I’m so glad to have been proven wrong here when it comes to the incredible match that Gunther and Sheamus had at WWE Clash at the Castle.
When a bunch of us here at TJRWrestling did our preview for Clash at the Castle, I was more pessimistic than my fellow writers. I knew WAL – sorry, Gunther, would put on a great match but I had low expectations of Sheamus. I didn’t think that someone as generic, uninspiring, and past his prime as SHEAMUS would be able to match Gunther’s brutality and toughness and still be entertaining and compelling.
Yet to my sheer amazement, pretty much everyone has praised this match as a true MOTYC. I’ve checked multiple reviews and different sites and it seems like everyone loved this match. Gunther was great as always and Sheamus exceeded expectations and fought like a beast in not just the match of the night, but the best match of the entire weekend which also included AEW All Out. For Meltzer to rate a WWE match higher than anything AEW, then that WWE match must be something truly special, right? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Sheamus won a five-man elimination match two weeks earlier to earn a shot at Gunther’s title. Gunther vowed to retain the title and “chop Sheamus’ chest to bloody bits.” That’s it. Simple storytelling at its finest.
This match took place on September 3rd, 2022 at WWE Clash at the Castle. Both Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer and TJR’s John Canton rated it 5-stars. With all the initial emotion and hoopla out of the way, let’s see how the match holds up.
Sheamus comes out first flanked by Butch and Ridge Holland and gets a huge pop from the crowd. Then out comes Ludwig Kaiser, who first introduces Giovanni Vinci, the former Fabian Aichner, and then the IC Champion, Gunther.
Kaiser and Vinci brawl with Holland and Butch to pump the crowd up. Meanwhile, neither Gunther nor Sheamus moves an inch. Chaos erupts at ringside and Butch hits a moonsault/quebrada from the top rope to the floor onto the rest of the seconds. But still, Gunther and Sheamus remain deadlocked in the ring, staring daggers at each other. Finally the bell rings and the fight begins.
The crowd goes wild as Gunther and Sheamus trade clubbing blows. Both guys hit each other HARD until Gunther begins doing as he promised: chopping Sheamus’ chest to bits. Sheamus hits back with forearms and sends Gunther into the ropes. Gunther shoulder checks Sheamus backwards and then hits a huge boot to the face. Sheamus’ chest is already turning a shade of red that’s almost darker than his hair.
The crowd boos Gunther but then they cheer loudly when Sheamus counters a suplex with one of his own. More stiff brawling ensues. Gunther reverses an Irish whip and goes for a back body drop but Sheamus counters with a kick. Sheamus lands more kicks that send Gunther onto the apron. He goes for his Ten Beats of the Bodhran club sequence and teases the crowd but Gunther escapes and pulls Sheamus down by his feet. Sheamus breaks free with a stiff kick and then tosses Gunther into the steel ringsteps. Sheamus goes for the Ten Beats again but Gunther resists with all his might. Setting up this simple moves turns into a titanic struggle and the crowd goes along with it perfectly. Gunther breaks free and hits a forearm but Sheamus retaliates in kind. Sheamus re-enters the ring only to be met with more stiff chops from Gunther. Gunther charges but runs into boots from Sheamus. Sheamus lifts himself onto the top rope in an impressive display of strength but Gunther cuts him off with a single knife edge chop. Gunther chops Sheamus so hard he sends Sheamus falling to the floor.
A mild ‘WALTER’ chant begins as Gunther disassembles the steel ringsteps and hits another brutal chop. Then Gunther scoop slams Sheamus onto the steps and the crowd boos loudly. I applaud Sheamus’ bravery for taking such a move, especially given his spinal stenosis and other health problems over the years. Sheamus makes it back into the ring in the nick of time, which gets applause from the crowd. Gunther goes after him with chops to the back and to the chest. Suddenly, Sheamus hits back with palm strikes to Gunther’s head. But Sheamus’ comeback is cut short with yet another brutal knife edge chop from Gunther. Sheamus falls to his knees and Gunther chops him yet again. The crowd begins chanting “let’s go Sheamus” as Sheamus swings wildly from his knees, desperate to connect with Gunther in any way as Gunther chops Sheamus’ chest into hamburger meat. But wait, there’s more. Gunther slaps and kicks Sheamus’ head just as hard and then hits a vicious chop/forearm combo on Sheamus against the ropes. Sheamus sells like he’s teetering towards unconsciousness, which would be completely believable in this situation.
Gunther lands another big boot and then locks in a Boston Crab to further target Sheamus’ damages back and chest. The crowd applauds and wills Sheamus on like never before but then they boo as Gunther switches to a chinlock/crossface. Sheamus tries fighting out with a knuckle lock but Gunther clubs him some more. Another chop to the back of the neck causes Sheamus to collapse once more.
