“Goldberg! Goldberg! Goldberg!” Those are words that used to ring out in arenas across the country from the late 90s on. Hell, they even ring out now. The difference between 1999 and 2021? Goldberg was, without a doubt, the hottest thing in wrestling. Now? He’s a 54-year-old wrestler who almost killed The Fiend and who doesn’t show up enough to be called a part-timer but gets title shots because... he’s Goldberg?
I know what you’re thinking that this is just going to be an article bashing Goldberg and not understanding the business reasons behind it. Well, you’re somewhat wrong. I’m not here to bash Goldberg; that’s the low hanging fruit; I’m here to address the bigger issue of how WWE refuses to make new stars and the reasons why.
The world has been in a pandemic state since last March. In that time frame, WWE had to call an audible on WrestleMania, how they shoot their weekly TV, and who knows what else. One would think that this would be the perfect time for WWE to take a risk or two, but alas, they haven’t. The biggest risk they decided to take was turning Roman Reigns heel, and we know that wasn’t a risk at all.
A risk is making Jinder Mahal WWE Champion and giving him a lengthy run. Jinder went from a jobber to legit knocking out Finn Bálor to WWE Champion all in about the span of a month. When has WWE taken a risk like that since? Retribution? They couldn’t even break into The Capitol if they tried. WWE needs to take a risk and make a new star.
WWE doesn’t even have to make a new star in the way that WCW made Goldberg. All WWE has to do is take someone from NXT or the mid-card and get fully behind them.
For a brief moment last year, it appeared that WWE was going to do just that. Keith Lee has had the most interesting 18-month span in recent WWE history. Survivor Series 2019 had Keith Lee looking like money and going toe to toe with Roman Reigns. He had a spot in the Royal Rumble in which he stood in there with Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. Lee even made Brock go, “Oh shit, that’s a big mother fucker.”
Then the pandemic hit, and Lee fell into a holding pattern until he became the first “champ champ” in NXT history by beating Adam Cole. Everything seems good, right? Well, Lee decided to relinquish his North American title a week after beating Cole, and he would drop the NXT title a few weeks later to Karrion Kross in a dud of a match. Then Lee would debut on Raw, enter into a brief secondary feud with Randy Orton in which he beat Orton CLEAN in the middle of the ring on a pay-per-view. Since then, Lee has had a WWE title match but as a whole has been used as a secondary component and at times an afterthought.
That scenario highlights a significant problem with WWE: they’re incredibly inconsistent. WWE could have easily made Keith Lee into the next big thing (pun intended), but for whatever reason, WWE or Vince refuses to commit to Keith Lee fully. The problem doesn’t just affect Lee.
Remember Kofi’s title run? Remember the end? Let me help you out if you don’t (the clip is longer than the actual match, by the way). What happened after that? Kofi just went back to smiling and being a tag team wrestler like nothing happened. Kevin Owens is another prime example of start and stop. From headbutting Vince to being forgotten about to now being in the best feud in the company.
There are several more names that I could continue to list, but it’s clear that WWE isn’t in the business of making new stars. One reason could be the fear of losing their shining star to Hollywood like they’ve lost The Rock, John Cena, and, likely, Roman is next. Vince and friends believe the true star is the company, much like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes that “the shield” is what matters and not the individual teams or players. One last reason could be that Vince doesn’t believe in anybody on the roster and their potential to reach The Rock, Austin, Cena, or even the racist.
One thing is clear; wrestling is experiencing another boom period in the mainstream. There are more eyes on wrestling now than there have been in recent times. Fox just gave Vince a billion for the rights to broadcast SmackDown. AEW and Impact are working together. New Japan is looking to expand into the States. The signs are clear that there will be another crossover star from the wrestling world.
What isn’t clear is why WWE refuses to put one of their own in the position to be that man or woman.