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Walter is open to a blockbuster showdown with Brock Lesnar inside the ring after a scintillating start to life in the WWE.
The Austrian star shook the WWE universe to the core in an epic clash with Pete Dunne at NXT TakeOver: New York in April and ended the historic United Kingdom Championship reign of the 'Bruiserweight.'
But the 32-year-old Walter isn't a new face to wrestling. He has lived and breathed the sport on the independent scene since 2005. His path to stardom wasn't as easy as others, especially as he was born in Austria and moved to Germany in his 20s to build his name in Europe.
The UK champ, who is also a wrestling trainer, quickly demonstrated how easily he could become the dominating heel that the NXT UK brand needed.
Since his debut at TakeOver: Blackpool in January, Walter stripped Dunne of the brand's top prize and has ushered in a new era in NXT UK.
And the 'Ring General' has formed the menacing stable of Imperium alongside Marcel Barthel, Fabian Aichner and Alexander Wolfe to further establish his kingpin status and brutally chop down any opponent that dares to oppose him.
SPORTbible had the opportunity to catch up with Walter ahead of his clash with Tyler Bate at NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff last Saturday.
We spoke to him about his background in wrestling, his rise to the top of NXT UK, his signature chopping ability, wanting to fight the likes of Lesnar, Braun Strowman and Daniel Bryan and much more.
[SPORTbible] You've been involved in this business since 2005 and now you're arguably one of the biggest stars on the NXT UK brand. What's that journey been like wrestling for over a decade across the world and now making a major impact inside the WWE?
[Walter] I think my story is a little bit different from most other people in NXT UK because I started out in Austria and then switched to Germany. I moved there because of personal things and there was not a wrestling business or a scene as such like it is in England. So, I couldn't be in the ring every week two or three times -- it was not possible. In Austria, there were maybe ten events a year and in Germany there was more. But if I had a week of one show or, let's say, I had a month of two or three shows, that was very busy. While right now, there would be very little.
So, me being associated with wXw [Westside Xtreme Wrestling] in Germany, that's what we had to do. We had to build it up ourselves. There was no market for wrestling, so we had to create a market first and then promote a lot of shows again and create something we could all grow on. And then when this actually worked out, then I was able to step out into more on the independents and more into England.
So, it's a very different path and I think it took me longer than some of the other guys. When I look at Tyler [Bate] he's only -- how old is he? -- 22 or 21. When I was 21 or 22 I was far away from being able to put on a proper professional wrestling match. So, yeah, being in WWE finally is, first of all, a proof that everything we've done over the years was the right thing.
How old were you when you moved from Austria to Germany?
I don't have an exact date. I think 20.
You made your debut at TakeOver: Blackpool and you'll head into TakeOver: Cardiff to defend the UK Championship. How does it feel to climb the NXT ladder so fast in the space of eight months?
I don't feel any different than I feel, like, right now a year ago, I would think. Because it didn't matter where I went, I've just stayed true to myself. I've always done my thing the way I wanted to do it and the way I wanted to express myself. But, like you mentioned, [in] Blackpool there was a very good response to me and I was kind of surprised by it, but also if there would have been no response to that, it wouldn't have mattered for me. I would have still done my thing.
Do you think it's because of your time on Progress Wrestling and other independents -- working with the likes of Tyler Bate, Trent Seven and Pete Dunne -- why people instantly connected with you? You think they knew who Walter was from there.
Oh, yeah. Definitely. That might be the main reason because I was a mainstay in the English independent scene.
Were there any wrestlers out there that were a major inspiration for you growing up or while you've been competing in the business?
Not really. I'm not a human who has idols like certain people. There are some people I like in general in life, but I don't look up to [them]. I don't have like a big superstar who's an idol. I didn't start watching wrestling like most of the others with Hulk Hogan or The Undertaker at my age. I grew up in Vienna and my dad used to take me to the tournaments in Austria and Germany. Wrestling was right away when they would go to one city and they would be there 60 [sometimes 30] days in a row [and] there would be wrestling every day because it's a big tournament. And that's where my dad used to go with friends and family and he would take me there, and that was my first time I got in touch with wrestling. So, I got to know wrestling in a way more competitive way than it was shown in the '90s on TV.
