I was never a proponent of the Ryback/Bill Goldberg comparisons, in my mind; they were lazy, broad and prejudice to attribute a strong guy having an undefeated streak to being similar to Goldberg.
With that said, it is hard not to see some similarities between the two’s rise to the top of the pro wrestling world. Goldberg had a meteoric rise to superstardom capped off by a title win over Hollywood Hulk Hogan in his hometown of Atlanta. Ryback came on strong, but lost his undefeated streak relatively early. Where Goldberg reached the very real and very plausible (sarcasm) 173-0 record, I could not even tell you Ryback’s record.
In the case of Ryback, he lost early; he lost at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view due to shady officiating from Brad Maddox under the supposed guise of champion CM Punk. Much was made of Ryback’s eventual fall from glory once he finally lost. Ryback was just a guy with a streak, right? Once he lost it, he was nothing. Who could blame us common wrestling fan for thinking that. After all, we had spent months comparing him to Bill Goldberg and his streak was over, so was he. Once Goldberg lost, he never came anywhere near superstardom again.
Dexter Brocks and I discussed the crowd reaction to Ryback on our latest 1,003 Holds podcast and just how surprised we are the fans and apparently World Wrestling Entertainment are still behind Ryback. But, how, why, what? He lost the streak; he is supposed to be dead, finished and gone.
That is where we have to look much deeper at the reasons why Goldberg fell apart so quickly after the streak. Just as it was not fair to compare Ryback and Goldberg when they were undefeated, it is equally unfair to paint their eventual defeat as having the same impact.
You could say that the WWE is handling Ryback post-defeat better than World Championship Wrestling could have even imagined handling Goldberg. Where Ryback has become even more loved (and the Goldberg chants have subsided), Goldberg himself fell into shambles. Naturally, I’d be silly for me to put them on the same level of superstardom, but you could argue once the streak was gone, Goldberg was gone. Never again to reach the top of a strong WCW.
Strangely enough, we are approaching the anniversary of the fateful six days that put an end to Goldberg’s superstardom and largely put an end to WCW as a successful wrestling company.
To me, these six days are some of the most important in professional wrestling history. The history of the business, the business of the business was changed forever on just these six days
The Six Days That Will Live in Infamy
As mentioned, Goldberg’s meteoric rise was something to behold. For the first time, in the WCW’s nWo era, a new star was being born. Somehow, through the muck of heel turns, heel victories and a 19-man super stable someone was emerging.
Goldberg’s undefeated streak was initially nothing to write home about, any shmuck of a booker could pull off an undefeated streak. Vince McMahon once turned Ludvig Borga and Tatanka into upper mid card talents by virtue of a meager undefeated streak.
Where Goldberg differed was the number, while the 173 was clearly fake, the length was staggering. (Goldberg’s number would jump up some weeks by 20-30. Lots of House Shows, apparently). Show after show, month after month, there was seemingly nobody in WCW would even stand a chance against Goldberg. He decimated and destroyed everyone in his path and fans could not wait to tune in, buy a shirt and chant for Goldberg.
By late summer, it was time for Goldberg to take that next step to true main event status; it was time for him to become World Champion. While the same could have been said about Ryback, long term it just made sense to keep the title away from him. Goldberg was ready to explode into superstardom, while Ryback was and still is a part of a larger title picture. Goldberg was breaking the stranglehold Hogan had on the title, fans were ready for something new. With Ryback, fans were already getting something new in Punk. Had he been facing John Cena in that situation, you likely go with the fresh face of Ryback.
Anyway, Goldberg defeated Hogan in Atlanta (on a Monday Nitro, with about five days build but that is an argument for another day). That was it. Goldberg was a made man. Now time for an equally awesome title reign!
Or not. Or, he would have one of the worst, if not the worst major World title reigns in history. Sure, we have seen some stinkers like Jack Swagger, The Miz and the most galling Rey Mysterio but this was a major star. Those guys were all mid to upper card guys, but they were not pushing ratings, merchandise and ticket sales like Goldberg.
