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My mom once made a unique observation about my younger self that I hadn't noticed in the early years of my wrestling fandom.
"You like all the flamboyant wrestlers who talk a lot," she said. Considering I once put a championship belt on an Elvis Presley costume to turn it into a Honky Tonk Man outfit for Halloween, I'd say she was on to something.
Occasionally, I still enjoy wrestling's colorful characters. But as I've matured, I prefer the more no-nonsense wrestlers who resemble the grapplers of my mother's day. If she could see me now, Momma G0MEZ would be stunned to learn who I'm gaga over in 2022.
Let me say this clearly and simply so that there's no confusion.
I love GUNTHER.
There is no one in the world of pro wrestling quite like him. At nearly six-and-a-half feet tall and over 260 pounds, GUNTHER is a skyscraper compared to the average performer.
Even in comparison to other contemporary heavyweights, The Ring General stands out with his brutalist style based on grappling, strikes, and good old-fashioned meanness. GUNTHER is not a giant masquerading as a cruiserweight. No Spanish Flies or Topé Chimichangas. Just punishment, stretching fools and pummeling them into dust.
As an in-ring storyteller, GUNTHER is the behemoth version of Bret Hart. His matches are logical and exciting. Nothing seems out of place or ruins the suspension of disbelief, and his execution of moves is crisp. And like Hart, GUNTHER can work with a wrestler who is his complete physical opposite yet make the match seem believable despite the size disparity.
But what I admire most about GUNTHER is his professionalism. I don't like to consider myself a smart fan or smark, as it suggests a knowledge or understanding of the business that is near-comparable to its practitioners. But I am more informed and enlightened than the casual viewer, and what I've learned about GUNTHER resonates with the adult in me.
For years, the man formerly known as WALTER was hesitant about pursuing a full-time wrestling career in the States, choosing to stay close to his home continent of Europe while making sporadic appearances in the U.S.
But like any great immigrant story, GUNTHER chose to shoot for the stars and go as far as his massive frame and even more immense talent could take him, making the jump to America and committing all his energy to be the best.
Without being asked, GUNTHER took the initiative to rebuild himself physically. Of his astonishing transformation, GUNTHER told Sports Illustrated:
"I was a big fan of the look I had. I loved the foreign heavyweights that would go to Japan and beat up the babyfaces. And I had success. But if I stay stagnant, I’ll fall behind. I always want to be one step ahead. No one ever told me to lose weight. I knew the transition to the main roster was happening, so I wanted to transform into something new."
GUNTHER'S physique wasn't the only thing that underwent a massive overhaul. GUNTHER dropped the moniker he became famous under to comply with WWE's branding and trademarking. While most wrestling fans were in turmoil about it, myself included, the man downplayed the change.
"So the change from Walter to Gunther, it’s part of the process in this business. Look at wrestlers who made it to the top, they almost all went through some changes. I’m confident in what I do in the ring, and I kind of expected the name change. There’s no reason for uproar. Gunther gives the same vibes that Walter did. When I walk to the ring, there is a certain atmosphere. That’s what I represent. It’s still me."
In a year where wrestlers have openly griped about backstage happenings or potentially let fans down by walking off the job, GUNTHER kept his head down and let his remarkable performances do most of the talking.
A throwback to the days of The Stomper or Killer Kowalski, GUNTHER is a pro wrestler that an adult can enjoy and is someone a fan would be proud to be caught watching.
In my nearly forty years as a wrestling fan, I've often thought about walking away from this crazy genre. But then someone comes along who encourages me to keep watching. In 2022, that wrestler was GUNTHER. He's restored the words professional and wrestling in professional wrestling and has proven to be a credit to his field.
Thanks to GUNTHER, the mat is indeed sacred.