wrestling / Columns

Hamilton Looks Back at the History of WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov

November 2, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov

The October 29, 2020 edition of NXT UK achieved something rare – it was an episode of the WWE’s oft-maligned UK brand that actually got some buzz.

Not “some buzz” or chatter because someone who’d been named in Speaking Out appeared… not some buzz because “oh, look at how bad the booking is,” but because the show had built and delivered an honest-to-God Match of the Year contender in spite of it being in the middle of the “Only-No-Fans” era of WWE programming.

WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov was a match that had a lot of people chattering, this was far from the first time they’d met. With both men having effectively been “born and raised” in wXw, it’d be no surprise that they met several times in the German promotion – with some extremely memorable clashes to boot.

Not all of their matches made tape, but for those that are available on VODs, the links are below…

wXw 15th Anniversary Tour: Borken – September 19, 2015
Watch: URL – https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-15th-anniversary-tour-2015-borken/vod – German-only, starts at 1:04:30
Ilja Dragunov vs. Big Daddy Walter
We’re going back to their first-ever meeting at the Stadthalle Vennehof in Borken (and no, that’s not a typo). This was back when Cerberus was a leading group in wXw, and Walter’s match graphic had him in a sweet furry jacket… but here it’s the early days of RINGKAMPF.

We’ve a jump start as Walter side-stepped a charge from Dragunov at the bell, before they quickly broke into chops. Ilja side-steps a big boot, but couldn’t avoid a side suplex that sent him outside… but Walter gives chase, catching him with a kick before he posted the Russian. Chops bounce Dragunov against the apron before they headed inside, where chops from Walter neutralised Dragunov momentarily.

Ilja tries to chop back, but the size difference on Walter meant he was able to overpower him… so Ilja’s got to stick and move to have any chance. Except Walter just ended him with a chip into the corner that had Dragunov stagger to the mat, ahead of the ol’ Earthquake sit-down splash for a near-fall. They head outside again, where Walter chops and boots Ilja around ringside again, but back inside Dragunov’s able to surprise Walter in the ropes with a Dragon screw.

They’re back outside, where Ilja manages to edge ahead with chops, taking Walter towards the post where he wrapped a leg around it… but Walter used his other boot to push Ilja away. Not to worry, Dragunov just wraps the leg around the post again. Dragunov stays on the leg back inside, but when he relents, Walter’s right back with chops, before a slam from Walter ended with Ilja wriggling into a counter that nearly ended the match.

Dragunov measures Walter for some stomps and a boot choke, but Walter’s back to his feet and fights back with a back elbow… before another boot’s caught as Ilja tied him up and hit him with a Torpedo Moscau to the knee for a near-fall. A toe hold from Ilja’s next as he proceeds to drive Walter’s knee into the mat for another two-count, with more stomps following to the knee as Dragunov tried to remove that vertical base.

Another toe hold keeps Walter on the mat, before a back senton to the knee and a leg lock exacerbated things further. Except Walter’s able to reach Ilja when he sits up, and throws some chops to try and free himself, but the damage to the knee restricts him as the Austrian needed to roll to the ropes for safety. Pulling himself up, Walter’s prone for a lariat as Dragunov looked to pull ahead, but a big boot and a German suplex got Walter right back in it.

Walter pulls himself up again, and cracks into Dragunov with a corner clothesline, then a butterfly suplex for a near-fall, before Ilja hit a backfist. An attempt at a Saito suplex is blocked as Walter hauls him up for a powerbomb, before an elbow from Walter, then a retaliation Torpedo Moscau from Ilja drew a near-fall. A powerbomb from Walter lands next, but Adam Polak – Ilja’s manager – pulls out the referee to keep the match going.

Walter heads outside to go after Polak, who flees onto the raised walkway, then onto the stage… but Dragunov saves him… only to get suplexed on the ramp as the referee’s count reached ten. Apparently it wasn’t reset when Dragunov joined Walter outside, but not to worry – the double count-out just set the table for an ongoing feud with Walter and Cerberus, which would culminate in January 2016’s Käfigschlacht (War Game-ish) match.

Result: Big Daddy Walter & Ilja Dragunov fought to a double count-out in 12:30 (***½)

wXw Shotgun Live Tour: Köln II – November 26, 2016 (available on Shotgun Plus 284)
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/tv-series/wxw-shotgun/284 – German-only, starts 42:50
WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov
We’ve a tentative start as Ilja was playing stick and move with WALTER, catching him with an early chop… then another as WALTER tried to swing for the fences. Ilja keeps poking the proverbial bear with his chops, but ends up getting cornered and obliterated with a chop. Ah, I miss hearing those. More chops from WALTER have Dragunov punch-drunk, but he’s able to roll out of an early Gojira clutch ahead of another chop that took WALTER down. Heading outside, Ilja chops WALTER again, but a response from WALTER turns it around as he threw Dragunov back inside and began to stomp a mudhole through him. A slam and a sit-out splash squishes Ilja for a near-fall, before he restrained Dragunov with an overhead wristlock. Dragunov tries to sneak back with a Saito suplex, but has to float out of a powerbomb as he ran into a damned chop to the head, before a clothesline dropped WALTER for a near-fall.

