PROGRESS Wrestling’s Ballad Of The Moscow Affair: Cara Noir Vs Ilja Dragunov (Part 2)

The final curtain.


Wrestling cards across the world always attempt to hype the uniqueness of a match, whether through the contrast between the competitors, or how they compliment in styles, or very rarely, the fact it’s a first ever meeting between two superstars. You need only see the excitement of Japanese fans when Chris Jericho first appeared in New Japan wanting to face Kenny Omega, or the anticipation of WWE higher-ups when they prepared for The Rock to return and take on John Cena. More often, wrestlers may end up facing one another multiple times over the years due to a lack of variety on the rosters, which can sometimes lead to multiple matches between opponents, gradually deteriorating to diminished returns.

However, sometimes there will be wrestlers who instantly have chemistry and go on to face each other several times in high quality matches, creating a historical series of matches that fans can enjoy, culminating in a classic trilogy. The most obvious of classic trilogies will be the tremendous Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega Trilogy for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, which gained critical acclaim and helped bring New Japan to a bigger international audience. Another classic example would be the 1989 series between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, possibly the yardstick that other trilogies are still often compared to over thirty years later.

In this series, we shall be highlighting a more recent trilogy that quickly gained acclaim and respect for the competitors involved but is lesser known in comparison; a two month trilogy that occurred last year for PROGRESS Wrestling between Cara Noir and Ilja Dragunov.

When looking at all three matches, we will see what made these matches so good, what developments occurred throughout the trilogy, and what would be the ramifications for this trilogy, with Part One focusing on the first two matches in the series.

We return for the deciding match.


Chapter 99: With A Flake, Please? (15th December 2019)
Match #3 – 2 Out Of 3 Falls


Ilja would come out first with face paint in the style of Noir, seemingly taking advantage of any possible mind games, as he awaited his opponent. The entire crowd would shush in anticipation of Noir, whose unveiling of the mask would receive excited applause, as the atmosphere grew exponentially. Ilja would actually open the second and third rope for Noir to enter, but Noir would slide in as normal, refusing the offer, before posing for the crowd. Noir would motion to Ilja’s face paint with a smile, delighted in Ilja adding an element of theatrics.

The two men would fixate their sights upon one another, preparing for battle as the bell rings, both competitors shake hands and touch foreheads before they begin their war. A Blackout attempt was thrown off, and Ilja placed a fist on Noir’s neck, but not actually hitting, as if reluctant to attack. Noir attempts to pose, and Ilja links arms with him, stroking down Noir’s face and body, before tapping the ground three times. To Noir’s surprise, the referee called for the bell, claiming it to be a tap out.

Winner by Submission of Fall One – Cara Noir (1-0)

Ilja doesn’t question the decision, but an angered Noir attacks Ilja with a Superkick and Forearms, but a Swan Woo attempt is turned into a Torpedo Moskau from Ilja. One, two, three, Ilja ties it up.

Winner by Pinfall of Fall Two – Ilja Dragunov (1-1)

The third fall has Ilja delightfully getting under Noir’s skin, placing Noir on a chair and hitting a running Senton to wipe Noir out, before returning them both to the ring. A sickening moment where Ilja hits a Senton on top of Noir’s head, gaining a two count. Noir would resort to a headbutt that leaves him more damaged than Ilja. At one point, Noir slumps into the arms of Ilja, who is on his knees, and Ilja suddenly feels overcome with emotion, only for Noir to attack with several hard headbutts to escape.

Twice in succession, Ilja’s Torpedo Moskau is cut short as Noir slumps to the floor. An annoyed Ilja blows a kiss and punts Noir in the face, a desperate Noir hitting a vicious headbutt in retaliation to survive. After a series of suplexes and neckbreakers, the two competitors exchange kicks, Ilja grabs the leg and Noir knocks him away, Ilja on his knees next to Noir, who grabs Ilja’s hand and lifts their arms to the sky, bowing for the final curtain. Ilja with the Superplex off the top rope with a float over, but Noir hits the Madam Guillotine and both men are down, to grateful applause from the crowd.

