NXT:UK Champion Walter On "Special" Record-Breaking Title Reign
Walter stands alone as the longest-reigning NXT:UK Champion in history. His reign has reached 691 days and counting, the longest of any WWE titleholder since 1988. Over the course of that time, Walter's title matches have been steeped in the elusive 'big fight feel'. Clashes with Ilja Dragunov, A-Kid and former champion Tyler Bate have carried the air of classic heavyweight boxing clashes. Speaking to SPORTbible, the champion puts this down to their scarcity.
"These days championship matches lose a little bit of value because they happen so often. I like when championships are defended, I don't know, three or four times a year. It's the main title with a big buildup. That's the big happening. That's what keeps it special."
"There hasn't been 15 or 20 title matches in that in that time span. So then that helped make each and every match I had stand out."
Standout matches have become a signature of Walter's stay in NXT:UK, with almost every title defence landing on Match Of The Year nomination lists. The champion recalls a handful of these title clashes particularly fondly.
"When I won the title against Pete (Dunne), then defending against Tyler (Bate) in Cardiff. Then the one with Ilja Dragunov, which has been the most recent one. I think all those matches stood out for themselves. Each for their own. It's been a different story and a different experience for the fans every time. Especially the one with Ilja, that was something new that nobody has ever seen before."
Walter's admiration for Dragunov is clear, and it's no wonder that the pair have fought critically-acclaimed battles against each other all over the world. Their connection goes back a number of years, and it's this bond that gives them such incredible in-ring chemistry.
"I've known Ilja for years now. I was already established in Germany when he started out, but you could always tell that he was special. He's a maniac. I remember a few hours before an event I would arrive and walk around. I'd say hello to people and there's this one freak already running around in his wrestling boots and his outfit. He was intense he was ready to go, hours before the match. I was like 'Jesus, who's that guy?'."
"The person you see in the ring with Ilja, that intensity, that's Ilja in real life as well. He's a very intense worker, and I think a very humble person. There's zero ego. He's like a sponge that soaks any information up that you give to him wrestling wise, and in life in general. He's just somebody who wants to grow."
Dragunov's intensity has proved a brilliant match for the stoic Ring General across multiple matches. As well as being rivals for the NXT:UK Championship, Walter and Dragunov are also both vying to be seen as among the very best wrestlers in the sport. It is this spirit of competition that Walter feels helps him excel.
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"We have a very similar idea of what wrestling should be. And that's why it goes well together. I would say he is still the biggest rival I have in NXT:UK right now. You can be very similar to someone in the sense of how you think, but in the ring is in the ring. Whenever I'm in the ring, I want to be better than him. And he wants to be better than I am. That's what makes it exciting for the fans."
Another of Walter's great rivals is NXT Superstar Timothy Thatcher. The pair teamed together in European rings as part of the Ringkampf stable, and also faced off in a series of hard-hitting bouts across the independent scene. The leader of Imperium is keen to renew hostilities with his former partner.
"We have a long history together. I liked him as someone on my side, but I also liked him as competition, as an opponent. So there's two sides of that."
Considering Walter's physical style, and Thatcher's own smash-mouth approach, a natural fit for such a match would be within the confines of the Fight Pit. Thatcher has made the caged collisions into a signature stipulation during his time in NXT, and Walter is more than happy to play him at his own game.
"I would wrestle Tim Thatcher in the Fight Pit, of course. Definitely. In general, I don't like any gimmick matches. I like a tag team match and I like a singles match. And everything else above that, I don't like it personally. But I think the Fight Pit suits Tim very well. And if I would do that, I would like to try to get a shot at Tim in his own environment and his own rules. I would definitely go for it."
Unfamiliar environments have become commonplace in WWE during the pandemic, with wrestling shows taking place without fans in attendance. Wrestling at an unprecedented time in human history has brought its own set of obstacles.
"For me it was a new challenge, wrestling without anyone in the audience. I never had that before so it made it interesting. I really enjoyed last year, I think a lot of the new challenges made us work harder and try a different approach. We learned a lot."
"But I'll be very happy when fans can come back because at the end of the day wrestling for me is a live happening. Of course we have it on TV, and that's big business now. But the core of what wrestling is a live experience. I'm looking forward to whenever we can get that back again."
If Walter continues on his current course, we could well be seeing the continuation of his dominant NXT:UK Championship reign playing out live in arenas some day soon.
NXT UK airs every Thursday at 3pm ET / 8pm GMT on WWE Network, repeated Friday at 10pm on BT Sport.
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