And also then when of course I was [in] the mid-90s, I was into WWE a lot like the typical [fan]. From the mid-90s like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels and all that stuff when I was a kid, but I lost interest to wrestling again. And as a younger grownup person I found back to it, but then I was way more interested in Japanese wrestling and Ring of Honor big then, so like the more competitive kind of wrestling that was what I was focused on or inspired by. But like I said, not any particular wrestler.
Considering your dad helped you get into touch with wrestling, was he someone who inspired you or pushed you towards that career path?
Oh. No, no. That's two different things: it was entertainment for him back then and I made the decision on my own -- he didn't bring it up. Because, like I said, there was nothing in Austria and Germany that was not even close to [a] smart life choice or anything that would be considered possible. So no.
How did you end up adopting the chop as one of the signature moves in your arsenal?
I like to think of what I do in the ring [is] what is most efficient and what makes [the] most sense for me, and I've got big limbs so I thought I'd use them. So that's the simple answer to that [laughs].
Who has the hardest chop in history? Walter, Kenta Kobashi, Big Show, Ric Flair -- who does it the best?
Yeah. Me, of course. Kobashi always did too many of his, Ric Flair's are definitely not effective and they're more for a crowd reaction. Yeah, maybe Big Show. He's twice my size, but I think it's me [laughs].
Big Show has not left the business yet. Would you want a match with him?
Oh, for sure. Yeah, definitely.
Jack Starz took a brutal chop from you on your NXT UK debut and it stunned some fans when they saw your handprint on his chest. Were you surprised by the reaction from fans that weren't familiar with your work?
I've not got that much interest in people being like, 'Oh my God, that chop was so loud and look at the mark on his skin.' That's part of what we do. It's like a physical thing we do here, so things leave marks because we hit each other. And I don't chop people for my amusement. For the amusement of seeing people [react to it either] -- that's an effect of it, so I don't pay too much attention to that.
Which opponent do you think has been on the receiving end of your hardest chop?
I don't know. I can't tell.
We noticed that you called out Cesaro on Twitter after it was confirmed that he would appear at TakeOver. Is he someone that you've always wanted to face inside a WWE ring?
Yeah, 100 per cent. Cesaro as well started out at wXw in Germany, but he left there and went to America before I started wrestling there regularly. So... that's there that little bit of connection where he was like the very first who made it out of wXw and who made it in the United States or outside of it. And since then, he has developed into one of the finest professional wrestlers around. So, of course, I'm always looking for challenging competition and it just makes sense.
If you did face off against Cesaro, what kind of stipulation would you want in place for the match?
Nah, just a regular singles match. That's all I need [laughs].
Is there anyone on the current roster of Raw or SmackDown that you would love to have a match against?
Yeah, of course. There are a bunch of people I really look up to and I like what they do in the ring. Daniel Bryan is one of them, for sure. And then I'm a big fan of The Revival, too. Drew McIntyre is someone I think we could have a good contest. And personally for my own amusement, I've always felt the idea of having a contest with Braun Strowman could be very interesting [laughs].
Oh, for sure. Because somebody like him joining here would up the level of competition here and I think you need competition to grow. So, for sure [I would want him here].
Not many men could match the physical size and build of someone like Brock Lesnar, but would you fancy yourself in a match with the 'Beast?'
For sure. I think right now there's no smarter professional wrestlers than Brock Lesnar at the moment. I'm aware of the -- I don't know -- the negative reactions he gets by the fans, but if I ever end up in that position in my career, I would be very thankful [laughs]. For sure, 100 per cent. I think Brock is amazing and I would love to do that.
