Walter is back in NXT.
The reigning NXT United Kingdom champion is defending his title next week on night one of NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver. Walter—Austrian-born Walter Hahn—stands among the most compelling, must-see performers in the world of wrestling, a super heavyweight that offers a striking combination of power and finesse.
Walter has a presence and aura unlike anyone else in the industry, bolstered by his deep wrestling philosophy; and he is a reason to watch whenever he steps on-screen. He shared his perspective in this interview with Sports Illustrated, discussing his phenomenal bout from October against Ilja Dragunov, last weekend’s UFC card and whether he plans to remain in NXT following TakeOver.
Sports Illustrated: You delivered a standout bout against Ilja Dragunov in October, which was a top candidate for the match of the year. Even in an empty arena setting, could you tell you were creating a masterpiece?
Walter: With the COVID situation and no attendance at the venues, it’s a new challenge for everybody. I really think that for myself and Ilja, who is a very intense wrestler, we benefited from that. People could hear and see every little details.
I think it’s comparable to MMA fights. It’s much more brutal when you hear the strikes and the sounds of the bodies as they connect. So I think that was something that helped us. Without a crowd, it’s hard to judge the enjoyment level of the people watching, but I try not to focus on that. I am focused on what I do in the ring, what makes sense for me and what works best for me.
For me, wrestling is a life experience. When I was a fan, I enjoyed it most when I was watching it live. We don’t have that now, but I think that fight actually benefited with no one being there.
SI: You mentioned MMA. Did you watch the UFC 260 card last weekend, featuring Francis Ngannou against Stipe Miocic?
Walter: Due to time constraints, I usually can’t watch the fights live because of the time difference. I took advantage of being here and watched this one live. I think Francis Ngannou’s story is very inspiring, and he and Stipe Miocic are both fighters. It was enjoyable to watch that fight live.
SI: What excites you most about the TakeOver opportunity with Tommaso Ciampa?
Walter: I think it’s an exciting matchup. Tommaso is a very intense wrestler, and the story behind it is very interesting. A couple years ago, Tommaso was the guy in NXT. We present ourselves similarly; he presented himself then like I do now. There was no question that Tommaso was the guy in NXT. Now he’s challenging me.
I’m looking forward to a very intense competition, and I think it’s going to be exciting to watch.
SI: Following TakeOver, will we see you on a more consistent, if not weekly, basis?
Walter: My commitment right now is NXT UK. I am the NXT UK champion. Until that changes, I won’t think about the future. I’m very open to travel. That’s what wrestlers do. We’ll see what is going to happen.
SI: You win matches in a variety of ways. Do you have a preferred finisher? Or is it best to showcase a versatile move-set that can defeat opponents in a number of ways?
Walter: I always think about what make sense for me. I know it’s very popular to have one go-to finishing move and establish that. But when I think about opponents, it’s easy to prepare for one maneuver and making sure to avoid that. I’d rather use whatever makes sense in the moment. If that doesn’t work, I always have more in my back pocket. That’s my approach about it.
SI: The chop is now part of your reputation. Do they ever hurt your own hand? And can you recall why you started doing it?
Walter: I feel it as well, of course. I’m whacking someone as hard as I can, so it does damage to me, but not as much as it does to my opponent. And I just thought it made sense for me. I have long limbs, so I use them. It became popular, and so I still stick with it.
SI: You’ve previously discussed your opinion that world titles should not be defended too often, as it makes those moments less special the more people see them. How do you balance that desire while performing on a weekly WWE show?
Walter: That is my opinion. I am not the one deciding when it’s time to defend the championship. Looking at my reign as NXT UK champion, it’s a long reign. But looking at the times I’ve defended the title, it’s not that often. I think that fits the European style. When I grew up watching wrestling, going with my dad to the tournaments in Vienna, and the heavyweight title would only be defended on the last night.
I like that sports-style presentation of a world champion. In my opinion, that’s the right way to keep it special. That’s the way to keep it special. No matter how much you enjoy it, if you’re exposed to it a lot, it’s going to lose what makes it special. I like to have it in moderate doses instead of seeing it defended every week.
SI: You have accomplished so much internationally. When will you pursue the NXT championship? Have you ever worked a match against current champ Finn Bálor?
Walter: We have never wrestled before. It’s definitely one of the matches I am very motivated to have. Especially right now, this is the best Finn Bálor I’ve ever seen. The way he carries himself, the way he carries the company, it’s fantastic. His title reign, that’s what a title reign should look like. His title matches, that’s what title matches should look like.
We were supposed to wrestle before the pandemic started, but we got interrupted. It’s a match I would like to have. The circumstances, whether he is NXT champion or whether I will be NXT UK champion, I don’t know, but it is a match I would like to have happen.
SI: Do you want to eventually pursue a run on the main roster? Are there any specific talents on Raw or SmackDown that pique your interest?
Walter: Every time I watch, Daniel Bryan sticks out to me. Cesaro is one of the matches I want to have, Drew McIntyre as well.
SI: The match against Ilja Dragunov was highly physical. Next you have Ciampa at TakeOver. Is the key to success for you staying true to your violent style and approach?
Walter: I plan on wrestling my style for the rest of my career. Wrestling is now done in so many different ways. For me, it’s a dramatic competition. That’s what I want to portray. I want a competition. Everybody can understand physicality. That’s how I think wrestling should be done, and that’s what I am going to do for the rest of my career.