Goldberg vs The Fiend: How Short Term Success Affects Long Term Booking

Still not quite over this yet.

Goldberg vs The Fiend
Source: WWE

Remember in the 90s when we used to get those UK only PPV events with names like ‘Commotion in Camden’ and ‘Bloodshed in Bognor’? Remember how they always had title matches despite there being zero chance of the titles actually changing hands? Remember how they had little to no impact on storylines, meaning you could forget that they ever happened?

Now, imagine Tony Blair suddenly decided to give the WWF a pillowcase full of fifties to resurrect Big Daddy, create a trophy that looks like Scafell Pike and tell everyone how bloody lovely the UK is. That’s what these Saudi shows have become; house shows with consequences. The wrestling is still terrible but the production values are sky high and the chances of something big happening increases with every passing plane ride from/to hell.

It was during one of these events, Crown Jewel back in October, that Bray Wyatt claimed the Universal title for the first time. While the match itself was far from perfect, the result was generally welcomed by all wrestling fans. It had taken months to rehab Wyatt’s credibility, and despite some bumps on the road, The Fiend was finally at the top of the prestigious Tuwaiq Mountain.

Which brings us to our new Universal Champion: Bill Goldberg. In less than three minutes, he decimated The Fiend, bringing all that hard work to a screeching halt. Wyatt’s dedication to his character transformation seemingly sacrificed for a spike in the ratings and that pillowcase full of Saudi Riyal.

The immediate aftermath of Goldberg’s title victory was littered with vitriol from fans and pundits alike. The combination of internet darling being beaten by an ageing part timer in a problematic part of the world created the perfect storm for copious anti-WWE sentiment.

#CancelWWENetwork began to trend as fans vowed they were done with the company. No, seriously, for real this time. Even Macaulay Culkin threatened to cancel his flights to Orlando, before storming to his room and wishing that the McMahon Family would all just disappear.

Various reasons for the abrupt title change have been put forth which all make perfect short-term business sense. Goldberg’s appearances on SmackDown have provided a ratings boost, proving that ‘Big Bill’ can still attract the casual, curious fans. The WrestleMania title match announced on SmackDown between Goldberg and Roman Reigns has the potential to put more eyes on the product than the less mainstream Bray Wyatt. 

Yet, there comes a time when short term business sense gets in the way of the long term stability of the industry. As exciting as it is to see the likes of Goldberg making their returns as WrestleMania season kicks into full gear, the continued reliance on part-time stars from previous generations speaks of a genuine lack of foresight for the future. As WWE relies more and more on nostalgia acts to generate interest, in 10 years, there won’t be any nostalgia left to fall back on.

The real issue isn’t that Bray Wyatt was beaten. As intriguing and different as his latest run has been, there has been enough goofy hocus pocus to make The Undertaker’s eyes roll all the way into his head and back out the other side. The issue is that giving the Universal title to Goldberg feels so short sighted. For every step forward, every Drew McIntyre elevated to the main event, there are two poorly executed jackhammers backwards.

Wrestling has always been a balancing act between pushing new talent and the allure of the nostalgia pop. It has to be a symbiotic relationship between the two in the sense that the returning superstar is only as good as the opponent standing opposite them in the ring. Continuing to promote wrestlers like Bill Goldberg above the likes of Bray Wyatt can only result in diminishing returns. Who wants to see them return to challenge the stars of today if they can dispose of them so easily?

As mentioned above, there has been a lot of talk about Goldberg spiking a rating and bringing in the casual fans, the holy grail of modern wrestling promotions. It’s understandable that WWE wants to ride that momentum as much as they can, but there is an increasingly limited pool of talent they can use in this position. Yes, seeing Edge return at Royal Rumble was a genuinely amazing moment, but how many more people from that generation of wrestlers could realistically spark such excitement? Is anyone clamouring for that big Val Venis return in 2021?

It feels like we’re reaching a tipping point. WWE has to safeguard its future and focus wholeheartedly on the next generation. At Super Showdown, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles and Ricochet were made to look like second class citizens compared to their part time counterparts. In an industry where perception is king, this can’t continue.

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