WWE’s WALTER Leads Imperium into ‘Worlds Collide’ Match vs. Undisputed Era

WALTER, WWE’s hard-hitting Austrian heavyweight, spoke with SI.com about this weekend’s eight-man tag match, Europe’s wrestling tradition and more.
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Portrait of WWE’s WALTER, from NXT UK

WALTER is one of the best heavyweights in all of pro wrestling.

The leader of the Imperium stable, WALTER will team with Fabian Aichner, Marcel Barthel and Alexander Wolfe against The Undisputed Era’s Adam Cole, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish this Saturday at Worlds Collide, a WWE Network exclusive.

The Austrian-born Walter Hahn starred across Europe before lending his star to NXT UK. In the UK, he is a former three-time Progress Atlas champion, where he had some incredible battles with Matt Riddle, as well as former Progress Unified World Champion. He starred in Dublin-based OTT, where he was world champ, and crafted a spectacular run in wXw in Germany, where he was a three-time world champ. He is now in the ninth month of his reign as the NXT UK champion.

The super heavyweight from Vienna told Sports Illustrated three years ago, “Making it to WrestleMania has never been my dream… my real dream in wrestling is teaming up with Stan Hansen and beating up Japanese babyfaces.”

WALTER was born in Austria but lived in Germany for the past dozen years, where he was a coach and star with Westside Xtreme Wrestling. He fell in love with wrestling as a boy when his father brought him to wrestling tournaments in Vienna.

“Later, I was playing goalkeeper in soccer and did well, but I had to make a decision and I turned football down,” he told SI. “I saw a sticker on the street for a pro wrestling school, and did that instead.

“When I was watching a lot of All Japan, I loved the mix of drama and sports competition. I loved watching Stan Hansen and Kenta Kobashi, and they became my idols. When I began to watch matches, they helped me develop a certain style. But, really, you never stop learning. Wrestling Timothy Thatcher opened the door for me to do more technical stuff in matches, and helped bring more grappling into my wrestling. Everyone does the chain wrestling, but we do more of the straightforward grappling.”

The 6’5” super heavyweight, who has trimmed down to 286 pounds (or, as he will tell you, 130 kilograms), spoke with Sports Illustrated yesterday to discuss his eight-man tag at Worlds Collide, as well as his philosophy on wrestling and why he chose to be part of WWE.

Justin Barrasso: Your match at Worlds Collide is an opportunity for the WWE audience to get a better understanding of your character and work in the ring. What do you want to prove in this eight-man tag?

WALTER: It’s an interesting matchup. It’s two groups from two different brands [NXT and NXT UK], and a lot of fans who support the Undisputed Era also support us. Now it comes together and people can pick a side, so that’s going to be very exciting. And I want to prove the same as always, and spread the same message as always by displaying the style of pro wrestling that we all believe in and putting on the best performance we can. That doesn’t change, no matter what matchup we have.

Barrasso: You are always pushing yourself to improve. Your recent NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool II main event against Joe Coffey portrayed you as more of a prototypical heel, needing help from Imperium to win the match. Is that how you see your character developing? Or do you have another direction in mind?

WALTER: I never worry, ‘Am I a babyface? Am I a heel?’ I always focus on my performance, and I focus on wrestling the way I believe in. I want to be as authentic about it as I can be for the audience so they can understand it, and then it’s up to them. Do they see it the same way as we do? Or do they think wrestling should be something else other than we do? That’s up to them. I will always aim for the most effective things to do in the ring, not the most exciting. Some things are exciting and effective, but the effectiveness is my main thought and focus.

Barrasso: The Undisputed Era is obviously extremely talented, but what do you think will resonate with wrestling fans about Imperium’s Fabian Aichner, Marcel Barthel and Alexander Wolfe?

WALTER: It’s a great chance for the fans to see what they’re really capable of. All three of them are fantastic professional wrestlers. They’ve not been in the top spots yet, and this is perfect. Everything is there. It starts Saturday for them to unleash and show what they can do.

From a physical standpoint, none of us is lighter than 100 kilograms [220 pounds], which is very rare in wrestling nowadays. Undisputed Era, they’re more athletes that are lighter and more agile. It’s going to be very exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing my team partners shine on Saturday.

