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Taube: Turning back the clock in pro wrestling with Bill Goldberg

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Wrestler Bill Goldberg visit USS Ronald Reagan in May 2005. (Wikimedia Commons/Adam Rickert/Public Domain)

On Feb. 27, Bill Goldberg pinned “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in slightly over three minutes to win the WWE Universal Championship at the Super Showdown in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

We all know professional wrestling isn’t real, and the matches are scripted. However, there were some interesting takeaways.

Goldberg is 53 years old and a part-time wrestler. He became the first WWE star to pin Wyatt as “The Fiend,” one of its most popular characters in 2019.

The most notable part of this story? A Jewish wrestler won a title in Saudi Arabia, and was cheered by Arab and Middle Eastern fans in the audience.

Yes, there have been pro wrestlers with Jewish ancestry/lineage before Goldberg. This includes Martin Levy, Harry Finkelstein and Abe “Hebrew Hercules” Coleman – and modern competitors like Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Dean Malenko and Barry Horowitz.

But in Goldberg’s case, Judaism has real meaning to him.

He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1966. His father was an obstetrician, and his mother a classical violinist. He had his bar mitzvah at Temple Israel, which is Tulsa’s oldest synagogue – and its only Reform shul. He won’t wrestle on Yom Kippur, and considered wearing a Star of David on his wrestling trunks. He once told Blake Eskin of The Forward in June 2018 that when it comes to anti-Semitism, a wrestling promotion “pays us a lot to wrestle, but they don’t pay us to listen to that.”

Nevertheless, Goldberg hasn’t led a stereotypical Jewish life.

He attended the University of Georgia (he’s “three classes short” of a psychology degree, according to a Dec. 1998 interview with IGN’s Matt Casamassina) and excelled at college football. He was a defensive tackle for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons between 1992-1994, but his career was cut short due to injuries.

He shifted to pro wrestling in 1996, and started off at World Championship Wrestling with a 173-0 record. That’s the story, anyway. An accurate tally was never kept by WCW, and they reportedly inflated it at will. Goldberg even lost a non-televised dark match to Chad Fortune in July 1997, less than two months before his televised debut and the beginning of “The Streak.”

He became a two-time WCW United States Heavyweight Champion, held the WCW World Tag Team Championship with Canada’s Bret Hart, and cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan on July 6, 1998 to win the WCW World Heavyweight Title.

He eventually joined World Wrestling Entertainment, and won its World Heavyweight Championship over Triple H on Sept. 21, 2003. He held that belt for about two months. This year-long run wasn’t very successful, and Goldberg acknowledged his attitude was part of the problem. When he pinned Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XX in 2004, the final match for both men, they were booed from start to finish.

His second and third WWE runs have been far more well-received. He’s older, wiser – and wanted to be a “super-hero for the kids” and compete in front of his son, Gage.

He crushed Lesnar in his November 2016 comeback match at Survivor Series in Toronto. He beat Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal title on March 5, 2017, and lost the belt to Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33 on April 2.

The two-time Universal champion will now face off against former world champion Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 36 on April 5. It’s a dream match of two wrestlers from different time periods with similar styles, holds and signature moves.

Wrestling fans from all walks of life will chant his distinctive, Jewish-sounding name, like they’ve done for most of his career. Not a soul will blink when it occurs, and the only scowls will come from people rooting for Reigns.

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Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist, Washington Times contributor and TV/radio pundit, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.