wrestling / Columns

My Favorite Crap: Lesnar vs. Goldberg, WrestleMania XX

March 19, 2017 | Posted by Dino Zee

Here at 411, I try to be quite a few things, at least as it pertains to my position as a writer for the site. I like to be “The Kayfabe Guy,” writing about events from the show – and not from backstage – and just having a good time having fun with it all. I also like to be “The Fan,” who actually speaks about his love for wrestling, instead of always harping on what’s wrong with the shows, or how the people currently getting pushed don’t deserve it as much as my favorites do. Some might joke that I also like to be “The Crappy Guy,” because I’m terrible and stupid.

Though, when I think about it, I feel like “The Crappy Guy” is somewhat fair. I love garbage. Whether it’s music, movies, or television, there are a lot of things that could be considered “bad” (or worse) that I absolutely love. Michael Bolton jams, boy bands, sitcoms… I have no problem admitting to enjoying something that wasn’t of the highest quality.

This can tend to drive my friends crazy, because some of them tend to believe that they only like good things, so there’s no way that anything they enjoy could ever be bad! That’s impossible! That match last week that they loved? It’s because it was a great match, and fuck you if you disagree! Meanwhile, I will first talk about a match for three to five minutes, describing just how terrible it was, before ending with “I fucking loved it. It was amazing.”

But… but… you just said it was terrible! I sure did. And I freaking loved it.

In that vein, I figured that this week, I would take a look at one of my absolute favorite matches, but one that is, make no mistake, garbage. It’s My Favorite Crap, and it’s a preview of the upcoming Universal Championship match at WrestleMania. Yes, today, I will look back at WrestleMania XX, when Brock Lesnar and Goldberg met one on one for the very first time!

It was a legitimate dream match. Brock had, since his arrival the night after WrestleMania X8 in 2002, run roughshod over the roster. He had defeated Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and The Undertaker in his first year, and his 2003 saw him rise even higher when he would main event WrestleMania XIX against Kurt Angle. Though he’d lose the (fantastic) match, he’d still have his moment of immortality when, near the end, he’d famously attempt a Shooting Star Press to an opponent nearly ¾ across the ring, and would fail spectacularly, landing on his face.

At about the 4 second mark of that video, you can see a green “DINO” sign in the stands. You know, if you care about seeing your author represented in a video from 14 years ago. Not everyone is.

Anyways, that moment would actually help the aura of Lesnar, as he would be back in the ring a mere few weeks later, having only suffered a strained neck and a concussion. Trust me when I say that those of us at Safeco Field that night were 100% sure that Lesnar had either wrestled his last match, or that it would at least be a very long time before we saw him again. He would instead show us how tough he truly was.

Lesnar’s 2003 would then see him facing the likes of Big Show, Angle again that summer, and The Undertaker again, with Lesnar coming out victorious way more often than not. It was really beginning to look like, unless these Cena or Batista kids eventually panned out, that no one would be able to stop Brock Lesnar. Certainly not on the Smackdown roster.

Fortunately, Raw had the answer. That same WrestleMania XIX, a promo was played that announced that Goldberg would be coming to WWE. He would debut the next night on Raw, attacking The Rock. The two would then meet at Backlash, where Goldberg would walk out victorious.

Much like Lesnar, Goldberg would continue on to have a 2003 that saw him win much more often than he lost, including a victory over Triple H at Unforgiven for Raw’s World Heavyweight Championship, where Goldberg’s career was on the line. Goldberg’s title reign, overall, ended up being a bit of a letdown, though he did score another victory over Triple H at Survivor Series. It was at this Survivor Series, with a downtrodden Brock Lesnar discussing his team’s loss to Team Angle, that we had our first inkling of what was to come, as Goldberg would taunt Lesnar.

The two champions now seemed destined to be on a collision course, but we still had a few more hurdles to leap. Shockingly, Goldberg would stumble first, losing his belt in a Triple Threat match at Armageddon against Hunter and Kane, with – would you believe it? – Triple H walking out with the gold belt. Without the prestige of a Champion vs. Champion match, it seemed like a difficult task, getting Goldberg and Brock to meet one on one in the center of the ring.

And that got us to the Royal Rumble, where Goldberg was sitting pretty with the #30 entrance spot, and Lesnar was able to get by the gritty, unrelenting challenge of perennial top contender, Hardcore Holly, albeit by the skin of his teeth. When Lesnar took the opportunity to gloat about his victory during a Goldberg pre-Rumble interview, we’d see that the tension hadn’t died down. Goldberg seemed to be focused solely on winning the Rumble to regain his World Heavyweight Championship, but Lesnar knew that a Goldberg win could easily put him on track to challenge Lesnar for the WWE Title, instead.

Armed with his dual goal of pissing off Goldberg while keeping him far from any title picture, Lesnar stormed the Rumble match when Goldberg entered, assaulting the former WCW Champion with an F5. An angry Goldberg would get to his feet, only to be eliminated from behind by a very opportunistic Kurt Angle. Just like that, Lesnar’s mission was accomplished, and he wouldn’t have to worry about Goldberg ever again.

