September 22nd 2022, marks 25 years since Bill Goldberg burst onto the wrestling scene on Monday Nitro. ‘Da Man’ has enjoyed a career of massive highs and significant setbacks. However, in 2022 he is remembered as a legend and one of the most significant acts during the most successful period in pro-wrestling history. This feature looks back at those 25 years and reflects on the enduring legacy of ‘Da Man.’
Bill Goldberg made his television in-ring debut on the September 22nd, 1997, edition of Monday Nitro. The former Atlanta Falcon made an immediate impression when he squashed mid-carder Hugh Morrus in rapid order.
That victory ensured Goldberg went 1-0 as a WCW Superstar. That would be the first of an alleged 173 consecutive victories for ‘Da Man’ as he took WCW and the wrestling world by storm.
It’s somewhat lost to history now, but although Goldberg was undefeated, he failed to garner much television time during the first few months of his run. In fact, he did not appear on pay-per-view until December at Starrcade. Even then, his bout was a throwaway card filler, with Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael.
He didn’t appear at Souled Out in January and only wrestled opening card act, Brad Armstrong at SuperBrawl VIII on February 22, 1998.
However, his explosive squash match wins soon gathered momentum with fans and The Streak became a focal part of WCW television.
Goldberg pinned Perry Saturn in a relatively competitive outing at Spring Stampede, which demonstrated the rookie could contest back and forth matches as well as squashes. That bout saw his undefeated streak reach 74 bouts without loss. The following night he defeated Raven on Nitro in his best match to date. Victory ensured he claimed his first title, the United States strap.
The new United States Champion continued to feud with Saturn, this time with the US belt at stake. As he ascended the ladder, Goldberg’s bouts became more competitive, and his in-ring performances greatly improved. He defeated Saturn again at Slamboree and bettered Konnan at The Great American Bash one month later. Victory over Konnan earned Goldberg his 100th consecutive win.
It appeared Goldberg had a one-way ticket to the main event. However, that ascension occurred sooner than planned. Panicked that the WWF was edging ahead in the Monday Night War, WCW boss, Eric Bischoff gave the order for the company to take advantage of its upcoming Nitro taping at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where Goldberg had played in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons.
Bischoff hoped booking Goldberg against WCW World Champion, Hollywood Hulk Hogan would pop a rating and fill the Georgia Dome. It did precisely that. Nitro pulled a 4.8 to Raw’s 4.0. WCW also packed over 40,000 fans into the Georgia Dome. The show as a monumental success, but in true WCW fashion, by rushing the bout onto free television with no build, the company left millions of dollars on the table, when this title match was one of the few fresh, money drawing bouts the company had left.
WCW World Champion
Goldberg defeated WCW World Champion, Hulk Hogan on the July 6, Nitro, in the crowning moment of his entire career, which saw the rabid Atlanta crowd lose their collective minds when ‘Da Man’ pinned the leader of the nWo.
That victory seemingly positioned Goldberg as the number one star in the company. The 31-year-old was a decade younger than all of WCW’s other headline crew and his injection into WCW main events was a breath of fresh air.
However, politics ensured he would never quite fulfil his potential as the leader of WCW’s next generation.
During his five-month World Title reign, the rookie only headlined two pay-per-view events: Halloween Havoc in October and Starrcade in December. He squashed Curt Hennig in a meaningless three-minute encounter at Bash at the Beach, won a non-title Battle Royal in the semi-final of Road Wild and did not compete at all at Fall Brawl in September.
No prizes for guessing which performer headlined those shows, while the WCW World Champion competed on the under-card. That was WCW’s true top star, Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
The Streak Ends
After an (alleged) 173 matches without defeat, Goldberg defended his WCW World Title against Kevin Nash in the headliner of Starrcade 1998.
In a surprisingly exciting top-liner, Nash defeated Goldberg, after Scott Hall, who was disguised as a security guard zapped the champion with a taser.
