As the WWE hurtles toward April 4 and 5, where they will attempt to stage the Showcase Of The Immortals inside an empty gymnasium, there’s one thing for certain: 53-year-old William Scott Goldberg — or just Goldberg, to his bros — is entering as the Universal Champion for the second time in four years.
Since Goldberg’s surprising return to WWE in 2016, he has competed in just six singles matches plus one Royal Rumble appearance to varying degrees of acclaim or disdain. All signs are pointing to Goldberg’s latest WWE stint coming to a conclusion after he (presumably) drops the championship to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 36, so what better time is there to look back at his comeback run and rank his output from best to worst.
1. Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar, Survivor Series 2016
Built off the “fantasy warfare just got real” catchphrase (and born out of a video game pre-order character), this was the first time we had seen Goldberg in a wrestling ring in nearly 13 years — and people were hype as hell. No one quite knew what to expect, but it’s doubtful anyone thought we’d get a 90-second squash match with Goldberg going over. Literally, the clip above is nearly the entire match. Considering Brock Lesnar had been booked as nigh-unbeatable since ending the Undertaker’s streak in 2014, to watch someone mow through the Beast Incarnate felt unbelievably cathartic and legitimately shocking — two emotions WWE frequently has difficulty creating. WWE finally had a Superman again.
2. Universal Championship Match: Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania 33
This was Goldberg’s one and only Universal Championship defense during his first run with the strap, but boy, was it a doozy: He and Brock Lesnar went at each other from the sound of the bell, trading off suplexes and spears both in and out of the ring. (The spot where Goldberg spears Lesnar through a barricade still looks awesome.) As the match goes on, the crowd is firmly in Lesnar’s corner, counting every German suplex with glee. And despite what you think of Goldberg, the fact that a 50-year-old took 10 suplexes in four-and-a-half minutes deserves a little credit.
By this point, the bloom was off the rose, as there were just as many boos as there were cheers upon his ring announcement. Goldberg’s run appeared to come to an end — that is, until a Middle Eastern crown prince opened up his bloody checkbook a few years later. But we’ll get to that.
3. Royal Rumble match, Royal Rumble 2017
Goldberg’s role in this 62-minute match was minimal —- he was only in the ring for 3:24 —- but effective, eliminating Brock Lesnar, Luke Harper and Rusev (as well has performing a picture-perfect Jackhammer on Sami Zayn) before getting dumped by the Undertaker. The crowd was hot, he looked good and he didn’t overstay his welcome — a perfect use of an aging talent.
4. Universal Championship Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Goldberg, Fastlane 2017
Remember how awesome CM Punk’s 434-day WWE Championship reign was? Remember how mad you were when he was predictably fed to the Rock to set up a WrestleMania main event? Well, sub out indie darlings and aging stars, and you end up with essentially the same feeling of dread we all had after Goldberg ended Kevin Owens’ six-month Universal Championship reign in roughly the same amount of time you should spend washing your hands these days.
While the match itself went a whopping 22 seconds (spear, jackhammer, 1-2-3), Owens did some excellent character work in the minutes beforehand, doing his best to mess with Goldberg before the bell rang by powdering out of the ring multiple times. Eventually, though, he stepped in to meet his fate thanks to a distraction by his former best friend Chris Jericho. Thus, Owens’ run on top ended, and Goldberg became the oldest Universal Champion of all time (a distinction he would relinquish to himself three years later). The match isn’t anything, but at least the characters participating in it are worthwhile.
5. Goldberg vs. Dolph Ziggler, SummerSlam 2019
The buildup for this match makes zero sense. Dolph Ziggler attacks Shawn Michaels for calling him a “second-rate Shawn Michaels wannabe.” The Miz decides to defend Michaels’ honor and challenges Ziggler to a match at SummerSlam. After he signs the contract, the Miz — standing right next to Shawn Michaels — says he didn’t read the contract closely enough, and the match isn’t Ziggler/Miz… And then Goldberg’s music hits. After Goldberg signs the contract and Ziggler heads up the ramp, he gets superkicked by Michaels, who is not wrestling him. Oy.
Six days later, Ziggler climbs into the ring, takes a pretty good verbal shot at Goldberg — “We all know he doesn’t tend to show up for matches” referencing his disaster of a Super Showdown main event — and then promptly gets eaten alive in under two minutes. It’s putting a big, dumb, potentially concussed bull in front of a hip-swiveling dirtbag matador. What do you expect is gonna happen? At least Dolph got in some offense, which is more than Kevin Owens can say. It’s a nice palate cleanser after Goldberg’s previous match (which we’ll get to), but it’s overall a big nothingburger.
6. Universal Championship Match: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Goldberg, Super Showdown 2020
This is the darkest timeline. In just over three minutes, Goldberg —- now 53 and decades removed from his physical peak —- is pitted against the nigh-unstoppable Bray Wyatt, who had spent the past sixth months wreaking havoc across the WWE main roster. On paper, the setup is similar to Lesnar/Goldberg from Survivor Series 2016, but the decision to have Superman defeat Doomsday after four spears and a very poorly executed Jackhammer is still baffling, and is on par with some of the worst booking decisions Vince McMahon has made in recent history. On any other list, this would be the worst match for sure. But then again…
7. Goldberg vs. the Undertaker, Super ShowDown 2019
This is it: A 52-year-old former football player and retired pro wrestler is flown to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to compete in front of a murderous crown prince. He is pitted against a 54-year-old pro wrestler who should be retired. It’s a dream match from 20 years ago turned into a nightmare.
At 9:35 bell to bell, this was the most in-ring time Goldberg had seen during his return run — in fact, his prior three singles matches combined were 7:33, so this might as well have been an iron man match for him. Making matters worse, the temperature all night was upwards of 100 degrees, which isn’t conducive to good matches from anyone, let alone two men who total 106 years of age combined. Then, of course, there was the ring post spot.
For the first time in his comeback tour, Goldberg used a move outside of spears and Jackhammers: a knee-bar submission, some punches and kicks, a clothesline and an ill-timed ring post spot which resulted in him splitting his head open and concussing himself just a few minutes into the match. The contest dropped drastically in quality after that (and was already iffy to begin with), leading to one of the worst main events in WWE history — a “perfect storm of crappiness,” if you will.
In recent years, it’s increasingly rare that the Undertaker is the top performer in any given match he’s participating in, but in the case of the 2019 Super Showdown main event, he clearly was the better of the two. But this match was a black mark upon both competitors’ records, and one that should be forgotten by WWE.