Since it was first won back in January 2017, the NXT UK Championship has only been held by three men. Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne and Walter are the trio to live in that rarefied air but it is Walter who recently claimed the additional title of longest reigning NXT UK Champion. After surpassing Dunne’s previous reign of 685 days, he is currently enjoying one of the longest Championship runs in recent WWE history. The Austrian’s chest chops have long passed into infamy and his title defence against Ilja Dragunov last year was awarded Rushonrock’s match of the year. In a world exclusive, Rushonrock’s King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, tentatively went one-on-one with the champ…from the safety of a camera and a Zoom call.
Rushonrock: You’ve surpassed the record set by Pete Dunne to become the longest reigning NXT UK Champion. How good did it feel to break the record?
Walter: Yeah of course! The record that Pete set up just before me was very impressive so to break that was a good achievement too. I still gotta be honest, we had a long break in between so I gotta extend it for the half year that we were off to make it legit for myself.
Rushonrock: You mentioned the break for Covid — do you think it makes your reign any less legitimate or diminishes it in some way?
Walter: I don’t really think that deep about it. I gotta be honest, the only reason why I remembered on that week, is because it popped up on my Twitter that some social media account posted something about it! I don’t really focus on statistics and stuff like that much, but it’s like I said, it’s still a good achievement and it’s going to be in the history books so it’s nice to have.
Rushonrock: One of our matches of the year from 2020 was your battle against Ilja Dragunov. It was obviously a critically acclaimed match but what do you think made it so special?
Walter: I think what made it special was that there was no audience to be honest. If you look back at the matches I had with Ilja before, like even outside WWE, and being in Germany it’s always been intense and a little bit over the top if you want to call it that. It’s an intense and physical style and I think we profited a lot from the audience not being there. There were no noises to cover up anything we do so I think this time it was possible for the audience on screen to actually see in detail what’s going on and I think that made it special. Also, Ilja as an opponent is fantastic. He’s a very intense person, talented and he won’t give up. He’s like that in real life too, he doesn’t stop until he achieves a certain thing and every time he’s in the ring with me, I think he wants to be better than I am. But I want to be better than he is and I think that’s what made it so good.
Rushonrock: One of the things that stood out because of the silence was the section of the match where you were both shouting in German. There have been a few conflicting reports as to exactly what was said. Can you remember?
Walter: No, I can’t remember to be honest! That stuff, I don’t know, just comes out and it’s something authentic that I would yell at someone that I would beat up or get angry at. It’s nothing that I made up in my mind beforehand.
Rushonrock: Did you feel at any point throughout the match that you were creating something special or did you only realise that once you looked back?
Walter: During the matches I don’t think about it but I wouldn’t go to the ring and have a match if I didn’t think what I do does something good for the sport or the company you work for. That’s always my approach or my goal — to perform to a level where people are going to go ‘I will remember this’. Sometimes you fail but sometimes you achieve the goal. You don’t think about stuff like that during a match, there’s no time for that. I’m focused on what I’m doing right now and it doesn’t matter if there’s no audience or 10,000 there, that’s the same for me.
Rushonrock: You have already faced some of the biggest names in British wrestling like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate. Who would you say is the biggest threat to your championship reign so far?
Walter: Right now I would think Tyler and Ilja are the ones that brought me closer to losing it. Regarding the future? I don’t know, it’s not on me to find the next challenge. I’m the one people want a match with so it’s up to them to step up.
Rushonrock: One person who was looking to step up before the lockdown was Finn Balor. That was a potential main event for NXT UK Takeover: Dublin. Is that a match you still want and are you keeping an eye on him in NXT?
Walter: Yeah of course, definitely! I was really looking forward to that challenge and I still want it to happen. Especially as Finn is on top of his game right now. I think he’s the best version of himself I’ve ever seen and reminds me a lot of the of the Finn Balor that we saw early in his career in Japan. He’s changed a little bit into a more physical style and moves a little closer to the opponent all the time. It’s less flashy and yeah, a more authentic style of wrestling. I think that’s great, he’s been a great champion for NXT. The kind of matches he has now, that’s what championship matches should look like and I think it could be that we think similar in that regard. When you look at his matches and look at my matches, I think the approach is often a similar one. So, him being on top of NXT and me being on top here in Europe, yeah I think it would be interesting for everybody involved.
Rushonrock: We are in the middle of the road to WrestleMania and it may not be possible this year, but if you were given the opportunity to represent NXT UK at WrestleMania, who would your ideal opponent be?
Walter: Good question! First of all, if the chance comes up then I’ll be ready for it. But I think that’s something that’s not in the company’s hands or my hands. We’d have to convince Joe Biden to open the borders again before WrestleMania, which is going to be tough. There would be a few matches on top of my head that I would really like to do, and that would make sense on that stage in regard to defending the NXT UK Championship. That’s a different story from what my personal favourites are, that I would definitely take the chance if I can get it.
Rushonrock: What would be the personal favourites?
Walter: Let’s say the top three right now. Finn Balor that we just talked about. Cesaro and Daniel Bryan.
Rushonrock: So, basically any of the more traditional wrestling focused Superstars?
Walter: Of course.
Rushonrock: With the recent news that fans may be able to return to arenas and stadiums later in the summer, how much of a boost is that going to provide you and the rest of the locker room?
Walter: I can’t really talk for everyone else but I think everyone is excited to have the fans back into buildings. For me personally, wrestling is a life experience. That’s when wrestling is the most enjoyable, if you watch it live in a venue or outside or wherever you watch it, that’s where wrestling is the best to enjoy. I really hope that all the fans can take advantage of that as soon as possible again, or as soon as the situation allows it, as it comes with a boost. Like I said, for me personally I don’t mind having no fans in the building when it comes to my work, but as a wrestler it is also very different to have an audience there or not. There are both positive and negative sides about it and I’m definitely missing the positives about having fans in the building.
Rushonrock: Speaking of missing things, your fellow Imperium team-mates seem to have drifted across Stateside. Are they missed or are you equally as happy to be alone and working as an individual?
Walter: No, I definitely miss them being around, especially with Alexander (Wolfe) and Marcel (Barthel), I have a year-long history and I was happy being in a team with them. We had a great match at Worlds Collide but then it all started going and I felt we were just kicking off. I think the group is well balanced, everybody adds something special to the mix and I haven’t seen any of them since maybe last March or something! So, I really hope that as soon as it’s possible, we carry on and we can’t be stopped.
Rushonrock: For anyone who’s not been watching NXT UK, what are they missing out on?
Walter: I think NXT UK provides a different focus and is very different than Raw or SmackDown. Obviously [those shows are] mainstream television shows that focus on sports entertainment, especially the entertainment aspect of it. If you’re looking for wrestling with the focus being more on the athletic aspect and the actual performance in the ring, then NXT UK is a great show. That’s where the focus is and obviously it’s called NXT UK, but I think it represents NXT Europe. We have so many wrestlers, from so many different countries and looking back at history to the wrestling style in Europe, it has always been more competitive and more based on the in-ring performance rather than the show outside of it. I think that tradition is carried out very well in NXT UK and presented in a modern way.
NXT UK airs every Thursday at 3pm ET / 8pm GMT on WWE Network, repeated Friday at 10pm on BT Sport.