Completely drenched in sweat through his gray Glory Kickboxing shirt on a sunny Tuesday at Citi Field in Queens, former WCW and WWE superstar Goldberg finishes up tacking hacks in the cage during batting practice.
It’s been over a decade since he last wrestled inside the squared circle, and even longer since he’s last taken batting practice.
“The last time I took BP was in between [Barry] Larkin and [Mark] McGwire. And you want to talk about the coolest moment and most emasculating moment of my career, that was it in a nutshell,” said Goldberg.
As fond as Goldberg looks at baseball, in fact, his brother Steve was once a draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s, Goldberg’s time in professional wrestling is a lot more of a touchy subject.
At his peak, Goldberg was the face of WCW and one of the biggest names in the industry. However, the man who once went 173-0 felt defeated a lot more than his record indicates, as Goldberg prides himself on being a true athlete who feeds off actual competition, something the choreographed world of pro wrestling can’t provide.
“Lets be honest, I’m an athlete, not an entertainer as much,” said Goldberg. “So as an athlete, I am a guy who likes the physical confrontation of the football field, I like playing nose-guard, I like having two 350 pound guys trying to rip my head off.”
A former NFL player from 1990-1995, Goldberg was able to achieve his dream of playing at the highest level that football has to offer. Drafted in 1990, Goldberg had stints with the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers.
Yet, to this day, it does not sit well with Goldberg that his football career, which was mired with inconsistency, lack of ability, and injury did not produce the results had always hoped it would.
“Everybody who knows anything about me knows all I ever wanted to do is play pro football. But I didn’t have the talent and I got hurt a lot. I’d do anything to be out on the field.” said Golderg. “Jerry Glanville told me one day after practice ‘Goldberg, if I had 22 of you guys, I know we wouldn’t win every game but we’d sure beat the hell out of everybody.’ I had a great time in the NFL, to make it in the amount of time that I did was awesome, it’s a dream come true and hell it gave me the opportunity to go wrestle.”
Often referring to himself as a real athlete, Goldberg’s various history within sports such as mixed martial arts and kickboxing have been well documented. Although never having competed on a competitive level in either, Goldberg has always been around both sports in various roles.
Goldberg works as an MMA analyst, owns the biggest MMA gym in the world, and currently does some kickboxing with a company called Glory. He recently talked about wrestling not being his first choice to the road of becoming an icon and he elaborates on those comments.
“If the money was right then, absolutely but it wasn’t. I had the top guys training at my gym in Atlanta and there was no money to speak of whatsoever,” said Goldberg. “Finally, now that they’re getting the credit they deserve, most of the guys that put the sport on the map are done. There’s no pension, no union for them, nothing. Did I want to be one of those guys? Absolutely not.”
What Goldberg described in that is similar to what professional wrestling struggles with. There is no union or health benefits in place for wrestlers, even those who wrestle for the WWE. The wrestlers having a union is imperative in Goldberg’s mind, but in his realistic view, he doesn’t think it will happen for one simple reason.
That reason is the chairman of WWE Vince McMahon, who has backed the sports entertainment world into a corner, creating a monopoly that controls most of the industry.
“I don’t think you have people in strong enough positions to have the ball enough to go up against Vince McMahon, if you want blunt, that’s blunt. It’s just the way it is,” said Goldberg.
At the end of the day, despite all that wrestling is hyped to be, it is a business that thrives off fictional characters in an alternate universe engaging in choreographed battles in typical good guy vs. bad guy scenarios.
That is the reason Goldberg doesn’t think too highly of the wrestling business and everything it entails.
“The business stinks, the business stinks, period, end of story. If it was based purely upon competition, I’d be in favor of it. But at the end of the day, it’s about favoritism,” said Goldberg.
But despite not being the biggest fan of pro wrestling, Goldberg cannot wait to thank all the fans that made him and his career on June 7 at the Legends of Wrestling event at Citi Field.
“I am looking most forward to being able to shake the hands of the people who put me in the position that I am in today,” said Goldberg. “The Legend of wrestling, my involvement is to purely give back to the fans because what I do now, whether it be Glory Kickboxing or the TV show stuff, it doesn’t get me the opportunity as much as I really want to thank everybody who put me on this pedestal.”
That pedestal was at its highest during his aforementioned run with WCW, when the company, behind guys like Sting, Goldberg, and others, was close to putting WWE out of business.
Watching wrestling when he was younger, Goldberg admired guys like Bruiser Brody and the Von Erich’s and during one night in his career, he felt like he was one of those men, in a special position where he was looked at the way he once looked at others.