More chops from WALTER subdue Ilja, but Dragunov chops down WALTER out of a superplex before hitting a back senton for a near-fall. A tope from Dragunov is swatted away by WALTER, who powerbombed him onto the edge of the ring for good measure, following up with clubbing crossface punches in the ropes. A dropkick knocks Dragunov off the apron, before WALTER just booted Ilja in the face after he’d been spat on. The standing ten count just sees Ilja pull himself back to his feet as WALTER continued to dominate, but Dragunov held his own as the pair trade chops with seemingly no end in sight. Dragunov has to fight off another Gojira clutch, but he’s just ragdolled into a German suplex, as a butterfly suplex followed up for a near-fall.

We’re back to the blistering chops as WALTER takes Ilja up top, finally landing a butterfly superplex for a near-fall. Another Gojira clutch is applied as Dragunov hit a desperation Saito suplex to break free, only for WALTER to roll outside to prevent a pinning attempt. Dragunov joins him on the apron for more chops, but WALTER joins in and lifts Ilja back into the ring… only for Dragunov to recover and knock him back to the floor for a tope. WALTER beats the count to get back in, before Adam Polak hit the ring randomly to try and get into it with WALTER. Dragunov’s distracted by it as WALTER rolls him up for a near-fall… WALTER goes for Polak, and almost loses to a schoolboy, before a big boot and a murderous lariat led to another near-fall for the Austrian. WALTER tries for a powerbomb, but Polak climbs to the top rope to distract again… and it works as WALTER goes for him, allowing Ilja to counter with a powerbomb out of the corner for a two-count.

Polak’s back as he offers Ilja a pill (or two), but Dragunov slaps it away, and promptly gets destroyed with a shotgun dropkick as WALTER proceeds to force the stoppage with a Gojira clutch. A heck of a match, which put the work in place for that rocket Ilja was to have strapped to his back. I wasn’t crazy with the Polak-heavy finish, but it’s all storyline and preparation work!

Result: WALTER defeated Ilja Dragunov via referee stoppage in 16:13 (***¾)

wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017: Night Three – March 12, 2017
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-16-carat-gold-2017/night-3 – English or German, introductions start at 2:21:00
16 Carat Gold 2017 – Final: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov
This is what the whole three-day tournament comes down to – WALTER gegen Ilja Dragunov – and they started with WALTER being taken into the ropes as the plucky Ilja refused to back down.

Dragunov used his speed to back away from chops from WALTER early on, but he couldn’t avoid a dropkick as WALTER took the upper hand for a brief moment, grabbing a sleeperhold then turning it into a German suplex after a rope break was ignored. He took Ilja up top, but got shoved down as the Russian came crashing onto him with a back senton, only for a springboard dropkick to get swatted away by the massive arm of WALTER.

WALTER kept on top of Ilja with a keylock, before releasing it to chop away some more, only to get sent onto the apron then to the floor as Ilja hit the Torpedo Moscau, then a suicide dive to the outside! The advantage was quickly snuffed out though, as WALTER connected with an apron powerbomb before rolling Ilja in for a near-fall. So he just chopped away at Ilja some more, but the Russian refused to back down, no matter how much WALTER’s shovel-hands were tearing apart his chest!

A sleeperhold attempt from WALTER is fought out of, as Ilja comes back with a clothesline and a side suplex that got Ilja and his bloodied chest a two-count. WALTER came back to boot Ilja onto the top rope for a butterfly superplex, before Ilja used a Fireman’s carry on WALTER to escape a powerbomb… then followed up with a powerbomb out of the corner for another near-fall!

Another springboard out of the corner from Ilja’s swatted away by WALTER’s boot, and the giant Austrian goes to the sleeperhold, but this time Ilja reverses the German suplex after making the ropes, only for his O’Connor roll to end up being turned into a grounded rear naked choke. No rope breaks for you this time! Unlike everyone else so far, Ilja didn’t pass out, but that just earned him a big lariat and a folding powerbomb as Ilja just would not quit!

Frustrated, WALTER went back to chopping away on Ilja, bloodying up his chest some more, and it’s fair to say that Ilja’s chops didn’t leave anywhere near as much as a mark as those he received. Just looking at his chest was enough to make referee Tassilo Jung cringe, and the shots just kept coming!

A Yakuza kick from WALTER stunned Dragunov, but he immediately came back with a clothesline before firing out of the corner with the Torpedo Moscau… but WALTER kicked out just before three! After kicking out, WALTER went for the sleeper again, then drilled Dragunov with a sit-out tombstone… but again, Ilja would not die! More swiping shots from WALTER looked to be borne out of frustration than anything else, but that just spurred Ilja into one more Torpedo Moscau… and that was it! Ilja scores the pin, and celebrates winning this year’s 16 Carat Gold tournament!

