On this Day in Pro Wrestling History… Bill Goldberg defeats Hulk Hogan on Nitro to Become WCW Champ

On this day in pro wrestling history, Bill Goldberg stuns the world by defeating “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at the Georgia Dome WCW Nitro on July 6th, 1998. With hindsight and especially seeing this moment 25 years later (do you feel old yet), it appears to be the final peak of World Championship Wreslting (WCW) and the great momentum that Eric Bischoff built up since 1993. After Bill Goldberg defeated Hulk Hogan, there just wasn’t much else for him to accomplish and nothing else for the expiring New World Order (NWO) to do with its split factions.

But in all honesty, WCW may have already peaked and the emergence of Bill Goldberg kept them growing for just a tad bit longer through 1998. Prior to 1998, the storylines were heading for a collision between Sting (still wrestling in AEW here in 2023) and “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and should have blown off at WCW Starrcade 1997. However, as admitted to on the A&E Biography, Hogan used his creative control to edit the planned match between Sting and Hogan that would involve a controversial “fast count” by referee Nick Patrick. But he didn’t count fast and Bret Hart, special “ring enforcer”, got upset over what appeared to be a valid clean pinfall by Hogan on Sting. Instead, the match was restarted by Bret Hart and Sting then went on to win the WCW Title… But that decision was reversed by WCW authority figure JJ Dillon to prompt a rematch for the WCW Title at Super Brawl 1998.

Things backstage in WCW were a MESS creatively and worse yet, Starrcade 1997 had the highest Pay Per View buyrate at that point. Not only did you have more eyeballs on your product than ever before at that point, but also many fans who forked over their hard earned cash to see a poorly booked Hogan vs. Sting match, other bad matches, and a cancelled match involving Kevin Nash vs. the Giant. Sting won the WCW Title at Super Brawl 1998, but the damage was done. The moment was at Starrcade 1997, but WCW blew it. Then, the NWO created 2 separate factions, NWO Hollywood (led by Hulk Hogan) and NWO Wolfpack (led by Kevin Nash). Instead of just WCW versus the NWO, it became everyone HAD to join the NWO. Eventually, Sting joined the NWO Wolfpack and began to actually wear red & black paint. Ugh, that really happened!

But a shining light appeared during late 1997 and really heated up during early 1998. Bill Goldberg was a former NFL player, playing for the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons while later tried to make the expansion Carolina Panthers team. However, retaining a job in the NFL is difficult (average career is like 2-3 years) and the injury bug bit him as well. Being out of football, Goldberg needed something to do and getting into a conversation with Sting and Lex Luger at a gym created an idea. He joined the WCW Power Plant and by September 1997, he debuted on WCW Nitro. That’s a quick turnaround to make it on the biggest wrestling company, at the time.

Goldberg’s matches were kept short and simple… Mostly squashes and he’d use the spear to set-up the Jackhammer finisher (suplex that finishes like a powerslam). While Goldberg was not the in-ring tactician, he made up with it through other intangibles. Bill seriously looked like a jacked up Steve Austin, as both had the bald head, goatee, and wore similar tights and boots. Then, WCW crafted the perfect entrance where the music was epic, security would escort him through the hallways to keep this beast calm before his match, and then fireworks would ignite on both sides of the entrance for Goldberg to fearlessly walk through. Then, Goldberg could be seen blowing out smoke from said fireworks (probably not safe, but that’s the point). Even before the match even started, Bill Goldberg looked the part of a major pro wrestler. Then, while Goldberg wasn’t a great speaker, he kept his words very short and intense with “YOU’RE NEXT”.

As his matches were kept short and the impact of delivering the Spear/Jackhammer captivated fans, he began to gain momentum. WCW didn’t let him lose any matches and thus a Streak was developed. Thus, adding to the aura of Bill Goldberg…

But then, WCW began making mistakes will Bill Goldberg, both of which they could have avoided:

(1) They started adding fictional wins to Goldberg’s streak. The Internet was a happening place, even back then, and fans could do simple math to see that Goldberg wasn’t wrestling 7 days a week to build up that streak.

(2) They put Bill Goldberg with the wrong wrestlers. Fact is that while Goldberg was a tremendous athlete, he wasn’t a fully trained wrestler. He was just in the WCW Power Plant for about a year and he could make obvious mistakes. Veterans, such as Steven Regal, could have their way with Goldberg and stretch him as needed.

Plus, Goldberg’s inexperience caused him to get REALLY exposed if he had a longer match other than his 2-3 minute squashes. He just didn’t have the experience or anything in his toolbox to improvise if needed. Fans started noticing this through the late Spring and early Summer of 1998, but by that time, WWE had turned things around and lots of eyeballs were on both WWE RAW and WCW Nitro at that point. It seemed like Bill Goldberg was helping WCW to keep growing through 1998, but it could have been just fumes from 1997 or wrestling just being in peak form with fans during 1998. The cracks were there as we head into July 1998, but the cracks were also there for “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, too.

