It has now been a few weeks since WWE executed the biggest shock of the year at Survivor Series, when returning powerhouse Goldberg destroyed dominant monster Brock Lesnar in less than two minutes. Two spears and a jackhammer from Goldberg led to the Beast Incarnate being cleanly beaten for the first time since he put an end to the Undertaker’s historic undefeated streak at WrestleMania XXX more than two years ago. The decision immediately divided wrestling fans all over the world.
At the time, I tweeted that this was an awful creative decision from WWE. The company has spent two years having Lesnar loom large in his dominance over the WWE’s main event picture. He crushed John Cena in a one-sided massacre at SummerSlam 2014, brutalised Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 31, tore apart Undertaker again at Hell in a Cell 2015 and left Randy Orton gushing blood from his head at SummerSlam this year. His reign of terror was unprecedented and compelling. It seemed that whoever defeated Lesnar would become an instant star and be catapulted into a long and successful career at the summit of the professional wrestling mountain.
Step forward, a 49-year-old man who hadn’t stepped inside a wrestling ring for 12 years.
WWE did a great job of building the Goldberg vs. Lesnar grudge match in the run-up to Survivor Series. Weeks of careful building of tension through promo segments had largely banished the memory of the duo’s bizarre previous clash at WrestleMania XX, which was mercilessly booed by fans as both men were known to be leaving the company afterwards. WWE had kept physicality between the two men to a minimum, with question marks dangling as to whether Goldberg could keep up with a man ten years his junior, who had done far more wrestling in the intervening years than he had.
Those question marks were swiftly erased at Survivor Series. Goldberg looked phenomenal as he made his way to the ring and quickly capitalised on Lesnar’s arrogance in the match. The Beast turned his back on Goldberg, which allowed the big man to deliver a thunderous spear. This was immediately followed by a second brutal spear and an impressive jackhammer, bringing the match to a shocking end in just 84 seconds. Cameras quickly panned around the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to capture the stunned expressions of fans who were expected something more akin to the 15-minute battle of the bulls the two delivered in their WrestleMania bout.
If WWE was merely hunting for a shock, then the booking cannot be criticised. This was perhaps the biggest surprise in wrestling since Lesnar ended Undertaker’s streak. In an era when wrestling fans are constantly plugged in to insider gossip and backstage rumours, as well as rampant speculation and fantasy booking, a surprise of this magnitude is near impossible to pull off. Every time WWE manages it, the company deserves credit for its creative craft. Unfortunately, in this case, I think they’ve wasted a great storytelling opportunity in favour of short term thinking.
Planning for the future?
There is a certain logic to having Goldberg go over Lesnar at Survivor Series given his decision to stick around with the company for a while longer. As Luke Owen wrote in an eloquent analysis of the match over at Flickering Myth, Goldberg has been given real meaning by this win. The inevitable return match with Lesnar, which will presumably take place at WrestleMania now means a lot more and the fact that both men are in the Royal Rumble certainly suggests there will be an interesting battle between the two at that event. This level of intrigue, admittedly, would not be there if Goldberg had become just another of Lesnar’s bloodied victims.
However, for me, this benefit is a short term one. Goldberg turns 50 this month and so he does not conceivably have long left in him when it comes to in-ring competition. The first clean pinfall victory over Lesnar was the best tool the company had to make a new star and they have squandered that by using it to enhance an ageing performer. Once the return match between Lesnar and Goldberg is done, it would be unsurprising if Goldberg fades away. It’s certainly true that a victory over Lesnar will still be meaningful, but the Beast’s mystique has certainly been lessened as a result of such an easy defeat. Goldberg never really broke a sweat beating Lesnar, so why should we believe that anyone else will?
Since the victory over Undertaker that marked the beginning of his current hot streak, Brock Lesnar has beaten the two biggest stars of the noughties in John Cena and Randy Orton. In the last few years, he has also brutalised all three members of the Shield. He had reduced Roman Reigns to a bruised mess before shenanigans erupted at WrestleMania 31, had Seth Rollins conclusively beaten before Undertaker interfered at Battleground 2015 and comfortably vanquished Dean Ambrose in a disappointing contest at this year’s WrestleMania event.
His dominance stretched across multiple generations of main event calibre performers in WWE. What does it say about those men that they could not achieve something that was so easy for a 50-year-old man nursing severe ring rust?
The Survivor Series match was simply another example of WWE booking for the short term rather than looking to the future. Goldberg is a man without much in front of him in wrestling, whereas a performer like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles or Cesaro could have been made for their entire career with a victory over Brock Lesnar. Goldberg’s victory will improve his return bout with Lesnar, but its only material impact this time next year will be that it has minimised Lesnar’s aura of invincibility and therefore hurt the potency that a victory over the Beast would have had for a younger talent.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that WWE is dead set on booking Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania. This match would not work if Goldberg was coming straight off a defeat at Survivor Series. But WWE did not need to beat Lesnar in order to provide Goldberg with some momentum. We already saw him destroy Rusev on Raw prior to his big match, but more of this would have been welcome.
After narrowly losing to a more in-shape, ring-ready Lesnar at Survivor Series, Goldberg could’ve gone on a tear by mowing down jobbers and ultimately winning feuds against some of WWE’s upper midcard talent. Mid-ranking, established heel acts like Rusev, Sheamus or Chris Jericho would not lose any shine by losing to Goldberg and could prepare the big man for a huge war at the ‘Show of Shows’.
If Lesnar had won at Survivor Series, that would’ve levelled the series between him and Goldberg at a win apiece. This would’ve given both men something to prove going into their WrestleMania match, with both out to cement themselves as the dominant competitor in the feud. Goldberg’s run of victories going into the major show would have him looking capable of beating Lesnar and the Beast’s aura speaks for itself. That would build to a compelling contest at WrestleMania, which either man could win after a hard-fought battle.
Right or wrong?
One of WWE’s biggest problems over the last few years has been that the company is too willing to lean on old stars and nostalgia acts rather than making new main eventers. They are prepared to sacrifice almost anyone in order to build an attraction match featuring a former A-list talent. It’s this sort of short term thinking that led WWE to hand the rub of beating Brock Lesnar to a 50-year-old man who, at most, has a couple of years of in-ring activity left in the tank. The build of Lesnar’s invincibility has been a core principle of programming since 2014, but it was allowed to swirl down the plughole at Survivor Series.
The fact that Goldberg beat Lesnar in such a short contest made the Beast Incarnate look like an absolute joke rather than a dominant force and, by extension, it also cast aspersions on the many men to whom Lesnar has laid waste in recent months. A hard-fought battle may have justified a Goldberg win, but the squash match decision prioritised cheap shock over thinking for the future.
It’s true that Goldberg is sticking around to compete for the moment, but this does not justify WWE sacrificing one of their few big star-making opportunities. Lesnar has lost his bite and Goldberg soon won’t be around to capitalise on the honour of having the Beast’s head as a trophy on his wall.
What did you think of the Goldberg vs. Lesnar match? Do you think it was a good move in the long run for WWE? Let me know in the comments section and check out my other wrestling articles.
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