The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
On its surface, there are few things simpler than booking Bill Golderg’s winning streak. The process is so basic that it would seem very easy to pull off. A wrestler comes in, wins a bunch of short matches in a row, and gains momentum as fans rally around a wrestler who slowly builds up their reputation as an unstoppable force. Fans get more invested in the person each week as they continue to dominate, eventually elevating them to a main event position and creating a new star.
The process sounds simple; but despite a lot of attempts at re-creating the magic that turned Bill Goldberg into one of the best draws in wrestling history, nobody has ever been able to get over at a level close to Bill Goldberg in WCW. If it really was just as simple as having a wrestler win a bunch of matches in a row, how come there haven’t been a bunch of Bill Goldbergs over the years?
Psychologically, the idea of a winning streak has been a proven attraction across pretty much any competition. The idea of an undefeated boxer, football team or Jeopardy! contestant has been a proven draw for decades. People want to see someone who is dominant at their craft; and they also want to see someone who appears to be unbeatable eventually be dethroned. It’s a natural drama that is an easy story to tell, especially since professional wrestling has predetermined outcomes.
Bill Goldberg is not even the first person to have a notable unbeaten streak; a decade prior Andre the Giant had a very well-known “unbeaten streak” that reportedly lasted 15 years and was key in building up the main event for WrestleMania III. Going even further back, Lou Thesz reportedly won 936 matches in a row during his prime, as did many other legendary babyfaces of prior generations.
Post-Goldberg, there have been attempts at long winning streaks. The push of Ryback in 2012 would probably be the most obvious; WWE made a big deal promoting his unbeaten streak and it mimicked Goldberg’s push to such an extent that fans bombarded Ryback with mock “Goldberg” chants during the streak. Similar undefeated gimmicks were pushed with both Asuka and Braun Strowman.
While those efforts did not exactly create the next Bill Goldberg, they were sincere in their attempts to create a new star, and they were mildly successful. Ryback DID get pretty over during his undefeated run; Strowman and Asuka also got more over thanks to the undefeated runs they went on. Winning a lot of matches helps wrestlers get over with the audience; which sounds like a very obvious statement but that sentiment frequently eludes key decision makers.
To find out why Goldberg ended up being so successful; we have to take a look at Bill Goldberg himself. At times, Goldberg the individual has been dismissed as an overall talent. Critics saw a guy who had a great look, but was fortunate to get really hot thanks to smart booking. When the smart booking (aka his winning streak) ended, Goldberg was never the same and his drawing power was diminished. While that was true; history has shown that it takes more than a good look and a winning streak to become a major draw in professional wrestling; there has to be more there on the performer’s end for that person to really get over.
I always thought a key part of Bill Goldberg was that he did have a great unique look, especially for that time period. Goldberg had a tremendous, natural, athletic physique. He wasn’t a gassed-up bodybuilder, he was just built like someone who was born with tremendous physical gifts; wide shoulders, incredibly thick neck, powerful and athletic legs. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior had “better” physiques by body-building standards, but if you watched them in the ring they didn’t exactly look or move like elite athletes. Goldberg looked like a star NFL player and that helped him stand out during an era when there were a ton of big guys with great bodies.
That kind of athletic legitimacy helped separate Goldberg, not only from his contemporaries but also the future generation of wrestlers who received “The Goldberg Push.” The power, the speed, the violence was key to establishing him as a mega star. Bill Goldberg was not just a guy who debuted and won all his matches; there have been a million people who have done that before. Goldberg KILLED his opponents, with devastating offense that looked great even though he was really green (and some would say reckless) because he was such a powerful, explosive athlete, he looked like a killer.
That is another key element when it comes to Goldberg; there is an art form to the squash match that is sometimes lost. It isn’t just one wrestler coming out and winning a match quickly; it is executing a few key moves in a way that look so devastating, the audience wonders how anyone could possibly match the monster in the ring. Like a boxer who won all their fights via first round knockouts; Goldberg quickly annihilated his opponents with his two signature moves and won his matches in under a minute. I think in recent years, Lance Archer has had a similar kind of aura where he just kills his opponents with cool looking offense, but today most squash matches just feel like short versions of regular wrestling matches and are often very methodical. There was nothing methodical about Bill Goldberg; he did his two moves as quickly as possible and then it was over.
