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Exclusive: Gunther Says He And Imperium Are Truly 'The Last Of A Dying Breed'

Gunther revealed what it means to be Intercontinental Champion and carry the title's historic legacy. 

By Ethan Absler
Close up of Gunther walking to the ring

WWE’s current Intercontinental Champion and leader of Imperium, Gunther, is one of the most dominant forces in modern WWE history. Before debuting on the main roster in April of this year, he was the longest-reigning NXT UK Champion ever with a historic 870-day reign that saw him obliterate all comers for more than two years. Now, the 6’4”, 300-pounder is 152 days into his new reign as Intercontinental Champion, which he won by destroying Ricochet on SmackDown. Gunther’s journey to WWE involved nearly 12 years on the independent scene where he wrestled around the world for various companies before getting the call from NXT. Once there, he lost almost 70 pounds in one of the most impressive body transformations we’ve ever seen.

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With all that being said, Gunther is surely one of the busiest stars in WWE. Luckily, USA Insider found time to track down and catch up with the leader of Imperium for an exclusive interview wherein he revealed what it means to carry the prestige of the Intercontinental Title, what his dream match would be, and how Imperium came about.

Every WWE Superstar except for AJ Styles and the O.C. have gone through the NXT developmental system once signed. The system allows performers to learn the WWE way of doing things and improve their craft before they are seen by millions on RAW and SmackDown. It's a process Gunther has recently undergone. Although the change is massive, Gunther explained why the transition has been seamless for him, saying his wrestling style is old school and allowed him to fit into the roster easier.

“Obviously it’s a different work environment. In NXT we [shot the show] in the same place every week so there’s basically no travel involved. Everything is a little more structured there [in NXT] when it comes to preparing the shows and stuff. On the main roster, we’re on the road. Every week we are in a different city so everybody there when it comes to the wrestlers is way more experienced. A lot of things over there have to happen; basically you have to figure out stuff on the go a little bit, But yeah, everything went down without a problem for me. My wrestling style was always a very basic one so I never had an issue fitting in anywhere. I feel great being on the main roster right now and I’m enjoying it," he said.

Gunther’s old-school wrestling style has served him well over the years. He won titles in nearly every promotion he wrestled for and his WWE career has followed suit. Since the emergence of Triple H as the new Head of Creative, it seems as if WWE has put a new emphasis on the importance of the Intercontinental and United States Championships. While the titles were always important, WWE is clearly presenting them in a new light, especially one that makes the Intercontinental Title prestigious again. For Gunther, continuing the prestigious legacy and history of the title is something of which he’s extremely proud.

“It’s a great accomplishment obviously. I would say besides the main title, it is the most prestigious one in the company or even in wrestling overall. Back when I was watching WWE as a kid, the Intercontinental Title was the one with the exciting matches. Ya know, when Bret [Hart] and Shawn [Michaels] held it, it was always the technicians who were in the position to hold the title and defend it," he says.

He elaborated on what it means to be the Intercontinental Champion, saying, “To be in this position right now, it’s a little bit … surreal. I’m really happy with how things are going and I’m privileged to be in this position and I take it really seriously. With the new creative direction with Triple H taking over everything, the emphasis on the Intercontinental and U.S. titles is that they are being presented as way more important than before I would say, so to be in this spot is really good for me because that’s what I’ve always been about. I entertain the people through my matches and now I’m getting the time to do so. I’m enjoying the process and every match is a new challenge.”

Every match with Gunther is indeed a new challenge, not only for Gunther but for his opponent. Gunther’s signature chops are known to take the skin clean off of his opponent’s chests and his powerful boot has the force to turn any Superstar inside out. Lately, Gunther has delivered inside the squared circle with a recent match last Friday on SmackDown against Rey Mysterio that blew the roof off the arena and of course, his brutal five-star fight against Sheamus at Clash at the Castle. When asked about this string of recent title defenses and competitive matchups, Gunther excitedly shared, “Oh, it's great!”