Put this into perspective, during Goldberg’s reign he had two pay-per-view title defenses. One against Diamond Dallas Page, which was seen by only a portion of the audience after a Hogan/Ultimate Warrior match went too long and cable companies, cut the Halloween Havoc pay-per-view off. (There are stories about WCW calling some companies but not others informing them they were going to go long. Seriously, just read “The Death of WCW” by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez.)
While the aforementioned Halloween Havoc defense was one of Goldberg’s best matches ever, it hardly makes up for the fact that his only other major defense was against Curt Hennig at the Bash at the Beach pay-per-view. A completely forgettable 3:50 match overshadowed by a Hogan main event featuring NBA players Karl “The Mailman” Malone and Dennis Rodman.
No, seriously, that is the title reign concisely. He had a few Thunder and Monday Nitro matches against the likes of Scott Hall and the Giant, but that was it. These were the major title defenses for your superstar champion. Unfathomable.
To be fair, Goldberg did have high profile title defenses against Robert Fuller and a :51 squash against Scott Putski on Thunder. Why Putski, a complete jobber below the rungs of Kenny Kaos and La Parka, was receiving a World Title shot is beyond comprehension. (Seriously, go read “Death of WCW”).
December 27, 1998
WCW reached a point where Goldberg had to lose the title. It just had to go. Again, do not ask why, for some reason it just had to. The match was set for Starrcade 1998 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. The faithful night of December 27, 1998, when the empire’s facade started falling apart. Goldberg was going to defend the WCW World Title against Kevin Nash. Nash at the time is rumored to have been in charge of booking WCW. There has not been a definitive confirmation this is true, as some people, including Nash himself, contend he had not started booking until early to mid-February.
Booker or not, Nash was booked to go over Goldberg at Starrcade, end his streak and win the World Title. Stupid and shortsighted, but whatever. Nash won the match thanks to help from his old Outsiders running mate Scott Hall tazing Goldberg and allowing Nash to hit his jackknife powerbomb.
That was it, just like that, over a year-build of the undefeated streak was over. Looking back, it is tough to argue that the streak was ready to end but with any logic, it will be tough to say exactly when it should happen.
At the end of the day, it is how you handle a wrestler after the streak ends. Currently, in Ryback’s case, WWE has handled it quite well as fans have seemingly forgotten he was even undefeated before and largely view him as a monster regardless of W-L record.
Goldberg’s post-undefeated streak…well…. Let us just say it took a turn for the worse on without a doubt the biggest night of the Monday Night Wars.
The December 28 WCW Monday Nitro was a nothing show. Nash got upset that Hall had helped him win and told Goldberg he could get a rematch the next week in Atlanta. Seems like a losing proposition, but we would soon learn Nash had something under his sleeve.
January 4, 1999
This was the big day. Unlike Goldberg’s first WCW Title victory, this match had a whole week (OH YIPPIE, seriously “Death of WCW”) build. It is not much but dammit this is WCW and you have to take what you can get. Don’t worry, WCW found a way to screw it up very quickly.
Early in the show, we go backstage to Goldberg being arrested. Apparently, he had been accused of aggressively stalking nWo valet Elizabeth. What aggressive stalking is or where this came from, I have no idea. The initial thought in Creative was to have this be a rape charge, but Goldberg quickly turned that down.
A visibly upset Goldberg (most likely pissed at what was going on in real life) ranted that he was innocent of anything and that he did so much for the community, it made no sense to arrest him.
Announcer Tony Schiavone explained that Goldberg was being taken across the street (remember this) to the Police station for questioning. Well, there goes our advertised main event, right?
Nash had the same thought as us and became upset; dammit, he wanted to defend his WCW title against a 173-1 opponent in his hometown and the location where he won his first WCW title.
The returning Hollywood Hulk Hogan, fresh off his campaign to become President of the United States of America, approaches Nash. (Check out my article on this little doozy). Hogan offers to face Nash for the World Title and we are off. We have our new main event. Throughout the night, we cut back to the Goldberg and Elizabeth saga as Elizabeth’s story starts to break down more and more. After one of these segments, Shiavone lets onto some interesting news. Mankind is going to win the WWF World Championship on Raw is War, the competing show.
“If you’re thinking about changing channels to our competition. We ought to let you know that unlike us they’ve got their show in the can, their show has been taped. Later tonight, Mick Foley, who once wrestled here as Cactus Jack is going to win their World Title. I mean, that’s going to be their WORLD CHAMPION HA-HA.”
