Die Matte Ist Heilig: Walter’s Reign as The Ring General

The best wrestler in the world isn’t the charismatic “Cleaner” from Winnipeg. It’s not “The Rainmaker” from Japan or “The Tribal King” that rules with an iron fist on Friday nights. It’s not even “The Genius of the Sky” who has dominated the black and yellow brand in 2020. To me, the best wrestler in the world is a stoic, 300lb Austrian “Ring General” that doesn’t give a damn about the theatrics, pomp and circumstance in professional wrestling. He’s just there to beat some ass and to show the world that when it comes down to it, nothing matters besides which man reigns supreme between the ropes. Die matte ist heilig, “The mat is sacred”, and no one has been more dominant than Walter on the mat in recent years.

Photo Credit: Robyn Goding (Beyond Gorilla)

In what seems to be a weird trend for me – I tend to laugh off a lot of my favorite wrestlers the first time I see them – and despite everything we know about him now making that seem impossible, Walter was no different. In my defense, there was no Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, no sign of the long black jacket that has become synonymous with Walter’s entrance, and ultimately, very little clues to point towards the dominant and polarizing force “The Ring General” would eventually become. Still, his energetic entrance to The Drive By Truckers “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” was fine and he was a gigantic, intimidating presence. So why was I laughing? My guy was billed as Big Daddy Walter, a name so unexpected and ridiculous that I was left in stitches as he made his way to the ring. Of course, my “LOL Big Daddy Walter” reaction only lasted about 30 seconds before it became “Oh SHIT, Big Daddy Walter!”

As strange as laughter being my initial reaction to one of the most badass and terrifying wrestlers of his generation may be, I actually don’t think I was alone in misjudging Walter the first time I saw him walk through the curtain. He’s a monster of a man, (especially on the European scene where he can frequently outweigh his competitors by over 100lbs) and although his plain black trunks attire is common amongst “shooters” in modern professional wrestling, it’s rare to see someone of his size walk to the ring with seemingly no gimmick. It isn’t until the bell rings that you truly get the idea that this isn’t just another wrestler, this is a true Ring General, and you’re getting the pleasure of seeing him go to war on his preferred field of battle.

Photo Credit: WWE.com

The thing about Walter is that he doesn’t just wrestle you, he tries to beat you into submission. With a punishing physicality that brings back memories of Gaijin legends who made a name for themselves in Japan: Stan Hanson, Terry Gordy, Bruiser Brody and Big Van Vader – The Ring General represents a generation of wrestlers that are often emulated, but never duplicated in quite the same way as the massive Austrian is able to showcase. From his legendary chops and brutal stomps, to his ability to grind you down on the mat and choke you unconscious in seconds, there isn’t a more dangerous wrestler in the sport.

No wrestler leaves the ring quite the same as they entered it after going head to head with Walter, especially in a big match situation. When the stakes are the highest and championship gold is on the line, Walter is at his best and at the very least you’ll be leaving the match with your chest in shambles. Coincidentally, you can count the number of wrestlers who have had as many high intensity championship wars then Walter over the last few years on one hand. The head honcho of Imperium has held either a major independent belt or the WWE NXT UK championship since April of 2018, and has fought and beaten a good dozen of the biggest names in the business. 

From his battles with Keith Lee and Darby Allin in the States to grueling wars with Zack Sabre Jr. and Timothy Thatcher across the pond, Walter defeated the best of the best during his final few years on the independent scene, and soon established himself as one of the premier talents on the planet. However, it wasn’t until he signed with NXT UK that the pro wrestling world realized as a whole that Walter wasn’t just another WWE signing. He was a game changing, brand defining conqueror, an unstoppable force that instantly walked into the company and made it his playground. Within 3 months of his NXT UK debut, Walter defeated Pete Dunne for the WWE UK championship, ending “The Bruiserweight’s” 685 day reign as the king of the UK. 

Tyler Bate may have been the inaugural champion and Dunne was the original face of the brand, but Walter has been the man who’s been leading the charge for the majority of the time that the weekly NXT UK show has been around. During that time, he’s taken a championship that was already praised for the quality of it’s matches and turned it into one of the most  exciting, yet unobtainable titles in wrestling today – especially when looking at his pair of match of the year contender’s the past two years.

