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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #8: Goldberg vs. Diamond Dallas Page
[A long time ago in a War Rig far, far away, a young War Boy named 'Plan wrote an excellent column series called 101 WWE Matches to See Before You Die. It was perfect, so perfect that it's now a book you can buy on Amazon! There was just one problem; it only focused on WWE matches! Thus, as a fellow War Boy, I've taken it upon myself to take a look at the other stuff, compiling a list of 201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die. This right here is entry #8. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
While reading a review of Green Day’s classic album American Idiot years ago I came across an interesting quote that summed up the band’s move away from the classic punk sound to a more mature style, “punk is about the journey, not the destination”. It’s a quote that sticks with me because, even more so than punk rock, it applies to so many things. Professional wrestling is undoubtedly one of those things. Too often we find ourselves caught up with the destination, the finale that we forget about the journey. For what is the destination without the journey? A great match can happen without a great storyline no doubt, but a great storyline without question helps make a match greater. Even better is when the storyline features elements so caked in reality.
Such was the case on October 26th, 1998 when WCW’s Halloween Havoc was headlined by one of the most intriguing World Heavyweight Championship matches in history. The champion was one Bill Goldberg, a 32 year old former NFL player who had rose to the heights of wrestling superstardom thanks to an all time look, one of the two greatest streaks in wrestling history, an unspeakable level of mystique and a spear/jackhammer finishing combination that remains one of the best one two punches in pro wrestling history. Goldberg may not have been Bret Hart or Ric Flair in the ring, but he was as memorable as anyone could be at the time, a true diamond in the rough. And yet, he was nothing compared to Diamond Dallas Page. A former nightclub owner turned wrestling manager in the mid 80s, Page broke in as a wrestler at the age of 35 in 1991 with little to no prospects of ever being more than a mid carder. Through hard work and guidance from some of the all time greats, Page proved everyone wrong and became one of the most popular performers WCW had during the Monday Night War, in large part thanks to an amazing, underrated feud with the legendary “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The success of both men made it inevitable that they’d square off, and though a clear underdog DDP represented one of the first real threats to ending Goldberg’s massive undefeated streak. After all, he had the drive, the determination and the Diamond Cutter, one of the greatest finishing moves of all time, in his back pocket.
It comes as no surprise that the match between these two would begin by essaying their respective themes. Goldberg is a monster, an all powerful locomotive that tosses and tackles Page with ease; almost with a sense of boredom that this will be another cake walk in a long line of cake walks (this is incredibly apparent when Goldberg avoids a sweep takedown by doing a pretty impressive back flip). But Page, a man who has come too far just to become another one of Goldberg’s victims, bounces up each time and charges forward as if each new burst of energy will finally be the one to take Goldberg down. Around the five minute mark however, it becomes apparent that Page’s scratching, clawing, quick strike approach to the bout won’t be enough to end the streak, certainly not with Goldberg laying in an all out assault of power. Determination, heart and guts won’t be enough; in order to even have a chance of winning Page needed Goldberg to make a devastating mistake.
A little after six minutes Page finally gets it. A thrilling sequence sees Page catch Goldberg with a head scissors takedown, only to for Goldberg to immediately rise up and superkick Page into the corner. Smelling blood, Goldberg charges towards Page with Flash like speed, as if he wishes to spear Page to the ends of the earth. At the last second Page moves out of the way, leading to man and steel colliding as Goldberg’s arm rams into the steel post. Suddenly the game has changed; the all powerful champion is now wounded, his ability to absorb attacks gone, his recovery time splintered in half and his ability to hit his two big moves (both which require the strength of his shoulders) now very much in doubt. Page takes quick advantage with a top rope clothesline, and even though Goldberg is able to kick out it’s quite clear that this isn’t the same dominant man of just a few minutes ago. For the first time, Page has a chance.
