NXT UK has officially returned to our screens after six long months of downtime. The stars of the BritWres brand are picking up exactly where they left off, with Ilja Dragunov challenging NXT UK Champion, WALTER, for his title on next week’s episode.
This is certainly the highest-profile match since NXT UK’s return, and the first time the NXT UK Championship has been defended since the UK went into lockdown. Right now, there’s no better challenger on the roster than ‘The Moscow Missile’, who has had quite the history with ‘The Ring General’ inside and outside the ring.
In the past, Ilja and WALTER have clashed numerous times under different banners; PROGRESS Wrestling has been blessed with an absolute banger of a singles match at Chapter 92, but most notably, the rivals did battle in their home promotion of WXW. WALTER and Ilja have participated in some wars against one another, with the WXW Unified Championship often finding itself in the middle of their feud.
Even though WXW remains one of the lesser known independent promotions, there are some hidden gems tucked away in their library, especially the 2018 clash between Dragunov and WALTER. It was in their Superstars of Wrestling grudge match that they truly stole the show, laying the foundations for their looming match in NXT UK.
If you’ve never had the chance to watch their series of battles outside of NXT UK, then do yourselves a favour and go check them out in preparation for next Wednesday, you will not regret it. So now that the almighty spotlight of mainstream(ish) wrestling is put upon these two European brawlers, who will be coming out on top in what is arguably their biggest match to date?
Last week, Ilja Dragunov reigned supreme over the champion, pinning him for the three count after a brutal tag team match alongside ‘The Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne. Fans were left shocked after the so-far undefeated NXT UK champion was defeated for the first time, cleanly. This has given Ilja a huge wave of momentum as he heads into his first championship match in WWE.
NXT UK have done a great job at pitching Ilja as their top babyface star, even before the soft reboot of the brand last month. Since his debut, Dragunov looked unstoppable, aside from a few losses to veterans like Finn Balor, Ilja has been on a tear. Fans have been clamouring to see these two unbeatable entities clash with the NXT UK championship on the line, the crazed Russian has been one of the few thorns in the side of ‘The Ring General’, so all seems poised towards WALTER having to relinquish his stranglehold on the championship after over a year of service.
And what better time for a fresh face to be bearing the flag of NXT UK? After everything that has happened in the world of British wrestling this year, this could be the right move for the brand if it looks to push forwards through the controversies.
However, as with most tropes in pro wrestling, not all is at it seems. WWE like to pull the trick sometimes where they give the challenger a win or two over the champion, only for the rug to be pulled out from under them when it actually matters – whether that be due to external factors such as outside interference, or that the champion decides that he/she is going to put more of a shift in at the gym.
With that in mind, things look pretty bleak for Ilja as he steps up to the big Austrian brute. Not only that, but WALTER has been the shining star of NXT UK since dethroning Pete Dunne last year in New York. WALTER is without a doubt the epicentre of the brand, with few who could match his star power and match quality. Those that would be considered on the same level have already been steamrolled through before lockdown hit, with the likes of Trent Seven, ‘Bomber’ Dave Mastiff and Tyler Bate all falling to the hands of Imperium’s leader.
Dragunov has been the only real threat to WALTER, but even after having the hype machine build him up to be the next guy in NXT UK, it’s hard to actually believe he’ll be taking the title off WALTER anytime soon. I’d go as far as saying that WALTER has been the most dominant champion across all corners of WWE, echoing the likes of Brock Lesnar during his championship peak. Even though history proves that Ilja has what it takes to overcome the sheer force of the Austrian, a loss here might mean more harm to WALTER than it would success for Ilja.
If WALTER is to one day go on to become a bigger star under the WWE umbrella, then they need to be really careful with who they choose to be the one to dethrone him for the UK Championship. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly who that could be on the current roster — perhaps it could have been Finn Balor if COVID hadn’t restricted travel and stopped plans for a Dublin-based TakeOver special, but even now that plans have changed, I don’t see them giving the big win to Ilja just yet.
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