Another reason I think the Goldberg push was successful in comparison to future unbeaten streaks was that the way he was introduced to the audience was very different from other unbeaten wrestlers. Goldberg made his debut on television as a completely random person who fans had never heard of before. When he began his ascent, fans had no knowledge or impressions of him other than what they had been seeing on television each week, which was Bill Goldberg annihilating people.
This is different than some of the WWE pushes in more recent years. Ryback had already been on WWE television before as a member of The Nexus and had already been beaten in matches. While he was repackaged as Ryback, fans had clearly already seen him beaten before. Asuka had already wrestled in Japan for years and years in WWE, and also spent time in NXT before coming to the main roster, and while she remained unbeaten in NXT, she wasn’t exactly having squash matches.
Braun Strowman is somewhat of an exception, since he did debut on the main roster without having ever appeared on televised wrestling before, similar to Goldberg. However, Strowman debuted as part of the Wyatt Family, and while he was protected in all of those matches, he was on the losing side of a lot of tag matches when he was in that group. When he became a singles wrestler and got the giant push as an unstoppable monster, fans had already been introduced to him as a guy who was part of the Wyatt Family when they had become more of a mid-card act.
Finally, perhaps the biggest reason there hasn’t been another successful Goldberg-like push in wrestling is that the circumstances in which Goldberg was originally pushed are very different than when bookers have tried to “make the next” Bill Goldberg. When Goldberg first debuted, the idea wasn’t to have this guy go on a giant winning streak and turn him into a top star; he was just someone with obvious physical potential who they threw out on television to win some squash matches. It was not until a little while after his debut that it was recognized that he was getting over with the fans, and reportedly Mike Tenay came up with the idea to hype up a number as his undefeated streak.
When Goldberg was first starting in WCW, he wasn’t being counted on to become a major star. He was just a random guy on the roster who was getting a little bit of a push; WCW had tons of big stars at the time who were delivering big business on top, so Goldberg could start out in relative anonymity and organically grow on the undercard. The fact that WCW was really hot at the time and had hot crowds that would react positively to most things certainly helped Goldberg, which was something that later WWE wrestlers getting a similar push would not enjoy.
The problem today is that WWE has lacked the patience in certain instances to wait and allow that wrestler to organically get over and eventually put them over when the time is right. Goldberg slowly built momentum throughout his winning streak, to the point that by the time he did get to a world title shot, he pretty much had to win it because he was so hot. WWE has not shown that kind of patience with other names they have tried to push, and the result is that the undefeated streak never reached its full potential.
Looking at the Ryback push, he was getting over with the fans, but WWE didn’t have the patience to wait until he was so hot he was the obvious choice to win the title. Once he started gaining some momentum, they rushed him into a title feud with CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2012, but they were not ready to actually put the title on him. So they had a terrible finish where Ryback was pinned, and the momentum from his winning streak was lost. Strowman was met with a similar fate; he gained momentum as an unstoppable force, but was eventually rushed into a feud with Roman Reigns and beaten, which hurt his aura and he probably has never been the same since.
I think that shows a key difference between Bill Goldberg and the other imitators. When you start booking someone with the goal of being the next Goldberg; you are inherently counting on them to become a big, money-drawing star. So as soon as they start getting over, WWE has felt obligated to rush them into a major feud before they are ready and it ends up ruining the momentum gained from the winning streak. WCW had the luxury of being able to slowly bring Goldberg along until he was ready to win the world title; WWE has not shown a similar amount of patience because they are counting on more immediate returns from the big push.
The irony in all of this is that while WCW did a great job turning Goldberg into a star; they subsequently did a terrible job keeping him a star. They ended his winning streak in one of the dumbest booking moments in wrestling history, and then proceeded to attempt to assassinate his star power on a weekly basis, until he was no longer able to move numbers in a positive direction. In better hands, Goldberg should have been able to draw business for a decade. I think the awful booking post-Starrcade ’98 has changed the way Goldberg has been historically remembered. He didn’t lose his star power because he lost his streak and that was the only thing keeping him over; he lost his star power because he was booked terribly week-after-week after he lost his streak.
Could there ever be another wrestler who got the Goldberg push and succeeded at a level close to the original? I don’t see why it would be impossible; you would just need to have the right talent available and the right decision maker in place to bring them along slow and steady, and to have the patience to wait until they are really ready before going all the way with them. We haven’t seen it since 1998, but philosophically it still seems possible, as long as the talent and the bookers avoid the pitfalls that have ruined that style of push in the past.