My word, that was a hell of a final – intense from the start as WALTER expected to win the entire tournament, having had to campaign his way into it to begin with, whilst Ilja just refused to back down, fighting through the pain and obvious wounds inflicted on him by his monstrous opponent. This was a work of art, and one that both men – and everyone else involved – ought to be proud of.

Result: Ilja Dragunov pinned WALTER in 16:09 to win 16 Carat Gold 2017 (*****)

wXw 16 Carat Gold 2018: Night Two – March 10, 2018
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-16-carat-gold-2018/night-2 – English or German, introductions start at 2:00:00
wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship: WALTER vs. “Bad Bones” John Klinger (c) vs. Ilja Dragunov

Yeah, the Turbinenhalle was on FIRE just for WALTER’s entrance. Goosebumps forming on your arm just at the mere sight of him on the entry-way. Meanwhile, the champion John Klinger gets chants of “John Klinger sucks” at the mere sight of his pre-match promo video. Even more so when he got the live band playing his prior ring music, “I Walk Alone”.

It’s a very partisan crowd, and that was before the addition of the stipulation: WALTER made it a three-way-dance. With the returning ILJA DRAGUNOV. Holy shit! The Turbinenhalle lost their minds… while Bad Bones looked like he’d seen a ghost!

Klinger started by being clotheslined by both me, but RISE made use of the three-way stipulation by overloading on run-ins early. Da Mack gets clotheslined by Ilja, as payback for what happened at Tag League, while WALTER just press slammed Mack onto the rest of RISE… all while the crowd sang WALTER’s music. They’re chased away by the swift appearance of Avalanche, Julian Nero and Timothy Thatcher, with the remnants of Cerberus and RINGKAMPF helping to keep this a fair fight.

Klinger tries to leave with his title, and this leads to some brawling in the crowd (away from my line of sight, yay!), but they’re quickly back in as WALTER and Ilja double team Klinger… until WALTER just boots off Ilja’s head. Yep, we’re back to the chops as we get throwbacks to last year’s Carat final, at least until Klinger re-emerges on the scene.

The slingshot spear cuts Ilja in half, but Dragnov hits back with a half nelson into a backbreaker and a couple of lariats, just as WALTER returned! Klinger again goes for Ilja, but his chops just get Ilja spitting at him as the crowd began to roar behind Dragunov, right as he fired up once more. Even more chops continue to mark up Dragunov’s chest, before weathering a storm and dropping Dragunov with a half-nelson German suplex. Oh hi, WALTER’s back to kill Klinger, much to the crowd’s approval!

Bad Bones ‘ranas out of a powerbomb, but his tope is caught and turned into a powerbomb into the ringpost as Ilja dove out too, but it ends badly as the front row of chairs came into play, with Ilja going through them. Using the rules in his favour, Klinger low blows and DDT’s WALTER for a near-fall, before locking in the Rebel Lock, which WALTER rolls out of and into a rear naked choke… that almost pinned him!

Another rear naked choke follows, but Dragunov breaks it up with a back senton off the top rope, only for WALTER to continue the decimation via chops. It descended into a brief battle, but a WALTER chop puts him down after grabbing him by the throat. Good Lord! A short-arm lariat brutalises Dragunov, as does a second one, but Bones is back to break it up all over again.

Klinger sends a Torpedo Moscau into WALTER, but the Austrian recovers to break up the pin as Klinger tried a roll-up win. WALTER starts to aim his chops at Klinger next, only to get met with a Shotgun dropkick… but WALTER busts some out too, hitting Klinger with one before a powerbomb on Dragunov almost wins the match.

Slaps from WALTER put Ilja on jelly legs, as WALTER counters a Torpedo Moscau attempt with a rear naked choke… Ilja escapes and almost gets the win after a Torpedo Moscau on Bones, following a missed belt shot, and now this crowd are behind Dragunov! BURNING HAMMER TO BONES! Torpedo Moscau… and Ilja Dragunov is your new champion! A year-long road finally pays off, as Ilja Dragunov, after so much heartache and time off… returns and wins the big one on his first night back! A wondrous match, and there’ll be a lot more to unpack here than the result…

Result: Ilja Dragunov pinned John Klinger in 20:35 to win the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship (****¾)

wXw We Love Wrestling: London – March 24, 2018
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-we-love-wrestling-tour-2018-london/vod – English or German, introductions start at 1:13:00
wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship: David Starr vs. Travis Banks vs. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (c)
Well, this match has half-aged badly, eh? The originally-scheduled WALTER/Starr match was turned into a four-way, but let’s talk a little about Ilja Dragunov. At the age of 24 (at time of writing), he’s got an immense connection with the crowd from the second his music hits to the second he goes back through the curtain. A talent that you cannot teach, nor buy – and is more than worth his weight in gold to wXw and any promotion he’s in.