Barrasso: Your chop is notorious in wrestling. When did you realize this could become your calling card?

WALTER: I started using it because I always found what’s most effective for me was what was the most logical. I’m not the most athletic guy, but I bring a certain amount of strength with me. I have big limbs, big arms, and big hands, so I thought, I should use them. I started using them very early in my career. I went to Japan to train, and the chop is a very often used strike technique in Japan. I learned it properly there, so I kept using it. I also get a very good reaction, but I try to use it as effectively as possible, and that’s why I think it became popular.

Barrasso: Do your opponents ever gripe or complain about getting chopped?

WALTER: I don’t care if they do. That’s wrestling. It is very physical, it’s competitive. No one complains to my face. Maybe they do afterward. But it’s nothing I care about.

Barrasso: WWE is a long way from home. You have expressed to me before that, as much as you love starring for a worldwide promotion, you also love all aspects of wrestling, including working town shows in Germany and entertaining people that were watching wrestling for the very first time.

Coming to the United States has provided an opportunity to challenge yourself with the best in the world, as well as forced you to leave your comfort zone as a wrestler. This comes with positives and negatives—your comments about Survivor Series and the lack of believability of a 15-man match made headlines this week. On that note, what excites you most about wrestling in the US? What is different about WWE’s style from European wrestling? And will you ever commit to a full-time US schedule?

WALTER: My thing is I always cared about wrestling in Europe. Europe, especially Austria and Germany, has such a rich history of wrestling. Maybe it was even bigger than it was in England during the famous World of Sport [wrestling television show] era, but it wasn’t televised so a lot of people don’t know it.

My first wrestling experience wasn’t watching Hulk Hogan on tape. It was when my parents took me to the tournaments in Vienna to watch people like Fit Finlay or Robbie Brookside or Steve Regal or Steve Wright. I grew up recognizing wrestling as a competitive thing, and that stayed with me and it’s important to me.

My base in my private life is in Germany, and I wanted to keep that and never move. But there comes a time when you want to build something up, and you have to build yourself up and, later on, you can come back and give back. I was always looking for the best competition in the world, and I always wanted to be in the ring with the best wrestlers in the world. For that, you have to come to the United States. And you’ve got to join WWE. When WWE opened up and were willing to find a way for me to keep my life in Germany and still come over here to compete on the level I want to compete on, it all made sense for me.

I benefit a lot from being on the road, digging into wrestling, and working hard. But then you also need the balance of going away from it, as far as possible, and not think about it and come back fresh. That’s very important to me. No matter what you do in life, if you’re overexposed to it, it doesn’t end good. There has to be a certain balance, and for me, it’s important to keep that—so it is special to the audience and special to myself.

Barrasso: Not only in terms of pro wrestling, but North America and Europe are two very different continents. Have you embraced American cuisine?

WALTER: I’m going to be straightforward. Every time I’m in the United States, I can’t wait to go back home and eat German food again. The food quality is such a big difference. America is very good, but European history goes back thousands of years and America is such a mix of cultures. Everywhere you go is a different mix of cultures. The cuisine is way more international, so I always end up eating the local international cuisine.

Barrasso: Are there plans for you to take part in Sunday’s Royal Rumble?

WALTER: Even if I would like to tell, I couldn’t because I don’t know. If the offer is there, I wouldn’t turn it down.

Barrasso: What is your long-term goal in WWE? Is it still teaming up with Stan Hansen and beating up Japanese babyfaces—or do you have a new goal in mind, like defeating Brock Lesnar to become WWE champion?

WALTER: That’s the fan in me, that’s what I’d enjoy most. But I’m not a person who sets huge, long-term goals. I just go with the flow, adjust when I need to adjust, keep focusing on now and try to do everything to the best of my abilities.

Barrasso: What can we expect to see this Saturday at Worlds Collide?

WALTER: Marcel, Fabian and Alexander are all fantastic professional wrestlers, and they’re all on the top level. But until now, they haven’t been on the platform to display that in the way they can. Saturday is the chance for them to show the audience and the fans at home what they’re able to do. It will be very exciting.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.