Yeah, it’s meant to drive video game sales and recapture lapsed fans of yore, but man did Goldberg’s return to WWE hit its mark or what? The heartfelt promo about missing being a ‘superhero’ for young fans resonated with even cynical ears, as did Goldberg’s confident assertion that big bad Brock Lesnar needs weaselly Paul Heyman to pick his fights for him. Not only is Goldberg a classic character, but he delivered a classic babyface promo. Even though Survivor Series is probably going to be more about serving up a fresh legend to the Lesnar maw, part of me’s hoping Goldberg spears Lesnar’s ribcage into dust. That’s an effective promo.
“Member Berries” have existed in wrestling dating back to Hulk Hogan’s 2002 nostalgia run, a time where cutting-edge WWE decided their future existed in the past,and tailored their DVD releases (and later the booking) accordingly. Goldberg’s just another one off of the conveyor belt of yesterday, but damned if the opening salvos for his Survivor Series match weren’t well done.
If you’re up for some Goldberg nostalgia, or you’re a younger fan that wasn’t around for the heyday of “Da Man”, here are ten matches worth checking out. Just steer clear of WrestleMania XX if you don’t want your optimism squashed.
10. Goldberg vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan (WCW Nitro – July 6, 1998)
A staggering 41,412 fans packed the Georgia Dome to witness Eric Bischoff’s gamble – giving away Goldberg’s big title win on free television. Nitro handily crushed Raw with a 5.6 to 4.4 ratings win in the final hour, temporarily justifying Bischoff’s need to one-up McMahon in the ratings battle. The match itself doesn’t come anywhere close to an epic on technical or planned merit, instead succeeding on the thrill of the moment. The match lasted a mere eight minutes, enough time for Goldberg to run through his effective offensive diet en route to a spear and jackhammer that damn near blew Atlanta apart.
9. Goldberg vs. Raven (WCW Nitro – April 20, 1998)
Another list qualifier that isn’t deep on true match quality, but it’s a damn entertaining five minutes of fury. By now, fans had caught onto Goldberg as a wrecking machine worth rooting for, and he would celebrate his possibly-erroneous 75th victory over Raven, who was in the midst of a one-day United States title reign. Goldberg fended off the attack of Raven’s Flock underlings, which included an eye-opening Jackhammer on the seven-foot Ron Reis. In a memorably cute touch, a group of fans threw Raven back over the railing when he attempted to flee. The whole spectacle revealed Goldberg’s potential as an energetic and muscular whirlwind.
8. Goldberg vs. Sid Vicious (Halloween Havoc – October 24, 1999)
One more for the “less a match and more an exhibition of thrills” category. This was early in the Russo-Ferrara takeover of WCW, and they immediately rolled out the Attitude rehash by trying to recreate Hart Vs.. Austin, minus the beautiful storytelling. Instead, Goldberg mauls Sid earlier in the evening to the point where he’s bleeding like a stuck pig. It’s more of the same come the actual match, with Goldberg standing out as a remorseless killer while once-sugarcoated WCW burned behind him. Goldberg wins via stoppage, in what was less a match and more an attempt at augmenting the upside of malice.
7.Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash (Spring Stampede – April 11, 1999)
Spring Stampede was an oasis in the wasteland of 1999 WCW, where an event succeeded on the hard work of literally everyone, and wasn’t compromised by too much BS. Nash Vs.. Goldberg sounds like a possibly-sluggish power match from WCW’s days of quickening decay, but it wasn’t. Nash repaid Goldberg for a senseless defeat (more on that soon) with this spirited heavyweight battle, even busting out a leapfrog at one juncture. Goldberg’s reasonably-clean win wasn’t going to make up for the costly booking decision of months earlier, but it served as a welcome part of one of WCW’s last great cards.
6. Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash (Starrcade – December 27, 1998)
Yeah, this match. Having Goldberg’s streak end somewhat unceremoniously to 39-year-old injury-prone Nash was dubious enough without it being compounded by the “Fingerpoke” eight nights later, but you know something? It was at least a pretty good match. One thing you appreciate more watching Goldberg’s fifty-fifty, non-squash matches from back in the day is his capacity for being creative as a worker. While Stone Cold was the obvious neck-and-neck comparison for Goldberg, his style was more akin to Ken Shamrock, as evidenced by some nifty MMA-style work early on in this match. Booking aside, it’s a very enjoyable match.
5. Goldberg vs. Bret Hart (Starrcade – December 19, 1999)
Another infamous match, due to the serious injury sustained by Hart that would ultimately end his wrestling career. Hart’s WCW run had long patches of spottiness, due to an admitted lack of motivation on his part (not that 1999 was a particularly good year for him personally). Taking into account the fierce kick that disoriented Hart, and the screwjob retread finish, it’s still a very good match from probably WCW’s top two stars at the time. Sadly, given the time frame and the booker, you have to endure enough (in)convenient moments of overbooking for one decade, but the efforts from Goldberg and Hart are there.
4. Goldberg vs. Scott Hall (Souled Out – January 16, 1999)
Definitely Hall’s best singles performance since his WWE run, and wouldn’t you know it involves a ladder. The Starrcade 1998 finish saw Hall use a stun-gun to debilitate Goldberg and allow Nash the win, so the same weapon hung above the ring, with the climbing recipient permitted to use it. Goldberg sold valiantly, both a pre-match knee injury and a loss of blood, in a match where two bigger men went above their norms with some nifty spots. Goldberg won a contest that was surprisingly good, given the half-assed efforts of many in WCW main events of the time.
3. Goldberg vs. Chris Jericho (Bad Blood – June 15, 2003)
The only WWE entry on the list, as Goldberg’s only other worthwhile match in McMahonland was a brisk Elimination Chamber – this is for one-on-ones only. Goldberg’s uneven WWE run didn’t have too many bright spots, and this is probably the pinnacle, with unrepentant Jericho making the most out of the WCW feud that never was. The slow-builder saw Jericho work Goldberg’s arm, only to find himself unable to contain the bull in the China shop that was his opponent. A well-told story, but let’s face it: the Jurassic Park-sounding version of Goldberg’s theme just isn’t as cool as the imperialistic coldness of his WCW standard.
2. Goldberg vs. Scott Steiner (Fall Brawl – September 17, 2000)
This particular event was another overachiever, and by far WCW’s best in the hellbound vortex that was 2000. Steiner had many backstage issues, but was positively fresh as the unpredictable angry jock, and he and Goldberg would string together a wild power brawl befitting of their respective images. Once again, given the period, there was plenty of overbooking, but the chaos in some ways benefited the performance at hand. Goldberg passing out in the Steiner Recliner was pretty much the only bad part of the match, and even then, it’s a paltry crime compared to the promotion’s sins for the rest of the year.
1. Goldberg vs. Diamond Dallas Page (Halloween Havoc – October 25, 1998)
Pity those who missed part of this WCW Championship match, as some cable companies cut off most of the bout due to the event running into overtime. Typical WCW, right? Not that Goldberg or Page should shoulder any blame for the bonehead mistake – it’s the kind of match you’d expect from two wrestlers who were keen on getting the performance right. Page made Goldberg look like a true star by bumping for the bruiser, as well as executing a dramatic sequence of near-finishes and true grit moments as the match wound down. Page, unlike some, understood the importance of rocketing a can’t-miss like Goldberg with all of his power.