See, Sting didn’t remain WCW Champion for too long after Super Brawl 1998. He lost the title soon to “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Spring Stampede 1998. Sadly for Savage that night, he tore his ACL and dropped the title to, you guessed it, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan on the following night’s WCW Nitro. Thus, between mid-April through early July, as WWE was pushing Austin vs. McMahon, WCW had Hulk Hogan, once again, as their WCW Champion. However, you still had Bill Goldberg climbing up the ladder and gaining momentum, so not all was lost. Eventually, you’d figure that Goldberg and Hogan would headline a big Pay Per View somewhere down the line, right?

Well… Through the late Spring and early Summer of 1998, WWE regained its mojo and started to win Monday Night ratings wars against WCW Nitro after losing for a consecutive 83 weeks prior to the Spring of 1998. This created panic with Eric Bischoff and the WCW locker room, so he opted to hotshot Bill Goldberg vs. Hulk Hogan at the Georgia Dome WCW Nitro on July 6th, 1998. The show was going to be at a larger venue, where the Falcons used to play (favorable to Goldberg). Furthermore, Time Warner executives could also attend this event and view, for themselves, the shining hour of a major top drawing star to be created. Instead of placing Goldberg vs. Hogan on Pay Per View for money, it was placed on free TV (as long as you had a Cable subscription).

The match was a mix of what worked best for Goldberg with his high impact moves and Hulk Hogan, who tried to use his NWO members for interference. However, Karl Malone and he a Diamond Cutter on Curt Hennig (which would set up Hogan/Rodman vs. DDP/Malone at Bash at the Beach 1998). Goldberg winning the title was truly a great moment, as the hometown crowd and size of the crowd really created that BIG MATCH FEEL atmosphere needed for a historical match. 25 years ago, Bill Goldberg was king of the WCW world!

Sadly, it was all downhill after that. What else was there to accomplish by winning the WCW Title in less than a year working on the main roster?

Well, Goldberg won the WCW Title but they put all of their marketing eggs into the next 2 Hulk Hogan tag matches which were Hogan/Rodman vs. DDP/Malone and then for August 1998, Hulk Hogan/Eric Bischoff vs. DDP/Jay Leno. That’s right, you are reading that correctly. Jay Leno. Then, the Hulk Hogan shadow over Goldberg’s WCW Title reign kept growing with the Warrior (formerly Ultimate Warrior in WCW) experiment. This involved Warrior not evolving much as a wrestler and doing mysterious things, like appearing and re-appearing mysteriously. They would go onto headline one of the worst matches in history at Halloween Havoc 1998. It’s a shame that they didn’t just let Bill Goldberg squash him in 2-3 minutes instead.

Let’s look at Bill Goldberg’s next Pay Per View matches:

– Bash at the Beach 1998: Curt Hennig
– Road Wild 1998: NWO Invitational Battle Royal (minus Hogan, of course)
– Fall Brawl 1998: No match! Not on the show!

The booking did him no favors at WCW, although it could be argued that they were trying to protect him with a good worker like Curt Hennig, a gimmick like a battle royal… But no appearance at Fall Brawl 1998? In fact, Chris Jericho wrestled a Goldberg imitator at that actual show which made your WCW World Champion look like a chump instead. WCW’s momentum began to slip during this period, too, as ratings were beginning to decline as WWE RAW began to really pull away with Austin vs. McMahon and the growing Corporation stable (soon to add the Rock to really make growth explode, brother).

To Diamond Dallas Page’s credit, he delivered the BEST EVER Goldberg match at Halloween Havoc 1998. DDP is a very careful planner and he scripted a perfect match that appeared competitive but made Bill Goldberg look like a great in-ring performer in the process. However, WCW dropped the ball on this match… Halloween Havoc 1998 had timing issues, with some matches going longer than planned. Complete disaster. Usually, Pay Per Views ended at just before 10pm as a scheduled time for Cable Companies and when 10pm rolled around, Cable companies cut off the show and it upset many, many buyers of Halloween Havoc 1998. To make up for it, WCW Nitro actually featured DDP vs. Goldberg for FREE for anyone to enjoy. This was a nice gesture, but also a symbol that WCW was falling apart.

On Goldberg’s end, he was beginning to hear boos in certain regions of the country and WCW began piping in pre-recorded “Goldberg, Goldberg, Goldberg” chants. In some regions, they had to turn the volume up to 11 because the heat against possibly an over-exposed Goldberg was so loud. WCW Nitro’s viewership and attendance were beginning to really slide through late 1998, and thus signified changes on the WCW Creative Team but also the company’s creative direction. Instead of trying something new, Eric Bischoff and his Creative Team brought back the NWO as a supergroup to start 1999.

