SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We are a few days removed from Survivor Series, and I am still shocked at one of the most spectacular visceral experiences I have ever enjoyed as a wrestling fan. The visual of the returning hero Goldberg squashing Brock Lesnar with the entire audience chanting his name was one of those rare true wrestling moments we have seen in recent years. Although it disappointed some fans who wanted to see a more traditional, longer main event, it was a memorable, satisfying finish and the absolute right thing to do. Here are some lessons that WWE can learn from the Goldberg versus Lesnar Saga.
1. Treat your wrestlers like the main attraction of the show.
It seems like common sense, but it is ridiculous how WWE treats its “superstars” like elementary school kids getting ready for a field trip. There is nothing more pathetic than seeing wrestlers lined up listening to authority figures lecture them as if there only other option is pumping gas in some hillbilly service station.
From the moment he made his grand return to the WWE stage, Goldberg has felt like a superhero special attraction. It is true that he is a phenomenon from the past, but what got him over in his original run was that he was placed in a simple formula and showcased as an intense dominant badass whose actions spoke louder than words. He gave a clear mission statement on what felt like a non-scripted promo that unabashedly proclaimed that he wanted to be the fans’ heroes. It lacked the goofy irony and the lame insider references that result in “you deserve it” chants contradicting their convoluted “storylines.”
Despite it being a followup of one of the worst matches in wrestling history, from the beginning of the revival of this feud they presented Goldberg and Brock as lethal, uncontrollable outlaws that need to prove who is the best. The segments they had on television were not overshadowed by authority figures and both felt like uncontrollable monsters. That is the very foundation of what makes wrestling work, building a big match with high stakes between two gladiators.
2. They kept things simple.
I enjoy some of the campy elements of pro wrestling, and Chris Jericho fits in that category, but at the main event level, it should be a simple story of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The build to this match did not stray from the concise narrative of two larger than life warriors needing to defeat the other for the sake of their own legacy. There were no failed scripted attempts at humor or blurring the lines between good and evil. They made a mistake by putting Lesnar in front of his hometown fans, but they stayed the course in a clear good versus evil storyline that would conclude in the returning hero experiencing a glorious return.
3. They presented a strong hero and a ruthless bully.
This is tying with my last lesson of keeping things simple. The reason that nobody in the weekly programming feels like a special star is that there are too many confusing plot holes and bad attempts at shades of gray. This results in fans rallying behind James Ellsworth and greeting Shane McMahon’s return as if it was Hulk Hogan in his prime. The top wrestlers are over exposed, and when they wrestle on television, it does not feel like a big deal. There are also far too many ironic references catering to “smart” fans, and an insecure shame at presenting the product in a straightforward sportslike manner with the drama of a Hollywood film.
Sports are about winning and losing, and movies are about a hero going on a journey to defeat the villain. Despite calling themselves “sports entertainment,” they take the worst of both worlds by often ignoring the importance of wins and losses and completely shedding any sense of continuity of story and consistency of character. The reason this worked so well was that Goldberg announced he was a hero and did not deviate in his presentation. Brock, despite being popular, was showcased as an arrogant bully without being made to look weak. It was the classic good versus evil story presented on a grand scale without complication or contrivance.
4. The match lived up to the hype without exposing weaknesses
This was one of those dream matches that lived up to the hype. For those of you who were disappointed that the match was too short, it would have been more disappointing to see a longer battle where Goldberg’s weaknesses would be exposed. His strength was always an epic entrance and then playing to the formula of a quick, dominant victory. Like Ultimate Warrior, who I compared him to in my last article, he did not need to have great matches. The aura, the star power and the charisma made the act such a compelling package. I did not like Hulk Hogan during his Hulkamania run, but it was a successful formula, and when he returned, it made sense to play off it.
People may think it hurt Brock, but I would argue it helped him to be part of such a major event. The story of the match was that Lesnar was overconfident and was thrown off his game at the beginning. He tried to disguise his surprise at Goldberg’s power by laughing,. Golberg won because Brock briefly stopped paying attention and he went in for the kill in a moment of weakness. In that short ninety seconds, each consistently portrayed their characters in the context of the match.
Lesnar was the bully who was too arrogant and dismissive and Goldberg, like a lion, was the focused hero who intelligently struck in a vulnerable moment. They both took part in an unforgettable, dramatic moment and although it was a clear win for Goldberg, Brock lost because he got too cocky underestimating a warrior who proved to be his equal. It was a brilliantly executed display of dominance that stunned the enthralled audience while they were welcoming the returning hero, and it left them wanting more.
5. Magic moments like this garner goodwill and add to the legacy of the sport.
VIP members of the Pro Wrestling Torch should listen to the audio recap of the show. Todd Martin argued that a match like this should be saved for one of the weekly stars that could move forward and draw ratings, but I strongly agree with Bruce Mitchell that a showstopping moment like this enhances not only the current product but the legacy of WWE as a whole. What would you rather see, Michael Jordan come back one last time and slam dunk on Lebron James or current star Steph Curry shooting a three-pointer in James’ face? Would you rather have seen Muhammad Ali come back one last time and knock out Mike Tyson or would you have wanted to see Iron Mike get defeated by Buster Douglas?
It is the same reason why I was vehemently against Undertaker ever losing at Mania. The Streak remaining unblemished would glorify the entire history of the sport as something for the ages. Undertaker losing did not significantly help Lesnar, and it ruined something fans looked forward to as well as a special attraction that could have enhanced the legacy of wrestling. To illustrate a more clear parallel, John Cena was a weekly star who defeated Brock, but did he really benefit from the win? Hogan was clearly established as the top star when he defeated Andre the Giant, but I do not think fans would have preferred to have seen a young upstart end Andre’s fifteen year “unbeaten” streak. I do not think Goldberg needs to continue to wrestle for this match to retain its’ importance. In fact, I feel it is more powerful if he does not. Sometimes, it is the moment itself as it is happening and the reaction to it that is enough.
This was a legendary clash of the titans between two of the top superstars of all time with a clean finish and only logical conclusion to the story being told. It makes us as fans anticipate instances like this and have faith in WWE to do the right thing to provide that magic moment. Kevin Owens or AJ Styles winning in this fashion would not have the same effect, and months down the line if they tell a compelling story of a younger star like Nakamura, this match is evidence that there may be a satisfying conclusion.
Hopefully you all enjoyed and appreciated the spectacle of the Goldberg versus Lesnar story. There are not that many of these dream matches between larger than life characters left. If WWE studies their own booking of this feud, the lessons that came out of this grand battle for the ages can benefit them in creating future icons and clashes that generate the same raucous reaction and feel-good moment that this one did. These are the moments why I became a wrestling fan to begin with.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS “MAGIC, MEMORIES, AND MAIA”: Comparing Goldberg and Ultimate Warrior on entrance, music, look, promos, professionalism, charisma, more
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