At Wrestlemania 20, a milestone for what became one of the most valuable franchises in entertainment, the event returned to Madison Square Garden, the site of the inaugural event in 1985. Besides an overall solid card, the show is known for a match that is memorable for all the wrong reasons.
At the time, a 27-year-old Brock Lesnar had grown tired of the road schedule that was required for a WWE superstar just two years after his debut on TV. Lesnar, a former NCAA national amateur champion, was rocketed to the main event scene and paired with Paul Heyman in 2002, a move WWE brass hoped would secure their next top star for the future. The savvy NYC fans knew that Brock was discarding an opportunity that others worked years to achieve and the audible chants of “you sold out!” sent a clear message. It was widely reported prior to his departure that the former WWE champion planned to pursue an NFL career, which emphasized that he was a sports entertainer strictly for the money, a notion that further infuriated the fans in attendance.
For Bill Goldberg, the former WCW champion had spent a year under WWE contract and it was clear that WWE brass were still intent on downgrading stars from the Ted Turner organization. Goldberg, who was limited in the ring, was booked in scenarios where he would’ve had to carry matches, something he wasn’t known for at any point in his career. He was also made to look secondary to Triple H, who was injured during a few months of the previous year, but somehow continued to be booked as the champion on Raw. The bottom line is, Goldberg didn’t get over in the WWE because the WWE didn’t want it to happen and did nothing to make it even remotely possible. The former Atlanta Falcon was Turner’s biggest star a few years before he signed a WWE deal so they knew what they were getting as far as an in ring product. Goldberg didn’t have the technical ability to work 20 minute pay-per-view main events, but his intensity and the presentation were incredible. Despite undoubtedly winning, management still had a “Monday night war” type of mind set, WCW had to look inferior to WWE. Plus, with only a one-year contract signed, Vince McMahon wasn’t going to reestablish Goldberg’s name value, which had been damaged during the latter stages of WCW, for him to possibly sign elsewhere. Goldberg knew he was being shafted and considering the lucrative Turner contract he had previously, he didn’t need the money or the hassle so he unofficially retired after he left WWE.
The combination of Brock’s lack of dedication to the business and Goldberg’s contract expiring led to one of the worst matches in Wrestlemania history. The diehard MSG crowd was hostile toward the bout, which is ultimately what the match is known for. Lesnar didn’t want to be a pro wrestler even though he had a golden opportunity, Goldberg was tired of the politics, and it was obvious that both of them just wanted to finish the match without injury.
So, why should the fans want to see a rematch of one of the worst matches in Wrestlemania history?
At Survivor Series, the names will be the same, but it’s a very different scenario than the contest in 2004. Lesnar is still there only for the money, but his stint in the UFC made him a much bigger star than he was during his initial run in WWE. When Brock left, he was enough of a star, and enough of an athlete that he became a commodity in the UFC. The Zuffa hype machine, using many pro wrestling tactics, promoted Lesnar as a monster and as a result, he gained many stream exposure. Was Lesnar given opportunities in MMA because of his name value from sports entertainment? Absolutely, and there’s nothing wrong with that because it was a smart business move. Despite concluding his full-time UFC career with a pair of devastating losses, his run as the UFC Heavyweight champion presented him as the “legitimate athlete” when he returned to the WWE in 2012. In many ways, the WWE and UFC co-promoted and both benefited from the incredible athlete that Brock continues to be even as he nears the age of 40.
Everyone, probably even most within the WWE, will acknowledge that lackluster results of the Goldberg experiment in 2003. At this point, most of the “WCW stigma” was resolved when World Wrestling Entertainment reached the point where they became the undisputed sports entertainment company without any legitimate competition a few years ago. Plus, there’s a vested interest in promoting Bill Goldberg as a WCW legend because there’s money to be made from the WWE network, merchandise, DVDs, and the HOF induction. There’s also the fact that presenting Goldberg as a major star to a new generation of fans pushes video game sales of WWE 2K17, a major money deal for everyone involved. Some fans might not realize it, but several millions of dollars are required to produce the game and if it sales well, there are millions of dollars of potential profit so there’s more to Goldberg’s return to the WWE than just the angles on TV.
Bill Goldberg mentioned previously that he wanted to get the chance to wrestle a match for his family, Brock Lesnar gets another substantial paycheck for working a limited schedule, and the WWE gets the chance to market everything that goes along with the rematch so it’s a win-win situation. The hostile environment of the original bout is actually what creates the intrigue for the rematch. What’s going to happen when Goldberg and Lesnar are in the same ring again? Hopefully, the match is kept relatively short and it’s a basic contest that showcases the trademark moves. That’s what the people are paying to see and nobody is expecting a Flair/Steamboat type classic from Goldberg vs. Lesnar at Survivor Series. Assuming the match is at least watchable, I would guess that it’s very possible that Lesnar is booked to win the rematch to set up a the trilogy at Wrestlemania to go along with a Goldberg HOF induction. Regardless of if there’s another contest next year, it will be extremely interesting to see how the rematch is presented on pay-per-view.
Until next week
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