With Bill Goldberg being recently announced as WWE’s headliner inductee to their Hall of Fame in 2018, let’s look at the dream match that never happened between him and Stone Cold Steve Austin with some context.
The Monday Night War provided some of wrestling’s most memorable moments between both WCW and WWF.
The Rise of the Texas Rattlesnake in WWF.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was the World Wrestling Federation’s primary force driving the Attitude Era, a raunchy and edgy period of WWE spanning most of the 1990s. Following his stints with World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling, Austin found himself as the next big star as the Ringmaster, the last major talent managed by Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. The Ringmaster, an astute mat technician, was later rebranded as Stone Cold Steve Austin, a Texas redneck who did everything he could to win regardless of the fans’ opinion.
When Austin feuded with Bret Hart, WWF’s top babyface at the time, fans started to relate more to the Austin character than the squeaky-clean Canadian Hart. There were more chants to Austin than just boos as he was playing the heel role until Wrestlemania 13, in March 1997, and they ended up switching roles because Hart was starting to change up his style and attitude to meet up with the more confrontational Austin. Austin would do everything he could to hurt Hart throughout the time leading up to their Wrestlemania match.
During the match, Hart applied the Sharpshooter, his signature finisher to a bleeding Austin. Special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match, because Austin passed out rather than submit. Not satisfied with Austin’s silence, Hart refused to release the hold until presumably, Austin would signal his surrender. Shamrock, who had a UFC background before joining WWF, interjected himself to get Hart to break the hold and defended himself when Hart’s boiling point reached.
It became one of the most famous double turns in wrestling history as benevolence no longer became the primary attribute fans longed for in their wrestlers. Austin became the face of the WWF changing very little about his persona with his “take no prisoners” attitude and vulgarity becoming a blue-collar everyman. Hart went from being a champion who fought for what’s right to classic anti-American heel, accusing local crowds of losing their way and representing the worst the country has to offer.
Hart reformed the Hart Foundation as a pro-Canadian/anti-American staple including his brother Owen, his in-laws Jim Neidhart, and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and “The Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman.
Austin’s popularly surged through the end of the Attitude Era. He even feuded with top WCW talent following WWF owner Vince McMahon’s acquisition of WCW in 2001 including the NWO and was heavily involved in the infamous WCW-ECW Alliance. Austin remained active until he was forced to retire from in-ring competition in 2003.
The Streak that Defined a Career in WCW.
Bill Goldberg went into professional wrestling as a former NFL player, who had a rather unremarkable six-year run playing in just 14 games and starting one. At the time Austin’s career was taking off, Goldberg made his in-ring debut six months later for WCW Monday Nitro defeating Hugh Morris.
Goldberg never looked back belting 172 more consecutive victories becoming the company’s biggest star. What was more important was he was grown in-house and not a WWF-import as much of WCW’s top talent at the time was. While the weekly theme of WCW TV was how dominant the New World Order was, non-members were either jumped by the group’s members or joined. Helmed by “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall (three former top-tiered WWF talent), the faction continuously terrorized the non-conforming wrestlers and often vandalized their fallen bodies with spray paint.
Goldberg’s continuous feud with the NWO became one of WCW’s biggest feuds as he kept defying the odds all the way to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. While the “official” count was 173-0 before suffering his first loss and the title due to outside interference to the NWO’s Kevin Nash at the 1998 Starcade, a number of his colleagues including Chris Jericho and manager Jimmy Hart noted how commentary couldn’t keep his record consistent.
Regardless, Austin and Goldberg became the most recognizable and popular superstars at WWF and WCW, respectively. Naturally, as the Monday Night Wars ramped up, so did the fans as they began fantasizing about a confrontation between both stars.
Why It Didn’t Happen
Unfortunately, WCW’s run came to an end in 2001 with WWF’s buyout. The contracts WWF brought over from WCW lacked much of the company’s top-tiered talent like Goldberg, Hall, Nash, Sting, Hogan, etc. The top talent who didn’t join their brethren opted to work elsewhere and collect the remainder of their AOL-Time Warner deals.
Lacking most of the top-talent from WCW hurt any serious chances of independence and continue the brand on another network. The lack of talent also created logistical problems for WWF to tell an effective story often resulting in established top WWF talent defecting to the WCW-ECW alliance. People who are recognized as imports were often booked as inferior to WWF talent.
While the Invasion story did fizzle, McMahon signed those who sat on their AOL-Time Warner contracts.
McMahon could had cherrypicked what top talent he could get in hopes for bigger draws making WWF far more profitable as it transitioned to its name change to WWE.
Austin-Goldberg was one of the things fans hoped most following the Monday Night War, but Goldberg signed his WWE deal in March 2003 for a year after working in Japan for the remainder of his WCW contract. Austin was about finished from in-ring competition with his neck issues and retired following WrestleMania XIX in 2003.
If McMahon had spent a little more to lure Goldberg into WWE sooner, we could have had an Austin-Goldberg main event possibly at WrestleMania. Austin and Goldberg did finally have their WrestleMania moment, but at WrestleMania XX. Unfortunately, it was a disaster from start to finish.
First, Goldberg was departing WWE following the match as was his opponent, Brock Lesnar, who was leaving for the NFL at the time. Austin was the special guest referee. Fans mercilessly booed both men as it was their final match for the company at the time. While it did live up to expectations from both men as a high-impact brawl between two powerhouses, the fans didn’t ultimately care.
The conclusion of the match saw Goldberg defeating Lesnar and Goldberg “celebrating” a beer with Austin before he delivered a Stone Cold Stunner to the victor, which was revenge on Goldberg accidentally spearing Austin on WWE programming prior to Wrestlemania.
While both Goldberg (2016) and Lesnar (2012) would return to WWE to reignite their feud, we turn the page of what could have been.
Had McMahon signed Goldberg with the purchase of WCW, he would have 1-2 years to earn top dollar on both Austin and Goldberg. With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s inclinations for Hollywood, McMahon could have made up for the loss of star power.
Another factor which could have affected bringing Goldberg in sooner was Austin’s lingering neck issues. Goldberg unintentionally ended Bret Hart’s wrestling career in WCW when a kick to the head resulted in Hart’s concussion. The concussion would later be blamed as a factor in causing his stroke.
As stiff as Goldberg worked against talent, Austin might have been hesitant to entertain the idea. Austin had a ring scare when his head was exposed as a recipient of a piledriver during a match against Owen Hart. The accident forced an impromptu finish with Austin pinning Owen in a roll-up with Austin primarily incapacitated.
Could an Austin-Goldberg match lived up to expectations, given their styles? Austin’s matches tended to be brawls with the occasional mat techniques, while Goldberg was a powerhouse with short matches. Not that Goldberg couldn’t do a regular match, but when you saw his matches with Lesnar, they were hardly grueling marathons.
What are your thoughts? Comment below.