Despite last year swearing to Rolling Stone that he’d never wrestle again, Goldberg will enter the WWE ring one more time for Sunday’s Survivor Series headline match against Brock Lesnar. It’s a rematch of their forgettable 2004 Wrestlemania bout, where fans booed the competitors because word had leaked that they were both leaving WWE right after. But now Goldberg is giving it one more go, thanks to an odd source of inspiration, the WWE 2K17 video game, which features him as a pre-order bonus character. He saw how much his 10-year-old son Gage loved it, and decided to put himself through a hellish training regimen just so his boy and a younger generation of fans could see him perform one last time. With just a few days to go before the fight, Rolling Stone caught up with Goldberg to talk about his return, his relationships with Lesnar and Vince McMahon, and how he gets into the dark mental mood to before he takes that long walk down to the ring.
When and how did you actually make the decision to come back and what factored into it?
As I watch a man can climb a 30-foot ladder in the rain, I’m feeling like that’s quite representative of what I’m doing right now. No human being should be putting himself through what I’m putting myself through to do what I’m doing but there’s a bigger reason. I got the power from within from my family, from a generation of kids that have never seen me, from a generation of parents that appreciated what I did and would love to see their kids experience the same thing. I’m very fortunate that I was given the opportunity to do that once again and I am trying at my stage in life to put forth the best effort humanly possible in the six weeks’ period of time that I’ve had to get ready for this, to present myself in a positive package compared to what people saw 12 years ago.
People get opportunities maybe once in a lifetime to do special things. I’ve had a plethora of opportunities to do many special things. I’m very lucky to be able to get another opportunity for my child and my wife, to give them a glimpse and a piece of what I experienced. You can show them videos all you want. You can try to explain the situation to them but until you’re there and you experience it, you don’t really know what it’s like. I’m risking a lot by trying to provide things for other people. Now granted, obviously I’m getting paid to do this so I’m not sitting here saying I’m not doing this at all for myself too. But the bigger cause is I have a responsibility as a one-time, I don’t know, celebrity that people possibly looked up to. In a day and age when very crazy things are happening and role models are very hard to come by, I very much value that position. And with it comes a hell of a lot of responsibility
Talking about responsibility, how much have you thought about the match 12 years ago and the kind of a letdown it was?
I don’t care about that. It wasn’t a letdown for me and Brock. The reality is we were up against a situation that was a no-win for anybody and I completely understand what the what the fans were feeling. That was not a bad match. You’ve got two monsters. Has anybody ever pressed Brock Lesnar over their head before? I don’t think so. I did, and that in itself should be very entertaining. Unfortunately, we’re in a generation where people like to concentrate on the negative as opposed to the positive, to be that ruffle in the water. I think it’s time for that crap to stop [laughs]. It was a situation where both of us were leaving. Everybody knew and we were doomed from the beginning. It was a hell of a match and I don’t have anything to be ashamed about. Nor does he. Do we, as entertainers, want to right what was wrong from the idea of the public? Sure. But personally I don’t have to make up for nothing. Show me another dude who pressed Brock over his head and beat him like I did. I don’t think so. I’m pretty impressed with what happened that night.
What’s your relationship with him been like over the years?
I love Brock Lesnar and I hate him at the same time. I love and respect him because he’s a warrior. I’ve said it before, if you want to mold a fighter and a protector, you’re pretty much drawing up Brock Lesnar. I respect that as an athlete, I respect that as a human, as a man who provides for his family and takes their safety as a number one concern in life. On the other hand, what he’s done to guys in this business and the attitude that he presents and the fact that he’s threatened my family throughout this, when this is all about my family… As much as I love him, you don’t talk about my family. Period. End of story, whether it’s wrestling or not. I knew it was going to happen and I didn’t know my reaction would be when it happened but I do now. It provides for a good fire burning inside you.
It’s been really cool seeing you do the long walk into the ring. What was it emotionally like that first time you did it again?
I’m telling you man, this whole experience is extremely overwhelming. Like I say, I’m pessimistically pessimistic about life, most especially about myself and about my performance and about my ability. I’m very self-deprecating and unfortunately that’s very negative and that’s wears you down, but at the same time it pushes you to perfection.
How did you come up with that entrance? The security around you as you took that long walk to the ring and the fireworks all around you?
