NXT UK champion WALTER talks chopping Adam Cole, losing at Survivor Series, Imperium vs. Undisputed Era and more
Make no mistake about it: NXT UK champion WALTER is very serious about the sport of professional wrestling.
The Austrian born champion is a throwback to wrestlers of years past. There is nothing flamboyant when he walks to the ring wearing a pair of simple black trunks, boots, and a robe to the classical music of Dvorak Symphony No. 9, a distinctive elegance welcoming in the forthcoming violence.
WALTER doesn’t have a chiseled body with a six-pack of abs. What he has is something much scarier; an imposing aura of a giant man who is laser focused on the thrill of competition and dishing out punishment to reach his ultimate goal: earning a victory. Standing in at 6’5″ and weighing over 300 pounds, he overshadows his opponents with his incredible size. There are no flashy moves in his repertoire. WALTER’s biggest weapon is his supersized hands which he uses like mallets in delivering chops to his opponent’s chest that reverberate throughout the building and can be felt as far away as Germany where he makes his home.
Together with Marcel Barthel, Fabian Aichner and Alexander Wolfe they make up Imperium who have one simple mantra: to restore the honor of our sport. On Saturday night, it will be a collision between factions when Imperium squares off against The Undisputed Era — comprised of NXT champion Adam Cole, Roderick Strong, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly — at WWE Worlds Collide airing live on the WWE Network.
Sporting News recently spoke with NXT UK champion WALTER about what this past year with the brand has been like, Imperium, his no-nonsense style and competing at Worlds Collide.
SPORTING NEWS: Yourself and Imperium got into with Undisputed Era at the end of the NXT TV show this week. Did you leave a hole in Adam Cole’s chest after that vicious chop you hit with him?
WALTER: (laughs) I didn’t look at him afterward. I couldn’t really tell but it did its job.
SN: It very much did its job. You are known for your no-nonsense style but also your vicious chops. What makes them so good in the way you do them and connect?
WALTER: I think when it came to the stuff I like to do in the ring, rather than focusing on what was most exciting, I always tried to think logically about it, what makes the most sense for me. I have long limbs and big arms and hands so I thought I should use them. When it comes to the technique itself when I started early in my career, I went to Japan for three months very early and that’s a strike variation that’s used very often in Japan. I trained with it a lot while I was there and when I brought it home, it got a good reaction and I stayed with it.
SN: You joined NXT UK a year ago. What has the experience been like so far for you there?
WALTER: Obviously, good. For myself, I think I could improve as a wrestler since I joined WWE and NXT UK. Although personally, I think I improved because I think being a wrestler on the independent scene, you’re very busy, you travel a lot, you travel different places, and then, you kind of think to yourself “Is that it? Is that the biggest stage already?” Of course, WWE is always a topic but you realize the size of the company and the size of the machine, as they call it, I think you realize it when you’re in it. As an indie wrestler, I always felt I’m on my own, kind of like a traveling athlete in charge of myself, which I still am. But I feel like in WWE and NXT UK it’s like, comparing it to football, it’s like playing football in Munich and I can now fully focus on my performing in the ring and that’s helped me to grow.
SN: Before you agreed to join NXT UK, there was a lot of talk about WWE courting you. What convinced you to join the brand?
WALTER: One of my most important goals in wrestling was to help wrestling in Europe grow. It was always important to me because Europe has a rich history of professional wrestling, especially in Germany and Austria. At the beginning of the 2000s, the sport was gone. There was no existing scene anymore and bring it back in Germany was my big goal. My big deal is that I don’t want to live in America. Living in America is not for me. I enjoy my life at home and I want to stay at my base. I need my balance. At some point, WWE made it possible for me to be a part of their company but still maintain the life I had at home. When that came together, it was finally time for me to join the company. Before that, it wasn’t really possible so I stayed away from it. I think it was important for me to not jump at it right away and make the most of the experience on my own so that I could be as prepared as I could be.
SN: You mentioned your style and your performance before you joined the brand and where you are now. What do you think is the biggest difference in yourself as a performance since you joined NXT UK?
WALTER: That’s a good question because I never really sat down and thought about it. When you look at now and look me from two years ago, I think you can tell there’s a difference, especially in the sense of how confident I am in what I do. When I started doing the things I do now, when we started the whole Imperium thing on the indies before we started the group (in NXT UK), we could experiment to see how people react to it. When I finally joined WWE and had my debut last year in Blackpool, the response was big to it. I think that made me more confident.
SN: Obviously, people are familiar with your work in Europe for years with you being the “Ring General” and your style works so well there. I know you’ve been coming to the United States for the last three or four years. Was there any concern that your style might not connect to an American audience?
WALTER: No, I never had those concerns. I shy away from overthinking those things because I always feel like I can do my best with what I think is right for me. I want to be authentic in what I do and I don’t want to play a role or anything like that. What people see in the ring is what I really am and what I really believe. So, I just focus on going out and giving the best performance every night in the fashion that I do. I always thought that if I do that in an authentic way then the reaction will come. I tried to not think about that too much.
SN: There’s a certain aura around you with your size and your straight-forward style. Add to that your music and its a very simplistic presentation overall. What is that feeling like?