“Like I said before, it’s surreal to hold this title and it’s a perspective that I have when I take a step back and look at my career overall. But when I’m in the moment, I’m ignoring that. Because I’m the Intercontinental Champion. So it doesn’t matter if it’s Rey Mysterio or Sheamus or whoever steps up to wrestle me, I don’t put myself underneath them and I think I have to do that to put on the best matches possible," he explains.

He continued, this time focusing on his match-of-the-year candidate against Sheamus. At Clash at the Castle, Gunther defeated Sheamus in one of the most physical matches in WWE history. For the German-born champ, he says this style is right up his alley.

“My match in Wales was a great experience. I’ve always wanted to wrestle Sheamus because he as well has a very physical style, a very intense style. We worked really well together. My match with Mysterio last week, Rey is kinda the opposite. He’s the best underdog this business has ever had," he says. "Personally, those are the matches I always enjoy the most: The David versus Goliath story is something that’s a real strength of mine. To be in the ring with Rey, who is the best ever in my opinion on the opposite side, it was an honor and I was really happy with the end result and the reactions we got from it."

Gunther seems comfortable on the main roster. He is steadily improving his work on the mic, Imperium is becoming an established and credible team, and his in-ring work has never been better. When asked what he attributes all of his success to, he looks inward.

“To be honest, I gotta give myself the credit when it comes to the wrestling part. Pretty early in my career, I knew what I wanted to be and how I wanted to present myself and I always stuck to that no matter what. It’s all paying off step by step now," he says.

The reigning Intercontinental Champion knows he couldn’t have done this on his own, though. Since his days in NXT, Gunther has been joined alongside his group members from Imperium, Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci. The leader of Imperium credits Vinci with improving the work ethic of the group, and getting them in the best shape of their lives.

“[Imperium] always believed that wrestling should be done a certain way. And then Giovanni came along and he was the one who really brought the work ethic into the group when it comes to dieting and working hard in the gym," he reveals. "It all really came together and at the end of the day, all three of us feel the same way about this sport and how we should present ourselves and I’m really happy with how it is now.”

Imperium is a force to be reckoned with. All are former Champions in their own right and the three men are in tip-top shape. The goal of Imperium has always remained consistent and according to Gunther, it’s simply to bring back the old-school style of wrestling and bring the focus back to the competition of the sport rather than the drama.

“Our mission statement week by week is always the same. We feel a little bit like we’re the last of a dying breed. Everybody who comes up now either from NXT or the independents is different. Everybody is more modern when it comes to their wrestling style, their presentation is way more flashy, way more colorful and we still want to represent wrestlers focused on the competition! We are focused on the competition side of this sport. Wrestling has always been a dramatic competition for me — those are the two key parts for me," he explains. "There needs to be high-class competition and a certain amount of drama to it.”

Wrestling has always been the perfect cross between theatrics and athletics. Performers with larger-than-life characters in extravagant costumes execute jaw-dropping maneuvers and feats of athleticism on one another all in an effort to tell a crazy story. That’s what wrestling has always been about for Gunther, as well, who says he is taking his career one step at a time.

“I’m not too focused on what’s gonna happen in the next year or two because overall I’m just here to be in the ring with the best that this sport has to offer," he answers simply.

With that being said, if he was forced to pick a dream opponent, it would have to be Brock Lesnar: “I really want to get in the ring with Brock Lesnar because I think it would be maybe the biggest possible challenge for me when it comes to the wrestler that Brock is. Brock is also someone I liked to watch when I was younger and then when I grew up and started wrestling myself and was able to understand how people work in the ring, I always admired his work and think he’s one of the best to ever do it. That would probably be the name I’d have to pin down as my dream match.”

You can rewatch some of Gunther’s most competitive bouts like his other five-star match against Ilja Dragunov for the NXT U.K. Title at NXT Takeover 36 on the WWE Network on Peacock!

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