Noir’s determination to lock in the Blackout forced Ilja to climb up two turnbuckles and drop backwards, with ‘The Black Swan’ refusing to let go until Ilja rolled backwards for a two count. Later on, Ilja blows a kiss and attempts a Van Terminator across the ring, but Noir with the Swan Woo to Ilja’s midsection for a two count. After Ilja hits the Ode To Constantine (619 Lariat), both men with multiple double clotheslines on one another, as the crowd chant for both men in appreciation. They stand nose to nose, both bounce off the ropes and embrace in a hug, Ilja holding Noir and kissing his forehead, whispering to him, as Noir hits the Package Piledriver and covers; one, two, three.

Winner by Pinfall of Fall Three – Cara Noir (2-1)

Cara Noir
Source: Reddit

A standing ovation by the crowd as Noir has his hand raised in victory, both men possibly overwhelmed by the emotions, Noir seemingly distraught until Ilja jumps on top and hugs him, lifting the hand of the man who beat him. Ilja gracefully leaves as Noir bows, and then as Noir turns to the entrance way, he bows in appreciation to Ilja, who applauds him emphatically.

A tremendous ending to a trilogy of excellent matches, the show of respect between the two demonstrating their growth throughout the series. In Part One, we discussed the conflicting emotions for Ilja as he seemingly found himself getting enamoured with Noir and his enigmatic personality, opening up in unfamiliar fashion. In this match, Ilja allows himself to accept what he has battled for so long, coming out in face paint ala Noir in a move that can be seen as either mind games, or forming a connection.

The first fall could be interpreted as a show of mind games, but it could also be evidence of someone trying to show their love in a misinformed manner, only to alienate the object of their desire through their mistake. Noir’s love of theatricality and beauty is only matched by his love of competition, feeling insulted by such an action, which leads to his vicious attack in the second fall. However, Noir’s attack reignites the true heart of Ilja, who ends up increasing his intense attacks to tie the match and leading into their possible last encounter to truly cement the better man.

But the third fall does more than that, it brings all the emotion and development of the previous two falls and the previous two matches, and in a moment of clarity, Ilja is overcome. His conflicts and desires have led him to the most vicious attack on his opponent yet, and the realisation hits him, his attempted desecration of a beautiful thing that he has come to value. In the first match, Noir had reached for Ilja’s hand and been rewarded with an attack, while the second match had Ilja reach out for Noir, but this match had Noir offer and Ilja accepted, taking a bow together in connected unison.

This unison was strengthened when the two men would embrace in a hug, Ilja whispering to his opponent, possibly to give permission for Noir to end it, as straight afterwards, Noir would gain the victory. The moments after the match would have Noir in tears and Ilja embracing him in support, a bond created between two men that had come to respect each other.

There were two pieces of media that came to mind as I watched this trilogy, the first was a song by Lauv and Julia Michaels called “There’s No Way”, a lament of two people who feel a connection in their first meeting, and the second was from the television show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. There is a character featured in the show called Mac, who his whole life is a strong practicing Roman Catholic, but eventually realises he is actually gay, something he struggles to reveal to his old-fashioned, manly father.

In an episode entitled “Mac Finds His Pride”, he finally comes out to his father, through the form of an interpretative dance that signifies his ongoing battle between his profound faith and his true self, his fear of acceptance from God and acceptance of himself. It’s a beautifully portrayed dance that opens up the mindset of the character to an unprecedented amount, and the trilogy of matches between Ilja Dragunov and Cara Noir gave me the exact same feeling Yet somehow, despite the evocative story told between these two competitors, it still feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of the relationship between these two men.

The third and final match was voted seventh out of the top ten PROGRESS Wrestling matches of 2019, as voted for by GRAPPL App users, cementing the tremendous journey the fans were taken on, and one I struggle to argue with. Even more importantly, just two chapters later, Noir and Dragunov ended up the final two men in an Elimination Four Way for the vacant PROGRESS World Championship, their story having hooked an entire audience and being rewarded in the first main event of 2020.

In the end, Noir became the PROGRESS World Champion, having debuted less than six months prior, to the delight of an adoring crowd. Noir had gained the love and respect of the PROGRESS audience and Management through his gorgeous visuals, sincerity and amazing matches, with this trilogy being a huge factor in the decision to reward Noir with the championship. Meanwhile, Ilja was now cemented as a main event star and likely has a tremendous future battling for the championship ahead, with a fascinating story to develop from here.

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