As the familiar strings of ‘Allegro con fuoco’ rang around the National Basketball Arena, it was hard to process everything that had unfolded in the last ten minutes. Despite being over 20 chapters deep; the Walter/David Starr story continued to get my heart racing and keep me guessing. I was certain Walter was winning. Of course he was. This story that began in earnest in wXw was hardly going to culminate here in Tallaght, was it? And to be even more cynical; current WWE UK champion Walter wasn’t going to lose to outspoken WWE critic David Starr, was he?
But as the match entered the fourth quarter, all that rationale went out the window. In a true representation of everything that’s great about pro wrestling, and how the medium can physically pull you in like no other comparable genre of entertainment; the misdirections and elaborate plays on previous matches had me doubting everything. It speaks to Starr and Walter’s in-ring intellect, and their understanding of what wrestling fans understand about the art. It speaks to their understanding of the language of pro wrestling, that they were able to signify to fans three or four times that the match was over, usually by alluding to one of Starr’s previous errors that lead to his demise, only to flip the script yet again; all without feeling like overkill. I jumped to my feet, I bought every nearfall — and I was one of hundreds in attendance who did, all bellowing at the top of our lungs with every violent flurry and every defiant kick-out.
Beyond just being yet another great match in a series of great matches, this match represented the latest evolution of the story – a story that spans years and many promotions, but has taken a fascinating slant since arriving on Irish shores in June of 2018.
David Starr has been trying to beat Walter for three years, and keeps losing. That story in and of itself is a pillar of wrestling; the guy who just can’t get it done. More specifically; the guy who can accomplish a great many things, but has one opponent who is basically his Everest. It helps that the Everest in this case is the one-of-a-kind Walter, a performer so adept at portraying the monster that his dominance is entirely believable, even expected.
When Walter arrived in OTT, the story seemed straight-forward enough; Jordan Devlin, the best friend of Starr, would do battle with the big man for a few months, maybe lose the title to him along the way, mount a comeback, and vanquish the monster once and for all. But Starr was not to be a footnote in this feud; he was to be the MVP of it. And Devlin’s (admittedly incredible) contributions to it wouldn’t co-opt the story for himself or for OTT — but instead would become critical parts of the broader Starr vs. Walter feud, which was still very much the most fascinating dynamic in wrestling.
Starr offered a lot of emotional weight to the already charged atmosphere of the Devlin vs. Walter epic from August. Devlin was the hometown king, defending his title and his turf. Starr was not only the best friend of the hero; he was the war-ravaged career-rival of the villain. His simple, muted ringside reactions and post-match support of a defeated Devlin were such wonderful touches to an already incredible match. It wasn’t just a bruise on the national pride of the fanbase, we also watched as Starr had to see his friend make all the same mistakes he did, and suffer the same beating — both physically, and to his ego. As Starr himself said in a later video package; “I was there for him. I was being a good friend. I watched Jordan just get battered by Walter. Beaten and beaten every which way. I watched him in pain, I watched him suffer. And then he quit. I watched Jordan quit.”
To this point, the simplicity of the story was part of what made it so enjoyable. Starr was the super talented babyface you wanted to see have his moment, but he just couldn’t figure it out.
In the coming months, Starr and Devlin would get another crack at Walter – this time in a tag team match with Timothy Thatcher. In the closing moments of the November 2018 clash, Irish fans would get a tiny taste of the retribution they wanted for their hero, as Devlin, for the first time, lifted Walter for his signature package piledriver, and seemingly had him pinned. When referee Niall Fox was pulled from the ring before counting the three, there was a sense of shock, but within seconds it became obvious what had happened – as though it was inevitable all along. Starr had now graduated from the plucky babyface, fighting from underneath to get his win, to the spiteful loser who couldn’t bare to see someone get it before him; least of all his best friend.
It’s important for any act in wrestling to grow and change over time to avoid stagnation. And for better or worse, the Walter feud is as crucial a part of Starr’s act as his moveset, his music, his merch, or his promos. So it was inevitable that cracks would need to appear in the character as he kept running into the brick wall, losing, and now seeing his peers outpace him.
It also served as something a bit different for OTT fans to chew on. While the main reaction to Starr was vitriol, his character was far from a moustache twirling villain. He plainly stated in an interview before his February 2019 fight with Devlin that “people think that I had some sort of devious plan or that I’m some bad guy. When in reality that’s so far from the truth. I need to beat Walter, and I gave Jordan so many chances. Just chance after chance after chance.”
Starr wasn’t a monster, he was simply a prideful athlete making calls to benefit himself when he felt he had worked hard enough to justify it. It’s the type of ‘Shades of Grey’ character that is always so intriguing to wrestling fans and promoters alike, but is so hard to properly execute, because this is a medium that historically works best when the hero is the hero and the villain is the villain.
That muddying of the waters would continue as 2019 rolled on.
Starr would, of course, fall to Devlin in their February match.