Only, Goldberg didn’t just forgive and forget. He went to the Cow Palace for 2004’s No Way Out, and as Brock defended the belt against Eddy Guerrero, Lesnar waited. And when the referee was inadvertently knocked out during an F5 to Eddy, Goldberg realized he had the perfect moment to strike.

With Lesnar setting Guerrero up for a shot from the belt, Goldberg would storm the ring, planting Lesnar with a picture perfect spear. Mere moments later, Eddy would hit the frog splash, and become the new WWE Champion. And, as you may imagine, Brock Lesnar was freaking pissed.

So there we were, with the match now ready to go. Two big men, two of WWE’s most unstoppable forces, set for a collision course. In a world full of uncertainties, we were certain of one thing: this match was going to produce some of the hardest-hitting action that we could ever imagine. There was just no way the match could be terrible. Just no way…

Only, there was a way. Two ways, as a matter of fact. In the last week or two before heading WrestleMania, two big pieces of news would turn this match on its head. We would learn that Goldberg’s contract was up, and that it appeared he would not be re-signing. On top of that, word got out that Lesnar had asked for his release and received it. What was once a huge dream match, had then turned into “Well Goldberg’s losing, but maybe he’ll go out like a pro,” before finally becoming a “What the hell is going to happen here?!” type of situation. WWE would add “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as the referee, perhaps knowing that things weren’t going to be all sunshine and roses.

Which, of course, brings us to the match itself. An angry Madison Square Garden crowd would quickly let both men know that this wasn’t going to be an easy night. They weren’t going to play nice with the two guys in the ring who were having their “last match” for the company. Chants of “YOU SOLD OUT,” “NA NA NA NA HEY HEY GOODBYE,” and “AUSTIN” (because the ref is always the most popular guy!) let both know that the fans weren’t having this.

And Lesnar and Goldberg… stood and watched. For minutes – literally, minutes – both would stand in their corners, feinting attacks, talking trash, but never actually wrestling. Goldberg looked to be somewhat annoyed, but also slightly entertained. Lesnar looked to be loving it, in his usual “Eff-these-guys” attitude. Austin, of course, was well aware that he was in the middle of a train wreck.

The audience would boo a collar-and-elbow lockup meant to show off the strength of both men. If they weren’t leaving, you have to assume the fans would have loved these stalemates. But the fans knew, and they weren’t loving these stalemates, hitting us with “THIS MATCH SUCKS!”

These are my two favorite things about this match: the complete apathy of the fans to everything going on in the ring, and the fact that Goldberg and Lesnar decide to completely ignore the fans, and just have the standard power match you’d expect under these circumstances. But the fans don’t gasp in shock at the double clothesline – they boo! They don’t care about the mutual “holy shit, you’re strong!” staredowns from the competitors – they boo!

And the two continue along their match, doing their best to ignore the constant boos. It’s clear that while both are hated, it’s Goldberg who is in better with the fans, as he’s simply letting a contract expire, but not “selling out.” The fans even react a bit to a Goldberg press slam, but it’s still a mixture of dead fans and angry fans chanting. If Goldberg thought that his better standing made him safe, a “GOLDBERG SUCKS!” chant surely broke him from that line of thinking.

For me, I feel that when people talk about this match, they let the circumstances and crowd completely overwhelm the review of the match. The match itself – that is to say, the wrestling therein – is not terrible. It’s not even kinda bad. The match itself, I’ll just say it, is pretty decent. Any other two guys in any other situation, and the fans probably enjoy it for what it is, and move on. I’m not attempting to say that this is some sort of unappreciated modern classic – it’s definitely slower than expected in parts, with plenty of holds instead of big power moves – but it’s still solid.

It was just the absolute wrong gameplan with this crowd, and that no one called an audible at any point is, in my opinion, the biggest mistake made. I know I’m going to get some calls for trying to hipster my way into Liking the match that everyone hates or whatever, but I loved this match as it was happening live in 2004, and in every viewing since, I still enjoy the match.

I enjoy the fans going full “Fuck you guys” on this. I love Goldberg and Lesnar deciding to return that sentiment to the fans, and just wrestle the match that they had planned. I love that either guy kicking out of the other’s finisher only brings on more exasperated boos instead of shocks of awe. They truly want both guys outta here, with plenty of “don’t let the door hit you” wishes for the two.

Finally, Lesnar would hit the ringpost, eat a spear, and Goldberg would hit The Jackhammer to boos and a few cheers before getting the win. What was only a few months prior a highly-anticipated dream match had ended in a whimper, Lesnar meekly leaving after the pin, and Austin sending Goldberg packing with a Stunner. Lesnar wouldn’t return until 2012, and Goldberg wouldn’t return until 2016.

Since then, we’ve had the 1 minute massacre at the 2016 Survivor Series, and the quick elimination at the 2017 Royal Rumble, each with Goldberg getting the better of Lesnar. And with the two set to meet for the Universal title at WrestleMania, one has to wonder what type of match we’ll get.

Will it be another quick shot? Will they finally have that long-ish match? Personally, I’d think it quite hilarious if they attempted to recreate what happened at WrestleMania XX, with all of the stalling, holds, and what have you.

Because, as I said, I love garbage. And Lesnar/Goldberg from Mania XX is absolutely My Favorite Crap.

It’s All Wrestling. It’s All Silly. We All Love It.