It’s the end of 2016 and fans of World Wrestling Entertainment are already looking ahead to the new year with thoughts of the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 33 dancing in their heads. Two of the names fans are thinking about the most are Goldberg, who turns 50 years old on Dec. 27, and The Undertaker, who is 51.

In a company that is supposed to be trying to find the next Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin or The Rock, it appears the two men that have made the most noise in WWE in the last month are part-timers who only have a few matches left in their bodies.

Today’s column will take a look at two grizzled veterans who will wrestle a few more times in order to help Raw and Smackdown win back some fans that may want to check out what their old favorites are doing these days.

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Goldberg’s Return Has Just Begun

When I think back to everything that has happened in WWE this year, it’s the return of Goldberg that stands out as something I absolutely didn’t see coming.

In the summer leading up to Survivor Series, it was revealed that Goldberg would be available in the WWE 2K17 video game as a pre-order character. It’s the first time in 12 years that he was involved with WWE in any way after doing countless interviews over the last decade where he was critical towards Triple H, and sometimes Vince McMahon, about how he didn’t like his one-year WWE run in 2003-04.

In the past few years, estranged wrestlers appearing in the video game have led to on-screen appearances. The Ultimate Warrior appeared in the 2013 video game, which was his first time working with WWE since leaving in 1996. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014 and sadly died two days later. Later in 2014, Sting was the pre-order performer that led to his WWE debut at Survivor Series 2014, his first WrestleMania match against Triple H in 2015 and the Hall of Fame induction earlier this year.

Goldberg was honest in talking about why he wanted to come back to WWE. He has a 10-year-old son that never got to see him wrestle, so he wanted to do it for him and because he considered himself a role model for kids. They used that real-life reason in the story with Brock Lesnar telling Goldberg’s son to not watch and Paul Heyman suggesting that Goldberg’s son will call Lesnar “daddy” after the Survivor Series match was over. I like that Lesnar was back to being a heel after the “Suplex City” thing turned him face in the last two years.

Then Survivor Series happened. It was one of the most shocking match results in the history of WWE. Goldberg shoved Lesnar down after he was shoved into a corner, hit two huge Spears on Lesnar and then finished off Lesnar with a huge Jackhammer. The match was over in 86 seconds.

I was at Survivor Series and the best way I can describe the reaction from being there was complete shock. The only thing I can compare it to was WrestleMania 30 when Lesnar beat Undertaker to end The Streak. The differences with those situations is that there were fewer people at Survivor Series (about 15,000 compared to 60,000), but there was still the same sort of reaction where you look at the people sitting around you while making that “what just happened?” face. Another difference is that a lot of people cheered this because it was the face (Goldberg) beating the heel (Lesnar) instead of the other way around.

There were also some people that left Survivor Series angry. I heard some loud “bulls**t” chants to the tune of Goldberg chants because WWE fans aren’t used to main event matches going less than 10 minutes. If you pay for a four-hour pay-per-view, then that’s what you hope to get. Instead, we got a 3.5-hour show that left us wanting more. It didn’t bother me that much, but I can see why it upset people.

The next night on Raw, Goldberg announced that he will be a part of the 2017 Royal Rumble match on Jan. 29 at the Alamadome in San Antonio. The expectation is that WWE will sell about 50,000 tickets to the event or possibly more than that. Goldberg’s presence, as well as other veterans who could have a role, is likely going to help ticket sales.

In a post-Survivor Series interview with ESPN, Goldberg spoke about the Royal Rumble without even talking about WrestleMania:

“I’m only as good as my next appearance and my next match. I’m concentrating on the Royal Rumble and that’s it. I don’t have any plans of doing anything afterwards. My focus is on the 29 other men that I’m going to have to crucify to win that damn match.”

If you think he’s only wrestling at the Royal Rumble without wrestling at WrestleMania, then you probably haven’t watched WWE enough. As any WWE fan knows, if you win the Rumble, then you go on to face the WWE (or Universal, in this case) World Champion at WrestleMania.

Will Goldberg win the Rumble? I doubt it. It’s expected that Brock Lesnar will also be in the Rumble match, so the popular theory is that Goldberg would eliminate Lesnar in that match, which would lead to Lesnar going back in the ring to attack Goldberg. That would lead to Goldberg’s elimination and a Survivor Series rematch at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando.

If they do another Lesnar vs. Goldberg match at WrestleMania, they’ll probably go 10-15 minutes. I’ll likely pick Lesnar to win that match, just like I picked him at Survivor Series. He’s younger and will be around more, but that’s the theory that a lot of us went into Survivor Series and ended up predicting their match wrong.

