Goldberg: A History That Defies Reason

This Thursday at Super ShowDown, a unique wrestling tale takes center stage. At 53 years old, a Hall of Famer once again returns to the ring, as Goldberg brings his iconic character into its fourth decade of relevance. With wrestling’s biggest event just over a month away, Goldberg is challenging for WWE’s headline honor, taking on ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt, one of the most dominant figures in recent memory. If nothing else, that formula is immediately intriguing but on paper at least, its eventual result feels obvious.

Considering Wyatt’s destructive reign thus far, this would appear to be just another stop on the Road to WrestleMania. However, this match’s true appeal far outreaches the on-screen story behind it. In fact, this is a title tilt that’s attraction is almost exclusively rooted in the challenger himself. Wrestling history is loaded with legends but for better or worse, Goldberg is just a little different. The conflict here is nothing of great depth or detail but even in 2020, there’s an aura that still surrounds that name, that entrance and as fleeting as it may be, that performance.

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The truth is that while this scenario may demand a certain logic, Goldberg’s presence renders almost all of that meaningless. In truth, a sudden title change appears as likely as any other result you could possibly ponder and that’s a feeling that’s innate in Goldberg’s presentation. There are genuine reasons for that of course, a history that provides credence to the natural charisma that’s made him such a distinctive individual. Three years ago, we found ourselves in a relatively similar position, as with WrestleMania fast approaching, Goldberg became Universal Champion.

In fairness, there was a clearer path to Goldberg’s destination then but even still, the pieces in play are vaguely familiar. That whole experiment was fascinating and, in many ways, rebuilt the foundations that Thursday’s match stands upon. Prior to his 2016 return, Goldberg was twelve years removed from a WWE ring, an almost mythical figure that famously, had departed on the worst note possible. The comeback stint provided a chance to right that wrong though, battling Brock Lesnar in two matches that swiftly encapsulated everything that made Goldberg so special.

As their first rematch awaited its opening bell, there was a palpable excitement that was rather surreal, an energy entrenched in tension and anticipation. I’m not sure it can be explained away as simple nostalgia either, as the live crowd’s reaction felt telling. There were certainly fans in attendance that had either never been Goldberg fans or were never given the chance but yet, there was a united suspense that followed him to the ring that night. Though for years, Goldberg’s success had been simplified, his return demanded a re-appraisal of sorts.

While his skill set may have always been limited, there was a genuine allure to Goldberg, an undeniable physical presence. Perhaps that’s just a credit to the monster WCW famously built but even still, its remaining impact was immense. Though he was returning to an era of in-ring brilliance, the spectacle of Goldberg’s performance had barely diminished and in his WrestleMania rubber match with Lesnar, it felt stronger than ever. At that point, Goldberg’s journey felt complete, ending things on terms much more fitting of his prime glory.

The following year Goldberg was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame but even still, another match always felt feasible. That’s the beauty of this character, it doesn’t demand much consideration as to the man’s remaining physical capabilities. As long as that music still plays the same and even if grayer, he still looks the same, Goldberg is an attraction that stands in a bizarre lane of his own. As a result, Goldberg’s 2019 return held hesitant interest for me, facing The Undertaker in a match rooted in cautious and almost ominous fascination.

Unfortunately, spectacle fell victim to reality that night, as Goldberg appeared startlingly human for the first time since his aforementioned return. If Goldberg’s clash with Lesnar felt like the perfect swansong, this seemed more like a performance demanding retirement. If last time was on his terms, this appeared like a decision that had suddenly been taken out of his hands. That wouldn’t be the case though, not yet at least as two months later, Goldberg returned for a very different type of showcase, destroying Dolph Ziggler in vintage, recognizable fashion at SummerSlam.

That was a different kind of closure for Goldberg, a more fitting tribute to his peak without a reminder of his inevitably increasing physical limitations. We know with certainty that even still; few characters can destroy or dominate more memorably than Goldberg. However, his ability to produce a short but dynamic thriller is now more in doubt than it was three years ago. The truth is that none of us know what Goldberg is capable of producing this Thursday, and moreover, we’re even less sure of what he’ll actually need to produce too.

There’s only one obvious result awaiting us in this match with Wyatt and that’s the reality that regardless of victor, this will be short and ideally, sweet. This isn’t a match that’ll demand much patience but yet, there’s a mystery to it that has even my most fickle fandom intrigued. Simply put, I just don’t know what I’m going to see or why. Each piece of history provides a different element too, the caution that came with that Undertaker match in almost total contrast with the roller coaster of those Lesnar battles.

At this point, I’m not sure Goldberg will ever find a truly fitting fairy-tale finish. Almost certainly not one better than he’s already reached anyway. However, I’m even less sure that I care. While I know that smoke and mirrors are the center of this attraction, there’s an excitement to it that even reluctantly, has me pondering another Goldberg title win. If that’s indeed Super ShowDown’s conclusion, the response will be chaotic. Such a choice would polarize fans at the very least but in the brief few minutes between the first and last bell, it feels hard to imagine even a cynic being anything but immersed.

I suppose that for now at least, that perfectly encapsulates the remaining significance of Goldberg’s presence. It’s unclear how many chapters remain in this story but as long as each step continues to bring such a rare feel of uncertainty, I’m not sure my interest will ever truly diminish. In both his strengths as well as his weaknesses, Goldberg is a true anomaly among wrestling icons. At this point in his career though, that famed reliance on the ‘greatest hits’ has never been more beneficial.

Every fan tuning in this Thursday knows that with just two moves, Goldberg can become Universal Champion and though that thought may elicit a range of reactions from fans, it’s power can’t be understated. From start to finish, this match will demand your attention and there’s a simplicity to that which somehow, still captures my imagination. It’s unclear if that suspense will live beyond this meeting with Wyatt but at its entry point at least, it’s seldom felt less palpable. I truly don’t know what awaits us this Thursday but maintain there’s an unusual beauty in that feeling.

It’s unlikely to prove prevalent in the action itself perhaps but in the fans’ reactions at least, it’ll remain rich for one last time. Well, until the next time of course.

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