Throwback Thursday: Goldberg's First WWE Run

Who, six months ago, would have predicted that Goldberg would be holding the WWE Universal Title heading into WrestleMania 33 we don't use the numbers anymore?

But here we are. For the record, I think Goldberg's return has been well-booked. Yes, his matches have been incredibly short, but that's his thing. He isn't the guy to put on five-star classics or 30 minute clinics. He walks in accompanied by security guards, stands in the pyro, hits a spear and a Jackhammer and then leaves. That's Goldberg. You may not like him and you may not think that he's the type of wrestler who should be headlining WWE's biggest event (especially in 2017) but you can't say that he's been booked badly. He's been booked to play to his strengths.

If you want to see him booked badly, you have to go back to 2003.

That was Goldberg's first run with the WWE and it did not go well.

It started off strong. He arrived the day after WrestleMania XIX while the Rock was gloating after having defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin the day before. Goldberg entered the ring, said "Rock, you're next!" and then hit a spear. Boom. That's what Goldberg does.

He then defeated the Rock at Backlash 2003 in a match that went 17 minutes. It was fine. I totally understand WWE's insistence that Goldberg wrestle longer matches at the time. The Rock was one of  the company's biggest stars and, with WCW still fresh in their memory, they weren't going to let him be squashed in 30 seconds by Goldberg. It didn't play to Goldberg's strengths, but it was fine. WWE fans at the time expected longer matches and it was okay to make Goldberg try to work them, as long as the "Spear-Jackhammer-123" aspect still existed.

After the Rock match, Goldberg was moved down the card while he "learned to work WWE style." He faced 3-Minute Warning, Christian and Lance Storm in relative squashes. It made sense. He wasn't ready to compete in longer matches on a regular basis, so he squashed people in the meantime. Fine. Goldberg then entered a feud with Chris Jericho that played up their history in WCW and he defeated Jericho at Badd Blood 2003.

So far things were going fine for Goldberg in WWE. It was a bit rocky for him at first, but he was still over and he was working his way back up the card. Then he ran into Triple H.

2003 Triple H had this really cool gimmick where he humiliated, embarrassed and defeated any former WCW star who had come to the company. Plus a bunch of other people who made the mistake of trying to get over while Triple H was around. 

Hunter ended up in bodybuilding competitions with Scott Steiner and then quickly defeated him. Twice. Now, Scott Steiner wasn't setting the world on fire in 2003, but this feud was absolutely awful. Steiner could have been at least something in WWE, but not after this feud.  

And Triple H wasn't done. Maybe the Steiner feud was bad, but that could have been Steiner's fault. The next feud was with former WCW champion and very talented (and very over) competitor Booker T. 

What happened there? Triple H made subtle (and not so subtle) racist remarks and then defeated Booker T. 

It was awful. Booker T had momentum and was over. They did an angle that talked about Booker growing up. They included real life details of how he had been in trouble with the law when he was younger, but that now he had finally put all that behind him. He won the right to face Triple H at WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Title. It seemed like the perfect redemption story.

Triple H said "somebody like you doesn't get to be a world champion." He said that "people like you don't deserve it" and that "you're here to be an entertainer." He told Booker to "do a little dance" for him. He said "you're here to make people like me laugh." And then he beat him. Cleanly. It was horrible.

If these days you hear someone talk about how Triple H doesn't put people over and how he squashes anyone with any momentum, this is the Triple H they're talking about.

How does this relate to Goldberg? Flash forward to the Elimination Chamber match at SummerSlam 2003. Triple H put his title on the line against Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Kevin Nash and Goldberg. Triple H had feuded with (and defeated) Jericho, Michaels, Orton and Nash in the past. Goldberg was over. This was going to finally be the end for Hunter's title reign. You could feel it.

Goldberg entered the match and eliminated Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Jericho, leaving him and Triple H as the only ones remaining. Finally Triple H was going to have to face Goldberg one-on-one. Finally, after insulting, degrading, and defeating the entire roster for months, he was going to get what was coming to him. Goldberg was going to spear him. He was going to hit the Jackhammer. He was going to end Triple H's reign of terror.

Triple H hit him with a sledgehammer and won the match.

Goldberg would eventually win the World Title a month later at Unforgiven 2003, but the moment was dampened. Goldberg hadn't been pinned since entering WWE until he ran into Triple H. It made perfect sense for him to destroy the hated champion Triple H as soon as he got his hands on him. Instead, he had to wait a month.

After he did win the title, Triple H offered to pay anyone on the roster $100,000 if they could injure Goldberg. It seemed like an okay idea and it gave Goldberg the opportunity to squash some jobbers, but then Batista broke Goldberg's ankle. Evolution always seemed to get the upper hand on Goldberg. Triple H and Goldberg faced off one-on-one again at Survivor Series 2003, with Golberg winning despite interference from Evolution. But then lost the title back to Triple H in a triple threat match that also included Kane.

At face value, it looks like the Triple H/Goldberg feud ended up okay but, watching it as it happened, it did not do Goldberg any favours. Triple H was always presented as better, smarter, and more experienced that Goldberg. Evolution helped Triple H whenever they could and Goldberg held the title for only 84 days. Hunter and Evolution were always clearly better than Goldberg. Goldberg didn't win the feud. Triple H did. Triple H started with the title and ended with the title. Goldberg was just a speed bump for him. And Triple H quickly moved on after the feud. 

Wrestling logic dictates that after a hated heel goes on a big run where he defeats many popular stars, the pay off is that a face finally beats him clean and that's it. That's the end. Even Hollywood Hogan in 1998 understood that. That's how wrestling works. If needed, after the face wins, the heel gets a rematch and is again defeated by the face. Then both the heel and face then move on to other challengers. 

With this formula, the heel looks strong after having had such a huge and successful run and the face looks strong after having beaten the dominant heel. It's simple storytelling. In Goldberg/HHH, Triple H looked strong after having a long, dominating run AND he looks strong for beating Goldberg for the title. Goldberg looks like a flash in the pan.

After the Triple H feud, Goldberg went on to face Brock Lesnar. It was a decent feud that saw the two get in an argument backstage over who was more dominant. Of course, it would have made more sense if Goldberg had actually been dominant, but that's okay. 

Lesnar attacked Goldberg during the Royal Rumble, leading to his elimination. In response, Goldberg attack Lesnar at No Way Out, causing him to lose the title to Eddie Guerrero. 

Goldberg and Lesnar faced off at WrestleMania XX. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the special guest referee. And it all went to hell.

Goldberg's contract was expiring and he was leaving the company. Lesnar wanted to play NFL football and was also leaving the company. The crowd booed both men and they responded by putting on a downright terrible match that screamed "we don't want to be here." Goldberg won, but then both men were stunned by Steve Austin in order to get the crowd back.

And that was it. Goldberg was done with WWE until he returned in 2016.

Interestingly enough, the 2016/2017 Golberg has been booked much more like WCW Goldberg. He has his WCW theme back (after using a tweaked one for much of his first WWE run). He arrives, squashes someone, and leaves. He's getting to use his WCW character and it's working wel for him. Very few people who have come over from WCW have been able to use their WCW characters and find success in WWE. Usually they need to change up their gimmick in order and become a "WWE guy" in order to find success (King Booker, anyone?) but Goldberg is using his "173-0" gimmick and finding a lot of success with it.

Now, I'm not saying that Goldberg has to squash everyone in a few seconds, but the big explosive power moves and the short but devastating attacks are what makes Goldberg Goldberg. That's the formula that works for him. It seems like 2017 WWE knows that.

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