Bill Goldberg is back in WWE, challenging Bobby Lashley for the WWE title on Saturday at SummerSlam.
This match is unlikely to deviate from the structure that the overwhelming majority of Goldberg matches follow. It will be built around physicality, with high spots and power moves exchanged before the finish occurs six to eight minutes after the bell rings. But there is more at stake in this match than a title or the workrate inside the ring.
For Lashley, this is a long-awaited opportunity. Beating a star like Goldberg does nothing but help his current star power and overall legacy, especially as he continues to add to his first world title run in WWE. Lashley’s look, work and ability made him a top guy in every stop he made in wrestling, with the glaring exception being his home of WWE. That changed this past winter when he demolished The Miz to win the WWE championship, a story line that also saw him outsmart and outlast rival Drew McIntyre. So Lashley only benefits from the chance to work with Goldberg, an icon from the 1990s in WCW who still generates interest from a wide fan base, and Goldberg is fully aware of his responsibility in this match.
“I was fortunate to run through the wrestling world like a hot knife through butter in my career, and then I was gone,” Goldberg says. “Serving the business is a responsibility. That includes getting butts in seats and making sure people invest in the product, but it also means you have to give back. I didn’t always do that before. But that’s my duty, and that’s a big reason why I am here. I owe the business a lot more than I have given.
“I can provide a star like Bobby Lashley a worthy adversary. I need to come back for that reason. There is also a plethora of talent that I believe is on the cusp of stardom, and I am here to help elevate them to the next level.”
This marks Goldberg’s second match of the year, fulfilling his yearly contractual obligation with WWE. He last appeared at the Royal Rumble, giving a similar spotlight to McIntyre in their match together. At 54, his limitations in the ring are evident, but he still plays the role of larger-than-life superhero.
“Whether I’m 25, 35, or 105, I’m still Goldberg,” he says. “My mentality allows me to still get in the ring and entertain the people to an extent that I don’t tarnish anything or everything that I’ve done. Those are considerations you need to make when you come back. I don’t need to come back, I don’t have to. I’m here because I want to be here. Mentally, I know I can do it. Physically, it’s a little harder. But given enough time, I still can do it.”
Incredibly, he has maintained his physique, leaving no doubt Goldberg has arrived as soon as he appears.
“It’s an understatement of what goes into keeping your look,” Goldberg says. “It sucks. But show me another 54-year-old guy doing this that’s as believable. I have accepted age and the realities of Father Time, and I’m not trying to be cocky, but I still believe 75% of me is better than 99% of the people on the planet, physically and athletically. If anybody can do it, I think it’s me.”
Multiple factors are involved anytime Goldberg returns. Money, story line and his opponent are the ones most primary. But with a legacy that has been protected, preserved and even repaired by WWE following his disastrous match against The Undertaker in June 2019, there is very little for Goldberg to prove. When he appears in the ring, his fans know what to expect, and Goldberg continues to relish the chance to play a role on wrestling’s grandest stage. But this time around is different, as he gets to share the moment with his son, Gage.
Five years ago, as Goldberg worked a program with Brock Lesnar (one that was laid out to perfection by Paul Heyman), 10-year-old Gage got a chance to be on screen with his father. He is back for this program with Lashley and MVP, creating memories that will forever last in Goldberg’s heart.
“I came back five years ago for my family,” Goldberg says. “I wanted my wife and son to experience this and see an event where I was working, which they’d never seen before. As soon as Gage was back on camera this summer, the first person I got a text from was [Ric] Flair. We all know his affinity for his children, and he’s also someone that has had interactions with his children on screen. That’s priceless. So I am ready to risk anything and everything to provide my son and myself with that opportunity.”
Pro wrestling differentiates itself from traditional pro sports, but there is much common ground. One of those is making sure the paying audience receives their money’s worth. Giving maximum effort is a core belief for Goldberg, and he plans on delivering all he has left in his motor at SummerSlam.
“The fact that people still care, that means a hell of a lot,” Goldberg says. “It means I’ve made an indelible impression throughout different generations of people. People that watched me as teenagers are now introducing me to their children. I’m so humbled that I have been able to withstand generations. That’s why I know what to do. I’m going to give them the Goldberg that’s breathing fire.
“I don’t care how old I am, or how big he is, I’m going to try to knock the dog s--- out of Lashley. Twenty years ago, it would have been even more wonderful, but we’re going to do everything we can to make this the best match on the card. So bring it on.”
The possibility exists that Vince McMahon could throw a curveball at his audience and have Goldberg spice up the SummerSlam card with a title win. Since Roman Reigns is expected to retain the universal title in his match against John Cena, it is not outside the realm of possibilities to have Goldberg pick up a surprising win, which could bring a different element to Raw on Mondays. Ultimately, though, he is not here for the long term, but rather for a burst of energy. And for Goldberg, this is a run that he will always look back upon fondly, as it is time spent with his son.
“As long as I can still provide something as this character, I’m willing to take these opportunities, because these chances pale in comparison to the payoff,” Goldberg says. “The payoff is not monetary or glory-driven. It’s a chance to provide moments with my family that are few and far between in this world.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.