The headliner for the WWE’s annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony over WrestleMania weekend will be Bill Goldberg. The ceremony will take place on Friday, April 6th in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The news of Goldberg’s inclusion with this year’s Hall of Fame class was first reported in December by reporter Brad Shepard and it was confirmed by Dave Meltzer last week in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that Goldberg would be the headliner of this year’s class.
Goldberg played defensive tackle at the University of Georgia and was drafted by the L.A. Rams. His NFL career spanned five years, including playing for the Atlanta Falcons and later drafted by Carolina Panthers. He never played for the Panthers and an injury led to his dismissal from the team.
Goldberg has told the story that his accountant informed him he needed to figure out what he was going to do for money and it led him towards professional wrestling as he knew some of the WCW guys in Atlanta and it got him in the door at the Power Plant.
His rise within World Championship Wrestling was impressive under any set of circumstances but given the political nature of the company and the inability for talent to rise into main event positions, it made Goldberg’s rise all that more impressive.
He was introduced as an updated version of Nikita Koloff or Magnum T.A. where he won his matches quickly and he never spoke. His matches started to become highlights of the show and the audience got behind his streak of wins with signs popping up at events while WCW kept the number of wins legitimate.
By the spring of 1998, Goldberg was on fire and WCW made the decision to put the WCW title on Goldberg in one of greatest moments in the history of WCW Monday Nitro. The decision was made late to go ahead with Hulk Hogan defending the title against Goldberg on the July 6th episode at the Georgia Dome as it was originally going to be a dark match and later incorporated into the body of the show. They drew 41,112 to the Georgia Dome and the scene of Goldberg hitting the jackhammer to Hogan and winning the title was one of the greatest reactions you will ever see and hear.
Despite Goldberg being on fire and on equal footing with Steve Austin at a time when the WWF and WCW business enormous, Goldberg was still slotted behind Hulk Hogan’s programs throughout the summer of 1998 and into the fall.
While the narrative at the time was how much better the WWF product was and WCW had taken a back seat with the television numbers, WCW still had one of the greatest months ever from December 7th, 1998 – January 4th, 1999.
In the span of four-weeks, WCW Monday Nitro drew 32,067 to the Astrodome in Houston on December 7th, then did 29,000 at the TWA Dome on December 21st and started off 1999 with 38,809 at the Georgia Dome on January 4th. WCW live event business was enormous at the end of 1998, even though the on-screen product was suffering. The cracks were evident with business plummeting in 1999 and falling off a cliff in 2000.
While it’s hard to imagine anything saving WCW was from its demise, Goldberg offset the decline but the booking of his character in the span of eight-days did a number on him. First, was the decision to end the streak at Starrcade in 1998 with Kevin Nash pinning Goldberg after Goldberg was hit with a taser by Scott Hall and Nash won the WCW championship. The following week at the Georgia Dome, they had promoted the Starrcade rematch between Nash and Goldberg but never delivered on the match. There was a show-long angle where Goldberg was arrested on allegations of stalking Miss Elizabeth. This led to the impromptu title match between Nash and Hulk Hogan with the one-finger finish and Goldberg returning at the conclusion of the show to be attacked and left lying by the reunited New World Order.
The damage to the Atlanta market wasn’t felt until Nitro’s return to the dome in July 1999 when paid attendance was down 21% from January and down 38% from July 1998 for Goldberg’s title win.
The peak of Goldberg ended at Starrcade 1998 and he was never the same. He was out of the main event picture and into programs with Scott Hall and Bam Bam Bigelow over the next several months. To promote Goldberg’s role in a Universal Soldier movie, they changed his iconic ring music to a Megadeth song and that led to the introduction of Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara to WCW.
Goldberg and Russo clashed heads throughout that regime with Goldberg sidelined for the first half of 2000 after putting his arm through a car window from an angle in January.
His final appearance for WCW came in January 2001 when he teamed with DeWayne Bruce and lost to Kronik at the “Sin” pay-per-view with the stipulation that Goldberg would be fired the next time he lost a match (in a bad effort to recreate the streak).
Goldberg was under an expensive deal when WCW went out of business in March 2001 and didn’t return to pro wrestling until the summer of 2002. Goldberg worked a pair of matches with All Japan Pro Wrestling and the Wrestle-1 promotion in Japan.
Goldberg debuted for the WWE on the night after WrestleMania 19 in March 2003 and immediately kicked off a program with The Rock, who was instrumental in getting Goldberg to sign. The two had planned to have a two-match program with Goldberg defeating The Rock at the “Backlash” show in April 2003 and they would rematch at the following year’s WrestleMania, which never happened. Goldberg only had a one-year deal and despite a run with the World championship, it was a year he hated and both sides seemed happy to walk away from the other when the deal expired. This led to one of the most forgettable matches of Goldberg or Brock Lesnar’s career at WrestleMania 20 in March 2014. The audience knew both men were leaving after this match, turned on the match and it was a disaster, ending with Goldberg winning and special referee Steve Austin stunning both Goldberg and Lesnar on their way out.
Goldberg left the experience with a bad taste in his mouth and the key people within WWE didn’t seem to have any interest in working with Goldberg again. To promote WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta in 2011, Shawn Michaels and Paul Levesque were on a talk show and asked about Goldberg entering the WWE Hall of Fame and they felt Goldberg wasn’t Hall of Fame worthy given how short his run on top was.
The ultimate facilitator over the past years has been 2K, brokering deals with performers that were “persona non-grata” and opening the door for WWE talks and eventual returns. In 2016, it was Goldberg’s turn and he agreed to work on the video game and be the featured character. An angle was shot and Goldberg was set to appear on Raw in Denver, Colorado to challenge Brock Lesnar to a rematch at the Survivor Series in November 2016.
The deal was originally for the one match, but Goldberg got over so big that they worked out an extension and led to Goldberg defeating Lesnar in 1:26 at the Survivor Series and then announcing he would enter the Royal Rumble, later winning the Universal title from Kevin Owens at Fast Lane and defending against Brock Lesnar in a rematch at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando.
The rematch at WrestleMania was a polar opposite of the 2004 version and many felt it was the best match on the card. The two went all out for 4:45 and was the perfect amount of time, ending with Lesnar regaining the title and avenging his loss to Goldberg.
Goldberg had a send off the next night on Raw, clearly open to doing more matches but leaving the ball in the WWE’s court.