What was it like to compete at TakeOver: New York against Pete Dunne? Arguably the match of the night, were you surprised with how US fans reacted to the showcase of WWE's UK brand on talent?
I've been to the United States quite often before that, so I knew about the culture of American wrestling fans, which is... I call it less polite than in England sometimes [laughs]. So I'm aware of that, but usually that doesn't affect me anyway. But also on that, the reaction at the end was very positive, which is good and I was glad about that. But up front, that was the thing I didn't care about. I focused on what I'm going to do in the ring and that I wanted to be successful that night and that was my main focus. And if that was to the people's amusement, then good. But if they wouldn't have liked it, then it is what it is [laughs].
You were the man who put an end to Dunne's historic UK Championship reign at 685 days and you're only the third champion in the title's history. What kind of legacy are you looking to create in this reign?
There's no like big goal for the reign what I wanna reach or any amount of days that I want to reach or something like that. That's not what I think it has. I think to the next challenge I have is Tyler Bate and that's where my mind is at the moment, but what is after that, I don't care at the moment because I need to focus on the things that are close to me and I can actually do something about. I don't know what's in one year or in half a year -- and I can control it. So I don't care about it now. I just do things best to my ability and focus on Tyler now and then we see where we end up.
Will we ever see a Dunne-Walter trilogy of matches in WWE?
I mean, since I've been successful against Pete -- like recently every time we've stepped in the ring -- I wouldn't mind facing him again. But I think Pete has his attention elsewhere now and he made his next big career step, so that's good for him. Pete is a fantastic professional wrestler, so if it ever happens again, for sure I would like to do it. But I think it won't happen in the near future.
Considering that you're a head trainer at the wXw Wrestling Academy, what are the first lessons that you instil in up-and-coming students? What's the most important experience you share with them to help them understand how to make a name for yourself in this kind of business?
Let's put it [this] way, the WWE Performance Center -- all the people who show up are either wrestlers already or elite athletes. If you open a wrestling school that is open for everyone, that's not the case. You 99 per cent [of the time] deal with people who have never done any athletic activity before -- nothing like that. Your first job as a coach there is [to] make them realise what professional wrestling is about because everybody who comes in thinks it's easy and it's not.
That's a fact that all of them have to learn and I think they all have to struggle at the beginning because if somebody doesn't go through the first struggle in training -- doing the first hits on the mats, the first rolls, push-ups, squats, all that -- if they can't go through that, then they don't belong. If trainees come in for the first time, they don't have an easy time first of all. I kind of want to eliminate the ones who don't belong because I don't want to waste my time, so that would be the first, most important thing for them to find out.
Have you ever chopped one of your trainees?
No, I always get asked. I have been offered a lot of money, but I'm a professional athlete, they're not. So that's not gonna happen.
You now have your own faction in WWE with Imperium. You're no stranger to leading a stable before, but how will this one differ to ones that you've previously led?
If you look at us, it speaks a little bit for itself. We're four men with [the] same ideas and we think in the same kind of way about what we do. The visual side [with Imperium], we try to have a clean look but also simple, but it's understandable to everyone so we just need to stand in the ring without talking and everybody realises, 'Ooff, the fun is out of the window now [laughs].' Now it's serious. And that's, yeah, what we are. We're serious about this sport and it's important to us, especially for Marcel [Barthel]. His father [Axel Dieter] was a very famous wrestler in Germany, so he's a second-generation wrestler. So for him, it's never been fun for him like a lot of the other guys. There's no joking around because this has fed his family for decades. And that's the same approach I think we all have.
Also, what other WWE faction would you love to see Imperium compete against?
It got brought up a lot of times, but I think if we could ever compete against The Undisputed Era, it would be a good challenge.
Your ring entrance theme perfectly fits your character -- and the fans love it! How important was it having that particular music for your theme?