On the January 4, 1999, Nitro the splintered factions of the nWo reunited as Nash laid down for Hollywood Hulk Hogan, who raised his fifth WCW World crown. The new nWo beat down Goldberg which was to set up a programme in which Goldberg was to run through the nWo and reclaim the World Title.
This storyline began in grand fashion, when Goldberg smashed Hall in a terrific Stun Gun Ladder Match to earn a measure of revenge. Post-match, he was assaulted by Bam Bam Bigelow who he defeated at the following month’s SuperBrawl event.
However, the main event of Uncensored in March put a permanent spanner in the works. During the main event between Ric Flair and Hollywood Hulk Hogan for the World Title, Hogan inexplicably turned face whilst Flair went heel, meaning the face/heel alignments were no longer in place for Goldberg to recapture the gold. He did beat Nash at Spring Stampede in April to earn some vengeance, but the nWo was effectively a thing of the past at that point.
Goldberg, despite being the biggest star in the company was somewhat of a forgotten man, whilst WCW main events were dominated by Hogan, Nash, Sting and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.
Unfortunately, for Goldberg, a change in management in October would see him fare little better.
Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara had resigned from their positions on the WWF writing team in late September 1999 and signed on with WCW. It was expected that Russo and Ferrara, who had been credited with turning the Federation around between 1997-99 would reanimate the declining promotion.
After a promising start at Halloween Havoc 1999, it soon became clear that Russo and Ferrara were not the answer, amidst a flurry of title changes, nonsensical angles and confusing storylines.
Goldberg did headline Starrcade for the second year in a row, challenging Bret Hart for the WCW World Title, but the match ended in a cheap re-run of the 1997 Survivor Series, wherein Roddy Piper instructed the timekeeper to ring the bell, even though Goldberg did not submit. The fallout resulted in yet another incarnation of the nWo reforming and screwing ‘Da Man’ out of the World Title.
Unfortunately, Goldberg was wound up by Scott Hall for real and was not in the correct frame of mind to enact a backstage angle wherein he was set to smash through the windows of a limousine in which the nWo were stationed. Goldberg was supposed to break the windows with a pipe, but incensed he used his own forearm and sliced an artery in his arm, which led to him being rushed into emergency surgery, where he almost lost the limb.
Goldberg was side-lined for the next six months. When he returned, Russo and Eric Bischoff were now in charge of creative. The pair had devised a Millionaires’ Club versus New Blood storyline, which pitted the company’s ageing headliners against the company’s underutilised younger talent. In typical WCW fashion, the ageing main eventers were cast as the good guys, whereas the talent trying to break the glass ceiling were deemed the villains.
Goldberg returned on the May 29, 2000, Nitro but shockingly turned heel during the main event of The Great American Bash and aligned himself with Russo and Bischoff. The fans didn’t want to jeer Goldberg and the heel turn was such a disaster that even Russo had to change tack. Goldberg was turned back face just a couple of months later and began a worked shoot feud with Russo, that led to him being given an ultimatum. Goldberg had to embark on a winning streak longer than his famed 173-0 record. If he lost before he reached that number, he would be fired.
In storyline, that’s exactly what happened. After sustaining a shoulder injury, Goldberg was written out of storylines when he lost at Sin on January 14, 2001. Goldberg never wrestled for WCW again and the company folded two months later. Although, he was interested in joining the WWF as part of its WCW/ECW Invasion angle, the company never made him a serious offer, unwilling to buy out his massive AOL Time Warner contract.
Two years after WCW folded and crucially, after his AOL Time Warner contract expired, Goldberg finally joined WWE after a fleeting run in the Orient in 2002. Debuting on the post-WrestleMania XIX Raw, Goldberg set up a mouth-watering programme with The Rock which culminated in a fair bout at Backlash 2003.
From there, he struggled to gain acceptance from the WWE faithful, as they stripped out the elements that had made him a star five years earlier. They forced him to partake in comedy angles, instructed him to sell for long periods in his matches and was consistently booked as a gullible babyface.
