Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania 33 & WWE's Greatest Ever 5 Minute Match
You couldn't really call Goldberg's modern WWE "run" one consistent tenure.
After all, he's only wrestled ten matches since returning to the squared circle fold five years ago, and he didn't wrestle at all in 2018. Once his match with Bobby Lashley at Crown Jewel takes place, it'll mark only the second time Goldberg's had three matches in one calendar year after 2004 (the other time being 2017).
To make his five year run even weirder, consider this: the time between Goldberg's 2016 WWE return and his upcoming match with Bobby Lashley is a year and a half longer than his canonical tenure in WCW, which stretched from September 1997 until early 2001.
Certainly, one of those periods is celebrated a little bit more.
Bill Goldberg's wrestling life from 2016 onward has been a strange tack-on to his overall legacy, which was mixed to begin with. Had Goldberg continued to stay away from the ring since 2004, you'd have still gotten the polar sentiment: a mega-draw with a huge fanbase and star presence, the last main event-level superstar created by WCW, but one whose wrestling style, and assumed passion for the sport, get questioned by armchair critics.
Not that the latter means much in the grand scheme - Goldberg's legions of fans who caught onto him in the nineties will remember his greatness long after other headline wrestlers have been forgotten.
He was definitely still remembered come 2016.
On October 17 of that year, Goldberg set foot inside a WWE ring for the first time in twelve and a half years. His return was somewhat telegraphed by the fact that his likeness was being offered as a pre-order bonus for the latest WWE video game, and now he was going to wrestle a match to cash in on the hype.
And what hype it was.
Goldberg appeared in the closing segment of that night's Raw, where the Denver crowd heralded him as a conquering hero returning from some self-imposed exile. "Da Man" spoke earnestly about his appreciation for all the love, and of his enjoyment in playing the part of invincible superhero for millions of kids throughout the years. He then ended his stirring promo by challenging old rival Brock Lesnar, in what turned out to be the main event of the following month's Survivor Series.
Pushing 50 and having signed on to do the one match, Goldberg subverted his "You're next" catchphrase by growling to Lesnar, "You're last!"
Of course, we know now that Lesnar wasn't last.
Lesnar, Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, and The Fiend all fell victim to the Goldberg hit parade, while Lashley, Drew McIntyre, Braun Strowman, and Undertaker all went on outlast Goldberg in truncated bouts.
As noted, Goldberg was originally there to do this one match with Lesnar at Survivor Series. There, he demolished Brock with a slew of spears before crunching him with the Jackhammer, in less than 100 seconds.
Goldberg has squashed many a hapless victim, but this was easily the most surprising. Not just because Lesnar's a beast of similar composition, but because we all thought "one match" meant that Goldberg was just there to return the favour to Lesnar following WrestleMania 20, to the tune of a hefty payday.
As it turns out, the TV viewership for Goldberg's return was quite noteworthy.
Raw ended up doing a strong TV rating against NFL competition, with a large 39 percent increase in male 12-49 viewership from one week prior. It was the first time in recent memory that the third hour of Raw outdrew the second, all thanks to Goldberg's appearance.
Seeing there appeared to be hefty interest in a Goldberg comeback, WWE brokered a deal for the 49-year-old to stick around and do more matches.
So I guess if you've grown weary of Goldberg's repeated comebacks since then, and you watched Raw that night...well, you've only got yourself to blame, it seems.
But jokes aside, WWE stretched Goldberg's cup-of-coffee comeback into an arrangement where he comes and goes whenever there's a spot at a big four pay-per-view or one of the Saudi Arabia events that he can fill (seriously, it's like no heel wrestler ever tries challenging Goldberg during Backlash or Clash of Champions season).
Through the law of diminishing returns, Goldberg's comebacks (while winners in TV viewership and YouTube clicks) haven't exactly been shining beacons of creative satisfaction.
