It’s arguably the most polarizing main event that WWE has had on a Pay-Per-View in some time. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg.
Dubbed “Fantasy Warfare Just Got Real” – clearly linked to the recent release of WWE 2k17 – to a large contingent on the internet, it’s not only a completely waste of opportunity for some of the newer talent, but an unwanted rematch of also arguably the worst match in Wrestlemania history. But if recent weeks have shown anything (besides a slip by each member of the story), we could be in for the dark horse match of the event.
THE BACK STORY
It was one of the worst kept secrets going into a Wrestlemania match ever. On paper, it should have been legitimate fantasy warfare come to life. On one hand, you had WCW‘s powerhouse former World Champion Bill Goldberg, meeting up with the WWE’s “Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar. It was the guaranteed main event on a card that featured Eddie Guerrero defending his WWE World title against Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit challenging World Heavyweight Champion Triple H and his friend Shawn Michaels in a Triple Threat for the title. But as Wrestlemania XX on March 14, 2004 came along, the narratives had changed quite considerably.
Goldberg was disgruntled with the Connecticut politics of the WWE and decided he was leaving when his contract expired after Wrestlemania. Brock Lesnar, still young and full of piss and vinegar, was rabid at the chance to prove himself in other fields of combat. He also decided to leave the WWE after Wrestlemania. The problem as, it was around that time that internet news and ‘dirt sheets’ really hit the public fan base with great gusto, and soon it spread like wildfire that the two big gladiators in the match were both leaving WWE after the match. Unlike Bret Hart (who was screwed), or Hall and Nash (who left for more money in WCW), these two were simply leaving because they didn’t like wrestling anymore. Essentially turning their backs on the very industry – and it’s fan base – that made them the stars they were at that very moment.
The event was no longer considered a main event, placed in the middle of the card. In an attempt to curb any potential fan feedback, Attitude Era icon “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was inserted into the match as the Special Guest Referee. The match itself, will live on in infamy. And not even so much as the match itself – although it was sloppy and lethargic, with ring psychology more akin to uninterested high schoolers in drama class, that world class professional wrestlers. But the audience let them both know what they thought of their decision – or more so their reason – for leaving the company. They weren’t booing because they thought the match sucked. They were booing because they thought both men sucked. The entire match’s saving grace was that the Texas Cooler was in the ring and ended up stunning both men to a thunderous applause to release the tension, lest it carry on and infect the audience for the remainder of the card.
Luckily it did not, and it become one of the WWE’s most memorable moments of the past 20 years. The night that two WCW rejects both held the World title in the WWE (while the intended Southern conqueror left scorned and defeated).
OVER THE YEARS
In the past 12 years, a lot has happened. A lot of water under the bridge. A lot of reflection on all the right reasons they did what they did, and a lot of wrong reasons why they did what they did.
Brock Lesnar had a failed attempt at an NFL career, a 2-year run in NJPW, and then a World Champion (but illness ridden) run in the UFC (as one of the company’s biggest PPV draws of all time), before returning to the WWE in 2012, eight years after departing. He’s reclaimed WWE gold, snapped the Undertaker’s Legendary streak, returned to the UFC for a one-off victory, and bloodied Randy Orton on live WWE television. If he was a beast before he left, he’s returned even more feral. But it seems this time he’s enjoying himself. Or at the very least, not taking himself quite so serious. And while many complain that he’s becoming a little one dimensional (despite being the same people who propelled his German Suplex syndrome into a Suplex City merchandise goldmine), his sit-down interviews are downright masterpieces of fear and intimidation and easily Lesnar’s best promo work since he debuted. And the biggest complaint of his brutal crimson beat down against Randy Orton a few months back was that it looked too real (again, by many of the same people who not only had prior clamoured for more blood and more realism). And Lesnar – love him or hate him – is still one of the biggest PPV buyrate spikes in the industry. While the indie fans may be sick of him, the money-spending casual fans can’t get enough him.
Bill Goldberg left the WWE and the industry all together. He went into television and film, ranging from reality television to Adam Sandler comedies, and also entered the world of MMA – although as a colour commentator for EliteXC. His disdain for his time in the WWE became very common knowledge whenever he was interviewed on podcasts or in print. He seemed very much to be on the list of those who would skip the “never say never” adage that Vince loves so much. But once again, those words rung true. In a series of years that have seen the return of Bruno Sammartino and Ultimate Warrior to the WWE family, and the blessing to enshrine ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage into the WWE Hall of Fame, Goldberg returned to the one place no one ever dreamed of seeing him again – a WWE ring.
After appearing on ESPN SportCenter on October 10 to promote the new WWE 2K17 game he was appearing in, he briefly joked of a potential return to the WWE to face his old rival, Brock Lesnar – whom he beat (for those who have forgotten the actual outcome – which is understandable). Later that night on Raw, Lesnar’s long time “advocate” Paul Heyman challenged Goldberg to a fight in response to Goldberg’s words.
And then a week later, Goldberg returned, live, in a WWE ring for the first time in twelve years, as he appeared on Raw to answer the challenge. The man that no one seemingly online wanted to see back returned to one of the loudest ovations anyone has received on Raw in years. When the chants subdued (after what felt like 15 minutes), Goldberg finally opened his mouth.
The world was stunned. Where had this Goldberg been during his time in WCW or WWE? Who knew Bill Goldberg could speak more in rough throated grunts? The next day even his detractors were backpedalling – even slightly – by how well he came across on the mic.
Over the next week’s, the jarring went back and forth, before Brock Lesnar dropped another of his stone cold killer interviews.
This past Monday, the two finally collided in the ring and the tension was enormous. It was sloppy at parts – but at the end of the day, most real street fights have some sloppy parts. After all, that’s because the emotions are overcharging instinct.
This Sunday, these two men are going to face each other head to head in a match that to the casual fans is a true fantasy rematch and to others, has a bar set so low that they probably have no intention to even watch. And while many detractors will insist these men’s two spots should instead be given to younger talent on the roster, consider this. Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg are still bigger mainstream attractions than just about anyone on the roster not named John Cena. This Mega Match (which is akin to UFC’s Super Fights) is about the draw not the spectacle itself. And bringing a few hundred thousand or so eyes to the product will ultimately get younger talent more fans in the process and help out the product and the Superstars careers in the long run. There is a place for Mega Matches like these in the promotion of the New Era – as long as they don’t become the norm.
But be careful. While it won’t have the high spots that some of the other matches have, this has a story in it 12 years in the making. Sure, Goldberg hasn’t been in a match in 12 years. But these guys were never about high spots. They were about big hits. They were about big moments. They were like watching an elephant collide with a rhino.
And yes, both men are older. They won’t be able to hit quite as hard as they used to (well, at least one of them). But that ultimately shouldn’t matter. They’re both far smarter men than they were before.
And what may be the hidden X-factor of the whole thing is this: unlike the first time these two men collided, they both genuinely enjoy being there. They both know their role and their place. And they’re both quite happy to do it. That couldn’t be said for Wrestlemania XX.
But if these guys bring the heart and tell the story – win or lose – then they can at least erase the bad taste of 12 years ago and send Goldberg out with a story worthy of his kid’s praise.
While the romantic in me thinks that Goldberg should take the win and walk away, the booker in me thinks that Brock is going to take the win. Which would even the series at 1-1. Which leaves a very large window for the WWE, Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar to decide if Goldberg has one one more match left in him. Where he loses again at Wrestlemania 33 and then heads into the Hall of Fame.
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