WWE's WALTER on Worlds Collide and representing wrestling the 'right way'


On Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, there is one contest that WWE fans will be anticipating more than any other.

When NXT UK's Imperium clash with The Undisputed Era, of NXT's stateside setup, there is every chance that the show will be stolen.

And while Imperium's leader WALTER will be sharing the spotlight with seven other men at Worlds Collide, the NXT UK champion has a very singular goal in his sport.

"My first wrestling experience wasn't at home on the TV like most guys, it was when my dad took me to a tournament in Vienna," the Austrian told ESPN. "In the newspapers, there would always be a big report about it in the sports sections, right next to the top football games. It was seen as competition. That's what I want to display as well.

"The main thing for me, when it comes to where I want to be, is to represent professional wrestling in the right way. To spread the message in the most effective way, I need to be in the top spot."

An electric first year in WWE has led Der Ringgeneral to Saturday's eight-man tag-team match, in which he and teammates Marcel Barthel, Fabian Aichner and Alexander Wolfe will be standing across the ring from Roderick Strong, Bobby Fish, Kyle O'Reilly and leader Adam Cole, the NXT champion.

But for WALTER, whose physicality in the ring belies his athleticism, the surge he has enjoyed over the past 12 months has been an expected stanza in the career of a wrestling purist.

"It was a natural progression, the platforms got bigger and obviously WWE gives me the biggest platform possible in our sport," WALTER said.

"My debut for WWE in Blackpool last January at NXT UK Takeover, I think that was a good moment, because it felt like all of the things I did before paid off. From there on, things just took off.

"But I've never really changed as a person. The biggest key about connecting with fans is being authentic in what you do, because if you're believable, you're going to get a reaction. And I don't really care about what kind of reaction it is, because I focus on doing everything to the best of my abilities and representing professional wrestling the way I think is the right way."

Worlds Collide is the perfect environment for the 32-year-old to do just that.

"It's definitely one of the most exciting matches in my career, because in the WWE picture, it's maybe the two most dominant and popular groups at the moment," WALTER said. "It's going to be very competitive. It's also a very interesting thing of The Undisputed Era being the top guys in NXT for years now, and now it's four Europeans with Imperium.

"It's a sign for the rise of European wrestling, and non-UK European wrestling. If I think back even five years, it was kind of impossible to imagine that those possibilities would be there. I think we bring a different style, a very serious and no-nonsense style, and that really stands out."

WALTER himself is increasingly standing out in WWE and connecting with fans not just in the UK and Europe but also in the United States, and as he stresses, the top spot is where he wants to be. That will eventually mean leaving NXT for WWE's main roster.

Who awaits Der Ringgeneral when that moment comes?

"Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, they've always put on very athletic and competitive matches, they're proper, wrestling-based opponents. I've always appreciated that and have been excited about watching them."

Matchups between WALTER, fellow European Cesaro and former WWE Champion Bryan will no doubt be tantalising prospects for fans, but first up is a more familiar foe; WALTER and opposition leader Cole locked up in the squared circle on a couple of occasions before making their respective ways to WWE.

"We've had very different careers, but our paths crossed here and there over the last 10 years," WALTER told ESPN. "So it will be a nice coming together. Wrestling is interesting when you cross paths with people quite often, then you go your separate ways, then after years you come together on a big stage and things go full circle."

While Saturday's eight-man clash is one of the biggest of WALTER's career, the Austrian -- who is closing in on one year as NXT UK champion -- has already experienced what it's like to compete under the brightest, sweat-inducing lights in professional wrestling. WALTER appeared at one of WWE's 'big four' annual pay-per-view events in November, sharing the ring with the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton and Braun Strowman at Survivor Series.

One night after Worlds Collide, WWE makes the very short trip across Houston to Minute Maid Park -- home of 2017 World Series champions the Houston Astros -- for another 'big four' event, the Royal Rumble. The event paves the first stone in the road to Wrestlemania, and the Royal Rumble match itself is one of the most anticipated on WWE's calendar every year.

Could WALTER fill one of the 30 entrant spots and feel those brightest of lights shining down on him once again?

"This is something I would like to answer, but I can't, because I don't know," he said.

"I think if they offer it up, I will definitely take it."

Tim Fiorvanti contributed to this article.