Wrestling Declassified: Goldberg Defeats Hulk Hogan For The Big Gold Belt

"Wrestling Declassified" is a series from WrestlingINC.com in which we draw together lesser-known details regarding some of the most noteworthy matches, angles, and stories in pro wrestling history. We'll also include commentary and new information from the men and women of pro wrestling who generously share their reflections for this series. This week, we're discussing the Goldberg's celebrated title win over "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan back in 1998.


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Over 36,000 screaming fans packed Atlanta's Georgia Dome on a fateful summer night in 1998, ready for a much-anticipated showdown between a cultural icon and one of pro wrestling's fastest rising stars. "HOT 'LANTA IS GOLBERG COUNTRY," exclaimed one of the handwritten signs hoisted amidst the throng of excited WCW die-hards. Another one read, "GOLDBERG: GEORGIA'S #1 DAWG." Yet another said, "LEANNA, MARRY ME," which, in all honesty, had very little to do with the match itself. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm for the company's newest sensation, reigning United States Champion Goldberg, was both palpable and omnipresent.

The match occurred on the July 6, 1998 episode of WCW Monday Nitro and was relatively short and straightforward. Hogan's NWO crony Curt Hennig was thwarted from interfering by Diamond Dallas Page and Karl Malone on the outside and, as Hogan watched that drama unfold from inside the ring, Goldberg took the opportunity to set up a spear that sealed the deal and won him the strap. Although Referee Charles Robinson certainly could have called for Hogan's disqualification more than once during the bout , the match unfolded with very little controversy?at that time, anyway.


In his 2003, WWE-sanctioned autobiography Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Hogan looked back on the historical event with an unmistakable tinge of resentment, maybe not necessarily with regard to the title change itself but for the path the Goldberg chose after he won the strap. In fact, Hogan actually asserts that it was his idea to put the title on Goldberg to begin with, recounting a late-night call from Eric Bischoff that led to the creative decision.

One night, I got a call from the guy. He said, "I'm sitting here with six of my best friends, trying to figure out how to get the nose back up on this thing." In other words, he was sitting there drinking a six-pack all by himself, trying to
find a way to boost WCW's numbers.

"If this was your company," he said, "what would you do?"

I said, "That's easy, brother. If it were my company, I would put the belt on Bill Goldberg."

Hogan indicated that although the outcome of the match was met with raucous approval by the Atlanta fans, the move didn't help to improve WCW's ratings, adding that Goldberg became difficult to work with from that point forward.

The numbers didn't change. The only thing that was different was that Bill Goldberg had the belt-and that turned out to be another type of problem.

All of a sudden, he became this monster who didn't ever want to lose a match. He just stopped like a mule in midstream and said, "I'm not losing."

You have to be flexible in the wrestling business. You have to be able to go in different directions. When a guy's one-dimensional, you can't do anything with him. You can't write story lines and create emotion when somebody refuses to do business.

So working with Bill Goldberg became a nightmare.


With the benefit of a tremendous amount of hindsight as well as some supplemental data, one might conclude that Hogan's perception of events was more than a little biased. Moreover, WCW had already seen its share of chaos and tumult behind the scenes prior to Goldberg's reign, so placing too much weight on that particular time in the company's checkered history is somewhat problematic when considering the broad scheme of things.

For his part, Goldberg has suggested he was relatively unprepared for his title shot. In a 2011 interview with Bill Apter, Goldberg revealed that Hogan declined to discuss the match in great detail beforehand, saying they'd just "call it in the ring." In the same interview, Goldberg explained that he didn't actually know that the match was going to take place until he saw J.J. Dillon announce the match on WCW Thunder on the Thursday before the Georgia Dome show.


Assuming that behind-the-scenes intrigue had already done some damage to the WCW brand prior to Goldberg's title win, it's reasonable to conclude that making "writing" decisions which supersede the logic of conventional wrestling "booking" were at least part of the problem, both before and after Goldberg got the belt. Old-school stalwarts like Jim Cornette and "Hustler" Rip Rogers still hold firm that it's bookers and not writers who effectively build and maintain a wrestling product. Indeed, in a recent interview with In Your Head Wrestling Radio, Cornette commented that he refuses to watch Lucha Underground because the promotion employs writers instead of bookers, likening their business model to that of the now-defunct WCW.

"[I]t's another wrestling promotion with a network putting a lot of money into a wrestling company with a writer instead of a booker, Cornette said. "So the sh-t in the ring may be good but it don't interest me because I'm only interested in wrestling that has bookers instead of writers. And here you go again?it's Turner Broadcasting if they all spoke Spanish."

In his 2009 book Drawing Heat the Hard Way, Larry Matysik explained some of the logic that drove conventional booking decisions in the glory days of pro wrestling. Describing the impetus of a big rivalry or decisive match, he provided some insight into the type of dynamic existing behind the curtain before companies employed men and women to write story lines and script promos.


It's one thing to plan out a series of matches that lead to a specific end. It is another to get those involved in that ladder of bouts to do their job without complaint. Remember, wrestlers are employees. They are being paid to do a job, even when it includes "doing the job?i.e., losing. Most wrestlers will eventually go along with the program, because that's how they earn their income. It's no different than an auto plant or large financial institution a fairly high percentage of employees will grump, gripe, and groan...but they will do what's required to earn their paycheck. The good bookers, like the good administrators in any business, have the knack of motivating the talent to get the best performance out of them.

In the context of Hogan's account of how things shook out, it certainly seems that Hogan and Bischoff booked the match on the fly, skipping some of the steps that Matysik and others regard as crucial to a relatively organic process. Expounding on the theory and practice further, Matysik's words seem to point the roots of some of the ensuing problems described by Hogan.

Furthermore, the best bookers know how to develop new stars. Of course, that means more than just choosing someone, for political or other reasons, and giving that person a push. The true key is identifying the performer who possesses those intangibles that make a star and providing him the opportunity to be a star. All the pushing in the world cannot make a donkey win the Kentucky Derby.


"Golden Boy" Greg Anthony, who works closely with the Cauliflower Alley Club and recently earned a shot at NWA's heavyweight title, discussed his years of experience as a booker and in-ring competitor with WrestlingINC.com for "Wrestling Declassified," sharing his thoughts on the problems in WCW around the time of Goldberg's 1998 title reign.

"The goal should always be to build somebody so they can turn around and build someone else," Anthony explained. "A roster should be like a ladder; guys constantly moving up and down, creating new matchups. WCW was more like a mobile over an infant's crib. It was just the same guys going around and around. Once you've seen Hogan/Nash, Nash/Savage, Savage/Flair, Flair/Hogan, Hogan/Savage?what's left?"

Like Cornette and Matysik, Anthony maintains that the ultimate success of an angle has a lot to do with the booker's approach, explaining that the ego of competitors and backstage politics must take a back seat to the general welfare of the wrestling promotion itself.

"Everyone handles things differently but if I'm the booker then it's my way or you can go home, and we will figure it out," said Anthony. I'm open to ideas, especially if your way is better than mine. But most of the time guys spend five minutes thinking about it after I've already spent five weeks on it. I've already considered it from all angles."


By the Hulkster's own admission, Hogan and Bischoff didn't really consider things from all angles when the decision was made to give the title to Goldberg. Despite this, the big guy held the Big Gold Belt for 174 days and enjoyed a good deal of support from fans until he eventually dropped it to Kevin Nash at Starrcade '98.

In an age of comebacks, it's a safe bet that there's a respectable contingent of fans who wouldn't mind seeing Goldberg back in the ring for one more run. Maybe with some common-sense booking, he could give us a few more memorable victories.