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A Goldberg return highlights WWE’s post-ThunderDome problem

The more things change, the more they stay the same as WWE refuses to fully embrace the present and its future

The three most side-eye-inducing words in the English language are “business as usual.” Sure, if the business in question is your paycheck coming consistently on the same day every month, that’s a great thing. If, on the other hand, that business is tedious, unimaginative, with the potential to cause sleep paralysis, well, yeah, clearly that’s not great.

The rumor mill churned out that one William Goldberg may show up on Raw next week to start a program with Bobby Lashley. Since we’re in the waning days of July, these two titans will obviously clash at SummerSlam if the rumors are true. Of the two scenarios I mentioned above, this is obviously the latter.

No diss to Goldberg or his status as a wrestling legend—which he is— but it feels so lazy on WWE’s part to go to this well fresh out of the ThunderDome. We wanted WWE to move out of the ThunderDome. We grew tired of digital fans, cavernous arenas, and the weirdness of the entire ordeal. And on the eve of getting what we want, a man who once compared himself to Satan is giving us his very own version of a Faustian bargain. Getting fans back into arenas comes with a cost, and Goldberg’s potential return is indicative of the price we must pay.

Rather than entering a new era with fresh ideas and even fresher faces, WWE is already back to business as usual.

If the last two episodes of Dynamite are any indication, WWE programming over the next few weeks will feel hotter than ever. The pent-up demand from the audience is palpable, and everyone involved will should hopefully respond in kind. It’s easy picturing a crowd literally on the edge of their seats or on their feet for an entire episode of Raw or SmackDown. For the first time in what feels like eons, WWE will have an audience ready to eat whatever it presents out of its hand simply because they’ll have an arena filled with Jessie Spano types. The honeymoon won’t last forever because no honeymoon does. Still, Vince McMahon could probably do anything for a while and get the desired reaction from fans in attendance, along with a captive audience at home.

That’s why this Goldberg rumor elicited an audible sigh the minute I read it.

For some reason, whenever WWE breaks the glass in case of emergency, the solution is always someone from pro wrestling’s heyday in the 1990s. That’s a symptom of not building true crossover stars anymore—either because they can’t or because they won’t—and an over-reliance on nostalgia that seemingly every major corporation falls victim to in 2021. Either way, it’s why 23 years after he took the wrestling world by storm, we’re on the potential precipice of seeing Goldberg wrestle The Almighty in a match only one person asked for. That one person being an exec at NBCUniversal salivating over the prospect of the current WWE Champion wrestling a guy with a name he remembers from when sports entertainment was a pop-culture force. But therein lies the problem.

When WWE does things like this, we know it’s not for anyone visiting this site. Goldberg represents a dope time in the sport, and his name rings bells amongst lapsed fans who have no clue when SummerSlam is. On the real, some of those fans are probably surprised SummerSlam is still even a thing at all. But the further we get from the ‘90s, the more the actual value of these moves is questioned. It’s the same argument made when WWE refused to quit the immortal noted one when they had the only reason they ever needed to finally let him go.

While guys like Goldberg and Hulk Hogan elicit the feels, it’s doubtful those same people want to see them wrestle. Well, anyone in this country anyway. Even those who watch this stuff regularly have legitimate fears these old cats WWE keeps dangling wads of cash in front of will get seriously hurt in the ring. What makes wrestling fun is the suspension of belief; we believe for an hour or two, or sometimes a whole lot more, that what we see in the ring is a real fight. Despite his physical fitness, it’s hard fathoming an almost 60-year-old Goldberg is any match for one Bob Lashley. If we don’t buy it, why would a casual observer?

The biggest strength of the ThunderDome was the experimentation. Not everything worked—RIP Raw Underground—but the high points like The Tribal Chief, The Hurt Business, or anything involving Sasha Banks and Bayley really worked. WWE threw Jell-O against a wall, and in some cases, they got it to stick. The lack of fans and unique presentation called for more risks. My fear was the company would revert back to basics the second they left Florida, and Goldberg, if only slightly, proves that dread was appropriate.

Rather than reward one of the cats who put on for the company during a hellacious time or use the SummerSlam spotlight to make the next Bill Goldberg, Vince and friends are probably going to do what they do best. Despite the new sets, fresh commentators, and whatever other bells and whistles they want to drape themselves in, WWE is still the epitome of business as usual.

Take that how you want to take it, but in this instance, especially with competition nipping at their heels in at least one regard, their predictability is utterly unimpressive.

Worst of all, it’s just plain dull.

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