EXCLUSIVE: A time of reflection for Gunther, five years into record-breaking WWE run

It’s been just one accolade after another for WWE’s Gunther in recent years. Just in 2019, Gunther was a new signee to WWE while also continuing to make part-time appearances in high-level independent promotions. Fast-forward to now, a lot has changed. He’s now a mainstay on weekly WWE TV programming and part of a historic title run that has included many critically acclaimed matches.

Yet, many small details aren’t lost on Gunther. 17 years into his professional wrestling career, he’s clearly still enjoying the journey. Case in point: when asked to reflect on where he is now as a wrestler versus where he was four years ago — when he wrestled Daisuke Sekimoto for a wXw event in Toronto — he remembered that match quite well, amid the hundred or so he has wrestled since: “It was a very enjoyable day in Toronto,” he said. “I remember that.”

Going from an independent wrestling all-star to one of WWE’s top in-ring talents wasn’t how Gunther saw things going, but he’s certainly happy that he is where he is now.

“It wasn’t the plan four years apart, I think,” Gunther said in an interview with POST Wrestling during WWE Summerslam weekend in Detroit, Michigan last month. “Everything happened very fast now, but I’m very happy where I am. I’m glad I made that step and how everything developed.”

Gunther joined WWE in 2019, beginning to work through their NXT U.K. program under his previous in-ring alias, WALTER. While still competing in prominent German promotion wXw — a promotion he spent nearly a decade of his career in — he turned heads with big-time performances, like his 2020 and 2021 matches against Ilja Dragunov.

During this time he held the NXT United Kingdom Championship for 870 days. The now-obscure belt is inactive, but when it was put on a shelf, Gunther was the person who by-far had recorded the longest reign with it.

And now as of this week, Gunther has a much more historic belt with a record attached to him. With more than 455 days holding the WWE Intercontinental Championship, Gunther has possessed the belt for more time than anyone else since it debuted in 1979. That’s more than Pedro Morales’ reign from 1981 to 1983, and The Honky Tonk Man’s two-year reign from 1987 to 1988.

Gunther’s 67 appearances with the title since earning it in 2022 (15 of which have been on televised programs) have included many notable performances. His 16-minute victory over Drew McIntyre and Sheamus in a triple threat match was one of the highlights of this year’s two-night Wrestlemania 39 card and was given a perfect five stars by Wrestling Observer Newsletter writer Dave Meltzer.

As the leader of the now-three-man faction Imperium, Gunther has been able to showcase his talking skills more. Admittedly, this was not something he was too big on initially. However, he has settled into the role and has come to enjoy it.

“I was never the biggest fan myself personally of a lot of talking, a lot of promos, and stuff like that because I’ve always loved and enjoyed the sports aspect of everything,” Gunther said. “But it’s part of the deal in WWE and it’s sports entertainment, it’s what we do. I think at the moment we do it at a very high level. And I do my part in it, and it’s actually very fun to do.”

Another big change for Gunther in his WWE changes was moving to the U.S. Due to the constant travel schedule within the United States as part of being a WWE talent, Gunther set up shop in the country in recent years.

“To be honest, I always kind of had it in the back of my head that at one point I would have to make a step over to the U.S. because that’s where wrestling is the biggest. But I feel like I waited it out, the timing on making that decision was very good, so everything fell in place at the right time.”

In 2020, it was announced that Gunther would stop working in wXw and turn his attention solely to wrestling in WWE. His last match for them came at their 21st anniversary show in 2021, defeating Cara Noir in 24 minutes. With such a big chunk of his career attached to that promotion, he still keeps contact.

“I keep an eye on [wXw] a little bit and check base here and there because I spent so much time on my life with those people and we built something that’s still functioning and still gives jobs to people,” he said. “Obviously [I’m] still interested in what’s going on there.”

There are no more records for Gunther to break as the WWE Intercontinental Champion. Instead, the question going forward is how big of a record he can set. How long can he make his reign, and how long can his legacy as champion remain on the belt? And after that, what will be next for the towering, menacing, in-ring talent that is Gunther?

About Jack Wannan 46 Articles
Jack Wannan is a journalist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He writes and reports on professional wrestling, along with other topics like MMA, boxing, music, local news, and more. He graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He can be reached at [email protected]