This becomes more apparent even as Goldberg takes the advantage. After a float over DDT, Page signals for the end with a Diamond Cutter, unaware that Goldberg has risen to his feet and is poised to charge. Finally the champion hits his spear and a rager of one at that; only it’s just as devastating to Goldberg as it is to Page, as Goldberg’s shoulder collides directly into Page’s sternum and his head spikes off the mat like a basketball. The quick turnaround into the Jackhammer doesn’t come as Goldberg lies on the mat in agony, giving Page time to recover. Finally, Goldberg gets up, positions Page for the Jackhammer and attempts to lift him. Only he can’t. For the first time ever, Goldberg, the man who has been able to hit the Jackhammer on all shapes and sizes, cannot lift his opponent up to finish him off. The crowd gasps; the announcers Tony Schiavone, Mike Tenay and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan (all performing outstandingly during this match may I add) sit in disbelief at the sudden fall of WCW’s most dominant star. As everyone is regaining their bearings it appears Goldberg has righted the world again, as he shakes his head and snarls in triumph, ready to finish Page off for good this time. He picks Page up…and magic happens.
Finally be able to put his “never say die” spirit to good use, Page floats over again and is able to catch Goldberg in one of the greatest Diamond Cutters ever cut. The MGM Grand explodes in ecstasy, a roar that doesn’t subside even as both Page and Goldberg writhe in pain on the mat. Page eventually manages to muster enough energy to begin that long slow crawl over towards the champion and for the first time since Sting had Goldberg in the Scorpion Death Lock a few months back on Nitro, the streak and the title are in very real jeopardy. Is it going to happen? Is the streak over? In a moment that perfectly captures Page’s desperation; he merely drapes himself over Goldberg instead of hooking the leg. It’s a fatal mistake, as Goldberg kicks out at two, proving that even the action of getting his shoulders off the mat must be done with the strength of a lion.
Perhaps it’s in that very moment that everyone realizes that Page, valiantly as he’s fought, is now truly out of bullets aside from attempting the Diamond Cutter over and over again. But instead of going to that well Page decides to revert to his strategy towards the beginning of the match; that of a man throwing everything he can at Goldberg and hoping it’ll work. It doesn’t; an attempted Suplex by Page is quickly reversed into a violent, point proving Jackhammer by the champion. In the span of a minute, Page’s hopes were extinguished and Goldberg has his three count. Oh the champion is hurt; perhaps more than he’s ever been, but the title is still his and that streak is still alive. All that was left was a handshake and a sign of respect from two gladiators to solidify this match as an all time classic.
As it would turn out, Goldberg vs. DDP served as not just a great match but the lone bright spot on an otherwise disappointing evening. Despite their match, Halloween Havoc 1998 is largely remembered for the twofold disaster that was Hollywood Hogan-Warrior (the worst wrestling performance ever held in front of a live audience I’d reckon) and the PPV feed going off before the main event, leading to several thousand people watching at home missing the championship match (the reason WCW ran out of time by the way; because Hogan and Warrior went too long. As if you needed more reasons to hate that match). Thus Goldberg vs. Diamond Dallas Page was for a time just another symbol of WCW shooting itself in the foot and money lost (refunds were given out and the match was shown for free on Nitro the next night). Here’s the thing about greatness though; it always, always finds a way to shine through, and this match was no exception. Today it’s considered to be one of the best matches of the Nitro era and Page is credited by many fans for putting together the best match Goldberg would have in his entire career. It would appear that in this case time truly did heel all wounds.
That’s ironic considering how important time was for this match. The match I described to you wasn’t a fifteen to twenty five minute epic; it was in fact a mere ten and a half minutes, closer to the length of a Nitro main event than a PPV. And yet in those ten and a half minutes, Goldberg and Page created one of the most fascinating journeys a wrestling match can have; a story about streaks, titles, hard work and going above and beyond what you thought were capable of. It was in many ways a reflection of DDP himself, proof of anything being possible from a man who defined every label that was ever given to him. And really that’s what elevates this match. Certainly we’d still look fondly back on this match even if Goldberg and Page were just two random guys having a title fight, but the journey of both men leading into this fight, the odds they overcame, and the mystique they built provided the foundation for the greatness they delivered. It’s why in the end the destination, the grand finale didn’t matter. Both Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page won that night. By taking that journey with them, so did all of us.
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