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Cover Story: Goldberg beats Hogan to capture WCW belt Subheadline: WCW draws record crowd at Georgia Dome for what came across on television as a passing of the torch By Wade Keller, Torch editor
In front of a record WCW crowd of 36,506 paid ($906,338), Goldberg defeated Hollywood Hogan to become WCW Heavyweight Champion. It is being seen, perhaps rightfully so, as the passing of the torch in WCW from Hogan to the rookie Goldberg.
The atmosphere for the title match in the Georgia Dome was among the best in the history of professional wrestling on television. The camera angles captured the enormity of the event and the overwhelming tension and anticipation among the fans. When Goldberg came out the reaction for him rivaled that of Steve Austin's receptions, a comparison which will probably become more common in coming months.
For Hogan, the moment must have been eerie. The crowd reaction for Goldberg was so similar to the crowd reactions Hogan received during his peak years of popularity, be it when be was a breakout babyface star in the AWA in the early-'80s or his peak years nationally in the mid- and late-'80s in the WWF. Perhaps for the first time in Hogan's career, he felt what it was like to wrestle himself.
Like many Hogan opponents over the years, he was merely backdrop fodder for the phenom that is Goldberg. Goldberg no-sold Hogan's offense, kicked out of his finisher, and pinned him cleanly. Hogan's only out for losing the match was that Karl Malone and Dallas Page at ringside drew his attention away from his match.
WCW hopes that by putting the Goldberg vs. Hogan match on Nitro they will regain lost ratings momentum. Critics within and outside of WCW, though, saw the hotshot move of booking the Goldberg-Hogan match on Nitro as a huge mistake. The potential pay-per-view revenue for Goldberg's first WCW Title shot, especially against Hogan, would have been awesome. With two months of solid hype, it could have blown away all WCW PPV records and given Wrestlemania a run for its money. Never again will WCW be able to offer on PPV the First-Ever Goldberg Title Shot.
That said, the spectacle of Goldberg winning the title on Nitro was so perfect that it may work out to benefit WCW in ways they didn't imagine. By airing the Goldberg title win in front of probably the largest audience to ever witness a match on cable television, WCW allowed millions more fans to be part of that special, perhaps historical moment, who otherwise would have only heard about it had it aired only on PPV. Now they may be even more inclined to continue to follow Goldberg's career on PPV. Will that be enough over the long run to make for the loss of potential PPV revenue? That judgement can be made in a few months.
All expectations are that Goldberg's title reign will not be short. For all of the mistakes they make due to internal politics, lack of organization, and short-term thinking, WCW doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past when it comes to super-hot babyfaces. Had Verne Gagne given Hogan a title win over Nick Bockwinkel instead of disappointing AWA fans time after time with DQ and screwjob endings, the wrestling landscape in the '80s might have turned out quite differently. The Road Warriors were never the same (nor was Chicago as a wrestling market) when at Starrcade '88, in front of their purported hometown fans, they won the tag titles from Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson only to have a classic Dusty Rhodes screwjob ending snatch them away due to a ref bump and DQ ending.
Monday night, the fans wanted Goldberg to beat Hogan. WCW gave them their wish.
Goldberg has done everything WCW has asked of him thus far and he has yet to stumble. He hasn't been asked to do a lot, but what he has done he has done well. But even more so than when Steve Austin won the WWF Title, everything changes for Goldberg. He is no longer the "cute undercard squasher of jobbers" who might some day be champion. The success of WCW rests more on his shoulders than anyone's right now. He will now face jealousy and petty backbiting. Also, a lot of wrestlers are going to try to align with him behind the scenes. How he reacts to that pressure will determine a lot about his longevity.
While Austin has proven to be a draw on pay-per-view, house shows, and cable television, Goldberg hasn't proven anything. His track record of drawing TV ratings is spotty since his matches are so short and he had yet to be the main focus of a Nitro until this past Monday. He has been billed in only one house show main event and WCW had to add a new main event to the show because tickets in the small Pittsburgh arena were selling so slowly.
While Austin's character has depth and range when it comes to interviews, angles, and match styles, Goldberg has only shown one dimension. If Goldberg can't pull off interviews that live up to his fans' image of him, or if he can't naturally play off of other wrestlers in angles, his value will be limited. There are only so many free main event TV matches Goldberg can be part of before WCW runs out or marketable opponents. The WWF has turned Austin into a ratings draw even when he isn't billed in an actual match. They were forced to experiment while Austin was injured and have continued on that successful track ever since.
Goldberg could be a draw on PPV like Mike Tyson was over the last decade. While customers won't give Goldberg's opponents a chance, they still will want to get together with friends and watch him win on PPV. But who are potential Goldberg PPV opponents? Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Giant, Lex Luger, and Sting in order of drawing potential. Rematches with Hogan could also draw. But that's it, and only three of them are actually heels. Goldberg is too dominant for anyone to take anyone else seriously as an opponent. If WCW has the patience to build those opponents properly that's not a bad list of six PPV opponents.
Goldberg is getting paid $600,000 this year, $800,000 the next two years, and $1 million the final year of his recently inked four-year contract. If he turns out to be WCW's version of Austin (who by all accounts this year will break the single-year earnings record of any wrestler in history), how long before Goldberg renegotiates his contract? And how long before Hogan turns babyface to team with Goldberg to ride his popularity?
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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