There was perhaps no clear favourite for this match, and we started with Travis Banks trying to clear house before we quickly settled down to WALTER and David Starr, whose death stare barely wavered in the opening moments. Starr tripped WALTER, but the Austrian had way too much power left in him… as we saw with the first of many chops that decked Starr. Travis Banks gets one too, before Starr low-bridged WALTER to the outside as the action stayed at a high pace.

Banks’ kicks knocked Starr down, just as Ilja joined the fray, and yes, those two threw bombs at each other, ending with a backhanded chop from Ilja – all in front of a gobsmacked Tassilo Jung. Lariats from Ilja kept Banks down, but WALTER’s back in to carve up Ilja’s chest with more chops, before he booted the champion’s face clean off. Holy crap!

We’re back to WALTER and Banks, with the Kiwi throwing some kicks to the chest, before hitting a leg sweep and a diving knee to take WALTER down. Everyone’s on the outside all of a sudden, and now it’s dive time as Banks looked for a PK off the apron… and gets dumped onto the apron with a back suplex from WALTER. Starr tries to fly and gets powerbombed onto Banks instead, after a brief chop, before Ilja finally takes down WALTER with a thunderous tope!

Back inside, Ilja knocked Starr onto the apron, but the counters take Ilja into a full nelson backbreaker on Starr, before Banks breaks things up and tries his luck with chops. You can guess how loud they were… and who won out. There’s some three-way interplay that ended with Starr dumping Banks and Dragunov with duelling Cherry Mint DDTs on the apron, before countering a Kiwi Krusher into a Blackheart Buster for a near-fall on Banks.

The same three trade chops, although it’s Ilja doing most of the dealing before WALTER shows them who’s boss. WALTER riles up Ilja ahead of their match at True Colors, throwing some kicks to Ilja, who tries to throw some chops… and you know how that ends, as we got a taste of last year’s Carat final. Unbesiegbar is the word though as Ilja keeps getting up, just to have more clouds of sweat chopped off of his chest, before a paintbrush-like slap decked Ilja… then Starr… then Banks. OUCH.

Starr got back up, but WALTER’s in the mood for a killing spree as he boots everyone… only for Ilja to show that being unbesiegbar perhaps isn’t the best thing when you’re against WALTER. FINALLY Starr and Dragunov block a chop as WALTER finally gets triple-teamed in the corner as everyone figures out that’s their only hope… before their quick alliance blew up.

Alliances were the way forward, but WALTER’s able to get past them all with thunderous boots before a butterfly suplex saw the one man Austrian wrecking crew take down Ilja… before Travis Banks knocked him down with a Slice of Heaven. David Starr almost broke his streak by stealing the pin, but WALTER kicks out, and kicks back into things after breaking free of a Product Placement.

The Gojira clutch led to Starr getting dragged to the mat, but Ilja breaks it up with a back senton off the top to keep the match – and his title – alive – before a Torpedo Moscau was caught with another Gojira clutch! WALTER’s thrown away though, and Ilja finally connects with the Torpedo Moscau… only for Travis Banks to break it up! A Kiwi Krusher sees Banks come close, before his Slice of Heaven is rudely broken down by a boot from WALTER.

David Starr nails a pair of Han Stansen lariats – one to WALTER, and another to Ilja – but Dragunov’s back up with one of his own, before the Torpedo Moscau finally ended things… a brutal, fun and frantic match that packed a lot into its fifteen minutes. Gotta love a sprint – and with David Starr perhaps taking too long to focus on WALTER, it led to an emphatic win for Ilja Dragunov who had to beat off some stiff competition to walk away with his title.

Result: Ilja Dragunov pinned David Starr in 15:18 to retain the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship ( ****½)

wXw True Colors 2018 – April 14, 2018
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-true-colors-2018/vod – English or German, introductions start at 1:38:50
wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (c)
It was a homecoming for Ilja, who’s made Dresden his home in Germany… and you’ll not be surprised at how much Dresden popped for him.

Ilja’s chest was pretty marked up, having not recovered from a title defence against WALTER the previous night. Felix Schultz was announced as the referee for this one, and I’m already worried for him.

WALTER started off the early aggressor, taking Ilja down with an armbar, before a rope break was forced. Ilja tries his luck with shoulder tackles after his headlock’s pushed away, but it’s the Austrian who knocked him down before throwing the first chop of the match, and my God, he’s already drawn blood.

CHOP!

Ilja has to elbow out of a chinlock, but his lariat barely budges WALTER, whose elbow had much more effect, as the challenger went back to wearing down Dragunov in the middle of the ring. Dragunov ducks a chop and starts to throw his own, but a bid to slam WALTER was easily blocked as the Austrian easily hits one of his own. WALTER tosses Ilja outside as the match entered the front row, with more thunderous chops from both sides. Now there’s blood on Ilja’s chest, but that doesn’t deter the champion, who gets rolled back in before heading straight out with a tope… only to be caught and charged into the ringpost. A chop from WALTER connects with nothing but the ringpost as WALTER gets chopped into the front row.