It all started at WCW Starrcade 1998 when Kevin Nash actually defeated Bill Goldberg in a match that saw Scott Hall interfering with a taser. This ended Goldberg’s WCW Title run and the streak at the same time, which Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, who was a big fan of Goldberg, said was the beginning of the end for WCW. Nash, who was on the Creative Team at that time, cited exactly what I stated above… Goldberg just wasn’t as over as he was before and changes were needed to freshen up things. Big Kev had never been WCW Champion before, so that was a change but many smart fans, who knew Nash was now on the Creative Team, blasted the idea. Then, things got worse during the first WCW Nitro of 1999 when Kevin Nash dropped the WCW Title back to “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan via Scott Keith’s trademarked “FINGERPOKE OF DOOM” finisher and they also reformed the NWO. This booking decision, which was preceded by Bill Goldberg getting “arrested” before this Hogan vs. Nash match, just made the now former WCW champion look bad.

Goldberg was in WCW during 1999 and 2000, and never recaptured the WCW Title. And those 2 years, and its booking decisions and Creative Teams, would be devastating and fatal for the WCW company. After peaking on this day in pro wrestling at the July 6th, 1998 edition of WCW Nitro, Goldberg was never the same in WCW through bad booking decisions and just not having a good second act after winning the WCW Title.

Lucky for Goldberg, he could just join the WWE following March 2001 and be part of the WCW invasion, right? Nope… While Goldberg was hot, he signed a big contract with WCW that locked him in through 2002. He’d have to forgo that contract with the AOL/Time Warner corporation to join the WWE, as wrestlers like Booker T and DDP actually did for their contracts (Sting, Hogan, Nash, Hall, Flair, and others did not). Thus, Goldberg had a nice paid vacation for a few years (I don’t blame him one bit).

Then, on the night following Wrestlemania 19, Bill Goldberg made his WWE debut during the Spring of 2003 to confront the Rock. Holy cow, the Rock vs. Bill Goldberg at WWE Backlash 2003. Well, it wasn’t quite the Hogan vs. Rock epic battle we saw at Wrestlemania 18, but to Rock’s credit, he cleanly put Goldberg over. Then, it was on to Unforgiven 2003 where Goldberg wasn’t booked to wrestle… Uh oh. He didn’t appear at the big England event, Insurrextion (not a typo, that is how WWE spelled it), too. At Badd Blood 2003, Bill Goldberg wrestled Chris Jericho, which in hindsight, Jericho is an all-time great. Through mid-2003, he was wrestling over the Intercontinental Title. However, now we’re talking with SummerSlam 2003, baby, and Goldberg was in the Elimination Chamber match with the RAW brand’s top stars. Oh, and Triple H was wrestling through a torn groin, too, so surely, he’d drop the title to someone in that chamber, right?

Kick wham pedigree, Triple H pinned Bill Goldberg to win the match. Just another victim of Triple H during that 2002-2003 timeframe along with Kane repeatedly, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Scott Steiner, and many others not named Shawn Michaels.

Now, Bill Goldberg did go on to defeat Triple H at WWE Unforgiven 2003, the very next Pay Per View. To WWE’s credit, they made him champion… But it just seems as though the USUAL combination of Goldberg’s inexperience and bad booking were mixed up, once again. By December at the Armageddon 2003 Pay Per View, Triple H pinned Bill Goldberg in a Triple Threat match that involved Kane. 2004 was going to be about having a Bill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar match at Wrestlemania 20, with the original plan being Lesnar defeating Goldberg and that would be Bill’s last match per his 1-year contract to ride off in to the sunset. However, Lesnar wanted to quit the WWE after being burned out and frustrated creatively and that caused the plans to be changed. Goldberg defeated Brock Lesnar in a very surreal Wrestlemania 20 match where the New York City fans are mocking both wrestlers and the match. By the way, Steve Austin was “special guest referee” for that match. All 3 guys would disappear from the WWE for a while following this match.

For Goldberg, he wouldn’t return to the WWE until 2016 when he went right after Brock Lesnar again. They were to set-up a match at Survivor Series 2016 and Goldberg actually squashed Lesnar in a shocking upset that caught everyone off-guard. Goldberg and Lesnar would wrestle at the following year’s Wrestlemania and I loved this match. It has Paul Heyman’s fingerprints all over it and made both wrestlers look like absolute stars. In my opinion, Paul Heyman salvaged Bill Goldberg’s career and made him become an iconic WWE star that drew lots of easy money from older WCW fans wanting to relive the great 1998 run. Goldberg had a great run in his 50s and may still have one last big payday with a “retirement” match. If I were AEW, I’d want to schedule MJF vs. Bill Goldberg for All-In 2023 in London for MJF to get the major win. HUGE business, that would be.

But we wouldn’t be talking about a big Goldberg retirement match, a legendary WCW career, and a rebooted WWE career without that big moment that happened 25 years ago for Bill Goldberg on July 6th, 1998 on this day in pro wrestling history. It was a great moment and probably the last truly great moment for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), whose doom was sealed after this event because everything began to decline rapidly for the company. There’s a good chance that WCW gets spanked even harder in 1998 if they didn’t have Bill Goldberg’s momentum pushing them forward through the rehashed Hogan and NWO stuff, along with many younger stars suffocating underneath a glass ceiling held together by highly paid veterans.

Just watch the fans going BONKERS for this big moment in wrestling history that happened 25 years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT05KuubRoU

Mr. Tito NoDQ Column Archive