The Wrestling 101 Match #14
WCW World Heavyweight Title Match
Goldberg vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan ©
July 6, 1998
World Championship Wrestling
The thing about Bill Goldberg is that he’s kind of a dick.
Or, more precisely, he’s a huge dick—tall and lean, with bulging muscles and a conspicuously bald head, 6-feet-4-inches and 285 pounds of pure phallic energy.
There are times when we can look away from the primal urges that draw us to wrestling, when we can cloak our fandom in the athleticism of the performers, or the drama of the storylines, or the collective effervescence of the connection between crowd and superstar. And then there are times when 40,000 screaming fans come out to see the coronation of a massive, throbbing hard-on of a man as he scowls and convulses his way to dethroning “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at the Georgia Dome.
In the 25 years since Goldberg’s singular WCW World Heavyweight title win, much has been made of World Championship Wrestling’s ineptitude in how it chose to present him—both in giving away his crowning achievement in a lightly promoted free TV match, and in the series of creative blunders that followed. But while it’s clear that WCW could have done a number of less stupid things with Goldberg upon the completion of his 173-match winning streak, it’s not clear where his character should have gone next. That’s because the appeal of prime Goldberg isn’t just that he fits a masculine fantasy of dominance and fury; It’s that there is nothing else to the character to muddy the waters.
Indeed, in watching back this episode of Monday Nitro, I can’t help but notice how nude Goldberg appears every time we see him on-screen. Even during the brief glimpses we’re shown of him preparing for his match backstage, he is clad always in his bare-bones ring gear: black boots, black knee pads, black elbow pads, black gloves. There is little to distract from his long torso, his prodigious quads, and his intermittent snarls, grunts, air punches, and gesticulations. Though his main-event victory over Hogan effectively makes Goldberg the face of WCW, he does not speak once the entire episode.
In the absence of any discernible personality, motives, moral code, or personal style, Goldberg is a remarkably easy wrestler to identify with for anyone who wants to feel like a big, strong man.
In this sense, he was the perfect character for the moment. It would be a gross overstatement to label the entirety of the late-90s wrestling boom as a reaction to the anxieties that young men felt about their place in society in the wake of deindustrialization and shifting gender norms. But it’s also impossible to reflect on stuff like “I choppy-choppy your pee-pee” and Chyna’s habit of whacking her enemies in the groin without thinking that these anxieties were at least part of the mix.
At a time of masculine confusion, Goldberg gifted his predominantly male audience a blank screen for projection and a set of essentials to, ahem, hold on to: a hulking physique, an explosive pyrotechnic entrance, a hymnal chant in praise of the masculine ideal, and a short, dominant victory every time out. Of course, the whole performance would only reach its climax once Goldberg had hit his famously devastating finishing moves—the spear (longer than it is wide!) and the jackhammer (I mean, come on).
I have to admit that the Goldberg experience is a pretty thrilling fantasy, especially for a Jewish-American man like myself. Growing up in the 90s, I can still remember how stunned and delighted I was to learn that this towering hulk of a man was One Of Us. Even now, it remains a mystery how a concert violinist and an obstetrician produced a child with so much machismo.
To the extent that there was a Jewish-American masculine archetype prior to Goldberg, the Jerry Seinfelds and Woody Allens of the world were far more likely to read as especially Jewish (neurotic, sensitive, verbal) than especially masculine (strong, dominant, action-oriented). Even our sports heroes like Sandy Koufax were seen as being unusually cerebral for athletes. For the first time since the pre-war heyday of Jews in boxing, nice Jewish boys across the country could identify with a Jewish-American asskicker.
Given that all Jewish masculinity lives in the shadow of perhaps the most emasculating event in human history, it’s no surprise that Goldberg’s dominance became a cause for celebration among the Jewish community, with fans showing up to WCW events carrying signs bearing the Star of David and messages like “Goldberg, a Nice Jewish Boy.” As far as trauma responses to the Holocaust go, you could do much worse than rooting for Goldberg to destroy his opponents in the fictional world of pro wrestling.
All of this is to say that I was right there with the electric Georgia Dome crowd as I watched this match from my couch earlier this week.
While each of the 40,000 WCW fans who came out that night had their own reasons for identifying with the challenger, they came together to produce an atmosphere that can still deliver goosebumps all these years later. When our hero overcomes Hogan’s villainous tactics and finally lands the match-ending jackhammer, the response is nothing short of pandemonium. As Goldberg flexes his pecs and growls in celebration, a burst of fireworks goes off overhead.
When I finally turned off the TV and stood up from my couch, I couldn’t help noticing that I was holding my shoulders a little bit wider and puffing out my chest ever so much. Try as we might to repress it, the id wants what it wants.