Back in the ring, WALTER’s back with those chops, sending Ilja staggering into the ropes as he stood on his goddamned throat for good measure. Ilja fights back with chops as he tries to mark up WALTER’s chest, but a huge forearm decks him before he could make too much of a mark. More chops keep Ilja bouncing in the corner, before WALTER goes all Young Lion on him with a Boston crab.

Of course, Ilja hangs on, even doing press ups before pushing WALTER away… but he goes to the bodyslam again and gets chopped right back down to the mat. Ilja spits at WALTER, but to no avail, as the boots keep coming, before Ilja finally nails a spinning backfist… before he charges at WALTER with clotheslines before falling down again with a bodyslam attempt. WALTER tries a powerbomb, but that fails as Ilja does the Andre!

A back senton off the top follows as Dragunov almost gets the win, but that just angered the big man into slapping Ilja silly. Clotheslines follow again from Dragunov, but those wicked chops are always a threat… and in spite of that, and a boot from WALTER, Ilja gets the big man down with a clothesline! They get back to their feet, nose-to-nose, for more chops, but Ilja’s laughing them off now, even if they sound nastier and nastier…

This is getting insane, but Ilja’s edging ahead, before WALTER grabbed him by the throat and slapped him again, before working his way into a RINGKAMPF German and a subsequent butterfly suplex. Somehow, Ilja gets up from that, and manages to backdrop out of a piledriver attempt, before he catches a Torpedo Moscau and wraps in a sleeperhold instead.

Ilja quickly fades, but he fights back, shrugging off WALTER before accidentally wiping out Felix Schultz with a Torpedo Moscau. With no referee, WALTER’s back with a German suplex and a powerbomb, but Rainer Ringer takes a while to come down to make a count… and when he can only get a two-count on Ilja, WALTER replied… by booting his face off. That looked NASTY, and a throwback to the WALTER of old.

Tassilo Jung, somewhat reluctantly appears to wave off the match, causing the crowd to boo… as he doesn’t want any more referees hurt. Ilja grabs the microphone as the no contest was declared… but he doesn’t want it to end like that… not in his town.

WALTER doesn’t need to be asked again, and he’s straight in with lariats to Ilja, but it’s not enough to put him away. So it’s back to the chops, as the pair go hell for leather on each other, with both men knocking each other down. WALTER’s sent outside for a tope, which connects this time, but he stays on the outside as WALTER tried to powerbomb him into the crowd. Lucky, Ilja escaped, but he spits at WALTER again, which was as bad an idea as it was the first time… as the two engaged in yet more chops on the apron.

WALTER breaks from tradition and press slams Ilja from the apron into the chairs, before scoring a powerbomb back inside for another near-fall. Tass gets threatened here, and the sigh of relief after WALTER let go was telling, particularly since it was Ilja who took the next few kicks and not him! Ilja looked to be set for a superplex, but he switches it into a powerbomb out of the corner, and just as you sensed he was on the ascendency, his Torpedo Moscau’s cut-off with another Gojira clutch. Nevermind, he escaped that with a back suplex, before landing Torpedo Moscau, and that’s all!

A huge victory for Ilja Dragunov, and I need a lie down after that! Whether you see this on the same level as their infamous match at Carat from last year is subjective, but these two seemingly cannot fail to put on a great showing against each other – their health be damned, especially looking at how nasty Ilja’s chest looked after this match.

Result: Ilja Dragunov pinned WALTER in 23:35 to retain the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship (****½)

wXw Superstars of Wrestling 2018 – May 05, 2018
Watch: https://www.wxwnow.com/en/events/wxw-superstars-of-wrestling-2018/vod – English or German, introductions start at 2:06:45
wXw World Unified Wrestling Championship: WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov (c)
Since he was brought back into wXw by WALTER, Ilja’s title shots seem to have been heavily influenced by der Ringgeneral… which I’m not complaining about because those two have produced matches that have been nothing short of magical.

WALTER, wearing his Carat-gold trunks, refuses to shake Ilja’s hand, and we’re underway! The pair roll around the ropes from the initial tie-up as Ilja seemed a little perturbed by WALTER’s changing attitude, but he’s in with the first chops before WALTER grabbed the head and sparks a series of back-and-forth shoulder blocks. From there, WALTER throws Ilja to the outside, but Dragunov keeps up with the chops, and I think you know where this is going… but first, WALTER rudely shoves Ilja into the ringpost before chopping it.

More chops from Ilja delay the inevitable, as does Dragunov throwing the arm into the ringpost again since he’s finally figured out – you need to disable both hands to stop the chop. It’s a smart move from Dragunov, who also tried to keep WALTER on the mat, as a back senton to the arm further weakened the chopping arms.

