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MAT CLASSIC: DEBUNKING THE MYTHS OF REGAL VS. GOLDBERG

By Buck Woodward on 2004-04-28 17:00:00

It's weird how "time and talk" can reshape, and in some cases distort, history.  That two pound fish you caught while sitting on your friend's boat in 1989 becomes the shark you had to kill with only a pocket knife when you retell the story in 2004. The concert that was "okay" when you saw it in 1993 became "the greatest performance of all time" when you talked about it last week at a party. In wrestling, this type of talk happens all the time. The "legendary" match that you've heard about for years ends up being a snoozer when you finally track down a tape of it. 

A prime example of the "legend" outshining the match would be the infamous Steven (William) Regal vs. Bill Goldberg match from Nitro on February 18, 1998.  People will talk about how "Regal stretched Goldberg and got fired for it" or how "the match was brutally stiff" and truth be told, the bout hardly seems like a UFC battle broke out on TNT that night. With Goldberg recently leaving WWE, and William Regal returning to television, now seemed like an interesting time to look back at the match, and debunk some myths. 

First, we will look at the match itself, then the aftermath. 

The Background 

There was no real storyline to the bout, as it was simply the red-hot rookie Goldberg, building up his "streak" (they weren't even counting the victories yet) going against the veteran Regal.  Most expected the match to be another "three minutes or less" win for Goldberg.  Regal, overweight and, by his own later admission, in less than good shape personally, was lost in the shuffle of the large WCW roster. 

The Match

Regal made his way to the ring to boos, as the announcers were already putting over Goldberg, as well as discussing the Louie Spicolli-Larry Zbyszko feud from a previous segment. Goldberg had his pyrotechnic entrance, although at this point he hadn't started standing in the middle of the sparks as the fireworks went off. 

The bell rang as the fans chanted Goldberg's name.  Goldberg grabbed a side headlock, but Regal snapmared him to the mat, threw a kick to the back, and as Goldberg rose, threw a pair of European uppercuts. They struggled in a collar and elbow tie up, and Regal went for a three quarter nelson, stepping on the back of Goldberg's leg to try and bring him down to the mat.  Goldberg grabbed an armbar, but Regal reversed it and went into a waistlock.  Goldberg dropped into a leglace and applied an ankle lock, but Regal made the ropes. 

They locked up, and Regal poked Goldberg in the eyes.  Regal hit a pair of forearms, and grabbed at his leg. Goldberg didn't go down, and Regal went for an arm.  Goldberg reversed the hold and applied an armtwist, then cradled Regal to the mat, but they were in the ropes.  Regal kicked Goldberg in the side of the head on the break, the first move that Goldberg sold for (remember, at the time, Goldberg didn't sell anything). 

They circled each other, and Regal hit a knee to the midsection on a lockup.  Regal took Goldberg down with a sidemare and applied a headlock, but Goldberg grabbed a headscissors.  Regal powered out of it and applied a front face lock. Goldberg got out with a pair of knees to the midsection and backed Regal into a corner.  Regal poked Goldberg in the eyes on the break and hit an uppercut.  Regal went for a hiptoss, but Goldberg reversed it into an armdrag.  Goldberg maintained an armbar,  but Regal kicked Goldberg in the head to break it.  

Then the match seemed to slow down, as it looked like there was miscommunication in the ring. Regal reached for Goldberg's leg, tripping him to the mat. Regal grabbed the arm again, but Goldberg moved behind Regal and hit a back suplex.  Regal stopped a Goldberg whip and headbutted Goldberg in the midsection, then hit some forearms.  Regal clipped the leg of Goldberg, and hit a series of knees to the midsection, but Goldberg came back with a sloppy spinning neckbreaker. 

Goldberg shot Regal into the ropes and hit a shoulderblock.  Goldberg hit a forearm in a corner and went for a kick, but Regal blocked it and hit a series of palm strikes to the face, then a headbutt.  Regal went for a whip, but Goldberg reversed it and hit the spear. The crowd came alive again, and Goldberg hit the jackhammer for the pin at the 5:15 mark. 

The Aftermath

Here is a fact: Steven Regal was fired after this match.  Now, everything else depends on who is telling you the story.

Version 1: Regal decided he wanted to make Goldberg look foolish in the match, and as a result was fired either  immediately after the match, or the next day, for his unprofessional behavior.  

Version 2: Goldberg didn't want to take any bumps for Regal, so Regal purposely put Goldberg in holds to make him look weak and didn't give Goldberg the amount of offense he was supposed to get in the match. 

Version 3: Regal refused to be squashed by Goldberg, and insisted on calling all the spots, leading to the miscommunication.

Version 4: Regal was fired for his behavior on a flight several weeks earlier, along with other factors, and the Goldberg match was not the main reason.

What's the truth? Well, in July of 1999, after being rehired by WCW, Regal was on an edition of WCW Live (WCW's Internet talk show) and talked about the Goldberg match.  According to Regal, he and Goldberg were told that they would be having a six minute match.  Goldberg had not worked many matches, and very few that went more than three minutes, so Regal tried to work some holds into the match.  Goldberg didn't know what was going on, and resisted a lot of the moves.  Regal said he didn't blame Goldberg for what happened, and that he was on friendly terms with Bill.  Regal blamed the booker of the match (who he would not name) for putting Goldberg in a situation he wasn't ready for.  However, Regal said he did take the heat for things following the match. As for his firing, Regal took full blame for it, and attributed it to his own personal problems (which he has since defeated).

Thoughts

Was there miscommunication in this match?  Absolutely, and you can tell Goldberg (who it should be pointed out was still very green at this time) didn't know how to "work" a match.  He resisted things like Regal going for a single leg takedown, and seemed tentative on other moves.  Did Regal stretch him?  Nope. Goldberg was never in any hold for more than a few seconds.  Did Regal stiff him? While the kicks and palm strikes could be seen as possibly being stiff, at no point did Goldberg cover up from them. Was Regal trying to show him up?  I don't know.  I tend to think that Regal just didn't want to be squashed for six minutes, so he tried to work a more competitive match, something Goldberg wasn't used to.

So, in my opinion, this simply was a match between a rookie and a veteran with a lot of miscommunication, and is hardly the "shoot" that the legend has turned it into.  In some ways, the miscommunication adds a sense of realism to the bout, but it is hardly the fierce battle that "time and talk" have made it in the memories of some fans.

You can write me at BuckWrestling@aol.com.