Bill Goldberg was seemingly retired, dabbling in acting and far removed from the days of his reign as undefeated champion in WCW or WrestleMania winner for WWE.
He entertained millions of wrestling fans -- just never in the ring for the son born after his heyday. So when Goldberg returned to WWE in 2016 -- in large part so his son and wife could watch him spear and jackhammer his way through the bad guys -- Gage Goldberg was just a little kid in the front row cheering on dad or celebrating backstage with an oversized championship belt draped over his shoulder.
Fast forward five years, and 15-year-old Gage Goldberg stood in the aisle during a recent episode of “Raw” in a staredown and ready to throw down with WWE champion and his dad’s rival, Bobby Lashley.
“Now, he’s involved in it,” Bill Goldberg said, laughing. “Hopefully he won’t be collateral damage at any point. If that’s the case, I guess it brings Goldberg up to another level. It gives me another reason to want to rip someone’s face off.”
The 54-year-old Goldberg returns for his second match of the year when he challenges Lashley for the WWE title Saturday night at SummerSlam at Allegiant Stadium outside Las Vegas.
WWE recently resumed live events and touring and SummerSlam -- first held in 1988 -- and touts the return of wrestler-turned-movie star John Cena. Cena returned from a long break to try to avenge his 2017 pay-per-view loss to Roman Reigns in a match for the WWE Universal championship. Seth Rollins fights Edge in another marquee match.
WWE hits Las Vegas a year after the pandemic forced the company to run SummerSlam and all its events at its setup dubbed The ThunderDome -- where fans registered for spots on LED digital videoboards -- for stretches in Florida at the Amway Center, Tropicana Field and the Yuengling Center. The setting has changed, and so has the talent: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, last year’s main event wrestlers, were both released this year as part of sweeping changes to the roster that saw losses ranging from prospects in the developmental system to WWE main eventers and all the way to Hall of Famers like Ric Flair. Its standalone WWE Network now has a home on the Peacock streaming service.
Goldberg is still plugging along in a reduced role that follows the same formula that made him a sensation in 1996: Bald, goatee, 6-foot-4 and jacked while plowing through matches in mere minutes.
“I guess Roman made mention of Cena coming back and being the same guy,” he said. “Well, that’s what people pay for. That’s why they bring him back, because he’s the same guy. Yeah, you have to evolve a little bit. But people want to see me go out and smash dudes. That’s what made me who I am.”
Goldberg, however, acknowledges he can’t match the power of his prime and knows matches in his recent stint against The Fiend, The Undertaker and others have been panned -- and with good reason.
“I’m not proud of anything I’ve done over the past number of years,” he said. “Have I done enough to get by? Yeah. But am I proud of my performances? Hell no. No. 1, I’ve got to win. No. 2, I’ve got to provide a little bit more entertainment, more power moves and just be more like Goldberg. That’s what you’re going to see on Saturday.”
Once owner of a 100-plus match unbeaten streak from the start of his career capped by a win over Hulk Hogan, Goldberg has lost three of his last five matches. At some point, the losses dim the appeal of even the biggest fan favorites.
“I honestly have not done any cardio in a number of years because the most important part to my reemergence as Goldberg is size,” he said. “I sit on a cardio machine or I go run and I might as well start counting pounds off of me. Do I come in and do I look like Goldberg or do I come and be able to have the workrate of other people? It’s really, really tough for me to decide that and have enough time to make it happen.”
Goldberg can look at the SummerSlam card and see wrestling is in the bloodlines: Rey Mysterio and his son Dominik take on real life brothers Jimmy and Jey Uso for the “SmackDown” tag team championship.
Goldberg knows the age gap might be too much to team up with his son in WWE and is happy spending his nights “yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs” at Gage’s football games. His son followed him into football -- Goldberg played parts of three seasons in the NFL -- so it’s natural to wonder if a career in sports entertainment is also on the table.
“Hopefully he’s having somewhat as much fun as I am with it,” Goldberg said. “That seems to be the case. I’m forever a supporter of him.”