WALTER (c) vs Jordan Devlin
OTT World Championship
National Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
(reviewed 03/20/2019) As is always, painfully the case, I’ve got mixed feelings about this match. I appreciate the ways in which these two avoid common pitfalls and build on themes that have been present in this feud since the beginning, but I worry that in some ways the magic of their earlier matches has been lost.
This match does a great number of things well, most of which can be summed up in a single word: escalation. Since last June this feud has been great about that, has been great about making each relevant match feel bigger than the last even if the particularities of performance aren’t always in line. It all starts with hand work, a mainstay of WALTER’s matches over the last two years. While it will occasionally remain meaningful, I think the frequency with which the big man has resorted to this match formula has weakened it dramatically, so I was very glad to see them subvert the trope here. Devlin ducks under a chop WALTER levels at him on the floor but WALTER’s able to stop himself from striking the steel of the ring post and instead baits Devlin into doing the same. Not only does this cleverly avoid an element of WALTER’s matches that has become trite over time (though they return to it later as part of Devlin’s comeback) but it reverses the pressure onto Devlin, who himself is relying so heavily on his bare-knuckle boxing to take down the champ.
That brings us to another idea that this match succeeds in relating, the idea of Devlin’s focus and tenacity. If you’ve been reading me long you know I’m a stickler for selling and I’m especially perturbed by people who continue to approach matches the same way they always have in spite of dedicated limb work. We get that here but the way in which it’s approached makes it engrossing in ways that other matches aren’t. After Devlin chops the ring post WALTER keys in on his hand, beating it down mercilessly and going after the broken thumb that has been bothering Devlin for ages. He tries his best to fight without his dominant hand, limply chopping with his left and applying holds without much of a grip, but he soon realizes that he needs the stopping power of his right hook to bring down WALTER. These instances of resorting to a painful strategy work so well for two reasons. Firstly, Devlin actually does the work to explore other options fruitlessly and shows that it’ll take more to win. Secondly, Devlin’s right hook carries a very relevant weight. When, for instance, Ricochet is fighting through a leg injury to hit a springboard dive on NXT TV, it feels like an unnecessary effort for that stage, that opponent, and that move. For the better part of a year this feud between Devlin and WALTER has centered around Devlin connecting with this punch, with it being the only move that is universally effective against the big Austrian. Devlin fighting through the pain and cleaning WALTER’s clock with a right hand carries not only a physical weight but a far greater thematic weight.
Best of all, WALTER knows it. He’s all too aware of what this right hook means. He might not have had hand work in mind when he entered the ring for this match but once the opportunity presented itself he pounced on it ravenously. I like what this says about WALTER’s state of mind by this point. For months he’s been scared on some level and while the in-ring manifestation of that idea hasn’t always thrilled me, here it feels reasonable, a believable response at the end of a long feud. When WALTER pounds the mat in frustration after a kickout or roars in frightened pain at Devlin bending his fingers the wrong way, it feels more true-to-character than his begging off did back in November. Not only that but it’s exhilarating, taking us one step closer to Devlin finally defeating the big monster. WALTER cracking and showing emotion is an escalation on what’s come before, just as his reversal of hand work and Devlin’s powering through are escalations, each of which lock effectively into place and feel warranted.
I can’t say the same for everything in this match. Some things feel like a regression. Some spots feel hokey and undercut the power of a particular moment.
One example is the way in which this match is shockingly un-brutal. I’m not exactly saying this is some soft snoozefest where these two completely fail to impart the physical impact of their actions but compared to every other match in this feud it’s sorely lacking in physical severity. In some ways I like that a lot. Over the years I’ve grown to dislike the needless, mindless brutality of WALTER’s matches, so moving away from that is theoretically something I’d like. These two don’t exactly fill that space with anything interesting, though, and instead have a match similar in form to all their others but dissimilar in intensity. When previously these two have had me “hooting and hollering”, “screaming into my hands”, this match is relatively ho hum, punctuated by an occasional boot here or powerbomb there that is appropriately mean.
Even more detrimental are some spots that I find to be hokey or rather on-the-nose. Brief moments early in the match such as WALTER literally stepping on the OTT title or draping the Irish flag over Devlin before stomping him down are a little much, but thankfully they don’t stick around long enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. Late in the match, though, after Devlin kicks out of the fire thunder driver that’s beaten him before, WALTER hightails it out of the ring and grabs the belt, looking to flee to the locker room and retain by way of countout. He’s stopped repeatedly by members of the OTT office and homegrown rookies, people who are either non-wrestlers or whom WALTER outweighs by a good hundred pounds. Not only does it feel lame to me to have WALTER wilt in the face of these relative nobodies, it weakens Devlin’s eventual victory. When all it took for Devlin to finally topple WALTER was a wagging finger from the likes of Joe Cabray and LJ Cleary, what does it mean for Devlin and who he is?
It means something I can’t understand. From the very beginning of this feud Aonghus McAnally and his commentary partners have stressed the collective aegis of the Irish people, their predilection to fight as one against that which invades and opposes. Up until now it’s been something of a hollow theme, as the only person standing behind or fighting alongside Devlin has been a self-serving American. But here, at the end, the Irish rise up for themselves, no longer willing to let Devlin fight for them alone. I might find the sight of it a bit silly but it’s not for me. I’m not quite the child of a fighting race, of a people whose ancestors were born under the heel of another. This moment is for the 2200 believers packed into the National Stadium, for those who shout ‘justice’ when it is finally found.
Months ago I had it right: Jordan Devlin is a great wrestler for Irish wrestling. For too long he waved the tricolour alone, a singular representing the many, missing a fundamental facet of what it means to be Irish. Now, with the many standing as one, the whole is made whole, the collective complete. I think a particularly good bit of camera work sums it up better than I could:
WALTER unleashes yet another chop and, for the first time all night, Devlin does not go down. He returns a calculated, practiced combination of punches: liver, kidney, temple, jaw. He completes the sequence with a package piledriver, deftly lifting a man who weighs more than twice as much as him before dropping him down at an ungodly angle. We never see referee Niall Fox’s hand count the three. The ringside camera zooms in to focus on Jordan’s face in that moment, when there is only him and his realization. A moment later it cuts to the hard cam, where Jordan is among dozens celebrating. A moment later, thousands. Thousands rapturously, uproariously as one. I might not be counted among their number but I find beauty in that.
HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO SHAWN VS TAKER FROM WM25: Certainly imperfect but undeniably captivating. The last ten years of my life has been nothing but denying Shawn/Taker further and further.
VERDICT: Better than Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker from WrestleMania 25