When WWE booked him as the monster he was, the live crowds responded much more favourably. Goldberg destroyed Rodney Mack as part of Mack’s open challenge on the June 23, 2003, Raw to a thunderous response.
He also had fan support inside the Elimination Chamber in the main event of SummerSlam. Goldberg battered and dispatched Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, before he was knocked out by a Triple H sledgehammer shot and succumbed to his first pin-fall loss in WWE.
Goldberg did dethrone Triple H for the World Heavyweight Title (only his second ever World Title win) one month later at Unforgiven. However, following the Elimination Chamber drama, the title win on a B-show in a tedious singles encounter was somewhat anticlimactic.
After successful defences on television and at Survivor Series, he dropped the belt to Triple H (who else?) at Armageddon in December.
No longer champion, Goldberg entered into a feud with Brock Lesnar which culminated in a heavily promoted bout at WrestleMania XX.
The match was refereed by Stone Cold Steve Austin and was one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts on the card. Regrettably, Lesnar’s decision to leave WWE immediately after the show to pursue a career in the NFL and Goldberg’s impending contract expiry ensured the match was somewhat of an inconvenience to WWE, given it was both men’s final night in the company.
The news that both men were leaving had leaked pre-match and the fans turned on the bout before it even started. It’s quite possible, that with both participants on the way out, WWE intentionally booked the bout to be as dull as possible. After a pedestrian 14 minutes of something resembling action, Goldberg pinned Lesnar to draw a line under his spell in WWE. Austin stunnered both post-match as a sort of vindictive going away present. Ironically, enough Austin also followed both men out of the door and would not return until the following year’s WrestleMania. Goldberg would be absent from the company for much, much longer.
After finding his 12-month spell in WWE immensely challenging, Goldberg had no wish to extend his deal. WWE also were reluctant to offer him another big money contract and submitted a low-ball offer for special appearances only. The two sides parted ways. Uncomfortable bedfellows from the beginning, it looked as if the relationship between Goldberg and WWE was over, forever.
WWE Return & Hall of Fame
After 12 years away from the business, Goldberg’s deal with 2K Sports, who produced WWE’s video games led to a return to the company itself.
He engaged in a glorious feud with Brock Lesnar, stemming from their calamitous collision at WrestleMania XX. This led to a stunningly short clash between the pair at Survivor Series, wherein Goldberg crushed ‘The Beast’ in 86 seconds.
At Fastlane 2017, Goldberg squashed Kevin Owens to claim the Universal Title, his first World Title in over 13 years. His return match with Lesnar at WrestleMania 33 was one of the finest five-minute matches ever.
As one of the few legends, WWE could call upon to wrestle, he returned to the ring again and again over the next five years, sadly to diminishing returns as father time caught up with the legend. Goldberg was roundly criticised for defeating ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt for the Universal Title at Super ShowDown on February 27, 2020. However, that was unfair as ‘Da Man’ was merely carrying out his booking instructions.
Over the next two years, he sought to put over the next generation by losing high profile matches to the likes of Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns, who all benefited from the rub.
In the midst of his part-time appearances, Goldberg finally received the call to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018. Headlining, that year’s class, ‘Da Man’ was a worthy inductee.
In 2022, the WWE Hall of Famer is regarded by some, particularly those who did not witness his peak years as a limited performer who has overstayed his welcome. Although his legacy has been soured somewhat by his recent output, Goldberg should be remembered as one of the greatest wrestling’s megastars in history.
Goldberg was as recognisable and over as Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan at their peak. Like those truly generational performers, he crossed over into the mainstream with appearances in television and film.
Dynamic and intense with a believable gimmick and a wide array of devastating power moves. There truly was no-one else like him. The wrestling business would beg, borrow and steal for a wrestler with Goldberg’s intangibles and star quality today.
Seven months removed from his last match; it would appear Goldberg’s career is over. However, one can never be certain. Perhaps Goldberg will walk that aisle one more time. If so, who’s next?
You can watch Goldberg’s greatest matches and moments, exclusively on the WWE Network.