This quickly proved to be one of the worst decisions in professional wrestling history, as about 600,000 fans changed channels immediately to watch one of Raw is War’s finest moments, Mick Foley/Mankind winning the WWF World Title against The Rock.
Why anyone in WCW thought this would work is beyond comprehension. The intention, obviously, was to deter people from turning away, but why would anyone WANT to miss that moment, even if it was a taped show? Again, the book, just buy it.
Back to our lovely Goldberg saga, there is about 25 minutes left in the show and the police are letting Goldberg go. There is no evidence against him, Elizabeth is making it up, and you are free to go. Goldberg says, “Bring me to the Dome.”
Oh yay, we are going to get the World Title match we were promised, right? It is right across the street remember! This should be easy.
Well, no. Nash comes out with Hall (yes, Nash was upset last week that Hall interfered for him), Hogan with “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner (literally no idea why). This is our match, presumably someone at WCW HQ could have said, actually guys it is going to take like two minutes for Goldberg to get here, let us hold off. But, no. It is Hogan and Nash.
The rest is history. You probably have seen the video, you know the story. Fake lockup, push into the corner, faked punch then a finger poke to Nash, which throws him to the ground, Hogan, covers him and wins the WCW World Title.
Once the decision has been made, Goldberg runs down to the ring, gets pummeled by the newly formed new nWo Wolfpac. His back get’s spraypaint and more hilariously the back of his head by Hall. Goldberg, famously, gets up almost immediately after feeling the paint hit the back of his head and almost legitimately hits Hall. You could tell Goldberg knew about the back spray painting but was a little bit pissed when the guys started messing with his head.
Anyway, just like that, it was over. Hogan was champion again, Nash was a pawn, nWo reformed (or got all the good guys into one side: Wolfpac) and Goldberg, what to make of Goldberg. Here was a guy who was undefeated for 173 straight matches that suddenly looked like the biggest goof in the company in such a short time. He got played. Played byWCW, played by the nWo it appeared that everyone was against him. The only way to rehab him is to have a destructive path of revenge, right?
Worse yet, WCW seemed determined to make sure he stayed looking like a goof as he began a feud with Hall, upset that he interfered. This concluded in a Ladder/Tazer match at WCW Solded Out. He was not placed back into the World Title picture, he was just there. He went on to face Bam Bam Bigelow in February. Again, nowhere near the actual title picture that was currently dominated by Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. Something no doubt fresh and new to the 1999 audience. It would be akin to starting a three-month feud with Ryback and Brad Maddox. Afterwards, Ryback just carries on with normal business. Screwed out of the WCW Title a few times, meh, whatever. The WWE had a Maddox blow off and now Ryback is right back into the picture. Again, this was example A of how to not do it and example B is currently underway by WWE.
Goldberg never reached superstar status again. Ryback has kept his star power alive and arguably bigger than ever, Goldberg completely faded.
More so, WCW faded. They had not won a ratings battle since late October (October 26). January 4 was the nail in the coffin. WCW was winning the night until they told you Mankind was winning the title on the other show, they had it. People WERE interested. Instead, everyone turned away to watch one of the best moments in WWF history and turned back to watch WCW’s superstar falsely accused of aggressively stalking earlier in the night being spray-painted on the back of his head.
WCW would never win the ratings war again. In fact, they would never be close to the 0.7 gap (5.7-5.0) they enjoyed on this night. As mentioned, Goldberg went from a made-man to six months later a nothing, a whimper.
Goldberg would not receive a WCW Title shot until April that year and would not win the title against until October 1999. In just six quick days, WCW destroyed a moneymaking superstar.
Thus far, Ryback’s presence in PPV main event has been a positive for the WWE. Buyrates are up significantly over last year’s and while it’s short sighted to attribute that entirely to Ryback, it can’t be ignored. While I am personally not a huge Ryback fan, I could not help but be pumped when the crowd was into him. I am always hoping for new, exciting and different stars in WWE, regardless of my personal preference.
We have already seen WWE do an undefeated monster streak better than WCW; let us see what they have in store for us. I am looking forward to it.