GUNTHER, the man formerly known as WALTER, is quite possibly the best thing in wrestling right now.
While there are some wrestlers that draw more money, have more dedicated and passionate audiences, or get stronger reactions, few people do a better job of making pro-wrestling serious and legitimate. In an era of clearly-defined performers clearly playing a part and with few people even trying to make this art form look like it could be real, GUNTHER/WALTER stands out as a piece of wrestling’s past brought into the present.
Many people have been caught up in the GUNTHER hype, as noted by his many highly-praised matches, his status as #4 on the PWI 500 for 2023, and the fact that he is now the longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWE history. Clearly the man is having a career best run right now, but it’s important to note that things didn’t just magically start going well for him when he changed his name. In fact, he has been tearing it up ever since Triple H first signed him to the company.
And to prove that he was as good in WWE’s developmental territory as he has been on the main roster, let’s look at how his first-ever match in that company went down.
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.
Dunne won the NXT UK title almost two years earlier and had enjoyed a grand and storied reign as champion. During his reign he defeated a veritable who’s who of wrestlers from the British and global independent wrestling scenes: Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Wolfgang, Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Zack Gibson, Kyle O’Reilly, Tommaso Ciampa, Ricochet, Joe Coffey, Jordan Devlin, and others. With each successful title defense Dunne’s reputation grew and grew…until he hit a wall.
WALTER was quite possibly the biggest wrestling star in Europe at the time, both metaphorically and literally. Standing at 6’4 and weighing around 300 pounds, he was a beast by comparison to most of his fellow wrestlers, not unlike Brock Lesnar in relation to everyone else in WWE. WALTER was a throwback to a bygone era when rugged brutality was the name of the game. He was, in some ways, countercultural to the general direction of the wrestling industry, preferring to stand out from the crowd by doing what was done in the past instead of trying to put on futuristic matches.
With the announcement that WALTER was next in line for a title shot, the dominant champion no longer looked so dominant. He had beaten wrestlers his size, sure, but no one came close to WALTER. He had been a dominant and nigh-unstoppable champion in every promotion he wrestled in all across the continent and he left a notable impression in his few stateside trips prior to signing with WWE as well.
It was a classic David vs. Goliath dynamic, a seemingly unstoppable force meeting a presumably immovable object. Dunne had his tenacity but WALTER hit so much harder than everyone else before him. Could Dunne overcome this challenge, or would WALTER walk all over him like the long list of his prior victims?
This match originally took place on April 5, 2019. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
They lock-up and WALTER easily powers him to the ropes. Dunne goes for a single-leg takedown but WALTER counters with a type of half crab. More holds are exchanged until WALTER powers up and gets in Dunne’s face. They lock-up again and WALTER tries a chickenwing hold but Dunne goes after WALTER’s fingers. WALTER breaks free but Dunne ducks a chop. WALTER throws Dunne around a bit but he still misses the big chop. Then WALTER lands an arm throw and works over Dunne’s arm until Dunne gets a ropebreak. Dunne sucker punches WALTER but pays for it by suffering a massive chop to the chest.
The crowd roars as WALTER hits more chops and grounds Dunne with a headlock. Dunne fights up and they get into a long crisscross that ends with Dunne running into a brick wall and then getting his face smashed in with a big boot. WALTER follows with a corner chop and his top-rope boot-to-the-throat spot. Dunne falls to the floor and WALTER back suplexes him onto the ring apron, leading to more cheers.
Dunne tries kicking from the canvas but WALTER boots him hard and starts working his ankle. Dunne counters into a heel hook. He kicks with his free leg but WALTER hits back with another chop and locks in a Boston crab. Dunne gets a ropebreak so WALTER hits a Sheamus-style forearm club against the ropes. WALTER tries a second one but Dunne traps the arm and tries breaking WALTER’s fingers. WALTER escapes and boots Dunne off the apron.
Dunne returns but finds himself being kicked and stomped on. WALTER taunts Dunne and Dunne fires back with a flurry of strikes. WALTER reverses an Irish whip but Dunne does the Tiger Mask corner flip escape and lands a front kick. WALTER blocks a German suplex and launches Dunne for one of his own but Dunne lands on his feet and kicks the side of WALTER’s head. Dunne follows with a top-rope quebrada to the floor.
Bith men return to the ring as WALTER cuts Dunne off in a corner. WALTER tries a superplex but Dunne blocks by going back after the fingers and then sunset flips over the big man into a running Ligerbomb. One, two, WALTER kicks out. WALTER rolls to the floor but Dunne dives onto him with a double foot stomp to the gut.
Back in the ring, Dunne does another Tiger Mask flip but this time WALTER counters with a massive shotgun dropkick. WALTER follows with a sleeper but Dunne gets a ropebreak. WALTER answers with a chop to the neck, a huge German suplex, and a Folding Powerbomb for a close two-count. WALTER traps Dunne’s arm but Dunne slaps WALTER, to which WALTER answers with another vicious chop. WALTER maintains wrist control as he soaks up strikes from Dunne and hits even more chops. Dunne attacks the fingers again to try and regain control but WALTER counters into a test-of-strength into a stomp followed by a neck wrench. WALTER tries another powerbomb but Dunne escapes and hits a step-up enzuigiri. Both men collapse, leading to loud applause.
