Earlier this month, WALTER officially surpassed Pete Dunne as the longest-reigning NXT UK Champion of all-time, and one of the longest-reigning champions of any kind in WWE’s history. When you take one look at the Austrian behemoth, it isn’t hard to see how he’s remained undefeated for so long.
He’s dominated the NXT UK scene and set back every challenge put in front of him. The list of people he’s beaten to retain his title is long, and it might be even longer following WrestleMania weekend, where he’ll be defending the gold not once but twice.
First, he’ll have to overcome former NXT champion Tommaso Ciampa on Night One of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver. The next night on NXT UK Prelude, he’ll have his hands full with fellow undefeated NXT UK star Rampage Brown.
In this exclusive interview with Daily DDT, WALTER took the time to discuss his upcoming championship clashes, recently returning to NXT, his instant classic with Ilja Dragunov from NXT UK last year, who he’d like to face at some point, and more.
WALTER looks forward to facing Tommaso Ciampa and Rampage Brown over WrestleMania weekend
WALTER is no stranger to having multiple matches over WrestleMania weekend. Before joining WWE at the onset of 2019, he made a name for himself on the independent scene and competed all over the world, most notably in Europe.
Every WrestleMania weekend, he’d have a handful of matches over the span of a few days, so taking on two challengers to his championship this year during WrestleMania weekend will actually be a breeze for him.
“It’s not the same,” he said. “Before as an indie wrestler, doing all the shows WrestleMania weekend, we would end up doing like eight matches or seven matches in three or four days, so it’s a little bit more relaxed now. In WWE, it’s very different as well.”
Despite the many years they spent on the independent scene together, WALTER and Ciampa have never faced off one-on-one before, at least not until TakeOver next Wednesday. He’s been waiting for this match for a long time as their clash of styles is sure to make for a hard-hitting affair.
“Tommaso, before his WWE career, wasn’t in Germany a lot and we never got the chance to wrestle each other,” WALTER said. “I’m looking forward to it. I think he’s a very physical and intense wrestler, which goes well along with what I do. My favorite matches are when I know it’s going to be a struggle and I know it’s going to be intense and physical, so that’s what I’m looking forward to. I think it’s going to be very exciting for everyone to follow along and watch.”
Rampage Brown is a whole other kind of threat to WALTER. From Dave Mastiff to Joe Coffey, he’s plowed through everyone he’s shared a ring with in NXT UK and set his sights on the NXT UK Championship not too long ago.
WALTER is ready for the challenge, potentially his biggest yet, but obviously sees himself walking away with the win, per usual.
“I think it’s going to be different because they’re both very different wrestlers,” he said. “Rampage is heavier than Tommaso, so he’s going to be able to lift me without any issues and throw me around a little bit I would say. Tommaso is more of a brawler I would think and more striking-based. I think they’re going to be two very different matches but exciting in their own fashion.”
WALTER reflects on his WWE journey and returning to NXT after a year away
WALTER was one of the few independent wrestlers many fans thought would never join WWE because of his desire to stay stationed in Germany. That changed when WWE launched its NXT UK brand in late 2018 and brought him in soon after.
He’s enjoyed his time there thus far and, much like in football, he knew it would make sense to get to the biggest promotion in the business eventually if he wanted to achieve as much success as possible.
“We really have the best circumstances here to really focus on our performances and what we do in the ring,” WALTER said, comparing it to his career pre-WWE. “Before as an independent wrestler, you were in charge of everything. You have to take care of everything: your travel, hospitalization, and stuff like that. You have to manage that on your own and be in charge of that. They’re taking great care of us and now I can fully focus on what I do in the ring and getting the best out of it.”
The pandemic prevented him from appearing on NXT for over a year. He’s maintained a presence over in NXT UK for as long as that brand has been back up and running, but he was just catching fire in NXT at the time the travel ban was put in place.
Now that they’ve reunited and are stronger than ever, Imperium is ready to rule the NXT scene all over again.
“It’s great to finally be back,” he said. “It’s hard to really experience it because there’s almost no audience in the venue. There’s a small amount of audience in the Capitol Wrestling Center to enjoy the shows, but it’s still very different from what it was before. Overall, as a group Imperium, which just started to really get going, and then we got interrupted by the pandemic, it’s great to be back and catch up on it again and go forward as a group.
“It was hard to tell when there’d be the chance to come back,” he continued. “There’s so many things you have to look out for right now. I was busy wrestling for NXT UK in England, but it’s not that easy right now where you can fly there for two days and then do your matches and go home again, and right now that comes with quarantining in England first for a week and then quarantining back in Germany for another week or 10 days. Every little trip we take right now just blocks off such a long period of time where we can’t travel or even leave the house. It’s not easy to figure that out.”
