It is not too often you get moments in WWE that feel truly special anymore. They are hard to come by, even when WWE deliberately tries to put them on. But the recent return of Bill Goldberg, in every way, shape, and form, was an absolute success. The conclusion of Monday Night Raw on Oct. 17, 2016, was one to last in the memories for years to come.
There was a lot of doubt, though, leading up.
You see, many were rubbed the wrong way when the official announcement was made a week prior, towards the conclusion of the previous episode of Raw where Paul Heyman issued the official challenge for the Brock Lesnar rematch, that Goldberg would make his return. Many decried WWE’s insistence to announce a special moment like that so far in advance, thus, eliminating any surprise factor. Many missed those days in pro wrestling when a wrestler’s appearance or return on a given show was done in secrecy and to the utter shock of the audience and viewers around the world.
The reality is WWE is corporate now; it is mainstream. And as a mainstream television show, no longer with fellow wrestling competition to compete against, WWE competes with other television programming and has the USA Network to please. Ratings are important, and no doubt was the decision to announce Goldberg’s return in that fashion a ploy to garner a ratings boost.
That said, with the benefit of hindsight, a surprise return wouldn’t have been the way to go. Goldberg’s return after 12 years, step by step, managed to make it feel hugely important and genuinely special.
It could have easily gone wrong too. Vince McMahon is a man very much in the bubble. He is so utterly obsessed with the business he has elevated to the top of the world after taking over for his father, he struggles to see outside of WWE. It has often led to two issues; where McMahon undervalues talent that was not bred within the WWE system, and he underestimates the popularity of talent from outside WWE. And he has been known not to get it until it’s right under his nose.
This is exactly what happened with Sting. It is why it took so long for Sting to reach WWE. Because McMahon did not think Sting, who is WCW to his very core, would be that big of a deal to the modern WWE audience and, therefore, was not willing to put out the money to get him for all those years after WCW’s crumbling. Goldberg fits in that exact same boat — he is WCW-bred through and through; and I’m sure the rough one year Goldberg did spend under the WWE banner did not help matters either.
After last Monday though, you can bet McMahon took notice.
From the very beginning of the show the hype train began, reminding everyone who was returning. And all throughout the show, WWE continued the reminders as well as providing some context to those fans with less background knowledge, showing highlights of several pivotal moments in Goldberg’s pro wrestling career.
And who better to help add to the excitement and drama than Heyman? What was setup like an impromptu interview, Heyman did a promo mid-way through Raw urging Goldberg not to do what everyone knew was coming, warning him of the consequences that lay ahead if he did. As Heyman has made a habit of for years, the promo was great and completely added to the hype of Goldberg’s return.
Then came the time.
After a quick review of events that led to the moment, by Michael Cole, the unforgettable entrance music started. Just like Goldberg’s old school entrances, WWE took us deep into the arena as Goldberg made his way to the entrance ramp. Lined along the way were WWE wrestlers and staff all looking on, clapping, and cheering for Goldberg. It was a small, but valuable touch that successfully showcased the importance of this man’s return and how big of persona he is in the business.
It could not end there though. The entrance may have been epic in every sense, seeing the man showered in sparks once again and his raw emotion come out in those moments, but the follow-up needed to deliver as well to make sure interest did not take a nosedive in the end.
Goldberg was never known as a mic guy, but he showed up and did everything he needed to do without overstaying his welcome. You know what the most important factor in it was? It felt natural. It felt real.
It is something largely missing from WWE nowadays. In a day when most everyone’s promos are scripted to a tee, you can’t believe these guys anymore. The words spoken often show they are not their own, and the manner which they are spoken show they do not actually believe what they are saying. Here though, Goldberg went out and the difference was alarming — like a fresh breath of air. Goldberg cut a promo on how happy he was to be back and for all the fans to remember him still. He expressed the thoughts and emotions going through his mind in deciding whether or not to make a return to face Lesnar. And he accepted the challenge, promising to make Lesnar the last victim of his pro career.
It felt real. You could believe everything he said. And, thus, it worked in every way it was meant to. Because here we are, most wrestling fans full well knowing that Goldberg vs. Lesnar I was a complete flop, and full well knowing the rematch is almost certainly going to disappoint. I mean, how could that match live up to its expectations, especially now after 12 years? But Goldberg’s return dampened all those thoughts and generated real anticipation for that matchup — in a way, allowing emotion to trump logic. It made Goldberg feel important, and it made the upcoming rematch feel important. And in today’s era of WWE, that is a tough, tough thing to accomplish.