Dunne gets up first and steps on WALTER’s hands. He goes to the top rope but WALTER cuts him off and tries a top-rope German. Dunne resists and answers and attempts at a sleeper with another attack to the fingers. WALTER fights back and hits an avalanche sleeper suplex. One, two, Dunne survives. WALTER tries another chop but Dunne traps the arm again and snaps the fingers. Then Dunne hits a snap German suplex followed by a crucifix driver. One, two, WALTER kicks out.
Dunne lands Danielson-style armtrap stomps but then WALTER does the same back from the mat. Dunne kicks again but WALTER counters into a sleeper. Dunne escapes and lands more such stomps and then rolls into a modified scissored armbar but WALTER gets a ropebreak with his foot. Dunne goes to the top rope again but WALTER hits a Stan Hansen-style lariat that sends Dunne falling. WALTER goes for a top-rope splash…and lands in a triangle hold. WALTER tries powering or rolling out but Dunne keeps the hold locked in. Dunne tries snapping the fingers once more. WALTER rolls over and stomps Dunne as hard as he can. Both men struggle for control until Dunne attempts his Bitter End finisher. But WALTER resists and obliterates Dunne with a short-range lariat. WALTER charges but runs into a forearm followed by a lariat from Dunne. Bitter End connects. The referee counts one…two… and thr – no, WALTER survives once more.
Both men stare at each other from across the ring and use the ropes to pull themselves up. A standing chop/forearm exchange ensues and both men fire up more and more with each strike. Dunne lands another flurry but then WALTER lands another big boot. WALTER goes to the top rope but Dunne cuts him off with another finger snap. Dunne attempts a top-rope armbar/triangle choke but WALTER breaks free and lands a diving powerbomb followed by a diving splash. One, two, and three! WALTER ends Dunne’s reign at 685 days!
Winner and NEW NXT United Kingdom Champion after 25:40: WALTER
This was an excellent match. It was the kind of brutal, hard-hitting David vs. Goliath encounter that NXT needed. With all the usual acrobatic fair churned out from that brand around the time it was nice to see something closer to a hardnosed brawl. It was fun watching WALTER destroy Dunne over and over again with his wide array of simple but effective moves. Dunne was doomed from the start as he had no real strategy aside from trying to take out WALTER’s hand and going all bombs away with dives and high-risk moves. There’s something fun in seeing a self-confident babyface finally up against a brick wall and keep failing no matter what, thus shattering his supposed imperviousness. And while Dunne did a good job of playing the hopeless babyface in peril, he was largely a supporting character in this WALTER showcase match.
One of the reasons WALTER is so refreshing compared to so many other of today’s wrestlers is because of how much of a throwback he is. He rarely leaves his feet or jump, except when he’s about to hit something incredibly forceful. He doesn’t do anything fancy or needlessly flashy; everything he does is grounded in a simplicity that makes him come across as a fighter and a hoss and not some kind of entertainer or acrobat. The way his opponents (including Dunne here) sell his moves and react to his power with everything from ginger movement to frustration to downright fear gives him this genuine final boss aura. Even if he looked somewhat flabby here compared to his more muscular look on the main roster as GUNTHER, WALTER was every bit the menace as his indy career suggested. So not only did he look like superstar; he delivered in the ring as well.
The match was more story-driven with Dunne knowing that WALTER was largely invulnerable so he tried to zero in on a specific weak point. However, WALTER stayed one step ahead throughout the match, only for Dunne to get closer to landing his big finger snap with each attempt. He landed it eventually but it still wasn’t enough, which made Dunne’s situation direr and WALTER’s aura of indestructibility more obvious. Once WALTER kicked out of Dunne’s finisher it was only a matter of time. He had no ace up his sleeve, no second finisher, no back-up plan in place once WALTER survived all the armwork and still hit back. Dunne’s desperation was clear and palpable as he panicked over his failed strategy and scrambled to find something else that worked. But WALTER was simply too tough, too strong, and too punishing. All of Dunne’s fancy rolling, playing to the audience, and in some cases high-risk and convoluted moves meant nothing in the end as WALTER threw him around like a ragdoll and obliterated him with ease at the end.
Final Rating: ****3/4
I think this match was awesome and you will in all likelihood enjoy it as well. It might not be the quickest match in the world but it didn’t need to be. There’s something to be said about a wrestler who is so commanding and menacing that he controls the pace of a match without even doing anything and WALTER is such a wrestler.
It’s definitely a slower match than what most regular NXT viewers would be used to but that works to the match’s advantage. Why would WALTER waste his energy and match the frenetic pacing of someone much smaller when he knows he’s in control and there’s nothing the champion can do to put him down? His actions were deliberate, effective, and meaningful. Nothing he or Dunne did was too overwhelming or congested. This had more of a classic old-time monster aura that I think is sorely lacking in the more speed-and-athletics-driven philosophy found almost everywhere in today’s wrestling scene.