The match with Undertaker at the 2019 Super Show-Down was disastrous on just about every level. Championship wins over well-regarded heels like Owens and Fiend only served to further turn sections of the crowd against Goldberg (especially given the briefness of the matches and Goldberg's total dominance of them). The match with McIntyre felt about as random as lottery numbers, more so because the angle that brought them together was hampered by a scripting miscommunication.
As we sit here, Goldberg's seeking revenge on Lashley for harming his son Gage at SummerSlam. Said SummerSlam saw Lashley beat Goldberg via stoppage in a not-so-great match. The two are scheduled to face off at Crown Jewel, set up by Goldberg cutting rather interesting promos indicating that murder is not out of the question.
As you examine Goldberg's body of work over these past five years, ask yourself: what from it qualifies as good?
The return promo in 2016, surely, but is there anything else?
If I may, I'd like to nominate exactly one match from his comeback that meets that criterion. For the record, second place would be his turning of Ziggler into a crash dummy at the 2019 SummerSlam - that was pretty entertaining, largely due to battered Ziggler's ill-advised "you ain't s--t" remarks that earned him additional thrashings.
But the clear best match of Goldberg's unlikely resurgence, that would be the one that took place on April 2, 2017, at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando.
Goldberg vs. Lesnar II (well, III, counting whatever that thing was they did at WrestleMania 20 on their way out the door) was set for Orlando, presumably to finally give Lesnar his win back. When Goldberg steamrolled Owens to win the Universal title four weeks before Mania, the picture became clear: not only was Lesnar finally going to get his long-delayed win over Goldberg, but he'd become top champion again in the process.
As far as the match itself, the trilogy's conclusion had a lot to live up to. I mean, how do you top the 14 Minute Stallfest of Death, or the speed run where Lesnar's lone offensive move was winning a lock-up?
It probably wasn't going to be a long match, and Goldberg's recent history reflected that. The Lesnar bout at Survivor Series was 1:25 in length. He spent less than three and a half minutes in the 2017 Royal Rumble. The win over Owens was a breezy 22 seconds (though some of the ensuing outrage has gone on four and a half years and counting).
A World title match at a WrestleMania lasting only a brief duration isn't likely to garner acclaim.
And yet, this was an odd exception.
The two heavyweights entered The Citrus Bowl looking the part, while questions remained as to what the match was going to look like.
Five minutes later, we had our answer. And most weren't unhappy with that answer either.
Lesnar began his customary spamming of German suplexes, before Goldberg flattened him with two spears. Lesnar bailed, so Goldberg trailed him and speared him through the ringside barrier. Back inside, the Jackhammer was delivered...but only for two.
A mildly annoyed Goldberg readied another spear, but when he charged, Lesnar evaded with a vertical leap that would've impressed Zach LeVine. Catching Goldberg on the rebound, Lesnar fired off ten spine-rattling Germans, before hoisting Goldberg up once more, driving him down with an emphatic F5 for the win.
Time of the match: four minutes, 45 seconds.
Result: Brock Lesnar is the new WWE Universal champion.
Additional result: this may have been the greatest sub-five minute match of all time.
The title match was the definition of "all killer, no filler." No beating around the bush, just Lesnar and Goldberg beginning the match with their SmackDown vs. Raw signature bars maxed out, before unloading their big moves en masse.
When you're not getting paid by the hour, why waste time? Kinda puts some of those stretched-out 30 or 40 minute main event matches in perspective.
Many fans concurred that the match was a pleasant surprise. In a poll of Wrestling Observer readers, Goldberg-Lesnar finished with the second most votes for match of the night, not too far behind the ladder match that featured the Hardy Boyz return. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon finished a distant third.
For his part, Dave Meltzer awarded the match three and a half stars, writing that it was, "booked perfectly", and adding, "it was only trademark spots, but it got over great."
The forthcoming attempt at Death Wish-esque revenge on Lashley will mark a very uneven five years back in WWE for Goldberg. There's subjectively been plenty to gripe about when it comes to the booking and matches of "Da Man".
But the high point of Goldberg's middle-aged comeback has to the be time he and a fellow part-timer almost stole the show at a latter day WrestleMania. And they didn't even need five minutes to do it.