As it is de rigueur with many pro wrestling websites these days, I feel we need to talk about a current WWE champion.

More specifically, one who is currently on a record-breaking run. Flanked by a faction of allies, this champion runs roughshod through a rogue’s gallery of some of WWE’s finest, leaving behind a trail of dominant wins and critically acclaimed matches. I, of course, am speaking about Gunther, whose current run as Intercontinental champion draws incredibly close parallels to the Undisputed Universal championship run of Roman Reigns, as I hope my cheeky introduction succeeded in pointing out. However, the similarities about them go in completely different ways.

Gunther (you have no idea how difficult it is to keep my pinky finger from hitting caps lock as the reflexive lead-in to typing WALTER) is the beneficiary of a decision by creative maestro “Papa” Paul Levesque last year, who made it an objective to rehabilitate the WWE Intercontinental Championship. It is, after all, a title whose lineage was never tampered with. Outside some questionable belt designs over the years, the title has remained true to its history and initial vision. After being booked into the abyss for the better part of two years, Levesque ensured that the IC title overhaul began with someone who could make it feel prominent again. A perfect task for a dominant and fearsome Austrian freshly rescued from the death throes of NXT UK.

It’s been so successful that we are approaching the moment where Gunther dethrones the all-time Intercontinental Championship run of the Honky Tonk Man. It’s difficult not to draw parallels with Reigns here, particularly when considering the emphasis that was put on his “legendary” 1,000 days as Universal/World/Undisputed champion. Unlike an arbitrary number being passed off as a milestone, Gunther is on the cusp of bringing a part of WWE history back into the modern era as he inches ever so closer to the 454 days Wayne Farris chalked up in the late 80s. This is a record book moment that not a single soul booked in WWF/E for 35 years has broken. A milestone that not only fans can wrap their heads around and get into, but helps shape a legacy that has the potential to be around for a decade or two. The intangible aspect of Roman’s 1k days seems to be significant only to the most hardcore of fans.

Still, we have a case here where two men have “made the title.” Gunther’s push has objectively brought the IC Title back to prominence and Roman’s has arguably made the Universal Title into a championship that finally does carry some weight, especially when juxtaposed to the WWE title’s legacy.

The paths taken to get there, however, have been widely divergent.

WWE created a compelling and believable champion in Gunther without interminable promos, cavalcades of betrayals or people being put on trial. The success of Gunther’s push is built on the most basic, proven and solid foundation of professional wrestling: having him wrestle credible opponents while delivering great to excellent matches on big shows. 

In contrast, Roman’s matches have devolved into systematic rinse-and-repeat match structures that fall into the need for deep interference to claim victory. As it was observed on a recent episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, the formula to Roman’s matches has now become so ingrained that fans don’t react to things happening until the final stretch of a match, because they know that is where the interference is going to happen and “events” will take place. Gunther’s no-nonsense approach to matches keeps people on their toes till the very end, performing in a way that often cracks the WWE house style. His big wins, more often than not, have “dominant” and/or “clean” as adjectives used to qualify the bout.

Some proponents of sports entertainment would like me to believe that making stars in wrestling is a tortuous, complicated affair that requires intricate narratives and reasons to make people care. But when you have the right talent in the right spots, it doesn’t need to be difficult. 

Despite their similarities, Gunther and Roman Reigns are two very different champions, reaping success relative to their position on the card in very different ways.

While Gunther is successful now, and feeling like a simmering potential candidate for some top spots in the company, it will be interesting to see how he fares once he inevitably loses the title and then must be given “something to do”; the clarion call for creative to step in. There is always the outside possibility that WWE might not try to fix something that isn’t broken, but there is more than enough precedent to be wary.