Photo Credit: WWE.com

Last August the WWE UK brand headed to Wales for NXT Takeover: Cardiff, Walter was set to put his title on the line against the original UK champion and one of the brightest young stars in professional wrestling in Bate. This wasn’t the first time that Walter and Bate had battled on a major stage, as they’d torn the house down as the headliner of Progress Wrestling’s enormous show from the Wembley Arena almost a year prior; but the stakes had obviously never been higher. The Welsh crowd was on fire – a WWE championship was on the line – and two of the best wrestlers the UK had to offer were going to war for the biggest prize on the continent. 

The match was a masterpiece in David vs Goliath storytelling, with Bate using his speed and creativity to gain an early advantage but soon ending up crushed under the might and power of the much larger champion. For over 40 minutes the the challenger proved why he was the brand’s favorite “Big Strong Boi” as he continued to fight and claw his way back into the match despite Walter’s ferocious offense; showcasing the unique combination of strength and athleticism that has made Bate one of the most popular young stars in the sport. Bate flew around the ring like a maniac, showing off his remarkable power, tossing Walter around like a ragdoll on multiple occasions. Every time you thought he was dead, the incredible Cardiff crowd would somehow will him to get a shoulder up. It wasn’t enough. A battered and bludgeoned Bate was finally beaten by a brutal clothesline from the champion and was left looking up at the lights. 

Walter continued to dominate the NXT UK brand for the rest of 2019 and into 2020 before disaster struck and the COVID-19 pandemic completely shut down wrestling in Europe. While his contemporaries were able to go out and showcase their talents in the U.S. and Japan, The Ring General was stuck on the sidelines for the majority of the year. As a result, one of the premier talents in the sport was forced into the background barely a year, removed from one of the most entertaining and important matches of his blossoming career. NXT UK was shut down for six months, and seemed like a forgotten brand in many ways by the time it returned in September. Of course, it took Walter roughly a month to remind everyone why the UK title should never be slept on. 

Photo Credit: WWE.com

Walter’s absolute classic against Ilja Dragunov last month took place in an empty arena. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult situation for a challenger to The Ring General’s crown. So much of pro wrestling depends on the energy of the crowd fueling the underdog to keep fighting and pushing forward to overcome the odds, especially in a match like this with a massive size discrepancy. Without the roar of the crowd, Dragunov’s already impossible task became that much more difficult. How do you make up for that lack of energy? Dragunov showed us the blueprint from the moment the bell was rung, sprinting at Walter at full speed and clocking him in the mouth. It was time to go to war. 

In stark contrast to his 2019 match of the year contender with Bate, which was contested in front of one of the hottest wrestling crowds of the year, Walter vs Ilja Dragunov went down in near silence and somehow came out even better because of it. Despite it going against everything we know about professional wrestling, the lack of noise didn’t matter because this was hardly a professional wrestling match. This was a straight up fight. For 25 minutes, “Unbesiegbar” and The Ring General beat each other senseless, throwing pretty much nothing but forearms, chops and boots at one another at mach speed. 

In the silence of the arena you could hear every last strike connect and every grunt and gasp as someone was smashed across the face and chest. You could hear the defiance in Dragunov’s voice as he continually had to fire up on his own, no crowd to help drive him to his feet, and you could hear the anguish in the screams of the champion when his challenger refused to stay down. This was violent, it was visceral, and it was the exact type of match the NXT UK brand needed to be put back on the map. In the end, Walter emerged victorious, latching onto a rear naked choke and putting Dragunov to sleep, but the brutality displayed over that near half hour war will stick with wrestling fans for a long time. 

The Ring General has turned himself into a must-see attraction, and for my money there isn’t a wrestler in the world who I’d rather see in a big match situation right now. It’s a rare skill to be so dominant, yet somehow convince the audience that the plucky underdog has a chance to pull off the upset, and Walter has perfected the art of portraying the unstoppable giant. If there’s a United Kingdom championship match on the show, you know damn well you better be watching, but you don’t dare to hope that The Ring General will be giving up his mantle. Die matte ist heilig, and Walter has become the god of that hallowed ground.