The vitriol across Twitter from certain corners of the pro wrestling universe was palpable and passionate, and we all saw it. Unfortunately for those people, I was too busy laughing and smiling at what I’d just seen to care. It was so astonishingly un-WWE, such a change from the expected, and both the brevity of the match and shock of the result felt both refreshing and appropriate. Without going into the reasons for the victory, which you can read about here, the decision left everyone breathless, if not exasperated.
I immediately loved the finish, not just because it was different, but because it, (shudder), made complete sense, not just for Goldberg, but also for Brock Lesnar, especially given the scenario.
As Lesnar took the first spear, doubled over, and the announcers began exclaiming about how much the move hurt him, no one took their eyes off the ring. Then came the second spear. Wait a second? Are they just setting Goldberg up to do what beat everyone in WCW, before having Brock demolish him?
Pandemonium, that’s what.
Goldberg hit the floor and grabbed his son, then celebrated with him in a fantastic father and son moment, all while everybody cheered and lost themselves in that specific segment in time. Contrast the way Survivor Series 2016 finished with how the fans and media, including me, left Atlanta last year. Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated Roman Reigns, ending a rather underwhelming WWE World Championship tournament.
The Celtic Warrior was ice cold last November, and WWE made a mistake even putting the briefcase in his hands that summer. It led to a short, nondescript title reign and one of the worst factions in WWE history, at least considering the talent involved. That was a tone deaf move from Vince McMahon, and it did nothing to elevate Roman Reigns as the promotion’s top babyface, which was the entire purpose in the first place. It was a disastrous strategy, and accomplished precisely zero positives for the company.
Last night, Bill Goldberg won an enormous, well-promoted match over a monster, and some people lost their minds over it. The arguments ranged from a blast from the past stealing a big victory from a younger full-time performer, to disrespecting The Undertaker, and there were even some who balked at Lesnar and Goldberg main eventing over the men’s elimination match. That last take isn’t just bad, it’s ludicrous. Whether you wanted to see that bout or not, it was the clear main event, and the way in which it was built on RAW was tremendous.
To understand why Lesnar’s loss wasn’t the end of the world, I’m going to ask you to play hypocrite along with me. Was it worse that Jose Aldo walked into a Conor McGregor left hand and went down almost as soon as the opening bell rang, rather than going five rounds and losing via decision? Was it more problematic that Ronda Rousey was summarily dismantled rather quickly by Holly Holm, instead of losing amidst a war? In those cases, maybe, but not in professional wrestling, because of the turnaround in this business compared to UFC.
The reason Ronda’s loss hurt so much is because she disappeared for many months and in fact still hasn’t fought again, so the lasting impression is still of the Holm fight, not of anything else. The “invincibility” was gone, but it’s what’s happened since that’s been the poison. However, she’s about to do a crazy buyrate for a fight on December 30, so it hasn’t exactly killed the interest level in her.
But, for Brock Lesnar, we expect Paul Heyman on television tonight, and the reason why this finish, even outside of a vacuum, works, is because of an obvious built in excuse.
Bill Goldberg got lucky.
It’s that simple. Anybody can catch someone with a lucky punch, or a lucky move, and come up with a victory during the ensuing chaos. Was Conor dominant over Aldo? No. Conor hit him once and it was over. It was seen, at least by some, as an unfortunate turn of events for the former champion. After that first spear, Lesnar sold real abdominal pain, and the announcers pushed that idea. He never recovered, but no one saw Brock get beaten up for 20 minutes. Not only would a long match with Goldberg not have been aesthetically pleasing, it also would have lengthened the visual of Lesnar’s mortality against a 50-year-old man.
Instead, WWE played to nostalgia and remembered what made Goldberg the biggest draw in the business and what allowed that one character to keep WCW churning, while everything else was falling apart at the seams. This is how Bill Goldberg became Goldberg. WCW would try to make his opposition appear credible, even at one point semi-pushing Jerry Flynn on Nitro, with actual backstage training segments, in an effort to make him look like a threat. Remember Wrath? The mini-streak was a real thing, but when it was time for the match, Goldberg wiped him out in the blink of an eye.
