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WWE Files Trademark for Ring Name Shared by Nazi Officer

In Wednesday’s Hot Clicks: NXT star Walter’s new unfortunate name, an important announcement about the future of this column and more.

Not a great idea

WWE should have done a quick Google search before filing a trademark application to rename one of its wrestlers.

Austrian-born Walter Hahn has been the biggest star of WWE’s NXT UK brand since signing with the company in 2019, wrestling under the mononym Walter (often stylized as WALTER to emphasize his hard-hitting, intimidating nature). Earlier this month, he joined the stateside NXT brand, reuniting with Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel of his Imperium stable.

On Jan. 13, the same day that Walter’s final NXT UK match aired, WWE filed a trademark application for the ring name Gunther Stark. The filing flew under the radar until Louis Dangoor of British website Give Me Sport pointed out on Tuesday that just a few seconds of research was enough to find that “Gunther Stark” was the name of the commander of a Nazi U-boat sunk in the English Channel in 1944.

On Tuesday night, after winning his match against Roderick Strong, Walter announced that he would now be known as Gunther.

WWE is presumably smart enough to have dropped Walter’s new last name at the last second after its origins became publicized, but that isn’t the only Nazi-adjacent imagery Imperium has trafficked in recently. Last week, Barthel (who is from Germany) tweeted and deleted the phrase “IMPERIUM over everything,” according to German site Power Wrestling, a reference to the first verse of the German national anthem. Since the end of World War II, only the third verse of the song has been sung as the national anthem. The first two verses, and the first in particular, while not outlawed, are frowned upon, because of their ties to the Nazis.

Walter also tweeted the German word for invasion (“einmarsch”) with a photo of him beside Barthel and Aichner, who is from a German-speaking area of Italy. An Austrian guy talking about invading territory with a German and an Italian should rub people the wrong way.

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Assuming WWE scraps plans to use the full Gunther Stark name, this story should blow over relatively quickly. Nothing about Walter’s on-screen persona has evoked fascism in the past. Imperium is just three guys who are going to beat the crap out of you. But as WWE moves towards a more character-driven NXT (one of its new wrestlers is a stereotypical Italian-American mobster who shares a name with a famously oafish hockey player), it isn’t out of the question that Hahn, Barthel and Aichner could be asked to toe a fine line. 

Important programming note

Taking over Hot Clicks in April 2018 was an exciting opportunity for me and I’ve been grateful to be embraced over the years by readers who said they had been Hot Clicks fans since Andy Gray or Jimmy Traina was writing it, and to develop a new audience of my own. Because I know there is a significant audience that enjoys reading me every day, I want to be upfront in announcing that the last Hot Clicks will be on Friday.

But I promise this isn’t as drastic as it seems. I’m not leaving SI, just slightly shifting my role. Instead of writing Hot Clicks every day, I’ll be the writer for SI’s newly reimagined flagship daily newsletter. You can sign up to receive it here (the current name is “SI Extra,” but that will be changing). From pretty much the time I started writing Clicks, I’ve wanted to distribute it as a newsletter. For a bunch of boring technical reasons (mostly related to the embedded tweets and highlight videos), that wasn’t easy to pull off. So the newsletter will be formatted differently than what longtime readers are used to, but I intend for it to deliver the same sorts of things this audience has become accustomed to over the years. It’ll be comprehensive and informative about the biggest sports stories of the day, but it’ll also touch on things off the beaten path and the goofy minutiae that make being a sports fan fun. 

I’ll take next week to get the hang of the new newsletter format before it officially launches on Jan. 31. You can sign up to receive it directly in your inbox by clicking this link (again, look for “SI Extra”), but it’ll also be published as an article right here on SI.com if you’d prefer to read it that way. I’m excited for this change of direction and I hope you’ll come along with me. 

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A good song

Email dan.gartland@si.com with any feedback or follow me on Twitter for approximately one half-decent baseball joke per week. Bookmark this page to see previous editions of Hot Clicks and find the newest edition every day. By popular request I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music featured here. Visit our Extra Mustard page throughout each day for more offbeat sports stories.