Based on ratings being up when Goldberg appeared on Raw four times in the last month and all the cheers from the crowd, it’s obvious that Goldberg’s return was a smart move. Fans are interested in seeing what he might do next even though they have to wait until 2017 when he appears on Raw again.

The Undertaker As WWE World Champion Again?

The last match The Undertaker had was at WrestleMania 32, when he defeated Shane McMahon. It was a memorable match because Shane missed an elbow drop off the Hell in a Cell because Undertaker moved. It led to an Undertaker victory, thanks to the Tombstone Piledriver that he’s won hundreds of matches with.

On the 900th episode of Smackdown Live on Nov. 15, WWE hyped up The Undertaker’s return without saying what he would do. He showed up at the end of the show to tell the Smackdown team that if somebody costs the team a victory at Survivor Series, then they had to answer to him. He also made it clear that WrestleMania won’t define him, which was his way of telling us he’ll probably have some other matches leading into the biggest show of the year.

In the men’s elimination match at Survivor Series, Smackdown Live ended up as the winners with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton as the last two survivors on the team. That means that nobody has to answer to The Undertaker, even though Dean Ambrose played a major part in teammate AJ Styles’ elimination. It was Ambrose that helped Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins put Styles through a table in a momentary Shield reunion.

Where does all this leave Undertaker? In this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter (available via subscription at wrestlingobserver.com), Dave Meltzer wrote that there has been “legit talk” about doing Undertaker vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Title at the Royal Rumble, although it’s not a done deal yet. He also added that it could be difficult to do because Undertaker had a recent hip surgery, but there is hope that he will be ready by the end of January. It is two months away, after all.

A reason why that WWE World Title match may happen is because of the rumors of Undertaker facing John Cena at WrestleMania 33. That was going to be the match at Wrestlemania 32, but Cena was out with a shoulder injury, so Vince called on his son Shane to do the honors and put over Undertaker at the biggest show of the year.

It’s also possible that The Undertaker could win the WWE World Title from Styles and then face Cena, who could earn the shot with another Royal Rumble win. (He’s won it twice before.) The intrigue in doing Undertaker vs. Cena for the WWE Title is that they haven’t faced off at a WrestleMania before and it would be Cena going for the record-tying 16th WWE World Title reign. Ric Flair has the record World Title reign at this point, although only two of those titles were won in WWE. It’s still something that WWE pushes a lot.

I’m a huge fan of Undertaker and I don’t mind seeing him wrestle a few more matches at age 51 if he feels like he’s capable. The reactions he gets are still huge. The fans are always going to respect him as arguably the biggest legend in the history of WWE. However, I don’t think a WrestleMania match with Cena needs a title to make it feel like a big deal.

Styles has been the best performer in WWE this year and I hope he gets to hold the World Title going into WrestleMania. That doesn’t mean that WWE will see it that way.

Is it possible that Undertaker will win the WWE Title from Styles? Absolutely. The Royal Rumble is being held in a dome where they want to try to sell as many tickets as possible. Seeing The Undertaker win the WWE World Title one more time would be an incredible moment because most fans didn’t expect that to ever happen again. It would generate a lot of buzz on social media and a loud reaction from the fans in the stadium.

I think WWE will do Styles vs. Undertaker at Royal Rumble, but I don’t see a title change happening. Keep it on Styles, who may face Cena at WrestleMania since they have had a long-term rivalry with Cena unable to beat him. If WWE wants to do Undertaker vs. Cena, then they can easily set that up without the WWE World Title being involved.

Is WWE Relying On Past Stars Too Much?

That’s the question that I tend to ask myself as we head into WrestleMania season. In the case of both Goldberg and Undertaker, I really don’t have a problem with either man playing a big role in major shows next year.

Goldberg’s presence has helped Raw every time he’s been on the show. Fans chant “Goldberg” for him as loud as they ever have and he feeds off that energy so well. He didn’t even take a bump at Survivor Series, yet was able to fire up 15,000 people easily, thanks to three simple moves and an intensity that nobody in wrestling history can match.

The Undertaker is somebody that most WWE fans have grown up with. Whether he scared you at a live event like he did to me in 1991 or you only started in the 2000s, you probably have fond memories of the man. It’s easy to say he’s old and they shouldn’t put a WWE World Title on him in 2017, but if it’s going to get a big reaction from the crowd, then it’s worth doing.

The reliance on stars from the past isn’t going to hurt the likes of Styles, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and others, as long as those other characters have compelling storylines at those same shows. It’s fine to use older stars, but not at the expense of others. If WWE can do that, I don’t think fans should be whining about Goldberg or Undertaker taking up too much TV time.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.