Phenom Goldberg Tops Hogan

Bill Goldberg and Hulk Hogan

Bill Goldberg and Hulk Hogan

An article by Mike Mooneyham

Published July 12, 1998

Bill Goldberg, with only 10 months of pro wrestling experience, Monday night placed an exclamation point on his skyrocketing career as he assumed his spot at the top of the WCW heap with his world title victory over Hollywood Hogan.

Goldberg is the new phenomenon of this business. The thunderous chants of “Goldberg!” now rival the (Steve) Austin 3:16 hysteria as the biggest pop in pro wrestling. The response to Goldberg on Monday night was one of the most overwhelming in the history of televised wrestling.

Goldberg’s biggest challenge, though, is setting the pace for the Atlanta-based company as it enters the new millennium. Few would argue that the 31-year-old Goldberg is the present and future of WCW. He is the star of that promotion.

WCW shattered company records as 41,000 fans, by far the biggest crowd ever for a WCW show, packed the Georgia Dome. The promotion also set new marks for the largest gate in company history (36,506 paid for $906,338) and merchandise sales (more than $300,000). The crowd was the fourth-largest ever for pro wrestling in the United States, with the only bigger audiences for Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, Wrestlemania VIII at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and the 1997 Royal Rumble at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. It also was the eighth-largest gate in U.S. history.

And, although WCW won the Monday ratings (4.85-4.00) for the first time in recent weeks, clearly it was the Goldberg-Hogan showdown (6.91) that secured the victory. More importantly WCW sacrificed its ace in the hole and gave away a potential $7 million pay-per-view match for the sake of winning a week in the ratings.

WCW, capitalizing on the success of the Hogan-Goldberg match, plans on rerunning that bout in its entirety on Monday in hopes of again winning the points battle.

The Goldberg-Hogan title change was the first pro wrestling match to be seen in five million homes and drew the highest viewing total ever – 11.1 million – for a wrestling bout. It wasn’t, however, the highest-rated quarter hour on a wrestling show since cable passed the 40 million-home barrier, with the first WWF Royal Rumble posting an 8.2 rating on the USA network. The highest-rated singles match was the final quarter-hour of the 1988 Clash of the Champions classic between Sting and Ric Flair (7.1 rating and 15 share, with a 6.7 rating for the 45-minute match).

Nitro’s overall 4.85 rating and 8.09 share consisted of 4.52, 4.43, 5.59 for its three hours, while Raw’s 4.00 rating and 6.52 share included 3.64 and 4.37 for its two hours. The combined audience watching wrestling between 10:45 and 11 p.m. Monday was 7.9 million homes for an amazing 10.75 rating and 18.3 share.

The match itself had many ramifications inside WCW, with a number of current and future storylines disrupted and some performers’ immediate careers being directly affected. Count Bret Hart and Kevin Nash among the losers as a result of Goldberg’s sudden ascendancy. Both had high-profile and major pay-per-view showdowns planned with Hogan, but matches against a title-less Hogan now take on much less significance.

Hogan, who was seen as passing the torch to Goldberg much like he passed the torch to The Ultimate Warrior in the WWF, reportedly received some type of assurance that in exchange for putting Goldberg over cleanly, he would be the man to eventually end Goldberg’s steak. But don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Even the much-maligned WCW booking office, often criticized and second-guessed, realizes that to c

ool off the red-hot Goldberg could mean a sudden downturn in business.

The phenom Bill Goldberg, a mere novice in an industry known for its backstage politics and cutthroat nature, is modest and generally well-liked behind the scenes. The trappings of instant fame have not yet changed him, and he has thus far eluded the clique mentality and buddy system so pervasive in the business today.

The 6-3, 285-pound Oklahoma native made his pro debut last Sept. 22 against Hugh Morris on WCW television. Ten months later he boasts 110 consecutive victories, although that figure is far from scientific and didn’t hold much significance until WCW announcer Mike Tenay came up with the idea for “The Streak” several months ago when it became evident that Goldberg was a hot commodity.

Goldberg’s rise to the top has been mind-boggling. A year ago he was learning the ropes at WCW’s Power Plant training school. Today he is world champion and one of the two hottest performers in the industry.

One of the reasons for Goldberg’s success is that he displays the same explosiveness and aggressiveness in the ring as he did on the gridiron. Goldberg, however, never reached his full potential in football.

Goldberg was a highly touted college star at the University of Georgia. The record-setting nose guard, who received the “Most Promising Defensive Sophomore” award at Georgia in 1987, was an All-SEC selection from 1978-89 and was selected to UGA’s all-decade team for the 1980s.

A four-year starter for the Bulldogs and a member of the “Junkyard Dog Club” reserved for Georgia’s most outstanding defensive players, Goldberg led the team with 121 tackles in 1989, a single-season record for linemen, had 384 career stops and 12 quarterback sacks, and was a second-team Football News All-American. He started every game as a senior and recorded a career-high 19 tackles against Florida. He received the “Georgia Bone” in 1987 for a game-saving interception against South Carolina.

Goldberg, however, would be plagued by bad luck and injuries as he pursued the next level. Graduating from UGA in 1989 with a degree in psychology, he contracted mononucleosis and dropped from 270 to 245 pounds. Initially tabbed as a top selection in the 1989 draft, he wasn’t even invited to the NFL combine, and was finally chosen in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Rams, where he was a roommate of future Carolina standout and sometimes pro wrestler Kevin Greene.

Goldberg tore a hamstring muscle in the final preseason game and was cut from the squad. Keeping his pro ball hopes alive, he signed with Sacramento of the World Football League in 1992 and was the team’s second-leading tackler en route to earning a championship ring.

Goldberg was invited to the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp the following summer. In 1994 he tore a muscle in his abdomen but continued to play with it wrapped up. The Falcons didn’t protect him for the expansion draft and he was placed on the supplemental list. He was selected by the Carolina Panthers, but after being unable to successfully rehab the torn abdomen muscle, he left the sport, realizing his days as a football player were over.

Goldberg’s first exposure to pro wrestling was many years ago when he visited brother Mike at the University of Minnesota. Mike’s roommate at the time was pro wrestler and former Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera. Not even Goldberg could have dreamed he would have attained the success he has in such a short period of time in the squared circle.”I never even considered pro wrestling to be an option because I thought it was silly,” Goldberg said in a recent interview in a Jacksonville newspaper.

“There was no way I was going to go out in front of a million people wearing nothing but my underwear. Now look at me.”

“I think I give the fans something different than the blatantly staged and theatrical style you see so much of in pro wrestling today. My approach is less is more. There is no fabrication in what I do. I’m just out there being me.”

Goldberg recently signed a four-year contract worth $3.2 million – $600,000 for the first year, $800,000 for the second and third years and $1 million for the fourth year.

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