WALTER vs David Starr
16 Carat Gold Tournament 2019 First Round Match
Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany
(reviewed 03/21/2019) Before you dig into this review, I’d recommend you read my review of WALTER’s latest match with Jordan Devlin in OTT. It takes place the weekend after this and is the culmination of my favorite feud in years. I’ll describe it succinctly: after becoming the pride of the Irish wrestling scene and going on a two year undefeated streak against foreign wrestlers, Devlin was decimated by a debuting WALTER, who shortly thereafter defeated him for the OTT title. Through repeated losses, Devlin discovered WALTER’s weak chin and his fear of the Irishman’s right hook. In their climactic battle, WALTER works over Devlin’s hand to avoid the dreaded punch but Devlin fights through the pain and cleans WALTER’s clock en route to finally defeating him.
This match features many of the same themes, and a number of the exact same spots, as that WALTER/Devlin bout. I hesitate to say that this match lifted those spots from that match, as this one obviously occurred first. One could argue about how long certain elements of either match were planned out in advance but I’m not interested in doing that. What I am interested in doing is discussing how this match’s usage of those spots and themes feels cheap and unappealing.
It starts early with a familiar trope. While brawling on the floor WALTER very nearly chops the ring post by accident before stopping himself and baiting Starr in for the same mistake. It doesn’t carry quite the same thematic significance as the same spot in the Devlin match but it functions well enough as a way for WALTER to take control. He doesn’t go after Starr’s busted hand for long, electing to move onto his much more impactful power-based offense, but all the same the injury nags at Starr throughout the match. Before long he’s resorting to a familiar tactic, using a sleeperhold to wear down his much larger opponent. Despite WALTER’s best efforts, which include climbing up the ropes and leaping backward onto the man holding his windpipe closed, Starr keeps the hold applied. The same sequence, right down to WALTER’s gambit and the smaller man’s reapplication of the sleeper, appears in the Devlin match, where the damage done to Devlin’s hand has him barely hanging on. Neither of these spots are something that Devlin invented, to be sure. They’re fairly benign coincidences, natural results of similarly-built men facing the same opponent, an opponent predisposed to using the same spots in most every match.
What I’m more bothered by are the spots and ideas that do come directly from that Devlin feud. After a combination of his biggest signature moves aren’t enough to put WALTER away, a despondent Starr turns to the bare knuckle boxing that brought—and will bring—his former partner so much success against the big Austrian. Though Starr is not nearly as effective in his punching as Devlin, the shots rock WALTER and send the man to his knees, where he raises his hands to Starr’s advances and begs for mercy. Unlike in OTT this is only a ruse, as WALTER uses Starr’s momentary amazement to flatten the man with a big powerbomb and regain control of the match.
Part of me really loves this idea. It is true to WALTER’s character (not so much the modern Ringkampf WALTER but certainly the Big Van Walter of yore) that he would fake fear to trick an opponent. It is true to Starr’s character that he would clumsily crib effective strategies from people who have beaten WALTER without understanding why or how these strategies work. It is thematically fitting that this clumsy cribbing would backfire and leave him once again narrowly defeated. It might feel cheap to have him lift strategies from the partner he betrayed, and these spots and strategies might feel cheaper still when they’re used to much greater dramatic effect the next week, but that’s the point. This is who Starr is. He is a cheap, two-timing, selfish bastard with a temper that will always lead to his downfall. That truth forms the basis of a match that is bitter and tragic in all the right ways.
On some level, though, this thematic cheapness feels unearned. A lot of that comes from how this match does not make explicit reference to the WALTER/Devlin story it lifts from. Way back in the pre-show promo of OTT’s A Haven For Monsters, where that feud begins, Starr’s already referencing his long history with WALTER in wXw and elsewhere. It comes up again on commentary during that match as well as in later matches throughout the year. OTT is more than happy to build off of the existing WALTER/Starr feud and cite wXw’s role in that but when the shoe is on the other foot wXw makes no mention of OTT. Neither the German language nor English language commentary teams bring Devlin or OTT up, as far as I can tell. Starr only makes a passing reference to Dublin in listing all the places where he’s lost to WALTER in a hype video. And let me be clear, I don’t think wXw has an obligation to shout out the company they’re pulling spots and themes from, especially when I imagine the only people laying out this match are the ones in the ring. I just think it weakens the narrative of this match to build directly off the work of another feud that it never speaks by name. It asks you to read the supplemental material, to dive into the appendixes and find the true story of why this thing unfolds like it does, and it leaves these stolen spots feeling more half-baked than they already were.
It’s not the only issue at play, either. The lame Dusty finish feels wholly inadequate after the WALTER/Devlin nods and absolutely reeks of wXw’s laziest, most circuitous storytelling. It falls flat immediately, with the crowd in attendance barely acknowledging Starr’s supposed victory before loudly cheering WALTER’s screwy victory. Worse yet is how Starr himself acts throughout this match, delivering one of his most rubbery, overblown performances to date. Understandably if he’s going to be ragdoll selling and deranged in any match it ought to be this one. But when this performance comes alongside the flimsy false finish and the spot-stealing, they combine into a larger, unappealing whole that leaves these individual parts feeling kitschy and meaningless, even if they would have worth on their own.
That, I think, is my ultimate issue. I love David Starr’s work. He is one of my favorite wrestlers to watch, bar none, and it’s because of what he does differently from everybody else. He approaches drama in wrestling with a level of nuance that I don’t see in other wrestlers, something we’ve seen time and again in these WALTER feuds. Here, with his windmilling arms and his babbling kickout reactions, he’s performing closer to the level of every indie prima donna and WWE mannequin I’ve grown to hate. On top of that, he’s pulling sequences and themes that worked in other matches to make this one bigger and better, the laziest of wrestling’s many sins. It may weirdly fit his character but intended hollowness still feels hollow and here it turns self-reference into self-parody, into self-cannibalization. It makes me go from thinking that David Starr-as-character is cheap to David Starr-as-performer is cheap. This is a match where a guy who I genuinely believe to be the best in the world feels so painfully, so frustratingly average. Even if they do a lot of other things right, that thought stands out the most to me.