Professional wrestling will always be second best in Bill Goldberg’s heart, but he knows it’s where he belongs.
Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at age 14, the youngest of four children in a Jewish family, Goldberg dreamed of a long and fruitful career in the NFL. After stints in the CFL, World League of American Football and 14 games in three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, his professional football career was put on hiatus after stints in the CFL, World League of American Football and 14 games for the Atlanta Falcons. Wrestling gave him the opportunity to further use his physical gifts and his characteristic intensity – just in a different sport.
The multiple world wrestling champion’s personal journey in the pro wrestling industry will be 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 has never quite been able to take its place to this day.
“I’ve definitely seen it [wrestling] as a child with my grandmother. I never aspired to be a professional wrestler, but the opportunity presented itself and I think I took the bull by the horns and kind of made the best of it,” Goldberg told The Post. “Still, I’m a defender, man. I don’t think I’ve ever made the complete transformation.”
The episode takes a look at his early life, his rise to become one of the biggest names in the industry at WCW, his first stint in WWE, and his return to the company to share that part of his life with his wife, Wanda, and son, Gage. It was the second run at WWE that allowed Goldberg to develop a greater appreciation for the pro wrestling business than before.
“Just to be accepted again, number one by the fans, number two by your peers, number three by your boss [Vince McMahon], not necessarily in that order, it really was an honor that not many people on the planet get once, but I got it a few times,” Goldberg said. “I’ve learned a serious appreciation for the business and the people in it.”
Goldberg, 55, will always be remembered for his famous 173-0 streak in WCW of lightning-fast matches after just a few months training at the company’s “Power Plant.” The highlight of his run came on June 6, 1998 when he cleanly defeated “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan in the center 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 watching it all again, along with the victory celebration afterwards with his former soccer teammates. Nothing will ever compare to it for him.
“At one point, I really realized what Hogan did for me, what he did for the business back then, and I learned a different way of appreciating what happened that night,” Goldberg said. “And to be honest I knew what happened at the end of the game and that was the coolest moment of my sports career watching guys I’d idolized my whole life playing football in the ring and me wanted to be. That was the poetic justice I needed.”
The episode also sheds light on Goldberg’s infamous 1999 Starrcade match, where his opponent Bret Hart suffered a severe concussion that contributed to his career being cut short a month later. Hart, who was interviewed for the documentary, has long and very publicly harbored a grudge against Goldberg for his overall performance in the match and the stiff kick he delivered that injured him. This led to the former linebacker being known in wrestling for his role in ending the hitman’s career and potentially feeling insecure in the ring – although Bischoff was brought in to provide a more neutral perspective on events.
When asked about the match by The Post, Goldberg said people and Hart himself could “kiss my ass” if they think he hurt him on purpose. He stated that he would never take advantage of any of his dance partners in the ring and that it wouldn’t make sense with someone like Hart at this point in his career as he had no experience calling matches himself.
“If I wanted to hurt someone, I could do it every time I was eliminated in every game, and everyone has that ability, but that’s the level of professionalism we walk around with,” Goldberg said. “I was as green as a green bean at the time, so to think 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 more sorry. I couldn’t say more often that I’m sorry and that it was an unfortunate incident, but I’ll keep doing it to maybe break through the 2 or 10 or 10 million people who think I did it on purpose. I think it’s silly.”
After WWE bought WCW in 2001, Goldberg stayed away from wrestling for a little over two years as he was still being paid through his contract with AOL Time Warner. In the documentary, he expressed major misgivings about joining WWE in 2003, saying he put his own feelings aside to give fans what they wanted.
Not really knowing anyone in WWE, he described entering at this point in his career as feeling like “a college football player going to a frat party.” He and Triple H didn’t like each other at the time either, which only added to the awkwardness. Goldberg decided to go anyway, but was gone a year later.
“For whatever reason, I was extremely reluctant,” he said. “Yes, I came back because every day on the street kids asked me when I will wrestle again, when you will wrestle again. You know what, I owe it to you. I’m not doing it because I want to at this point. I kind of do it against my will, but I do it for the good of the company.”
Goldberg only returned to face Brock Lesnar after a 12-year hiatus in 2016, making his family the focus of his character’s reappearance as they had never seen him perform in a wrestling ring. Since then, he has won 5-5 in singles matches, won the Universal Championship twice, and contested for a world title six times.
Goldberg, who hasn’t wrestled since meeting Roman Reigns in the Elimination Chamber in February, called the experience “100 percent awesome,” but has a tiny bit of regret for coming back. Of course, in his eyes, it has led to the invincibility being hit around the Goldberg character.
“My family was my gap in my armor when I came back because it made sense,” he said. “It’s realistic. I am older. The character’s reality can’t last forever, and as you get older it’s nice to put some cracks in your armor that make sense. That was part of it, it was great to come back and it was bad to come back at the end of the day.
“It was a wonderful experience. The good far outweighs the bad, but you’re always thinking in the back of your mind, “Uhh, maybe I shouldn’t have come back.” The character was pretty damn strong back then and now I’m coming back and doing the thing, but I’m paying my debt to the business that’s been so good to me.
Goldberg goes on to talk about how physically demanding and mentally exhausting turning Bill into the intense Goldberg can be. He says he has to get to a point where he doesn’t think anyone on the other side of the ring can beat him.
“I hate to give the analogy, but it’s like a soldier goes into battle and then goes to sleep,” Goldberg said. “Zero to a hundred, a hundred to zero. It’s tough, but it’s a place I enjoy. I enjoy being there. I enjoy headbutting doors. I enjoy feeling invincible. It’s a cool thing. Any guy with testosterone loves that feeling.”
It’s that signature intensity that defined his career and allowed him to be the “superhero” wrestler he hoped to be as a kid soccer player. That random wrestling gave him a hit when he crafted his acceptance speech for the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018, recognizing that he “could do a lot more good for the kids as a professional wrestler.”
All of this is part of the legacy Goldberg is leaving in the industry. There are a number of things he hopes fans will remember.
“I was the Mike Tyson of wrestling. Period. End of story,” Goldberg said. “That’s all I want. And I’m a guy who cares and who has a heart. A guy who will forever live with the guilt of kicking Bret Hart in the head. The guy who, every time everything gives and the guy who came back for the business.”