WALTER: When the music hits, there isn’t a lot that goes through my mind anymore because it became more like some sort of a routine where I’m in the mode of stepping in the ring. You just do the things you’ve learned and you get comfortable with. Some wrestlers want to be funny or they are portrayed as goofy characters, stuff like that. When I step in the ring, I take it seriously. Wrestling is serious with me. It’s personal because I have a certain passion for it in a competitive way. I think that’s what wrestling should be and that’s the message I want to deliver to the people. I think that develops an aura.
SN: How exactly did Imperium come together with Fabian, Marcel and Alexander? How much input did you have in putting the group together?
WALTER: We had a group called Ringkampf when we were still in Germany. That group was myself, Marcel, and Timothy Thatcher. The whole idea behind it was inspired by traditional tournament wrestling in Germany and Austria. And Marcel’s father was one of the most successful German wrestlers of those tournaments. In my hometown of Vienna, my parents always went to those tournaments to watch it. They’ve known about Marcel’s father as the great wrestler that he was. He was a known name. So we were influenced a lot by Marcel’s father. He was still around and influenced us in his older age when he was still alive. Then Marcel got signed and, on the side, we all created a merchandise brand called Ringkampf and Alexander Wolfe was a part of that, too. He was the first one to leave for America. When they both left, I went on and did my own thing and I teamed with Timothy Thatcher a little bit. As soon as I signed with WWE, I said right away that I want to be with Marcel again because he never changed.
When he signed, he worked his way up in NXT and at the Performance Center. He always stayed true to the thing we had going. Even before I signed in the years before, he told me about Fabian and becoming his partner and what a hard worker Fabian is. It was very fitting. Even before I signed, we talked about how good it would have been to have Fabian in the group two years ago. So when I came in, right away I said I want to be with those guys. Then when things for Alexander Wolfe went a different direction than we expected, it was a logic step too. I’m very happy it all came together again.
SN: One thing that has stood out so many times in your career is the awesome dynamic you have with smaller opponents and the traditional big man vs. small man match. One that really comes to mind is Tyler Bate including the match the two of your recently had at TakeOver: Cardiff last year. Now you have Worlds Collide on Saturday where you’ll be opposite four talented guys but ones that are smaller than you. Why do you think that dynamic has worked so well for you?
WALTER: First of all, I think the story of the bigger guy against the smaller guy is one that isn’t the whole story. But maybe it is the most effective one because everyone wants to see somebody overcome a bigger challenge. It’s exciting to see if he’s able to overcome it. It’s a little like the Rocky story, which, I think, is still the most effective and most dramatic. That’s what wrestling is to me — it’s dramatic competition. I realized on our buildup to our match on Saturday with Undisputed Era that there are so many emotions for the fans involved already because it’s two different brands. There might be a lot of people that supported Undisputed Era over the years but then started watching NXT UK. And then maybe those fans started also supporting Imperium and you have clashes of those two groups. The fans could be torn. They have to choose a side and I think that’s a very exciting matchup when it comes to that.
When it comes to talent in there, wrestling all of Undisputed Era guys over the last I don’t know how many years, they’re all top-notch wrestlers. They’re all in the top, elite league of professional wrestling right now and that counts for my guys too. I think it’s going to be a very competitive but also very exciting match for the fans.
SN: Worlds Collide is Saturday and the Royal Rumble is Sunday. Any thoughts on possibly being a part of the Rumble match?
WALTER: Yeah, even though I’d like to give an answer now, I couldn’t because I don’t know if there is a chance or a possibility. If I was offered to do it, I’d definitely be up for it.
SN: You were a part of last November’s Survivor Series and you were part of the five-man team match between RAW, SmackDown, and NXT. A lot of people were surprised at how quickly you were eliminated in that match. What were your impressions of being a part of that match and the show overall?
WALTER: That’s a question I’ve talked about a lot recently and I’m going to answer it honestly because I think it was a mistake to actually be in that situation. Professional wrestling, for me, is a competitive contest; 1-on-1, maybe a tag team match, maybe a six-man or eight-man tag. That’s professional wrestling to me. But when it comes to a big mixup when its three teams, each five wrestlers, there’s always three guys in the ring. That’s when wrestling, to me, turns into an action show or something like that. That’s not professional wrestling the way I would prefer it. I got caught up in a brand war that I had zero interest in because my biggest interest is in myself and Imperium and the group we have going and the message we want to deliver. We all learn from our mistakes and I will learn from that.
SN: Not too long ago, someone broke into your rental car in Chicago and stole the UK championship. Was that ever recovered?
WALTER: No, I don’t think so. All the news I was reading is that it sounded like somebody specifically stole the title and this wasn’t the case. I had my luggage in there and I was about to go on a two-week tour. It was just the second day of it and I had my luggage in there with my personal items. We just went to grab food before a show and 15 minutes later, everything was gone. (laughs)
SN: That’s not something you can really sell on eBay.
WALTER: I bet the person who took it was very surprised about the stuff that was in that suitcase. I wonder what he’s doing with that now. He might have a good costume for Halloween.
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