Tuesday, July 6 marked the 15th anniversary of the main event clash between Hulk Hogan and Bill Goldberg. The two biggest stars in WCW clashed in a match that personified the very shortsightedness that would eventually cost WCW dearly. In a testament to the missed opportunity on pay-per-view, the live gate on Nitro drew close to $1 million, yet it can easily be argued that WCW lost out on an even bigger payday. A star was born, but WCW died three years later.
This summer series will examine talents, moments and matches that crumbled under the weight of their immense potential.
Bill Goldberg vs. Hulk Hogan carries many different meanings. To the unabashed wrestling fan, it was a moment in history. Chills dancing about the spine as shots of a standing-room-only crowd in the Georgia Dome made WCW Nitro look like the Super Bowl.
The hometown favorite and heir apparent to WCW's throne stood in the middle of the ring, standing across from a man who was considered to be bigger than the sport of wrestling itself and who seemed uncharacteristically dwarfed.
Karl Malone and Hulk Hogan are both considered all-time greats and transcendent stars in their profession. Both were in attendance. Neither came close to matching the popularity of Bill Goldberg on that night.
The outburst of cheers following Goldberg's hallmark victory over Hogan was on par with the Super Dome's reaction to Steve Gleason's blocked punt. Wrestling fans remember where they were when Goldberg slayed the immortal, and in turn became WCW's next big thing.
But to the cynical, more jaded viewer, this moment was foolishly mortgaged for short-term gain. WCW could have fostered the Hogan-Goldberg feud into a long-term build that would have popped a blockbuster-level buyrate.
Arguably the biggest wrestling star of all time was once again atop the food chain, with the Heavyweight Championship in tow. Anchoring a stable that had effectively invaded WCW, put its feet on the Monday Nitro furniture and taken what it wanted, there was no end in sight.
Bill Goldberg served as WCW's only hope, riding an unprecedented undefeated streak that, like Hogan's reign of terror, had no end in sight. The palatable dynamics rivaled that of Hogan-Andre, which allegedly drew 93,000-plus to the Pontiac Dome.
But the story was booked, narrated and paid off quicker than a Goldberg match.
The too-good-to-be-true booking commenced in Goldberg's backyard of Atlanta, Ga. As feel-good as the moment turned out to be, it came and went with limited hype, no price tag for millions of viewers at home and, most importantly, no monster buyrate.
The quarter-hour drew an enormous 6.91 TV rating, meaning the match flirted with 10 million viewers. Had even a small fraction of those viewers paid to see the match on a closed circuit, the match still could have broken multiple WCW pay-per-view records.
The TV rating meant two things. WCW won the battle, beating Raw with a final number of 4.85. But it lost the war. Longtime pro wrestling columnist Mike Mooneyham estimated the match could have made $7 million for WCW had it been saved for pay-per-view. WCW's biggest money match was rendered a sacrificial lamb to keep up appearances for television.
There was nowhere to go but down.
Nitro pulled a similar stunt less than one year later to inferior results. This time around, the pay-per-view caliber match—between Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan—resulted in a rouse on free TV in the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom incident. This is widely viewed as the beginning of the end of WCW.
Maybe part of the mystique of that iconic episode of Nitro in July was the pacing. Fans were taken on an exhilarating ride that saw its share of twists and turns (Scott Hall served as a hurdle to Goldberg's title shot and was defeated by Goldberg that night en route to Hogan). Like many roller-coaster rides, it was an entertaining jaunt that was over with only a momentary picture of euphoria to show for it.
Unlike many rides, most viewers did not have to pay a cent for the souvenir.
#BTNW: Mr. Kennedy | Goldberg-Hogan