The fans chant for Sheamus once again as he lands some punches to Gunther’s midsection. A strike exchange begins, with Sheamus hitting back as hard as he can for every two or three strikes Gunther makes and despite Gunther dodging some of Sheamus’ attacks. But Gunther stops him once again with yet another brutal knife-edge chop. Sheamus is completely helpless as Gunther holds onto one of his arms and uses his free arm to land more chops. Gunther takes his time wringing Sheamus’ arm, but when he goes for another chop, Sheamus blocks it. Sheamus makes a brief comeback with forearms but Gunther powers him into a corner and then dumps him to the floor. Gunther continues his relentless assault with a scoop slam onto the ringside mats and then throws Sheamus over the commentary table. Gunther has control when suddenly Sheamus smashes Gunther’s head into the table. Sheamus gains enough control to land six of his Ten Beats but then Gunther escapes back into the ring. Gunther goes for a quick clothesline but Sheamus knocks him down first. Gunther ends up on the apron which allows Sheamus to finally land the Eleven Beats of the Bodhran. Gunther escapes as the crowd gives Sheamus a huge ovation.
Sheamus chases Gunther but Gunther drops him into the stands. Then Sheamus manages to hit fifteen more Beats as the crowd counts along. He tosses Gunther into the ring and hits a top-rope kneedrop to the side of Gunther’s head. Sheamus goes for White Noise but Gunther escapes and forearms his kidneys again. A yay/boo forearm/chop exchange follows and ends with Gunther landing a German suplex. But Sheamus fires up. He makes it to his feet and tanks another chop. Big kneelift by Sheamus. One, two, Gunther kicks out.
Sheamus goes for his Irish Curse backbreaker but Gunther blocks with elbows. Gunther hits another forearm club and locks in a sleeper. Sheamus has enough will to keep fighting so Gunther goes for a powerbomb. But Sheamus blocks and counters with White Noise, dropping Gunther on his head and neck. One, two, and thr- Gunther kicks out again.
Sheamus gets a standing ovation as he teases the Brogue Kick. He goes for the kick but Gunther sidesteps. Gunther goes for a German suplex but Sheamus elbows out. Gunther hits a shotgun dropkick that sends Sheamus into a corner. Gunther connects with the powerbomb…sort of. Something goes wrong with the landing which causes Sheamus to take all the impact on his ass. But Gunther still covers…and gets a two-count.
Gunther sees Sheamus reaching for his tailbone and like a proper wrestler He stomps on that very spot. he ascends the turnbuckle but Sheamus cuts him off. The two wrestlers trade stiff chops and Gunther wins the exchange. Gunther prepares for a dive but Sheamus kicks the rope. Then Sheamus turns Gunther around and lifts him onto his shoulders. He’s going for the High Cross powerbomb. Then somehow, despite the pain his back, Sheamus succeeds. He powerbombs Gunther…but he can’t cover right away! The pain in his back makes it harder for him to crawl over for the pin. But he eventually makes it over. The referee counts one…two…and thr – NO, Gunther survives again! Sheamus crawls over to a corner for another Brogue Kick. He takes two steps for the kick…but his back gives out. The pain is too much for him! Gunther takes advantage with a second, proper powerbomb. But Sheamus refuses to stay down. With fury and determination in his eyes, Sheamus tries to keep going. The crowd goes nuts cheering for Sheamus as Gunther trash-talks him. Gunther gets up first. LARIATO! One, two…and three! Gunther pins Sheamus! Gunther retains his title. The fairytale ends here for Sheamus!
Winner and STILL WWE Intercontinental Champion after 19:35: Gunther
Post-match, Gunther has a brief celebration with the title and then leaves with his Imperium buddies. After Gunther’s music ends, Sheamus is showered with more cheers and ovations from the crowd. Over 62,000 fans are on their feet for Sheamus even though he lost the match. Those cheers and applause continue well into Sheamus’ return up the ramp.
Let me begin by saying that I loved this match. I think it was genuinely awesome and surpassed my wildest expectations. This was a great mean guy match that was all about brutal, hard-hitting offense. It was almost identical to some of Gunther’s NXT matches when he wrestled as WALTER, even though it wasn’t as technical or psychologically deep. But is it really, honestly, truly worthy of that fabled 5-Star rating?
Almost, but no.