At the end, it helped with everything. Of course. And I need to admit that I stole it from a friend of mine, Timothy Thatcher. He used it first when he was Evolve champion, but I think he used a little bit of a different version. When he came to Germany, we formed a group with Marcel and we used that theme, and it [stuck] with us. He was one of the guys who was a big inspiration when it comes to the whole what you see in Imperium now.
That started already years ago in our minds in Germany and he was always that guy who was simple, very serious, athletic-looking and he walked to the ring with a classic theme. Who else does that? Nobody, right? So we thought, 'Okay, we'll use it for the group.' And then I used it everywhere else and even when I was a singles wrestler internationally, too. It made me stand out, I think, because nobody does it and I think it brings to the point what I want to... it adds to the visual effects of what I do, so I think it's very important.
You've previously fought against Matt Riddle during your time in Progress Wrestling and he's now on the NXT US brand. Is there any desire to reignite that feud inside the WWE ring?
Yeah, of course. I saw him talk about it often [laughs]. He mentioned it online already that he wants to come to England for a challenge and I'm open for it. He's an incredible athlete and definitely one of my favourite opponents.
NXT US plans to move to the USA Network in September. Do you think the next step for NXT UK is to be streamed live on the WWE Network weekly or have a TV deal?
I don't think so, no. Now, it's good for NXT UK that NXT moves on because NXT now -- I think as I understand it -- won't be shown on the Network anymore every week because the episodes will be on TV. So it's now on NXT UK to fill that spot, so that's the next big opportunity for the brand.
Triple H is the father of NXT and played his part in building the UK brand of NXT alongside the likes of William Regal. What's it been like to work under him?
I got to say I didn't really talk that much with him already. I met him previous times. Of course, when I started here we had a conversation because he's, like you said, the boss of all of that. But I haven't been that close to him to really have like a working experience. But in general, he's a very impressive character to meet you got to say. He's one of those guys whose like a lot of guys when I only knew everyone from TV and I always thought they were shorter. But when you meet them, you're quite impressed with how big they are in real life and if you think back in the '90s or like the early 2000s, a lot of the wrestlers were like those larger-than-life personas and you can tell that's what he carries with him, too. So, yeah, that was the experience so far.
For the nickname 'Big Van Walter,' we take it Vader was part of the inspiration for it?
[Laughs] No, one of the reasons when I started early in Austria -- I think it was for my second or third match -- the promoter gave that to me. Because I had no idea and then it just carried on, so I switched it around after a few years. I didn't like it.
So we have 'Ring General' for your current one. What was the inspiration behind it?
I've recently thought about where it came along, but in general in life, I'm a person... whether I'm in a group or whenever I take responsibility for things in the ring. I even think it was [Alexander] Wolfe -- but already years ago -- [who] once said after a match we had that you're the 'Ring General.' That's what he said. 'We just listen to what you do and we follow along.' Years later I just picked it up again and I thought, 'Oh, yeah, with everything I have with the music and the name just plain Walter -- that would be a great addition to this.' So that's where this idea comes from.
You have a history with football as a goalkeeper, right? What made you end your pursuit in the sport and take up a path in wrestling instead?
Yeah. I wanted to be. I was quite talented as a goalkeeper. I even played... I don't know what it's called in English, like the regional teams from the best clubs in the region to pick the best players? I even played that in the last few years. But... what is the difficult thing about football? The decision point if you make it or not is at the age of 15 or 16 years old. I think like it's even younger now. I wasn't ready for it. That big change of a lifestyle because then you got to switch to [a] bigger club, train every day, your whole life needs to be adapted to that.
And I just started finishing school and getting into the real world and finding out about partying and all of that stuff, so I didn't really... I just wasn't ready to make that step. But overall, I think it helped me a lot with wrestling because, especially as a goalkeeper, you're used to throwing [yourself] on the ground. So, explosive movements and all of that and I think that helped a lot with wrestling. I think I played ten years almost. I started very young -- maybe six years old -- and then I did it until I was 16.
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