Goldberg was such an attraction because he was almost never put in a position to be exposed, and his version of a two-minute match was overwhelmingly energetic and exciting. You cared about the spear and the jackhammer, and anything else that happened was generally someone attempting to assault him, a strongman no-sell, maybe a rolling leg lock, a powerslam, and the two big moves. He was a snippet of a show, and because it was an entrance, a beat down, and a silent walk to the back, it felt special.
When WWE brought Goldberg into the fray back in 2003, they treated him like everybody else, and unsurprisingly, it failed miserably. Last night in Toronto, Vince got it right, and whether it was simply because of a new contract or a few extra appearances or not, what ended up happening was far better, and far more lucrative, than another Lesnar victory that would have meant little and wouldn’t be memorable in two years.
Heyman can sell me that Goldberg had a rabbit’s foot in the locker room and managed to hurt Lesnar with that first spear. “I give you credit, Mr. Goldberg. You caught my client off guard, and a past rib injury during training for this abruptly signed match reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. You won the match, but you, sir, have just ignited the next world war. You have tried to embarrass Brock, and for that, your punishment will be retirement and hospitalization. I’m happy you were able to celebrate with your family, but know this, Mr. Goldberg, you are living on borrowed time. And that clock is owned by Brrrrroooock Lesnar.”
If I had to watch these two in a lengthy, back-and-forth match, it would be much tougher for me to buy that Lesnar might still be the better man. This entire thing was designed to get Bill Goldberg over, because he’s sticking around for a few more matches, which is a good thing for WWE on the run to San Antonio, and perhaps to Orlando. All that happened was Brock got shocked, and he got beaten. He didn’t get manhandled and humiliated. He got caught, just like anybody can get caught. Any given Sunday doesn’t just apply to the NFL, and last night, coincidentally on a Sunday, WWE told the story of the anomaly.
I was accused of relentless negativity last night during Survivor Series, and it definitely appeared that many fans enjoyed the show more than I did. Because of the live-tweeting and constant responses to various listeners or readers, I can lose a sense of an event. I’m planning to re-watch the show with my phone out of my grasp, but just after those criticisms, I was grinning ear to ear at the conclusion of the PPV. I told people after the show that I was just going to shut off the logic tendency and try to enjoy the action and the performers I like going forward. Life’s too short to try and inject continuity into a company that actively attempts to subvert it.
Luckily, the main event allowed me to see the intelligence involved and a rationale for every one of those 85 seconds. There are so many little things that you can get angry about in pro wrestling, but this isn’t one of them. This made all the sense in the world, because the truth of the matter is this:
WWE wasn’t putting one of the full-time guys over Brock anytime soon anyway, because no one has been built to a position where it could actually be believable. Goldberg was credible, because we watched that guy do it forever in those kind of matches, not to even discuss how great he looked physically. He was charisma personified. Plus, he was treated like a legend on television for the last month. They got this completely right. He was protected, he didn’t end up hurt, and even Lesnar himself was reportedly behind the decision to stretch this program out, because he saw the value in a second match and future business with Goldberg.
When you consider WWE’s track record relative to pushing the part-timers as megastars, you can’t be too upset at the way this went down. They used Goldberg like they should have, reminded us why we cared about the guy, kept Brock somewhat protected, and left no doubt of a money rematch. This wasn’t just a fun finish. It was a flawless finish. We also get more of THIS Goldberg, which is awesome.
And that’s without even mentioning the media interest that came last night and will continue to come today from sources outside the usual pro wrestling landscape. This turned heads, it made news, and it won’t ever be forgotten by WWE fans. It was the most stunning result since the end of The Undertaker’s streak, and was a superb piece of business.