Despite that, WALTER’s able to boot Ilja in the face, before going for a Gojira clutch, only for the follow-up butterfly suplex to be avoided as Ilja remained one step ahead of der Ringgeneral, squashing him with a back senton to keep his challenger on the mat. Ilja’s back to the chops as he switches focus between that and the arms, successfully keeping WALTER at bay. Avalanche clotheslines work, but then WALTER tries a chop… only to get taken down to the outside with a Torpedo Moscau!

A tope from Dragunov sent WALTER into, and over, the front row, before targeting the chopping arm yet again, throwing it into the ring apron as WALTER could only muster some big boots in return. WALTER tries to fight back with a sleeperhold, but Ilja escapes and slingshots into a rope-hung neckbreaker back into the ring. There’s your turning point…

Dragunov’s almost begging off as he went into the ropes, giving WALTER a chance to stand on him before throwing some kicks… the one body part Ilja hadn’t targeted! A Zack Sabre Jr-like neck snap comes next, before WALTER runs through a chop from Ilja and drags him into a nasty-looking Lion Tamer. With his hands behind his back, a la the RINGKAMPF pose, WALTER put the boots to Ilja… but Dragunov tries to go back to the arm and throws some more chops, only to get taken down with a DDT as WALTER decided that Ilja’s neck was the weak point.

On the apron, WALTER drags Dragunov between the turnbuckles and pulls back on Ilja’s head, before going in for a cravat. Dragunov escapes and returns fire with lariats, but a pair of big boots from WALTER spun him around and down to the mat for a near-fall, as WALTER’s hard-hitting offence slowly began to creep into the equation. More kicks from WALTER follow, but an enziguiri from Dragunov stops the tide, as does a bodyslam as Dragunov brought the big man down!

A crushing back senton off the top rope gets Ilja a near-fall, but WALTER’s straight back up into a sleeperhold, before looking to switch it into a Fire Thunder Driver… but Ilja slips out into a rear naked choke of his own… which WALTER broke free of by climbing the ropes and falling onto his back! The pair trade off on rear naked chokes, with Ilja surprising WALTER with a RINGKAMPF German suplex, but that just angered der Ringgeneral into giving him a Torpedo Moscau. HUH?!

Ilja’s still laughing, so WALTER goes toe-to-toe as they go back to the chops… and after taking some free shots, WALTER replies with a big boot before taking more chops. WALTER’s first attempt at a chop is blocked as Ilja took him into the corner for a Ligerbomb, getting a near-fall before another Torpedo Moscau was countered with a Gojira clutch! Ilja’s still got an exit plan though – as WALTER’s injured hand was his way to freedom, before some wrist-clutch lariats were duly returned in kind, as WALTER decked Ilja with a clothesline of his own.

A powerbomb’s attempted by WALTER next, but he couldn’t get Ilja up… and instead a deadlift back body drop sent the Austrian flying, before he returned with a slap to the face and finally a one-handed powerbomb! The folding pin only gets a near-fall as WALTER goes back to the Lion Tamer, stomping Dragunov’s head into the mat before flipping it into a STF… but again, WALTER’s hand was the weak point as Ilja got free again. Only to get stomped repeatedly in the head and neck.

WALTER swings and misses with a lariat, allowing Ilja to fight back… but finally, WALTER throws a chop and takes down the champion for a near-fall! Wisely, WALTER doesn’t go back to the chops though, brushing Ilja with boots, almost decapitating him with one before a crucifix bomb from Dragunov drew a near-fall ahead of a Fujiwara armbar… and with Ilja switching sides to prevent a rope break, WALTER’s left with no choice but to tap! WOW. Well, if you’re one of those guys who hates on these matches because “it’s all chops”, I present to you, exhibit A. ONE chop from WALTER, which which was more out of defiance than anything else, and these two still knocked it out of the park. No, Ilja didn’t come out unscathed, thanks to a bunch of stomps to the neck, but he left with his title intact… and perhaps now, that’s WALTER vanquished for the time being, as he finally shook hands after the match. If you’ve followed their matches, this was absolute perfection – although not the grandiose spectacle of, say, Carat, this played off of their series to a tee. This’ll feature very highly in everyone’s end of year lists, that’s for sure.

Result: Ilja Dragunov submitted WALTER in 24:28 to retain the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship (*****)

PROGRESS Chapter 92: Entertaining Friends – July 07, 2019
Watch: https://watch.wwe.com/episode/Chapter-92-Entertaining-Friends-147683 – English-only, introductions start at 2:10:50
PROGRESS Unified World Championship: Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER ©
In the last little while, Ilja’s had WALTER’s number – beating him to win 16 Carat Gold in 2017, and hasn’t lost to him in singles action since, in a series of classics over the wXw unified title. Of course, in that same universe, he and WALTER are buddies…

There’s LOUD duelling chants before the bell as the crowd were really looking forward to this one. WALTER tries to rough up Ilja early, but when he got shoved back, the Austrian was quick to moan, as Dragunov ended up falling into the path of some heavy strikes from WALTER, before he avoided an elbow drop on the way to a stand-off. An attempt at the leapfrog/boot by WALTER’s thwarted by Ilja’s crossbody as Dragunov knew WALTER better than he knew himself it seemed.

