The lights dim as his theme music hits, the crowd stands, becoming amped throughout as an electricity runs through them, and then the chants start:
And out strides the unstoppable....Ryback?
Ten years have passed since his last match in the WWE, yet Bill Goldberg’s presence is still felt every time Ryback enters the arena; a specter that will continue to haunt Ryback’s character. But why? What did Goldberg do to achieve such a lofty status, amongst the upper echelons of pro wrestling history?
WWE’s latest compilation set brings to us the greatest matches of one of the most dominating superstars of the late ‘90s, a man who not only shot straight to the top of the industry in under a year, but almost single handedly carried WCW in their time of need. This Ultimate Collection allows us to bear witness to the impressive journey that comprised the all too short lived career of the man they called Goldberg.
The 3 disc set begins back in September 1997, with the debut match up of Bill Goldberg against Hugh Morris. Herein begins the hype, here begins the thing that would define the career of Goldberg, building him into the monster he became perceived to be: his undefeated streak. Over the course of his first year, Goldberg was owner of an impressive streak, one that has been unchallenged since he left the industry in 2003.
The first disc, which builds appropriately from his debut match, covers the introduction of the streak up until his match up with Kevin Nash at WCW Starrcade in December 1998, wherein, thanks to a number of outside factors, Goldberg suffered his first loss in the ring, courtesy of Kevin Nash’ longtime buddy, Scott Hall, and a cattle prod.
What the first disc does so well is how it provides us with historical context: we’re back in the late 90’s, the last time that professional wrestling rode a wave of a popularity that permeated all aspects of entertainment. It became pop culture. It was “cool” to like wrestling. Notably: it was cool to support a side; WWF or WCW? Goldberg provided fans a reason to tune into WCW, and was instrumental in leading the charge in the ratings wars that saw the WWF on the losing side for so long. Along the way, Goldberg destroyed a number of key stars including Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, The Giant and even Hollywood Hulk Hogan. As his star grew brighter, his matches would be allowed more time and, in turn, he was given an opportunity to try and develop in the ring.
With his first loss in place and his record now standing at 173-1, Disc Two takes us through the fall out of WCW and Goldberg’s attempt to reclaim what was once his: the WCW Heavyweight Championship. The easiest way to avoid straight loses, which would further askew his record, meant that DQ’s were common, as were run in’s and far too many examples of truly awful refereeing that strain the boundaries of disbelief. Although there are some solid matches on this disc, it becomes apparent in the quality of opponent they would pit against Goldberg that they were running out of ideas of how to push Goldberg as WCW itself was circling the drain. The disc itself ends with a No Disqualification match between Goldberg, his tag team partner Dewayne Bruce, and their opponents Lex Luger, who truly looks forever old, and Buff Bagwell. Thanks to the storyline stipulations set by WCW booker, Vince Russo, we had the added drama that if Goldberg were to lose the match he would be fired from WCW. It wouldn’t matter if Goldberg was pinned or if Bruce lost the match; if his team lost, he would be unemployed. The outcome of the match is sloppy and, thanks to the WWF buying the company whilst Goldberg prepared for legit surgery, would be an unfortunately flat ending to Goldberg’s otherwise successful WCW stint.
With WCW now owned by their competition, it was only a matter of time before Goldberg would make his way onto our screens once again; only this time as a contracted WWE superstar. Disc Three chronicles his short time within the WWE, from high profile feud with The Rock up until his final match with, an also leaving, Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XX in 2004. Goldberg’s addition to the WWE roster allowed for a number of epic dream matches to come to life in a way that would have been thought impossible only a few years prior, and the collection does a good job of selecting a few of his stand out bouts with the WWE.
With Goldberg still clearly on the modern wrestling fans radar; take, for example, his involvement and inclusion in the upcoming video game WWE 2K14 and this Ultimate Collection set, as well as the consistent ‘Gooooldberg’ chants that still permeate a WWE show, it’s incredible what Goldberg achieved, and the mark that he left, upon the industry within a relatively short period of time. Although a good collection that contains a number of mile stone matches, there are a few choices that may make you ponder as to their inclusion. Just as important as what they’ve put on however, is what they’ve kept off. At least on the DVD version of the set. With the Blu-ray there are exclusive matches, including the infamous match, featuring the errant head kick, that retired one of the best wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots: Bret “Hitman” Hart. It’s a shame that these matches weren’t included within the career path of the DVD, as they clearly had a place within his chronology, and didn’t need to be tacked on as ‘additional’ matches.
The collection also lacks a documentary that details Goldberg’s career, which is a real shame as there would be a plethora of people willing to talk about his career, the streak, rise within WCW and, of course, his impact within the WWE. It seems like a missed opportunity to not have the man himself reminisce over his accomplishments and, with the honesty and success of the recent CM Punk: Best In The World, we know that the WWE is more than capable of producing good documentaries. Instead we are given short, staccato, bursts of context, but only when deemed necessary. Thankfully the commentary during the match ups themselves fill in a lot of the gaps left out by the WWE.
Goldberg will never be remembered as a master technician, he never truly grew within the ring past the uniqueness he initially provided, but what he represents is the one last paragon of true 90’s wrestling: power. In an age where wrestling ability and technique were finally beginning to be noticed and admired, as opposed to the early 90’s wherein power houses such as Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior ran the show, Bill Goldberg was one of the last few that was able to bring a power game into the ring and make it work with an unmatched intensity and one hell of an awesome theme song. Watching a Bill Goldberg match is akin to witnessing a wrecking ball smash into a building; it’s not exactly pretty, but you don’t want to avert your gaze. If you’re a fan of 90’s wrestling, or puro style, then you need to familiarize, or even re-familiarize, yourself with the phenomenon that was Bill Goldberg.
Until next time, this has been The Other Guy.
Steve Russell // @stevetendo
Goldberg - The Ultimate Collection is out now on DVD (£24.99) and Blu-Ray (£34.99), courtesy of Fremantle Productions