Where the WWE boldly experiments with the idea of a Everyone Leaves Town stipulation...
It was September 2003. Triple H and Goldberg were in the middle of a fierce battle for the World Heavyweight Championship. After a hard fought 14 mins of wrestling Goldberg hit the Game with the Jackhammer and covered him for the three count.
Goldberg was now champion and people believed that he was at least going to get the fair go that many of his WCW comrades had not during the Invasion angle.
So why did he quit 6 months later?
At the same time on Smackdown Brock Lesnar was WWE Champion having defeated Kurt Angle for the title in September. A genetic freak in every sense of the word, Lesnar had already main evented one Wrestlemania and looked set to main event many more as the new face of the WWE going forward into a new era.
He too would be out the door six months later.
So why were the two wrestlers that seemed to be the top dog in the WWE in September so keen to get out the door post- Wrestlemania 20?
Well firstly, Goldberg had won the Big Gold Belt in the middle of Triple H's vice grip on the title. Using a formula similar to that of his great mentor Ric Flair, the Game would hold it for loooong periods to build a lot of heat before relinquishing it to babyfaces who were over at the time. From Wrestlemania 19 to 21, the Game walked into the Showcase of the Immortals as World Heavyweight Champion.
However while Flair was an expert at putting babyfaces over in the 80s by allowing them to beat the crap out of him, Triple H was never really able to do same. Plus the fact that this went on for two and a half years did not help matters, with many wondering when the Game was actually going to get the hell out of the way and let Raw try something new for a change.
To be fair to Triple H, whatever the WWE did with Goldberg would probably have been a disappointment. In WCW, Goldberg was more than a wrestler, he was an attraction- an integral part of the show as people watched to see if the Streak would continue. When he arrived in WWE, he was a top tier wrestler without a top tier justification. Kevin Sullivan had wisely kept Goldberg from speaking during his earlier time in WCW as it added to his mystique. In WWE though that was not an option.
Put simply, what the WWE audience got was Goldberg the wrestler. What they wanted was Goldberg the phenomenon. Unfortunately the main ingredient for that success- the Streak- was impossible to replicate.
As for Lesnar, there is no doubt that the constant travel began to grate with the Next Big Thing. While he had a couple of great years at the top of the WWE pile, Lesnar was not the sort to be totally in love with the notion of being a sports entertainer and he undoubtedly had other ideas of where he might ply his trade. One of them was pro football and the more that the hectic travel schedule ate away at him, the more attractive the NFL seemed.
So come the Royal Rumble of 2004 and Goldberg, having lost the WHC at Armageddon to (surprise, surprise) Triple H was tearing the competition apart and looked like a cert to walk away with the title shot when Brock Lesnar interrupted and cost Goldberg his chance by F5ing him- beginning the feud (I am overlooking the whole interview interruption). Goldberg would get his revenge the following PPV by costing Lesnar his WWE Championship against Eddie Guerrero with the help of Raw Sheriff Stone Cold Steve Austin. This would lead to a match being made for Wrestlemania 20- Lesnar vs Goldberg with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special guest referee.
It was common knowledge that Goldberg was going to walk out of his contract after his match at Wrestlemania. What totally blindsided the match was the leaked announcement that Lesnar would be leaving after Wrestlemania 20 as well to pursue a career in the NFL. This was made all the more worse that Wrestlemania XX would be hosted in Madison Square Garden. There is not many smarkier crowds than MSG and few that would make their voices known more.This wasn't helped by the fact that the first two thirds of the match is very slow (even JR calls it "very pedestrian"), allowing the crowd to basically chant away to their hearts' content without missing much.
The WWE would like you to think that this match was sabotaged due to the leaking of Lesnar's departure a week or so beforehand that tied the WWE's hands. But this seems to be a tad dismissive and doesn't address some of the questions. For example, if the WWE were so sure that the news that both men were going to leave was going to be leaked, why is Austin in this match? Surely the idea of Goldberg vs Lesnar is a big enough match by itself, why would you get Austin there to muddy the waters as a guest referee? But if the WWE were worried that the MSG crowd may turn on both superstars because they knew that both were leaving than Austin being included makes perfect sense- as it gives someone for the crowd to cheer for.
Furthermore, the angle really feels like one that was pasted together because WWE knew that both competitors could be blown off after Wrestlemania. It's a clash of the titans, but not one that really feels that either character is going to develop because of it. Nothing's at stake except personal pride- and even that seems pretty vague. Neither were great talkers so the angle couldn't really grab a lot of heat through promos and the WWE were very flat-footed when the Lesnar news hit the wrestling pages. It's almost as if the WWE had already used their emergency glass-cased 'IN-CASE-OF-EMERGENCY' guest referee to hype the match because they were aware this would happen, but had nothing to up the ante when the backlash occured.
So how could you avoid this schmozzle? Well, say the WWE knew or had a fair idea that both men were leaving by Survivor Series- perhaps a stretch, perhaps not. Well then the obvious thing to do would be to have Lesnar bury the Undertaker alive instead of Kane. Lesnar would then lose the title at No Way Out after the gong sounding rather than a spear from Goldberg and would freak out, believing that he had put away the Undertaker for good. At Wrestlemania 20 then it would be Brock Lesnar vs the Undertaker as he returned as the Deadman. Lesnar had beaten the BikerTaker, but the Deadman would be a different proposition.
Goldberg? Why he'd face Kane who would blame him for missing out on the World TItle at Armageddon. That again would be simple enough to build without too much changes.
The match that was served up instead though was a historically important match (which, after all, is what we're here for). It was important for the fact that it showed the power of the Internet to the WWE. A story that had been leaked had caught on like wildfire and by the time the two wrestlers strode in the ring the crowd felt betrayed rather than interested. These performers, particularly Lesnar, were seen to have been given almost everything by the fans and the WWE and the fact that Lesnar did not decide to acknowledge that but instead seemed to be trying to sneak out the back door angered many.
Goldberg leaving the WWE was also the last vestige of WCW really impacting the WWE product. Sure, there were superstars like Jericho, Benoit, Malenko and Mysterio that had come from WCW that continued to wrestle with WWE but they got their real push in the WWE. Goldberg was the last of the WCW wrestlers who were bought in order to capitalise on name rather than talent.
This match also was the first time that Austin refereed a Wrestlemania match- a honour he repeated twice more so far- once at Wrestlemania 23 in the Battle of the Billionaires Match which could be best described as 'ordinary' and the Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler match at Wrestlemania 27 which could be best described as 'abysmal'. All three matches have ended with Stone Cold breaking out a Stunner or two- which kinda makes one wonder who the real star of the matches were.
For Lesnar, the break from WWE made for some bad blood from both parties, but it also revitalised his character. His MMA and UFC experiences between Wrestlemania 20 and the day after Wrestlemania 28 when he made his return made him more unique as an asset to the WWE than anything he did before. Furthermore, he has become a natural heel because many have not accepted that he really loves the business in the same way as Jericho or Triple H or Taker or other part timers. Wrestlemania 20 arguably then did a lot to create the Brock Lesnar of today- even when it trashed the credibility of the Brock of 2004.
Overall then Brock vs Goldberg was a watershed moment in the history of WWE as two wrestlers who many had questioned as being totally loyal to the business proved their naysayers right. WWE would ensure that this sort of thing would never occur again.
That's article 15 in the can folks. Join us next time when we venture for the first time into the the checkered history of the Carter Clan. See you then!