Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg — it is perhaps the ultimate professional wrestling matchup. In one corner you have the preeminent monster to come up through the ranks of the WWE, and in the other corner the premiere brute to come through the ranks of WCW.
More so than any matchup in professional wrestling, it is the personification of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. And now, more than 12 years after the first bout, with the rematch seemingly on the horizon, Lesnar vs. Goldberg is, and always was, a match too big for itself.
Any wrestling fan of age remembers the first meeting quite well. It was one of the main event matches of WrestleMania XX, and deservedly so. Lesnar vs. Goldberg is the epitome of a “WrestleMania match.”
There are no two more destructive forces in pro wrestling than those two men. The matchup stirs the pro wrestling fan’s imagination to no end.
Everyone loves an epic “big hoss” match between behemoths in the ring — matches like Matanza vs. Brian Cage in Lucha Underground, War Machine vs. Shane Taylor and Keith Lee in Ring of Honor, or Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe in New Japan Pro Wrestling. And Lesnar vs. Goldberg stands out as the big hoss battle.
Lesnar and Goldberg are not just two big, strong men — two giant, clumsy men like Braun Strowman or The Great Khali. Everyone sees right through those massive men who try to capture the same prestige and ride the coat tails of Andre the Giant; never coming close. Lesnar and Goldberg are the real beasts — two athletic freaks of nature. And the imagination goes crazy in picturing what a match between such men should look like in our wildest dreams; like seeing Godzilla and King Kong destroy an entire city in the wake of their clash.
We have seen the match, though. And unfortunately, memories of that match are smeared in disappointment.
Nearly everything went wrong. The timing was terrible. That led to the crowd being terrible. And the booking backfired on itself.
Lesnar and Goldberg ignited a feud several months earlier in a simple backstage segment. Lesnar went on to ruin Goldberg’s chance of winning the Royal Rumble — jealous of the attention Goldberg was garnering. Goldberg went on to cost Lesnar the world title at No Way Out.
In an effort to put over how violent and wild the matchup is, Vince McMahon (in kayfabe) refused to book the match, saying no order could possibly be had between the two titans. Stone Cold Steve Austin joined the situation, having been a side character in the feud the whole way through, and was then made the special referee — being the only man who could possibly handle the carnage and chaos that would ensue.
It’s an idea that sounds great on paper, but the bad timing mixed with the new three-way dynamic going on only backfired in the end.
Going in, it was common knowledge that both Lesnar and Goldberg were leaving WWE. Even worse was it was on bad terms. Both men were unhappy and done with the life of being a pro wrestler.
From the moment the bell rang, the crowd turned on them. Chants of “You sold out” and “This match sucks,” among other things, filled the arena. Add to that Austin’s involvement in the match, and it only further detracted from Lesnar and Goldberg, giving the crowd someone to cheer for who technically was not even in the match.
Freshly watched, the early psychology is actually good. They played it as two equals — playing to the irresistible force vs. immovable object dynamic. The crowd was having none of it though, and the middle segment of the match seemed empty and kind of dragged. It was obvious neither man was feeling exactly motivated that night.
The ending just saw your typical WWE-styled finisher spam-fest, but almost absent of crowd heat, and Goldberg won in what felt like a match that just abruptly ended after not too much of anything at all.
Today, their first match is remembered as one of the great disappointments in pro wrestling.
That is only so because the expectations were set so high. How could they not be? But what the mind imagines simply cannot play out.
NJPW fans may look at an example being the epic matches between Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii over the last three years. Except Lesnar-Goldberg is that ten-fold in our minds. For Lesnar-Goldberg to reach expectations, in the match’s conclusion, there’d be no ring for any other matches to take place. In a monumental battle, Lesnar and Goldberg would destroy each other and leave everything else destroyed in their wake.
This is pro wrestling though, not World War III.
It could not have been done in 2004, and now with both men 12 years older, it certainly can not be done now.
You cannot blame WWE for wanting to book the rematch. After all, it will certainly draw a ton of interest, and even with the bad first experience, the matchup still holds that peculiar prestige to it. But again, the match is destined to disappoint.
Lesnar is 39 and has not exactly seemed too interested as of late in having competitive, high quality matches like he has with CM Punk, Undertaker, and Roman Reigns in the past. Goldberg is already 49 and, despite staying in excellent shape his whole life, has not wrestled a match since the first Lesnar match. And unlike Lesnar, who we know can have great matches when he’s both pushed to it and paired with the right guy, Goldberg was never known for quality matches in that sense.
As wrestling fans, we can simply hope WWE, Lesnar and Goldberg pull out all the stops here and choreograph the best match they can. Given the circumstances, something along those lines is most likely; a match with a lot of smoke and mirrors, well planned out on almost a move-for-move basis.
In a sense, this is a shot at redemption for that first match all those years ago. It is a chance to make up for all those factors which helped lead to the first time being such a disaster.
Given the two men though, even if both come in fully motivated and the crowd is super receptive and excited, we cannot help but hold on to those destructive imaginations we carry for what it “should” be, as opposed to what it “can” be. It is a bona fide pro wrestling dream match, but one with a natural fate to underwhelm. It is such a matchup, such an event, that it simply cannot carry its own weight.
Lesnar-Goldberg is too big, even for itself.