With Goldberg technically back on WWE programming for a brief appearance and with buzz about his potential return to in-ring action, only one train of thought comes to mind: Here we go again.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Goldberg coming back and getting inserted into either main event scene would have terrible ramifications for all non-Goldberg participants involved.
Yet so goes the buzz. According to Inside The Ropes (h/t Randall Ortman of Cageside Seats), WWE CEO Vince McMahon still thinks there are plenty of reasons to bring back Goldberg and have him on programs. This, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary in recent years. We can start with the recent "season premiere" of SmackDown, when Goldberg was billed as an appearance in the ThunderDome and the ratings needle didn't move at all.
We can work back plenty further too. There was the botch-filled match against Undertaker in 2019 that required a match against Dolph Ziggler to help Goldberg rehab his image a bit. He then looked a little on the unprepared side while stripping the title off The Fiend, only to have a forgettable, quick title loss to Braun Strowman.
WWE is still trying to recover from Goldberg's recent run. While the company booked itself into a corner by making Wyatt far too strong, it practically ruined The Fiend, and one could argue he hasn't been the same since. Strowman's title run after putting Goldberg down was one of the most forgettable for a big belt in recent times.
By now, WWE should know going for ratings bumps in this audience-less era just doesn't make sense and/or work. And the lack of crowds feels like a big part of the reason a guy like Brock Lesnar hasn't returned, either. Goldberg's aura and presence just doesn't feel the same without crowds there, chanting and reacting to the big-fight feel (that's what had his UFC-style fights with Lesnar a few years ago feeling so special).
But in all seriousness, the audience-less era has been a low-key boon for WWE. It handed the lead role to Drew McIntyre, and he's run away with it. Odd as the lack of crowds have been, his dominant run is something fans will remember for a long time. He's fully established as a main event threat and a headlining Superstar for the remainder of his career.
We can point to plenty of examples like this. Sasha Banks and Bayley have stood out. Randy Orton suddenly put on some of the best work of his career. And to top it all off, Roman Reigns has exceeded even the wildest of expectations as a heel—and he's just getting started.
Inserting Goldberg into a main event fray for a one-off contest would not only derail the momentum of top guys, but it would also be incredibly forgettable by comparison. What are fans going to remember more? McIntyre's incredible run that established him, or a Goldberg one-off? What's going to establish a top title belt more? Reigns continuing to tear through his family, or Goldberg butting in and having a spear-off in an effort to bump ratings?
Harsh as it might sound, the reality is fans have probably worked hard to forget Goldberg's recent in-ring appearances, as he just hasn't been able to recapture that magic of the bouts with Lesnar from 2016-17. He's not Undertaker—throwing a guy who was in his prime 20 years ago into a match now doesn't advance anything story-wise or build up other Superstars, and it clearly doesn't increase ratings much, either.
It's one thing if Goldberg's off in a little self-contained feud with a Lesnar-type and McMahon can avoid the urge to throw one of the company's top titles into the mix for no reason. That would insulate the good long-term building WWE has been doing with other Superstars and still let the promotion convince itself a ratings bump will happen with Goldberg on the card.
Another thing is if fans could trust WWE to get it right with Goldberg. Reigns briefly getting sidetracked and squashing him before moving back on to the family stuff could work. But this is the same company that thought Goldberg squashing The Fiend with two moves (one of them he can't do well anymore, either) was a good idea. So again, self-contained without belts makes the most sense.
To WWE's credit, it has mostly done a superb job of taking this odd era and finally building for the future around key names. But it has to dodge the allure of putting Goldberg in the mix for the wrong reasons.
WWE can walk the now-later tightrope by bringing in Goldberg and keeping him away from the main event scene. Anything else, like inserting him into a McIntyre or Reigns feud, runs the risk of harming everyone around Goldberg and spoiling some of the excellent work both WWE and select Superstars have done with their backs against the wall during one of the strangest eras of wrestling in history.