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With a New Home and New Look, Gunther Is an Emerging WWE Star

After leaving his native Europe and working to trim his physique, the intercontinental champion stands to benefit from Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s new role overseeing WWE’s creative direction.

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Gunther on the intercontinental title: “I want to take this title and make it the greatest prize to conquer”

SummerSlam marked a rebirth of sorts for WWE.

While Vince McMahon likely remains heavily involved in certain areas of the company, the one publicly in charge of WWE creative is now Paul “Triple H” Levesque. That was apparent at SummerSlam, and again two nights later on Raw, particularly in the way women’s wrestling was presented, and by a renewed interest in Ciampa. This is also superb news for one of WWE’s most impressive emerging stars, the reigning intercontinental champion, Gunther.

If you temporarily lost sight of the IC belt, it was by design. The title was not defended at WrestleMania 38, nor has it mattered all year. Since Gunther defeated Ricochet in June to become champion, it was not showcased at either Money in the Bank or SummerSlam. But there is genuine potential with Gunther as champ and Levesque heading creative. Levesque oversaw his push as NXT UK champion, a 685-day title reign that elevated the status of Gunther (then known as Walter) in WWE.

Through a violent and believable approach to pro wrestling, Gunther plans to restore meaning to a championship once known as the stepping-stone to the WWE title.

“I want to take this title and make it the greatest prize to conquer,” says Gunther, who is Austrian-born Walter Hahn. “That’s the approach I had with the NXT UK Championship. The champion makes the title. That’s what I am planning to do here.”

Gunther is in the early stages of a feud with Shinsuke Nakamura, which is a solid way to start off his run as champ. He has a look unlike most of his peers throughout the company. Billed at 6'4", he has legitimate size, further enhancing his punishing in-ring style.

“It’s not about entertaining everybody,” Gunther says. “I want to be efficient and I want to be effective. That’s my main focus.”

While he bears a resemblance to Walter, the man currently portraying Gunther has completely redefined his image. He has slimmed down and now presents one of the sharper physiques in the industry.

It is a bit jarring to see side-by-side visuals comparing Walter and Gunther. Though he is incredibly proud of his success throughout Europe, NXT and the American indies as Walter, he is ready to embark on new terrain as Gunther.

“I was a big fan of the look I had,” Gunther says. “I loved the foreign heavyweights that would go to Japan and beat up the babyfaces. And I had success. But if I stay stagnant, I’ll fall behind. I always want to be one step ahead. No one ever told me to lose weight. I knew the transition to the main roster was happening, so I wanted to transform into something new.

“When we moved to Orlando, Marcel [Ludwig Kaiser] and Fabian [Aichner] were a great support. They’re both in tremendous shape, and we created a motivating and productive environment.”

The weight loss didn’t make Gunther any less fearsome. He noted he is still right around 250 pounds, yet now with increased muscle definition.

“I see the pictures of the comparisons, and I’m proud of it, but I’m still me,” Gunther says. “I never had cardio issues before. I always felt very comfortable, so it doesn’t feel that drastic to me. Maybe it does when you look at pictures.”

Another significant change was the transition from his real-life name of Walter to Gunther. He also handled that with ease, anticipating differences in presentation when leaving Europe and fully committing to WWE.

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“Living in America was never something I pursued,” Gunther says. “I really like the way of life in Europe. But in the back of my head, I knew it was time to move to make the next big step in wrestling. In order to do that, you need to be in the United States, and the timing was right for me over the past year.

“So the change from Walter to Gunther, it’s part of the process in this business. Look at wrestlers who made it to the top, they almost all went through some changes. I’m confident in what I do in the ring, and I kind of expected the name change. There’s no reason for uproar. Gunther gives the same vibes that Walter did. When I walk to the ring, there is a certain atmosphere. That’s what I represent. It’s still me.”

The intercontinental title has lost its shine in WWE. Yet the reigning champ believes that is destined to change as long as he holds the belt.

“I am going to give this title the prestige it needs and make it the greatest prize in wrestling,” Gunther says. “I would like to wrestle John Cena and anyone else who is considered elite. I didn’t come here to be mediocre. I came here to be in the ring with the best.

“I’m just getting started. I’m very excited for this journey.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • The display from Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam was spectacular. Everyone involved in the Last Man Standing match deserves credit, but Lesnar took an iteration of a match we have witnessed multiple times and made it unforgettable.
  • In addition to highlighting Tommaso Ciampa as an in-ring performer, the presentation of Raw was noticeably different in the way it featured interviews, backstage segments (including one with The Usos), a match and a brawl that included the dominant new faction of Bayley, Io Sky, and Dakota Kai.
  • Becky Lynch’s shoulder injury will interrupt her momentum, but she still cut an outstanding promo on Raw.
  • The standout match on the Ric Flair’s Last Match card was the four-way lucha libre match. Here is a great photo with some of its stars.
  • I would love to see PAC make a run at the AEW title.
  • Japanese women’s promotion Stardom is introducing a new title, which will hopefully lead to some great matches in the United States.

Scenic City Invitational set to bring excitement to the indies

Scenic City Pro Wrestling is running its annual Scenic City Invitational on Friday and Saturday, marking an opportunity to see the top indie stars in the industry.

The Tennessee–based event, which will stream live on IWTV, is a tournament that features old-school in-ring psychology with some outstanding masters of the craft. This year’s field of 16 includes Myron Reed, Jaden Newman and Dominic Garrini.

“People will see insanely talented and motivated wrestlers from different backgrounds, regions, styles, and experience levels,” says Scenic City promoter Scott Hensley, who made the decision this year to also feature women in the tourney. “We always want to feature some of the best wrestlers in the world and to do that, we felt like we needed to include people like Trish Adora, Masha Slamovich, and Billie Starkz—they all meet that distinction of truly being some of the best wrestlers in the world.”

In addition to the two-night invitational, Scenic City added two more shows to the summer’s festivities. It begins with The Night Before show on Thursday, then the Futures Showcase on Saturday, and both will air on IWTV.

“The TWE [Chattanooga]: Night Before and Action Futures Showcase Tournament events are additional opportunities for us to partner with the local scene and feature newer wrestlers that we truly believe are the future of Scenic City and beyond,” Hensley says. “The Futures Showcase Tournament has nine competitors each year, and eight of the first 27 signed professional contracts with larger promotions, so we’re thrilled with the platform it has become.”

Now in its seventh year, Hensley is grateful that SCI’s annual tournament has become a genuine showcase for talent hungry to make a name for themselves.

“Our tournament is meaningful because it provides a platform for independent wrestlers to be seen while also raising money for good local causes,” Hensley says. “We’ve had fans from the UK, Australia, Canada and Mexico travel to see our shows, and we have a worldwide audience through IWTV, as well as alumni signed to every major wrestling company. I’ve had guys thank me for changing their life in terms of their wrestling career, and we’ve also raised tens of thousands of dollars for local schools. As a kid who grew up booking G.I. Joe [action figures] to wrestle each other, it’s a dream come true.

“It’s become a family-friendly destination wrestling event viewed by people all over the world where you may just see the next big star before they hit it big.”

Tweet of the Week

Congrats to Ric Flair on his final match, and it was perfect to have Tony Schiavone—who was great on the broadcast—by his side.

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