Professional wrestling always will be second best in Bill Goldberg’s heart, but he knows it was where he was meant to be.
Goldberg grew up the youngest by 14 years of four children in a Jewish family in Tulsa, Okla., dreaming of a long and fruitful career in the NFL. After starring for the University of Georgia, his pro football journey was cut short by injuries after stints in the CFL, World League of American Football and 14 games over three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Wrestling gave him a chance to continue to use his physical gifts and trademark intensity – just in a different sport.
The multiple-time wrestling world champion’s personal journey in the pro wrestling industry is chronicled in the next episode of “Biography: WWE Legends” on A&E (Sunday, 8 p.m.) In it, he talks about how wrestling was a way to fill the void left by football, but it could never fully take its place, even to this day.
“I definitely watched it [wrestling] with my grandmother as a kid. Never aspired to be a professional wrestler, but it presented itself as an opportunity and I think I grabbed the bull by the horns and kind of made the most of it,” Goldberg told The Post. “Still, I’m a defensive lineman, man. I don’t think I ever made the complete transformation.”
The episode takes a look at his early life, rise to one of the biggest names in the industry in WCW, first WWE stint and his return to the company to share that portion of his life with his wife, Wanda, and son, Gage. It was the second run in WWE that allowed Goldberg to grow a greater appreciation for the pro wrestling business than he had before.
“Just to be accepted back, number one by the fans, number two by your peers, number three by your boss [Vince McMahon], not necessarily in that order, it was truly an honor not many people on the planet get once, but I’ve gotten it a couple of times,” Goldberg said. “I’ve learned a serious appreciation for the business, the people in it.”
Goldberg, 55, always will be remembered for his famed “173-0” streak in WCW filled with lightning-quick matches after spending just a few months training at the company’s “Power Plant.” The zenith of his run came on June 6, 1998, when he defeated “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan clean in the middle of the ring for the WCW world championship at the Georgia Dome on “WCW Monday Nitro.”
The A&E documentary dives deep into the match through interviews with Hogan and former WCW president Eric Bischoff. It shows an emotional Goldberg alone in a theater re-watching it all unfold, along with the victory celebration after with his former football teammates. Nothing will ever quite compare to that for him.
“At the one point I truly realized what good Hogan did for me, what good he did for the business at the time and I learned another way to appreciate what happened that night,” Goldberg said. “And, truth be told, I knew what happened at the end of the match and that was the coolest moment in my sports career was watching guys I had idolized my entire life playing football in the ring wanting to be me. That was the poetic justice that I needed.”
The episode also highlights Goldberg’s infamous Starrcade 1999 match during which his opponent Bret Hart suffered a serious concussion that contributed to his career being cut short a month later. Hart, who was interviewed for the documentary, has held a long-standing and very public grudge against Goldberg for his overall performance in the match and the stiff kick he delivered that hurt him. It led to the former linebacker being known in wrestling for his role in ending the Hitman’s career and being potentially unsafe in the ring – though Bischoff is brought in to give a more neutral perspective on the events.
Goldberg, when asked by The Post about the match, said people and Hart himself can “kiss my ass” if they believe he hurt him on purpose. He stated he would never, ever take advantage of one of his dance partners in the ring and doing so with someone like Hart at that point in his career wouldn’t make sense because of his own inexperience calling matches.
“If I wanted to hurt somebody I could do it every single time I went out every match, and everybody has that ability, but that’s the professionalism we walk around with,” Goldberg said. “I was as green as a green bean at that point, so to think that there was any malicious intent is one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
“And I couldn’t be any more remorseful. I couldn’t go on record to say I’m sorry and it was an unfortunate incident any more times than I have, but I will continue to do that to maybe break through the two people or 10 people or 10 million people that think I did it on purpose. I think it’s asinine.”
After WWE bought WCW in 2001, Goldberg stayed away from wrestling for a little more than two years as he was still getting paid via his deal with AOL Time Warner. In the documentary, he expressed plenty of hesitance about going to WWE in 2003, saying he put his own feelings aside to give fans what they wanted.
Not really knowing anyone in WWE, he described walking in there at that point of his career feeling like “a collegiate football player walking into a frat party.” He and Triple H also not liking each other at the time only added to the awkwardness. Goldberg chose to do it anyway, but was gone a year later.
“For whatever reason, I was extremely reluctant,” he said. “Yes, I came back because kids would ask me walking down the street every single day when I’m gonna wrestle again, when are you gonna wrestle again. You know what, I owe it you guys. I’m not doing it because I want to at this point. I’m kind of doing it against my will, but I’m doing it for the better good of the business.”
Goldberg did not return again until after a 12-year hiatus in 2016 to face Brock Lesnar and made his family the focal point of his character’s reemergence since they had never seen him perform in a wrestling ring. Since then he has gone 5-5 in singles matches, won the Universal championship twice and fought for a world title six times.
Goldberg, who has not wrestled since facing Roman Reigns at Elimination Chamber in February, called the experience “100 percent awesome” but does have one very small regret about coming back. In his eyes, it has naturally led to the invincibility around the Goldberg character taking hit.
“My family was my chink in my armor when I came back because it made sense,” he said. “It’s realistic. I’m of elevated age. The reality of the character can’t last forever and so when you age, it’s nice to put some chinks in your armor that make sense. That being part of it, it was great coming back and it was bad coming back at the end of the day.
“It was a wonderful experience. The good far outweighs the bad, but you always in the back of your mind are like, ‘ehh, maybe I shouldn’t have come back.’ The character was pretty frickin’ strong back then and now I’m coming my back and I’m doing the thing, but I’m paying my debt to the business that was so good to me.”
Goldberg talks in the episode about how physically taxing and mentally draining making the transformation from Bill to the intense Goldberg can be. He says he has to get to a place where he doesn’t think anyone across the ring from him can beat him.
“I hate to give the analogy, but it’s like a soldier going into battle and then having to go to sleep afterwards,” Goldberg said. “Zero to a hundred, a hundred to zero. It’s tough, but it’s someplace that I enjoy. I enjoy being there. I enjoy head-butting doors. I enjoy feeling invincible. It’s a cool thing. Any guy with testosterone loves that feeling.”
It’s that trademark intensity that made his career and allowed him to be the “superhero” as a wrestler he hoped to be for kids as a football player. That chance wrestling gave him hit home while formulating his WWE Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2018, realizing he could “do much more good for the kids as a professional wrestler.”
All of it is part of the legacy Goldberg leaves in the industry. There are a number of things he hopes the fans remember about him.
“I was the Mike Tyson of wrestling. Period. End of story,” Goldberg said. “That’s all I want. And I’m a dude that cares and the dude that has a heart. A dude that will live forever with the guilt of kicking Bret Hart in the head. The guy that gives his all every single time and the guy that came back for the business.”
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