Ilja turns up the tempo by diving on WALTER outside, before a back senton back inside drew a near-fall… but WALTER struck back just as quickly, throwing Ilja into the ropes as Dragunov snapped his head off the mat on the way to the outside. The referee tries to protect Ilja, but WALTER just puts the boots in before he dumped Ilja onto the edge of the ring with a powerbomb. There’s more of that too as WALTER just hurls Ilja into the ring post, as Dragunov was finding it tough to just stay in the match. Still, that gets the crowd behind him as he absorbed more and more punishment, including a chop that almost made Ilja punch-drunk… bringing him back to his feet only to take a hanging DDT off the top rope by WALTER. Eventually Ilja got an opening and caught WALTER with a suplex, which brought the crowd to their feet. Now THAT’S what I call hope!

An enziguiri followed as WALTER’s on the defensive, with an Ode to Konstantin clothesline almost completing a hurried turnaround. Chops from Ilja are quickly stopped by a big boot from WALTER, leaving the challenger on the apron as clubbering crossface forearms followed. One’s caught as Ilja begins to swell up, eventually making a comeback with a big German suplex to leave both men down. Unfortunately Ilja went for a diving clothesline, only to get swatted away as WALTER hit a clothesline of his own, then a Fire Thunder driver for a near-fall… so a STF proceeded to trap Ilja in the middle of the ring. Dragunov’s still got fight left in him though, as a chop made WALTER wince… but not as much as the response did. More chops from Ilja seemed to precede a Torpedo Moscau… but WALTER caught it and turned it into a rear naked choke… only for Ilja to stand him up and come back with a death valley driver in the middle of the ring!

Dragunov couldn’t get the pin though, so he tries for a piledriver… but WALTER sandbags himself, so Ilja just drops him with a lariat instead. A massive Ligerbomb stuns the crowd for another near-fall, before a Torpedo Moscau connected… which seemingly aggravated Ilja’s neck some more, as WALTER ends up rolling onto the apron to avoid getting pinned. Undeterred, Ilja dragged WALTER through the ropes for a flying dropkick, taking the champion back in… only for WALTER to catch him with another clothesline, then a folding powerbomb… but it’s not enough! More clotheslines drop Dragunov, but he kicks out at one. Glen screams™. Another clothesline follows… and that’s it. When you put these two in the ring against each other, you’re guaranteed an absolute classic – and while this didn’t have quite the cache as their wars in wXw, the bell-to-bell was superb. Ilja’s had a cracking weekend, but he leaves without any gold as WALTER walked away with the same three belts he arrived with.

Result: WALTER pinned Ilja Dragunov in 23:22 to retain the PROGRESS Unified World Championship (****½)

WWE NXT UK TV – October 29, 2020
Watch: https://watch.wwe.com/episode/WWE-NXT-UK-152025 – English-only, introductions start at 35:53
NXT UK Championship: Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER (c)
Going in WALTER’s held the NXT UK title for 573 days (going by broadcast date) – by far the longest individual title reign of his career. He’s since defended the title against Pete Dunne, Travis Banks, Tyler Bate, Joe Coffey and Dave Mastiff… while this’ll be his tenth one-on-one meeting with Ilja, with the challenger having won six of their prior outings to WALTER’s two.

Ilja’s raring to go before the main event announcements, and he starts hot with a running front kick, taking WALTER into the corner… only for the Austrian to swap places as he chopped and kicked the Russian down. A powerbomb looks to follow, but Ilja floats out, only to run into another kick… but he’s back with a leaping knee into the corner. Dragunov heads up top, but it’s way too early as WALTER chops him before a back senton off the top rope knocked WALTER down. A Torpedo Moscau followed, but it’s caught and turned into a sleeper suplex as Ilja’s head bounced off the mat. Dragunov’s back up to lay into WALTER with elbows, but WALTER catches one and throws him outside, via the bottom rope as Ilja’s head snapped back nastily.

Back inside, WALTER keeps going for Ilja with elbows, despite the challenger’s attempt to fire back, before WALTER grounded him with a side headlock. Ilja tries one of his own, which gets him free, but WALTER just drops a knee to his head before a chop to the back of Dragunov’s neck left him down. Ilja’s back with some palm strikes of his own, but WALTER goozles and chops him back down as Ilja pulled himself onto the apron… with WALTER happily helping him out some more with a boot choke. More elbows from WALTER keep Ilja down for a neck crank, before they traded slaps and chops as Ilja again tried to fight free.

A Greco-Roman knuckle lock forces Dragunov down, with WALTER stomping any semblance of a neck bridge apart, with a neck twist continuing to aggravate that body part ahead of a near-fall. Dragunov gets back up, but gets ragdolled with a German suplex as he tried to find a way through, before WALTER went back in with a chinlock and some more slaps to the neck. Elbows from Dragunov come to nought as WALTER just stands on the head and stretches his foe, then dropped another knee. Somehow, Ilja’s got enough in the tank to throw some chops, but WALTER wrecks him with a chop of his own as he again looked to force a pin, before WALTER draped Ilja across the top turnbuckle for a chop and some more stretching, finishing off by just unceremoniously dumping Dragunov to the floor.