“Wrestling at the Georgia Dome in front of 44,000 people, advertised four days before. The coolest thing was I played in the first football game there with the Falcons and I was able to wrestle there in front of arguably a crowd pretty much as big as Falcons sometimes,” said Goldberg. But most importantly at the end of the night, I was saved by my teammates on the Falcons. So to me, that is by far the coolest moment of my wrestling career because the guys that I had followed, the guys that had been heroes of mine, in that one minute when I was handcuffed in the corner looking at everybody, you got Cornelius Bennett, Jamal Anderson, Shane Dronett, everybody on the Falcons came in their jerseys and saved me. So I’m laying in the corner, I’m looking up and checking out these guys who I admired and idolized and they’re are having the time of their life, you know why? Because they wanted to be me and my entire life I wanted to be them. So that for me was the coolest moment of my wrestling career.”
Also, Goldberg constantly reiterates that he get a chance to meet some great peers as a wrestler. Citing Ric Flair and Bret Hart as two men that made wrestling, Goldberg also has high praise for several other men he got the chance to known while in wrestling, including Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway.
“Mark’s awesome, dude. Talk about revolutionizing the business, he was unbelievable and to see that he still does it in some capacity is unbelievable. And he’s a great guy and I very much appreciate him both in and out of the ring,” said Goldberg.
Another guy that Goldberg respects is the “Icon,” Sting. After never setting foot in a WWE ring, Sting, whose real name is Steve Borden, made his WWE debut this past year at Survivor Series. Yet, Goldberg views Sting in a positive light, attributing Sting as one of the people who got him into wrestling.
“Steve is a great guy, Steve’s one of the guys that got me in the business because I looked at what he did and he had the ability to look himself in the mirror and be proud of who he was and I said if he can do it, I can do it,” said Goldberg.
Conversely, Triple H, who is now an executive with WWE and faced Sting in his first WWE match, Goldberg views in a much different light as he says with a humorous yet sincere tone to his voice “on the other end of the spectrum, I can’t stand him.”
Aside from the accolades that Goldberg has been able to attain in the field of athletics and sports entertainment, it all pales in comparison to the legacy he wants to leave behind. Not only does Goldberg want to be remembered as a good guy, he wants to change parents’ outlook on raising their children.
Being a father himself, Goldberg’s children are a part of various contact athletics, including Muay Thai. But not for the reason of being physically superior or dominant over others. It’s rather an activity to make them a better person and to learn discipline and respect.
“Kids are soft these days, period end of the story in every respect. People coddle them too much, I’m sick of that, it’s irresponsible parenting,” said Goldberg. “Taking care of them is one thing but turning little boys into little girls because you’re coddling them so much, kids need to have experiences on their own.”
In the same frame of mind, Goldberg’s one regret is not having one true, memorable heel run in wrestling. With his size and intimidating demeanor, Goldberg believes that his heel persona would have been likened to the aforementioned Bruiser Brody.
But, while a character change that would have seen Goldberg become a big time heel was tested but never transpired to its fullest peak, the 48-year-old Goldberg is happy that he didn’t see his morals compromised solely for entertaining television.
“I’m glad because I can be a role model for kids but oh man, did I want to be a heel. I would have been the best Bruiser Brody’ish, bald, freaking monster anybody would have been. People think Brock [Lesnar] is good as a heel, oh man.”
They turned me one time in WCW in Baltimore, the night before I wrestled Hacksaw Jim Duggan and he just got over surgery and he had cancer. I had to go out and blast him and had a Make-A-Wish girl in the back, with cancer. So I come back after the match and she’s in tears, wrestling is wrestling, I get it, the good, bad and evil and trying to storyline people in and out of what they think is going to happen. But I wasn’t going to do that. I failed as a wrestler in that I didn’t turn heel but I think I won as a human being. Because if there is one girl or one kid that thinks less of me and doesn’t idolize me because of the fictitious stuff I’ve done in the ring in a negative fashion, I don’t want to risk that. I didn’t reach the level I could have reached but it doesn’t matter to me. That one little girl destroyed me and I told them the next day that we’re going back., immediately.”
With that in mind, Goldberg is happy to see that somebody like John Cena, a 15-time world champion in WWE, is representing the company in such a positive light with the Make-A-Wish foundation because being a public figure, Goldberg feels it is the performers’ duty to live up to the reputation of a super hero but being one, at least in the kids eyes.
“Absolutely, there has to be guys like that,” said Goldberg. “Everybody should do that, good, bad or indifferent whether they’re heel, babyface or whatever. We have to be a positive role model for these kids.”
While Goldberg enjoys the fans and the life wrestling afforded him, the former three-time World Heavyweight champion is adamant that we will never see him on the road, competing full-time again. However, a one-shot deal for one more big match is possible.
His son has asked him about doing one more match, the fans have been asking for one more match since 2004, and Goldberg has envisioned one last match several times and rumors of a last match have been rampant.
But if it does happen, it will not be for WWE, it will not be for TNA, it won’t even be for the newly-founded GFW. It Goldberg puts on the boots, trunks, and gloves one last time, in the words of Frank Sinatra, he will do it his way.
“If I get back into wrestling, I’m doing it on my own. No organization,” said Goldberg.
For full audio of the interview where Goldberg also talks about Ken Shamrock, not paying his dues, and more, you can listen to it here.
[Photos by Fatih Akaydin]