It was organic. It was like “the streak.” It just happened. I think it was an idea of a couple of people down at WCW to be different. It wasn’t to protect me, it was to protect people from me. It presented an aura. It added to the myth. It was very appropriate. I’m very appreciative to be the recipient of it.
In the 12 years since you’ve been away, what are the biggest differences you’ve noticed in wrestling, good and bad?
I hadn’t watched the product when I was gone. As far as being there and experiencing it, it seems like a group of very good kids. The one thing that’s completely different and kind of threw me for a loop was the crowd. They turned into a much more interactive component of the matches. Whether it’s negative or positive, they throw their own spin on it and try to kind of take control things because it’s a “look at me” society. “Hey, did you hear Raw that night? I started that chant!” That’s what people are more concerned about than anything, instead of sitting there and enjoying the day, enjoying the entertainment presented in front of them. So that’s probably the biggest difference I’ve seen.
How do you think your Muay Thai training is helping you prepare for this match?
It’s provided me with a whole new set of tools. As far as being applicable to what we’re doing, I don’t know how it’s going to apply. But I can tell you if Brock comes out of the corner in a fighting stance, I won’t be uncomfortable. I’m begging for that to happen. I really am and I know Brock is a beast and I know what he’s done to people in the UFC. I called his first damn professional fight! I was so excited for the guy, I jumped up out of my announcing booth and screamed at the top of my lungs. To envision the fact that 12 years later, I’m sitting here, embarking upon a match with this beast, it’s surreal. It truly is. I think the problem with the Muay Thai is it dropped my weight down to a brutal level. I mean I was like around 240. I’ve got to gain weight in a very short period of time, therefore I can’t do cardio. It’s a really trying time for me but I’m trying to compartmentalize the way I know how. I know how to be Goldberg in this setting. I had a conversation with my family and I told them what I had to do emotionally to turn into that in the past six weeks and they were able to live with that guy. It’s a transformation, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing and it’s real. It truly is real, and it’s very physically and emotionally draining.
What do you do to get into that headspace?
I either listen to music or I concentrate on verbiage, the promo stuff that’s been tossed back and forth. At the end of the day, I’m a defensive lineman. When it’s time to go to work, I bang my head against the wall and I go out like somebody lit my ass on fire. That’s the only way I know how to do it. And a couple people have enjoyed it throughout the years and I’m appreciative of those people and hopefully I can come back and show them a glimpse of what I was before.
What music do you listen to?
Oh, man. Mostly AC/DC and Disturbed to get me in the rain. “Sickness” by Disturbed is pretty up there. It’s varied. I’m very eclectic in my music listening and it just depends on the mood of the moment. It could be anything from rap heavy metal, man.
What kind of music do you listen to that might surprise fans?
Matisyahu. There’s the nice Jewish tie, but that might not surprise them. Snoop’s a good friend of mine. I mean, I don’t know if people would think Goldberg would be listening to Snoop. I listen to it all.
What else can you say about Survivor Series and what it means to you?
At the end of the day, I would be remiss in not saying that 2K17 is responsible for me getting back in the ring. If I wasn’t that downloadable character, then people wouldn’t have been calling for me to do my thing. I had no aspirations of coming back. I really didn’t think it was a possibility. I didn’t think they wanted me. And truly at the end of the day nobody wants to be where they are unwanted. I guess things changed along the way and we’re able to mend fences. It couldn’t be a more wonderful time for me right now. My relationship with Vince McMahon is quite different than it was back in the day. I appreciate that. We’re older now and time’s short. You only live once and let’s go out swinging.
What about WWE 2K17 that lit that spark in you?
My son. If my son can walk into a video game store and see his dad on a stand-up for a video game, it’s a lot better than YouTube. It’s the onus for me coming back.
What’s changed about your relationship with Vince?
I think the games are gone. We look each other in the eye and we speak our minds, and there’s a lot of respect for that. I’m here to do a job and all the extracurricular stuff is not in play anymore. I’m here to give 100 percent and he knows that. Life’s too short, man. I speak my mind and he will always know what’s on my mind.
Do you have any idea what to expect from Sunday, how you’ll feel out there?
No, I really don’t, but I trust in my preparation. I’m as nervous as can be because I’m human. I want to do the right thing by the people, I want to do the right thing by my family, and at the end of the day I’m in there with the most vicious son of a bitch that walks the planet. Am I crazy? Yes. But you live life one time and you got to live it one way. Go hard or go home. And if anything’s good, it’s worth fighting for and I think this is a pretty good cause to fight for.