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Was Goldberg's WWE run successful?
It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since Goldberg showed up on Raw for the first time. Back then — in the years after WCW buckled under mounting debt and WWE was left as the only relevant company in sports-entertainment — the former WCW Champion was the most exciting WWE acquisition since Chris Jericho jumped ship in 1999. And, yet, Goldberg’s tenure is widely regarded as a disappointment.
Goldberg may not be a huge part of the sports-entertainment conversation today, but he’s surprisingly relevant for a guy who hasn’t been active since his infamous WrestleMania XX bout against Brock Lesnar in 2004. Almost ten years removed from that bizarre night, audiences are still fascinated by the competitor who once went on a 173 match winning streak in WCW. To this day, Goldberg’s name remains one of the most searched terms on WWE.com.
Figuring out why that’s the case isn’t difficult. At a time when the most vital cross-section of WCW’s roster was made up of previously established, 40-something stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Lex Luger, Goldberg arrived as a wholly original main event talent. There were a few things about his persona that didn’t feel fresh — there happened to be another guy who was doing the bald head, goatee and black trunks thing already — but there was so much about this former NFL defensive tackle that was wildly unexpected.
Most of all, from June 23, 1997, through Dec. 27, 1998, Goldberg did not lose a single match. There’s a growing ideology in sports-entertainment that wins and losses don’t mean much. And, yet, would The Road Warriors have been The Road Warriors if they were getting stomped by The Midnight Express night in and night out? Would Goldberg have been Goldberg if he didn’t flatten Curt Hennig and Saturn with visible ease?
To this very day, Goldberg is romanticized in the quarantine of his thrilling winning streak — and why not? The powerhouse’s best matches were exercises in humiliation for his opponents. These weren’t traditional mat contests where the momentum shifts dramatically back and forth between competitors. These were flat-out muggings. Sure, his opponents were, by and large, puddings. Perennial losers like Jerry Flynn and Glacier who were speared and jackhammered by Goldberg ad infinitum. But watching these saps get annihilated by a physical, aggressive beast of a man was thrilling.
Still, there were so many things that happened after Goldberg lost to Kevin Nash at Starrcade 1998 that get ignored. Whoever talks about his rivalry with the Totally Buffed duo of Lex Luger & Buff Bagwell or the villainous turn he took at Great American Bash 2000? Besides a few choice highlights — particularly that time he forced his arm through a limousine window and tore an artery — Goldberg’s post-streak transformation from wordless warhammer to a three-dimensional human being was never particularly beneficial to his persona.
Regardless, when Goldberg showed up on Raw on March 31, 2003, those fans familiar with his early dominance looked at him as the dude with the winning streak — a guy who just finished stomping scrubs in Atlanta and would continue to do so in WWE. And, initially, he kind of did. First night in, Goldberg took aim at The Rock and practically speared The Great One out of his leather pants.
It was an impactful debut for the former WCW Champion and his subsequent victory over The Rock at Backlash announced him as an important new WWE Superstar. But Goldberg was not presented as the silent mauler he had been in his early WCW days. Instead, he picked up where he left off in Atlanta as a grappler who was both vocal and, at times, vulnerable. Announcer Jim Ross may have awkwardly dubbed him “the creature from planet Goldberg,” but the competitor audiences saw in WWE was clearly just a man.
When he first met Goldust on the April 14, edition of Raw — a segment which saw The Bizarre One plop a Barbie wig on Goldberg’s head — outraged fans reacted as though Goldust had tattooed “Loser” on the man’s forehead. Somehow, any period of time in which Goldberg was not hurling guys through the air became detrimental to his mystique — a mystique that had been shattered back when Lex Luger pinned him at WCW Sin in 2001.
There was a lot more to Goldberg than the three pronged attack of spear, Jackhammer, pin, but there always seemed to be an unwillingness to accept that. Did crowds love Goldberg? Hell yeah. The man adapted to and excelled in sports-entertainment with preternatural abilities. His aggressiveness was addictive. Plus he was a flat-out beast, right there alongside the likes of Brock Lesnar, Batista and Ryback as a true freak specimen of the ring. But most folks loved Goldberg for what he once was — not what he became.
Goldberg beat The Rock and Kane during his time in WWE and defeated Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship, but by the time he showed up in Madison Square Garden to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX, WWE fans were booing him. The New York City crowd was disappointed that this would be his last night in the company as much as they were disappointed that Goldberg was not the Superstar they’d imagined him to be.