WALTER looks back at his NXT UK Championship reign and why he likes being an attraction wrestler
As noted, WALTER is now the longest-reigning NXT UK champion ever, having held the belt for over 700 days. He admitted that the significance of the stat didn’t sink in for him at first, but he does appreciate all he’s been able to do up to his point in his WWE stint.
Furthermore, he feels his record is almost invalid because of the time he had to take off due to the pandemic last year. However, he hopes to get back on track by winning his next two title defenses and reigning as champ for another six months to make up for it.
“I tend to be the guy that’s like, ‘Okay, cool, onto the next thing,’ but looking at it and stuff like that, it’s obviously a cool achievement,” he said. “For me personally right now, being honest with myself, the pandemic added a bit to that because we had half a year, six months or whatever it was where I couldn’t wrestle. NXT didn’t do any shows, so that stretched it out a little bit as well. Maybe I need to catch up on those six months and legitimate it a little bit for myself.”
WALTER has put together a handful of instant classics over the course of his NXT UK Championship reign, but the one that stands out the most is his match against Ilja Dragunov on the October 29, 2020 edition of NXT UK.
It was hyped up heavily in advance and for good reason. They worked wonderfully together and put on a bout for the ages, all in front of no crowd. WALTER felt that not having anyone in attendance actually made the atmosphere that much better.
“If it comes across good without a crowd, even though we didn’t have a crowd, I think we benefited from that,” he said. “I think that was an upside because Ilja and myself are two very intense, physical wrestlers, so I think without crowd noise interrupting the audio of what we do more or less, I think more things were more visible for the audience. Every time I would make contact, you would get the full audio of it and I think that added to it. It’s similar to MMA right now where in MMA, without an audience, you hear every little blow.”
Needless to say, WWE is stockpiled with incredible athletes across all of its brands at the moment, but what makes WALTER stand out (aside from his size and unique look) is his ability to feel special. Few performers have achieved that and he’s one of them.
Brock Lesnar had that same aura about him for a long time and WALTER wishes to be no different. He’s prided himself on being an attraction wrestler because whenever he decides to appear or put his gold up for grabs, you know business is about to pick up.
“I think [being an attraction wrestler] is cool,” he said. “The first time I watched wrestling, my dad took me to the tournament in Vienna that was run by Otto Wanz and how it was done there, they’d go to different cities and they’d have a tournament maybe 30, 40 or 50 days of wrestling in a row and then at the end of that, there would be one big heavyweight title match. It kept everybody involved and special and I liked that approach.
“I think it really fits NXT UK that they keep it that way,” he added. “It fits the European style and in my opinion, it’s the right way to do it. I don’t think the world champion or the main champion of a brand shouldn’t defend his title every week or two weeks. I think to be the one that actually gets the chance for a title match, it needs to mean something. That’s really well done in NXT UK and I hope it keeps up like this.”
WALTER discusses going to NXT full-time and opponents he’d like to face
As for whether he would ever go to WWE’s main roster or NXT full-time, WALTER kept his response short and sweet:
“I’m a wrestler, so I’m open to travel wherever I’m needed. I work in the UK, that’s my base, but I live in Germany. That’s where my home is and that’s where I want to be, but I’m open to wrestle wherever I’m needed. That’s part of the job.”
WALTER vs. Ciampa is a match many didn’t know they wanted until it was announced a week ago. If WALTER continues to make occasional appearances on NXT in the United States, the possibilities are endless as far as what dream matches could become a reality.
He and Finn Balor were building toward a match over WrestleMania weekend last year before the pandemic caused the company to change plans. It’s still a matchup he wants to have at some point, along with three other notable names: Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, and Cesaro.
“Like you said it, we were about to get ready for it, but then the pandemic happened,” he said. “I think Finn Balor right now is the best version of himself he’s ever been and he’s a great champion the way he carries himself and how he carries NXT on his back. It’s fantastic. Every NXT title match feels like a straightforward competition and that’s what it should be. Whenever it’s possible, whenever he’s ready, I’m ready and I’m looking forward to whenever that’s going to happen.
“When [Brock] had his last run as a top guy of WWE, I was so impressed with Brock,” he continued. “He’s fantastic. He’s a great wrestler, he’s a fantastic athlete, and in general, if you know what we do and watch him wrestle, you understand that his mind for professional wrestler is fantastic. He might be one of the smartest wrestlers there are right now. If that match could ever happen, of course, I’d go for it. What a challenge. It’d be great. In general, if you look at the main roster now, Cesaro is one of the main matches I’ve really wanted to have my whole career and Daniel Bryan would be the other one. One of the best wrestlers that’s ever stepped foot in the ring and he’s still, at the moment, one of the best around.”
Watch WALTER defend his NXT UK Championship on NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver on Wednesday, April 7th at 8/7c on USA Network.