The WWE appears on the verge of inking one of the biggest rematches in its history: Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg.
A former All-American wrestler, Lesnar is the only man to hold both the WWE and UFC heavyweight championships. He made a successful return to MMA earlier this year, defeating Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
Goldberg meanwhile was one of pro wrestling's biggest stars in the late 1990s, helping to elevate the WWE's rival, WCW, to No. 1 in the ratings. He eventually pinned Hulk Hogan for the world championship on national television, in a match that boasted nearly 10 million viewers. Even before all of that though, Goldberg was a serious athlete, playing defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons prior to jumping to professional wrestling.
Eventually WCW folded and Goldberg signed a deal with the WWE, paving the way for what was supposed to be a classic matchup between two legitimate mainstream athletes.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. In one of the most infamous matches in WWE history, Goldberg and Lesnar gave up during the match, annoyed that the fans were booing both of them.
Flash forward to 2016, and Goldberg's return to the WWE comes at the perfect time.
The WWE has worked hard in recent months to portray a "reality era." Its wrestlers are working stiff matches, with Lesnar leading the charge. Lesnar recently legitimately destroyed Randy Orton to end Summerslam, knocking him out with a series of elbows. The beat-down garnered mainstream attention and reminded everyone that even in the scripted world of professional wrestling, the violence is often real and unpredictable.
Lesnar is one of the WWE's biggest draws, with many fans appreciating his stiff style (where he doesn't pull punches as much as the other wrestlers). Essentially if you are a pro wrestler working with Lesnar, be ready for a real beat down, even if it is scripted.
Lesnar is going to slam you, hard. In his words, he will take you to "Suplex City."
When Lesnar and Goldberg wrestled at Wrestlemania XX on March 14, 2004 it was supposed to be a historic match between two of company's best athletes. But there was a problem. Lesnar had given notice prior to the match that he was not signing a new contract and that he was going to try out with the Minnesota Vikings. Goldberg too, unhappy with the direction of his character, had given notice.
Unfortunately, the fans found out about this before the match. This may not have been a big deal had Wrestlemania that year taken place in any other city. But in Madison Square Garden, the WWE's home base, the arena that had been home to its greatest stars, from Hulk Hogan and Superstar Billy Graham, to Bruno Sammartino and "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. The fans just weren't going to have it.
The New York crowd is the smartest crowd in the world. They love professional wrestling -- and they do not tolerate those who disrespect it. The idea that Lesnar thought he could find greener pastures in the NFL was a slap in the face of all the WWE fans who had supported him. The idea that Goldberg, who was never a great wrestler by pro wrestling standards, would walk out on the company that had at one point made him a world champion, was equally disrespectful.
Throw in the fact that Stone Cold Steve Austin, the company's biggest star, who was forced into early retirement because of a neck injury, was the guest referee in the match, and everything just fell off the rails. The crowd turned on the match, and chanted everything from "You sold out," to "Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye" at both wrestlers.
Lesnar was only a couple of years into the business at the time. Goldberg had been in wrestling longer, but was also relatively inexperienced. The two had no idea how to react to the crowd. They did the worst thing they could possibly do: The let the fans know that the chants bothered them. They looked at the crowd. Their faces snarled with anger. And eventually, Lesnar gave the crowd a double middle finger.
The crowd turned on them, so they turned on the crowd. As a result, the match was terrible. Neither wrestler looked like they wanted to be there. It ended with Goldberg pinning Lesnar 13 minutes into the match, a short match that just didn't work.
When the match was over Austin gave Lesnar a Stone Cold Stunner, and sent Lesnar packing to the NFL. Goldberg too was gone. Goldberg would eventually go work for Showtime as an MMA analyst.
It was a disappointing end for both wrestlers.
But as we know, Lesnar came back. He was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, but then turned to MMA, leveraging his WWE name to fast-track his career. He eventually knocked out Randy Couture to win the UFC heavyweight championship. Then, he used his MMA credibility to go back to the WWE, earning a fat contract to work limited dates for the company. Now, in 2016, he's a cross-brand performer, wrestling in the WWE and the UFC.
Now he just needs opponents. Lesnar has shredded John Cena, The Undertaker, Triple H, CM Punk, Roman Reigns and several other big names. Goldberg is the perfect guy to work a stiff match with Lesnar.
Goldberg has always said that he wants to return to the WWE so that his 10-year-old son could see him wrestle. Goldberg also recently worked with the WWE as part of the launch of the WWE 2K17 video game, in which Goldberg is a playable character.
Goldberg probably doesn't want to come back for just any match though. Lesnar is a worthy opponent, and possibly a set-up for a trilogy match at Wrestlemania next year.
The WWE doesn't need Goldberg vs. Lesnar, but if done correctly, the promotion of the match could spark some huge interest, and redeem that Wrestlemania fiasco.