The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
Last December, I compared the careers of Randy Orton and Edge, to determine who had the better wrestling career, evaluating everything from title reigns, longevity, in-ring ability, character work, memorable feuds and overall popularity. I chose those two names because they were contemporaries with similar resumes; ultimately determining that Edge had a slightly better career than Orton.
As a follow-up, I decided to compare two other wrestlers, Goldberg and The Ultimate Warrior. Although they were not exactly contemporaries, they had remarkably similar careers. Both men came to wrestling late and were criticized for not having the same kind of enthusiasm for the business for their peers. Both men had relatively short runs of success before fizzling out, although for different reasons, but were big draws at their peak. Both men had their biggest career matches against Hulk Hogan, and in a very small group of performers to have beaten Hogan clean in the US.
So who had the better career? Like with Orton vs Edge, we will be factoring everything into the discussion and hopefully come to a clear answer. I suspect many people will disagree with me, after all there is no way to do this subjectively, but that is what makes it fun.
The Case for The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior drew for a longer period of time than Goldberg. Goldberg's days as a massive draw for WCW lasted from about late 1997, into early 1999 when WCW's popularity began to collapse, so really only a little bit over a year. Warrior, for all of his faults, was a legit drawing card from the start of 1988 through mid-1991, so about three and a half years. At their peaks, Warrior lasted significantly longer.
The appeal of The Ultimate Warrior came from his look and his gimmick, which was originally developed when he was a rookie in Texas working with Gary Hart as the Dingo Warrior, and was later transferred over to the WWF as The Ultimate Warrior.
Warrior was not a natural wrestler and a slow learner in the ring, but he kept getting opportunities as a young wrestler because the territories were drying up and desperate for talent, and he had a bodybuilder's physique. In those days, cartoonish muscles were what people believed got over with fans and Warrior certainly had those. I think today his talent wouldn't translate nearly as well because he was such a poor worker and body guys are not seen as stars the way they used to be, but for his time Warrior was perfect.
As a promo Warrior was...unique. I don't really know if he was good or bad; I personally never cared for them but some people really love them. I will say that his vocabulary and mannerisms were different, so along with his face paint, it helped him stand-out from other wrestlers, most notably Hogan.
While he was Intercontinental Champion, Warrior headlined a lot of house shows for the WWF. Since they ran two or three tours concurrently in those days, Warrior as the Intercontinental Champion headlined tours that did not include Hogan, who was typically on a seperate tour. In those days, the bulk of the revenue came from house shows, and Warrior was a good draw for the WWF. Even though he wasn't the world champion, he still was the key drawing card for many successful house shows.
Warrior's peak would come at WrestleMania VI when he beat Hogan, clean in the middle of the ring, for the world title. That match drew the largest gate in history up until that point in time, a huge feather in the cap of Warrior. Warrior would have a long reign with the world title, longer than any reign Goldberg had and unlike Goldberg, he was often booked as the main attraction as champion.
The Case for Goldberg
Warrior drew for a longer period of time than Goldberg, but at his peak Goldberg was a bigger draw. WCW in 1997 and 1998 was a much bigger entity than the WWF in the early 1990s; Goldberg was a weekly TV star and a genuine crossover attraction. It might not seem like it because of 1980s pop culture is stronger right now than late 1990s pop culture, but Goldberg was a bigger name than Warrior when they were both at their peaks.
Goldberg came to wrestling from football and while he mostly wrestled squash matches like Warrior, by the time he was the world champion and working the main events, he was capable of having good, longer matches. A legit NFL player, Goldberg was a much better natural athlete than Warrior and although injuries and an early retirement ended up stunting his growth as a performer, his ceiling was always a lot higher than Warrior's, who pretty much was always going to be a bad wrestler.
As a talker, Goldberg didn't say much, which was part of his gimmick. That being said, he still managed to get a catchphrase over, "You're next!" and funny enough, when he came back to wrestling in 2016, he actually ended up being a good promo because he came across as being very authentic.
That authenticity really helps Goldberg in this argument. In hindsight, Warrior was very much a cartoon; at the time people obviously liked that but it doesn't age as well. What got Goldberg over was that he felt real; he wasn't some jacked-up juicehead, he had an intimidating but natural physique that made him look like a real athlete (which he was). That look helped him stand-out, he was just a bear of a guy with an incredibly thick neck, bald head and goatee that just screamed badass. He didn't play a character; he was just a no-nonsense guy focused on getting wins, and I think his personality ages a lot better than Warrior's.
I think the big difference between these two very similar careers is how their primes ended. Both guys would wrestle and have some memorable moments after their peaks, but for this exercise I think you really only need to look at their primes.
Once he was champion, the bloom was off the rose for Warrior. Although in the months leading up to his match with Hogan he was cheered and Hogan was booed, in the months after he lost the championship, fans began to lose interest in him. He wasn't a good enough worker and while the fans liked seeing him come out with all that energy and win squash matches, he couldn't work a long match without a lot of help and after he won the world title, the novelty of his act began to grow stale.
Part of the reason for this was that fans had grown tired of seeing a roided-up, indomitable babyface as champion and while Warrior as a character was different than Hogan, there were a lot of similarities between the two. Warrior was the new guy on top but to some fans, he came off as a lesser version of the man he replaced. Despite the fact that Vince McMahon had pushed the hell out of him and groomed him to be Hogan's successor, and Hogan did a clean job for him at WrestleMania, Warrior lost the championship to Sgt. Slaughter in early 1991, and the belt was then put back on Hogan two months later.
Goldberg was different, once he was champion in 1998 he was never booked strongly, unlike Warrior who was always protected by Vince. Even though he was the world champion, he had to play second fiddle often to Hogan and the NWO. He was also the victim of terrible decision making, including suffering his first loss via cattle prod at Starrcade 1998, and then suffering under the blight that was WCW booking in 1999 and 2000. By the time WCW closed down, he had lost an unimaginable amount of momentum, and it really wasn't his fault.
That I think is the difference between Goldberg and Warrior; Warrior lost his drawing power because he wasn't a talented enough performer to last that long as the top guy. Goldberg lost his drawing power through incompetent booking and his company going through bookers, none of whom had a clue how to present his charachter. I think if Goldberg had been pushed throughout 1998 and into 1999 the way Warrior was pushed in 1990; he would have remained a major drawing card and WCW wouldn't have collapsed the way it did. At the end of the day, Goldberg was the more talented performer and that puts him ahead of Warrior even though Warrior was booked better during his prime.
Final Verdict: Goldberg
If you are interested in reading more of these career vs career breakdowns, let me know in the comments section which wrestlers you would like to see compared next.
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