There wasn’t really anything glaringly bad in this match. There was no flawed psychology, there were no plot holes, and there were no gaps in logic. And that’s because these two kept to a simple but effective strategy: beat the tar out of each other until one of them stopped moving. It was as primal as it was effective: both guys hit each other mercilessly in one of the best gladiatorial fights to the death WWE has put on in years. It was the kind of hard-hitting brawls that really sell the idea of wrestlers as tough guys worthy of respect. In many ways, this was the antithesis to a lot of so-called modern stuff that emphasizes acrobatics and bedazzlement.
This was the manly hoss fight that played to both wrestlers’ strengths. Sheamus has long been a power move guy and Gunther is known for being a hard-hitting monster that keeps things simple. So when they clashed they worked around those strengths. Gunther got the advantage early and made Sheamus – one of the most blatant ‘WWE-style creations’ – fight from underneath. Sheamus got beaten to a pulp; seriously, this is what his chest looked like once the match was over. Hamburger meat indeed.
But Sheamus just wouldn’t give up. He tapped into that most basic of desires and showed off his iron will to win. No matter how badly he got mauled, he kept going. He held onto whatever feint glimmer of hope he could. That hope paid off when Gunther hit one chop too many and Sheamus started finding weaknesses. Slowly but surely, Sheamus started making inroads and broke Gunther’s resolve. Gunther was no longer invincible, no longer in control. It’s almost mystifying: the same Sheamus that was pushed to the moon in WWE over a decade ago and was considered overrated as hell for being Triple H’s workout buddy was now doing a masterful job as an underdog getting chest chopped into oblivion by Gunther.
Not only that, but Sheamus managed to do something that few wrestlers could pull off: he made the crowd go nuts over a mid-match spot. Not his finisher, but a simple clubbing spot he does in every match. He kept going for and teasing that move but Gunther kept avoiding it. That gave the fans something more to invest in and hope for. And when he finally completed that spot, they went nuts. The fans were rewarded for their investment and reacted to that simple move way more than they would’ve if Sheamus landed those Ten Beats right away. That’s proper match-building: if you know something’s going to get a reaction out of people, don’t give it to them right away; tease it, build towards it, and then give it to them to reward them.
Of course, the best part of the match was the story with Sheamus’ back. Gunther attacked it early and with lots of painful moves. All those slams, throws into hard surfaces, and stiff shots weakened Sheamus’ back to all but remove Sheamus’s power game. But Sheamus fought back all the same, until that botched powerbomb. But these guys did something truly awesome; they turned that botch into something meaningful and beneficial. With Sheamus landing on his tailbone, he was in even more pain and his ability to move and attack was all but gone. Gunther attacked that body part like a consummate pro, which made Sheamus’ cross powerbomb all the more impressive. And like a true pro, Sheamus sold his back and created a perfect near-fall with his delayed follow-up pin. But what was even better than that was Sheamus’ back giving out as he went for the Brogue Kick. Gunther’s first powerbomb and the strain from his own Cross powerbomb left his back in pieces. He couldn’t land his own finisher, which gave Gunther enough time to capitalize and steal the win from Sheamus.
So why no 5-Star rating? I just think that Sheamus on offense was a bit weak. Even before Gunther tore him apart, Sheamus didn’t do that much to weaken him. He saw that Gunther was hitting chops almost exclusively, so why did it take him so long to trap Gunther’s arm? He had a golden opportunity to destroy Gunther’s arm after throwing him right (chopping) arm-first into the steps but missed it completely. Maybe I’m nitpicking here, but I expected a little bit more from Sheamus. Even though his comeback story and his survival here were both amazing stories, he didn’t do much of anything at the onset when he was still relatively fresh. Granted, Gunther does hit brutally hard, but it’s not like Sheamus went into this match blind or unaware of what to expect. And while doing something ‘scientific’ or ‘technical’ would’ve been out of place for a powerhouse brawler like Sheamus, he should’ve started the match in a different way. He didn’t do much of anything to Gunther for a very long time, which made Gunther’s overall selling come across like it was being done for very little, like he was going the extra mile to sell more than necessary.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Just like Shawn Michaels’ match with Razor Ramon from SummerSlam 1995 and his match with Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV, this match comes oh so close to that top tier of greatness but fails to hit a few key notes. It has almost everything going for it, it’s almost perfect. But some parts of it left a bit to be desired. Because of that, to me it just misses the mark as a true and deserving 5-Star match.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. A nearly-perfect score is still amazing by pretty much any metric. This is by far the Match of the Year for 2022. It’s EASILY the best main-event roster WWE match in years. These two got so much out of so little. They had a brutal brawl made both of them look like absolute badasses. And while Gunther has had better matches, Sheamus should consider this to be one of his crowning achievements. Even though he lost, he put on a match for the ages. If he were to retire tomorrow, he could hang up his boots happy knowing he had such a tremendous and intense fight as his career capstone.