batista. Remember when WWE brought Batista back and screwed it up so bad the fans booed him mercilessly? Some questioned whether advertising his return was the right thing to do, suggesting it should’ve been a surprise run-in. But if you remember … they’ve done that before, so to bring him back as a “surprise” (which isn’t really, as someone will always report a sighting) may not have gone down as well.
What WWE did was introduce him gradually. They had him on the outside looking in, as a selling point for their latest video game. Fans asked “if he’s in the game, surely he’s returning soon?”, which created intrigue. The past animosity between Bill and WWE made fans question whether a return would fall through. Goldberg’s reputation precedes him, not just as a franchise player for WCW, but also for his ring work, which has been questioned on many occasions.
Following his anti-climactic end to his first WWE run, his reputation was damaged and he left the business with a bitter taste in his mouth. Some fans never got the opportunity to witness Goldberg live, and the only way they could do was to look at old footage and form opinions based off that and others opinions. He reminds me of The Ultimate Warrior that way, a man who was all character, all power, all hype, yet he was able to step away from wrestling and make a living without needing a pay day. For twelve years he was happy to sit on the sidelines.
The comments he made about WWE was always negative. He expressed disdain for his WWE run. His sense of entitlement did not sit well with other wrestlers on the roster. There’s a story about Chris Jericho standing up to him backstage, and they ended up having a fight (which Jericho won according to witnesses). Upon going to “Wrestler’s Court” … the judge Triple H ruled in Jericho’s favour, and told Goldberg he had no respect for the business. Goldberg was forced to publicly apologize to Jericho for his actions.
I had mixed feelings when I heard the news he was returning. On one hand, he ended Bret Harts career, and had little respect for the guys. On the other hand, he’s never been a “wrestler”, and accidents happen. His larger-than-life character was never forgotten, evident by the fans randomly chanting “Goldberg” over the years. They missed him … and on some level he missed them. He’s getting on, so at this point I feel like it couldn’t hurt to see him have one last run. And this time he’s doing it for his family and friends.
The thing about Goldberg the first time … he wasn’t “human” enough for WWE fans. For years, he was billed as a merciless killing machine, so it was hard to relate to him as a man behind the character. It was OK in WCW, the fans appreciated his dominance and tuned in to see him destroy, much like Lesnar does now. They didn’t care if he performed the same five moves per match, they appreciated his entrance, his intensity, and his explosiveness. To look like Goldberg, you need to be dominant, and arguably his rise was WCW’s greatest weapon in the Monday Night Wars. WCW made a star by forcing his dominance on their fans early, and it worked better than they could have imagined.
Another good thing is WWE announced his return, and it wasn’t a long wait. Having Paul Heyman talk him down … and teaching fans how to chant “Goldberg”, was absolutely pivotal to the return. Just like how Matt Hardy teaches wrestling fans how to “DELETE!”, Heyman taught “GOOOOOOOLDBEEEERG” to a new generation. And they were very willing to do so, because any chant which annoys Heyman is a good one.
Another important decision was keeping Lesnar away from Goldberg. It was important to introduce to the audience before rushing into the feud too soon. It was important for the fans to accept his return before building to the next level. But it wasn’t just how WWE, Goldberg, or Heyman handled it … it was how the live audience would react. And wow, they couldn’t have played the part any better. The problem these days is that sometimes a crowd gets “smart” and rebels. Luckily the crowd didn’t do that … they made it a special moment.
Bill almost shed a tear listening to the magical reaction. Someone would’ve told him beforehand “don’t be surprised if some boo tonight, keep expectations low”. So when the building shook with “Goldberg” chants it was validation, the warmest welcome, almost like getting a squishy hug from Bayley … the love between Goldberg and the fans translated beautifully on TV. Even after all the emotion, Bill was willing to express himself as a family man first, and a character second. He didn’t fluff his lines, and left us with the “You’re Last!” phrase … which in itself is a badass way of saying “This might be my last match, but I ain’t losing!”.
Doing this so his son and family could see him live for the first time was another ingredient. Everyone can relate to family, so to “humanize” Goldberg at this point of his career was a brave decision, but one which worked perfectly. The fans know he’s not just doing this for them, he’s doing it so his family can experience it too. Such a feel good moment. The fans tuned in to see Goldberg last night, so what better way than to have him on last? Build to it throughout the show and express the importance of the occasion.
Never let anyone make you feel bad for liking Goldberg. He may not be a 5-star match athlete like an AJ Styles. He might not be a lovable underdog like a Daniel Bryan. Hell, he’s not going to be every kids superhero, but what he does bring is the anticipation of excitement. We can never be sure what’s going to happen when he shows up, but it’s ok to get excited.
The wrestling business is missing characters. Last night, I saw young fans say they finally “get it”, because they never got to see him live and didn’t get the chance to understand his appeal. And I responded by saying they now know how it feels to be an “Attitude Era” fan, when wrestling was exciting and filled with strong characters in different promotions. He was one of those figures, and I find it pretty cool that fans who only ever experienced WWE dominance can finally see.
I was never much of a WCW fan back in the day, but I have a friend who was and Goldberg was always one of his favourites. Whenever we played Raw vs. Smackdown games, Goldberg needed to be made if he wasn’t there already. And now … a new generation of fan can appreciate him as my friend did. A kickass machine of a man. Someone who doesn’t “need” wrestling, but appreciates the fans all he same. This has gone on longer than I hoped, so let’s end this piece by saying I hope the warm reception continues. He’s not here to halt the “new era”, he’s back for one last hurrah and we should … at the very least, accept it’s happening and not crap all over it. Let’s see where it goes before we call it an epic fail. Thanks for reading everyone!