Goldberg tries to rekindle glory days with Royal Rumble, WrestleMania on horizon
The ex-champion was only supposed to appear in the ring once for WWE but may have an extended stay
At age 50, Goldberg enters the Royal Rumble match for the first time since 2004, looking to clear the ring quickly and get another piece of rival Brock Lesnar.
A couple years ago, a return to WWE seemed unlikely. But then a series of events fell into place at the right time, opening the door for one of wrestling's biggest stars to see his way back to the squared circle. It started with Goldberg signing a deal with 2K Games to be a featured character in WWE 2K17. One thing led to another, and suddenly, he's back in the ring on Monday Night Raw this past October, challenging Lesnar to a match.
"It sure wasn't my body telling me to do it," Goldberg told CBS Sports. "I was given an opportunity to rekindle my glory days."
Goldberg's wife and son had never seen him perform live in a pro wrestling setting, which was also a nice perk.
"Lo and behold, I have a family and a completely different life now [than when he left WWE in 2004]. I'm very grateful for this chance to do it one more time," he said.
Goldberg faced Brock Lesnar at the 2016 Survivor Series in what was billed as one last, career-ending match. To the surprise of most, Goldberg defeated the former UFC champion in 84 shocking seconds. And it absolutely was going to be his last match.
Until it wasn't.
The conditions were just right for Goldberg to stick around longer. Fans gave him a tremendously warm reception, which even for a returning babyface like Goldberg is never a sure thing (see: Batista). Goldberg's TV segments earned positive reviews. As for the big guy himself, you could tell he sort of enjoyed connecting with fans once again.
That brings us to the 2017 WWE Royal Rumble. Goldberg joins 29 other superstars in a match where the last man standing earns the right to challenge for a WWE title of his choice at WrestleMania in April.
Few expected Goldberg to take the win over Lesnar, especially as decisively as he did, but that's what happened. Still, it seems unlikely that the once-retired Goldberg would not only win the battle royal but challenge for a WWE title -- and possibly win it, which is after all, the purpose of this match. Goldberg knows that, and he stopped short of saying he's ready to commit to the full-time road schedule of a WWE title holder.
"If that were to happen, it depends on your definition of full time," Goldberg said. "If you have the strap, the WWE title, you gotta be on TV to defend it. I guess we'll cross that bridge if we get there."
Cosmetically, Goldberg still appears to be in amazing condition. But the aches and pains are there, and he laments that he's no longer as big or as muscular as he was in his prime. As one gets older, maintaining an athletic look requires a lot more effort.
"I don't look in mirrors," Goldberg said. "That sucks. It's tough, man. It's definitely not easy."
But for now, he feels good enough to step into the ring with confidence at the Royal Rumble and mix it up with a ring full of superstars many years his junior.
"I still feel good. I'm not dead yet," he said.
Having begun his career as a trainee at the infamous WCW Power Plant, Goldberg very quickly became one of wrestling's hottest acts in the late-1990s. He stepped into WCW as a rookie during the New World Order (nWo) era and electrifying crowds with his intense, sudden destruction of virtually the entire roster.
Having been a part of the WCW roster in the ultra-competitive late-90s and the WWE roster shortly afterward, Goldberg said he's impressed by the current crop of WWE wrestlers, who have made him feel very welcome.
"The respect is unbelievable," Goldberg said. "I feel like an elder statesman. I'm very happy for the business that such good people are in control of it now. It seems like they're a great group of kids in the locker room. And that's really nice to see, because in past years, that has not always been the case."
Goldberg made his wrestling debut after playing college football at Georgia and spending some two seasons in the NFL as a defensive tackle with the Atlanta Falcons. His rise to the top of WCW culminated with a world title win over "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan on a 1998 episode of WCW Monday Nitro in front of a packed crowd at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons also had a solid 1998, going to their first Super Bowl that season. This year, after bidding farewell to the Georgia Dome, the Falcons return to the big dance. Goldberg will be cheering them on.
"I couldn't be happier for them," he said. "I'm extremely happy for a number of reasons, and what a send-off for the Georgia Dome. I'm happy that the Falcons are going to another Super Bowl. With any luck, I'll be there."
Looking back on his early days in the business, Goldberg said the hardship he felt least prepared for as a rookie was the constant travel, and the toll it takes on a wrestler's physical well-being.
"The Power Plant can't prepare you for travel," Goldberg said. "Going out and performing is one thing, but what your body goes through when you travel is something you really can't put into words. It's really tough."
For now, his WWE travel schedule is light in comparison to those on the main roster. He's there for the big shows, and depending on how the chips fall, that could include his return to WrestleMania. But first things first.
"I'll knock down whatever they put in front of me," Goldberg said. "I'd like to get the opportunity to wrestle at WrestleMania again, especially since I've only had one. But like I said, the Royal Rumble this weekend, that's what I'm focused on."
The Royal Rumble airs live at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan.29, worldwide on WWE Network. You can also check your local pay-per-view outlets for availability.
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