While his career in the world of professional wrestling only spanned a total of five years, the man known simply as Goldberg became a certified icon during pro wrestling's legendary Monday Night War. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native (who now resides in Bonsall, California) first gained fame for an unprecedented undefeated streak, racking up 173 wins without a single loss. He's a two-time world heavyweight champion, holding the title once during his time in World Championship Wrestling and once more during his year spent in the WWE. During his height, his fame rivaled the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock, and while his short run in the WWE didn't live up to his time in WCW, he was an undeniable force within the sport.
After retiring from pro wrestling in 2004, he spent his time training in MMA, Muay Thai, starring in television shows like Garage Mahal, and even started his own podcast. There was always talk of him returning to the squared circle, but the stars didn't align until earlier this year, when 2K Sports and the WWE announced that Goldberg would be a playable character in WWE 2K17, which was released for all video game consoles in October of 2016. Like Sting and The Ultimate Warrior before him, this signaled Goldberg reappearing on WWE television, calling out the Beast Brock Lesnar in a build-up to what is set to be one of the biggest matches of 2016. This is a match fans have been waiting 12 years for, and it goes down on the WWE Network this Sunday during Survivor Series, which kicks off at a special start time of 7 p.m. ET.
During a recent visit to Complex offices (which included a genius recreation of Goldberg's memorable ring entrance), we got a chance to speak with The Man, The Myth, and The Icon himself. Coming down from the high of his first confrontation with Brock in 12 years the previous night, Goldberg opened up with thoughts about the current WWE landscape, his previous run in the WWE, and his thoughts on his future in the squared circle.
Its been 12 years since you've stepped in a WWE ring. What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve experienced going back into the WWE today?
My body’s reaction. It’s just all overwhelming, physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s a completely different story. Every aspect of it, to try to prepare to be the Goldberg that everybody remembers in a six-week period of time. It’s just been very overwhelming, man.
I’m not comfortable with a microphone in my hand, ever. But Paul Heyman is pretty easy to feed off of. He’s the best at what he does.
You've been doing a lot of Muay Thai, though, right?
Yeah, but I wasn’t doing any wrestling. That’s completely different. Even though it was applicable, in its way, it’s a completely different animal. I was down to 240 while doing Muay Thai, and that’s based on cardio, how limber you are, you know? I had to gain a lot of weight back just to be that guy again. That’s tough on your body, it’s tough on your mind; I was eating 8-10 meals a day, like 15,000 calories It’s tough.
The reward's gotta be big, though.
Well, if the reward wasn’t big, then I wouldn’t be putting myself through what I’m putting myself through. The reward is not personal for me, well it is personal for me in that I can look at my family, see the enjoyment on their face. That’s the reward, and for me there’s nothing more valuable than that, and nothing more worthy of fighting for than that.
Were you surprised at how big the reaction was when you first returned?
Absolutely. I mean I assumed that nobody’s going to appreciate anything that I’ve ever did. Very flattered, and touched, and humbled. Very appreciative of the people for not forgetting.
I'd read an interview where you said that you stunk at promos back in the day. It was great to see that your promo when you returned was so well-received. Was that something that you worked on specifically before your return?
Different scene, different setting, different day, different time. They gave me the ability to be myself now.
But being myself is no different than being Goldberg. I am Goldberg. I’m just one facet of myself. To be able to show the entire package and to show the range and to show vulnerability and humbleness, yet at the same time have the confidence to rip anybody's face off their head. I think that’s a very valuable character, and it shows range. I’m not comfortable with a microphone in my hand, ever. But Paul Heyman is pretty easy to feed off of. He’s the best at what he does.
Had you been keeping up with what’s going on in the WWE at all? Are there any stars that you think might be able to carry the torch?
I really don’t know. I haven’t been around long enough to give it a good opinion. AJ Styles is a heck of a kid. Roman Reigns is a heck of a kid. There’s a lot of people with a lot of talent there, and I really don’t know because I haven’t been there long enough to pass proper judgment. They need intensity, that’s for sure. They need some realism. I think that’s why I was well received.
It doesn’t get more intense or real than Goldberg vs. Lesnar this Sunday. It’s going to be massive. What can fans expect from that battle specifically?
A lot of violence. [Laughs.] A lot of violence. A lot of punches, a lot of kicks and a lot of suplexes, a Spear, and a Jackhammer.
There you go. Will you be working in your Muay Thai and MMA training into the match?
I’m going to try. Where it is applicable, I’m going to try, but at the end of the day, it’s still professional wrestling. People want to see professional wrestling, they didn’t tune in to see a Muay Thai match.
But to be able to bring different skills to the plate and kind of expand your repertoire, and come in with a different style, very applicable to what Brock does, I think it’s a perfect scenario.
This is your first match after a 12-year layoff. Are you thinking about the future of your career?
I think about everything day-by-day. I think about how many meals I have to eat today, I think about how many times I have to train today and how much time I don’t have to do any of it.
Your return has also been tied to the release of WWE 2K17. I know you have a child, have you played the game?
Yeah, absolutely. If it wasn’t for the video game, I wouldn’t be here. It’s a dream come true to be able to be in like a GameStop, have your son be so enamored with video games and then you walk in, and there you are. It’s really cool.
Is it cool to actually get out there and have them record your movements and everything?
I wouldn’t say it’s really cool, it’s more of an arduous, laborious task. That’s part of the Hollywood people don’t see. The first time you do it, it’s really cool. The second time you do it, it’s like “okay, when is this going to be over with?” But at the end of the day, I owe it all to 2K; WWE 2K17 is the complete reason why I was considered to come back. And without, I don’t know if they would have even considered it. Everything happens for a reason.
Speaking of everything happening for a reason, do you ever wish that your previous run with the WWE was different than what it turned out to be?
We always wish for things to be different. Let’s look at the brass tacks of it. I had the opportunity to work at the WWE as one of their superstars. How bad could it have been? Would I have liked for it to be a little different? Absolutely. Would I have liked to not have a wig on two weeks into the deal and then change my music and have everyone and their mother [use the] Spear? Absolutely. But if my aunt had balls, she would be my uncle. You can’t always have things your way, man. You have to adapt and overcome like the military, the true heroes of the world.
Definitely, and I guess it’s good that you actually have this time to come back and right some of those wrongs.
Well, I mean, yeah. I mean a little bit. But in all honesty, I ain’t got nothing to make up for, dude. I’m not ashamed of anything that I did. I’m not. I’m not ashamed of the WrestleMania match, I’m not ashamed of anything. We were in the wrong time in the wrong place. We had admirable things that we were both leaving for, and it was a situation where there was no winner there. But at the end of the day, man, I wouldn’t change anything.
What else does Goldberg get into outside of the ring?
I drive the sh** out of cars. I love driving. I collect cars, my wife’s a stuntwoman. At the end of the day, we’re a normal family, man. We live on some acreage out in California, and I cut trees down. We’re an active participation family. I make my son’s lunch. Pick him up at school every once and awhile. It’s what we do. It’s what parents do. I’m a real dad, man. She’s a real mom, and she’s the best. She’s the best wife I could ever ask for.