There’s even more boot choking by the apron as Ilja got back to his feet, before WALTER kicked away as Ilja tried to get back into the ring, leading to a spill to the floor. On the apron, WALTER stretches Dragunov for some crossface punches, one of which is eventually caught before Dragunov turned him around to return the favour. Dragunov heads back inside and manages to haul WALTER up for a German suplex, but he’s clobbered in the neck before he could follow-up… but somehow Ilja hits a second German suplex, then a third, before a leaping kick to WALTER was returned with a chop. Ilja hits a pair of enziguiri though, then hauled up WALTER for the Gotch-lift suplex for a near-fall.

Dragunov follows up with some stomps as WALTER was left down and out, but a cheeky kick from the ground helps WALTER pull Ilja back down before an elbow to the next put Dragunov back to square one. He pulls Ilja up for a rear naked choke, but chops to the neck from Ilja, then a backfist get him free as he began to throw lariats, only for WALTER to duck and lock in a sleeper. Ilja breaks it in the ropes, but WALTER tries to reapply it… Ilja counters with an O’Connor roll, but WALTER gets up and goes for the sleeper again. Dragunov roll snack as the pace quickens, getting him a near-fall, as a Konstantin-Spezial got Ilja a little closer. An attempted Torpedo Moscau’s just swatted away by WALTER, who goes back to the vicious chops… but Dragunov remains defiant, and tries to fight back once more, throwing elbows and kicks until a lariat dropped him.

A quick powerbomb follows for a near-fall, as does another lariat as WALTER started to get a little annoyed with Ilja for hanging on. More chops to the neck follow as WALTER locks in a sleeperhold on the mat, turning it into a Dragon sleeper as a bloodied Dragunov rolled into the ropes. Of course, it was his chest that was leaking. WALTER stays on top of Ilja, picking him up and slapping the arms away for another sleeper, but he kicks the back before Dragunov tried to fight out of the sleeperhold… and does so with more chops to the neck. It becomes a slugfest, with headbutts from Dragunov and more neck chops wearing down WALTER ahead of a knee lift and a double chop. Dragunov staggers to the top rope from there, aiming for and hitting a Coast to Coast dropkick for yet another near-fall.

The impact from that looked to have tweaked Ilja’s neck some more though, as he takes his time getting back to his feet. More back-and-forth chops led to Ilja looking for another suplex, but he has to settle for more lariats before he pulled up WALTER for an overhead throw that almost led to the title change. A chop to the back knocks WALTER down, as Ilja again tees up for Torpedo Moscau… landing in the back of WALTER’s head, but it takes a lot out of Ilja too. Dragunov wilts on another Torpedo Moscau, eventually landing a diving knee for another two-count, before some Danielson elbows forced WALTER to roll outside for respite. Ilja follows him there, but gets caught with a sleeper suplex on the floor. Holy sh…

WALTER follows up with a big boot to knock Dragunov into the ring steps, before an apron powerbomb brought the Russian back inside the hard way. Another powerbomb followed, before WALTER went up top for his super finisher – a big splash… squashing Dragunov who still wouldn’t stay down for the three-count! Ground and pound from WALTER followed, before WALTER pulled up Ilja into a rear naked choke… and with Dragunov bloodied and unresponsive, the match is waved off. With a crowd – hot or otherwise – this would have sleepwalked into people’s match of the year discussions, but even with that limitation, this was a goddamn delight. Carve out half an hour of your week and watch this match!

Result: WALTER pinned Ilja Dragunov in 25:09 to retain the NXT UK Championship (****½)

So… where next for these two? While their feud hasn’t been predicated on something like a desire to snap a losing streak, it’s quite clear that this is a combination that hits a home run every single time they’re up against each other – however, the one common denominator from each of those matches is just how brutal they were. The physical scars left clear each and every time as Ilja’s chest invariably ends up looking like minced meat – except maybe that one match where they didn’t throw chops.

For my money, their run of matches in 2018 was the pinnacle – helped by the Dragunov “retirement” in 2017 and the surprise comeback at the following year’s 16 Carat Gold, the two hit a golden run of form with matches that delivered in every way possible. The fact that these two have managed to build a legacy without having to do a single match, or even “their kind of match to death” as can so easily be the case. They’ve not been the same matches, heck, they’ve not been in the same roles – and while the more effective alignment has seen Ilja be the “babyface in peril”, there’s very much mileage in Dragunov becoming a bad guy and going down this road again with a good-guy WALTER. Of course, it’s not a match to rush back to in terms of rematches – but at least the stuff that has made tape through the years has plenty of replay value!

article topics :

Ilja Dragunov, NXT UK, WALTER, Ian Hamilton