Devlin would, of course, return to the top of the mountain in OTT and defeat Walter in March, to become a two time world champion in the company.
And that seemed like the end. Maybe there would be some more rematches, as is often the way in wrestling. Walter invokes some rematch clause. Starr gets a shot at Jordan for whatever reason. And it would assuredly be good, but the real story had been told and was done.
But the developments over the Summer, specifically last weekend’s Wrestlerama 3 event have proved to me that there is more to this story, and more twists coming for the Starr character than previously expected.
In order to get a shot at Devlin’s title, Starr had to defeat Walter — so Ireland would get its first ever live experience of a Walter vs. David Starr singles match. The match felt like an appropriate escalation of everything that had come before it. Starr was rabid, at several points headbutting Walter’s legs, which he had targeted throughout. He locked Walter in a Bret Hart-esque figure four leglock around the turnbuckle post. He was obviously fighting nastier than ever, while still having to weather the absolutely brutal violence of Walter; including an insane powerbomb outside the ring. This increased sense of urgency didn’t just stem from repeated losses, but most recently, Starr actually did make Walter tap out in Germany, but the Austrian was under the bottom rope, nullifying the tap, and Starr was quickly defeated afterwards. So now, in his head, having beaten the man but not having it recognised, Starr was becoming increasingly unhinged in his drive to simply get a ‘W’ in a record book, any record book in any promotion, over Walter.
The real desperation came in the closing stretch. After the referee was accidentally laid out by Walter, Starr brought the WWE UK championship into the ring (which he also stomped on, in-keeping with his current anti-corporate stance, but that’s a subject for another blog… on another site). His quest to beat Walter had now gotten to the point where actually being the better man stopped mattering, and he was wiling to take a tarnished win. Beyond just using the title as a weapon, Starr threw the belt to Walter, and feigned to the rising referee as though he had been struck by the object. The referee took the bait, signaled for the bell, and declared Starr the winner… by disqualification.
But Starr didn’t care what the asterisk next to the ‘W’ said — he just cared about getting it. And the audience felt the same way. I’m not sure I’ll ever experience a DQ win getting such a booming reaction as I did that night. The whole match was a triumph of story telling; as these two tweeners with clearly defined characters; clearly defined positives and negatives to them as people, tore each other apart while the whole audience stood and cheered their guy on. There was no favourite. Everyone knew all they needed to know about both men, and they picked their sides, and they got to their feet and screamed and shouted for every dramatic nearfall. And when Starr ‘won,’ the reaction was huge. Everyone appreciated the weight of that win, cheapened though it was. For all the shortcuts he took, there was something about the Starr character that kept a segment of the fanbase behind him; perhaps the relatability of wanting something so bad, you’d do anything to get it.
But Starr’s moment was short-lived.
Jordan Devlin ran to the ring to play spoiler; advising the referee what had happened. The match was restarted, and once again Starr was put down — this time coming even closer to the win than he had a few months back in Germany.
The ‘Shades of Grey’ I alluded to earlier doesn’t exclusively refer to Starr either.
Having defeated both Starr and Walter already, there wasn’t much incentive for the supposed babyface Devlin to come down and stifle his former friend like this. Sure, if Starr had won, Devlin would have to face him; but having a decision reversed to avoid facing a man you’ve already beaten is excessively spiteful for our hero, perhaps even cowardly? Like Starr, Devlin compromised his usually sporting, respectful ‘national hero’ character because of his pride; he just had to twist the knife in his rival one more time. Interestingly enough, this happened on the same show where another former friend of Devlin’s, Sean Guinness, made some interesting points in a video package about how poor a friend Devlin was. Guinness noted the two were friends for years, but he was recently sidelined in favour of, you guessed it, David Starr. While it wasn’t overwhelming; the sound of dissent among fans in Devlin’s direction was noticeable, and that’s a rarity in Ireland.
After the show, Starr simply tweeted “I’ll never forgive you.”
So the stage is set for this story to continue. Starr is sure to become more agitated in his quest, not only to beat Walter, but also to get revenge on Devlin – a fight the champion has brought on himself.
The prospect of a three-way match between these men is exciting for the same reason this match was fascinating; all three represent something different for the fans to get behind. Devlin will still be the national pride, although I’m sure his actions at Wrestlerama might have people rallying against him. To that end, Starr may be more of an anti-hero than ever before following Devlin’s interference. Walter will still be the infinitely respected pillar of the scene that people love to watch; but plenty will still root for him to lose given what it means to the others.
At the centre of it all is one of the most fascinating characters in wrestling, portrayed by one of the most gifted and intelligent performers in the entire business. From hero, to fallen hero, to anti-hero; the growth of the David Starr character in recent months has been unlike anything else in wrestling. In an industry where so many struggle to make one kind of connection with fans, Starr is crafting a story that allows fans to interpret and react to him however they see fit; with the common denominator being that they all will react.