wrestling / Video Reviews

Hamilton’s Best of Ilja Dragunov in PROGRESS Review (10.24.20)

January 30, 2021 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
Ilja Dragunov
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Hamilton’s Best of Ilja Dragunov in PROGRESS Review (10.24.20)  

Ilja Dragunov vs. Pete Dunne – from PROGRESS Chapter 76: Hello Wembley (September 30, 2018)
Technically Ilja Dragunov’s PROGRESS debut, the benefit of hindsight perhaps dictated that Ilja perhaps should have had at least one outing on British soil, if only to give those fans who watch nothing but PROGRESS a chance to see what he’s capable of.

So, with Ilja’s in-ring debut taking place here, with more new music, we received what could only be described as palpable silence that gave way as the crowd got into him. Being presented not as “the best in Europe” but rather as a “foreign invader” with Christian Michael Jakobi as his mouthpiece, Dragunov had a rather hostile reaction – but the lack of familiarity, along with Pete Dunne’s reported injury meant that the match took a while to click.

We did start out hot as Dunne and Dragunov fired into each other, but it was Dunne who drew first blood with a clothesline. Dragunov hits a massive dive early, after a back senton had taken Dunne to the outside, but that domain kinda played into Dunne’s wheelhouse as he used the ring steps for stomping onto Dragunov’s arms. Still, Ilja hit back with a suplex off the ring steps to the floor – which may as well have been off the apron! Back in the ring, Dragunov kept the upper hand while the crowd chose to compare CMJ to Paul Heyman, before Dunne just blasted Dragunov into the corner with a single forearm. A missile dropkick to the knee flips Ilja, who quickly falls into a knee bar, but there’s a rope break – then a distraction – as Ilja tried to take over once more… but Dunne holds on after a superplex and quickly follows in with an X-Plex.

Dragunov keeps up with a lariat though, then a Chernobyl Bomb for a near-fall, before another back senton sees Dragunov land in a cross armbreaker from Dunne. There’s a quick escape, but Dunne goes back to Dragunov’s digits briefly as the match went a little more back-and-forth. A snap German suplex and a Bitter End gets a near-fall for Dunne, as we’re meant to be shocked that the Bitter End only got a two-count. From there, we’ve some stomps to Ilja’s chest and face… then Ilja returns the favour with some Bryan Danielson-like elbows to the neck… which prompts Dunne to remove his gumshield as we finally got some duelling chants.

Headbutts from Ilja target the shoulder, before the clonking headbutts started to effect both men, as they crashed back down to the mat. They sit up and exchange palm strikes, which led to Dunne biting away on Ilja’s fingers. That prompts Jakobi onto the apron as he lays out Dunne with his WWE UK title belt… leaving Dunne in the corner for a Coast to Coast dropkick that somehow only got a spent Dragunov a near-fall. Jakobi’s still on the apron as he yells abuse at Dunne, which led to him getting his comeuppance as Dunne grabs… then snaps the fingers, only to get dropped with a snap Saito suplex from Dragunov! There’s another Coast to Coast, but Dunne swats it away with a forearm before a Better End tombstone gets… a very near-fall?!

Dragunov’s back up and catches Dunne in the corner, bringing him down with the Burning Hammer and Sickle (cheers Alan4L!), before setting up for a Torpedo Moscau… clunking Dunne into the ropes! Another one looks to follow, but Dunne sidesteps it and counters back with a triangle armbar, snapping some fingers until Ilja was forced to tap. Coupled with the result, and you had more than a fair few fans who were left nonplussed, with the feeling that as long as that WWE UK title is around him, Pete Dunne’s presence in all but the biggest of matches leads to the bouts becoming a foregone conclusion. Is this a case of feeling like you know too much? Perhaps, but when you look at track records, it’s hard not to draw your own correlations without so much as “reading dirt sheets”. ***½

Ilja Dragunov vs. Tyler Bate – from PROGRESS Chapter 80: Gods and Monsters (December 8, 2018)
Last time out, Ilja entered to the knock-off Soviet theme and left to the drum theme he had at Wembley. This time, they’ve ditched the different themes and have instead given Ilja the drums as he returned to the city where he first appeared in a PROGRESS ring. I legitimately had to pause the VOD for a spell here, laughing at the “Un-be-seig-bar, let them know it’s Ilja’s time” chant. Timely AND it fits. Hat’s off to whoever was responsible for that…

After we zoomed in way too close for whatever it was meant to be, Bate took down Ilja with a wristlock as the “jesus, look at what you’re zooming at!” motif continued while Ilja responds with a toe hold. The mat work continued, as Ilja had to reach for the ropes, before coming back with a test of strength as both men had to fight from the bottom. They keep things grounded, with Bate looking for a bow-and-arrow hold, pulling Dragunov across his knees before letting the Russian go.

Dragunov responds with a side headlock that Tyler has to fight out of, which gave way to a brief battle of shoulder charges before Ilja bust out a chop. Bate flips out of a Chernobyl Bomb, before monkey flipping Ilja across the ring, as Tyler started to follow up with some Junkyard Dog-like headbutts. Ilja’s had enough and grabs Tyler by the throat en route to a backhanded chop and a back senton for a near-fall. A backflip into a clothesline sees Ilja stay ahead, but Bate tries to kick his way back into it from the mat, prompting Dragunov to just leather him with a forearm to the back. A back body drop’s good for a near-fall for Ilja, who continued to rain down with some strikes from above, before another back chop’s blocked as Tyler boxed his way back into the match.

A knee lift from Bate and a flying back elbow sees Tyler crash into Dragunov before another back body drop is countered into a Fisherman’s suplex for a near-fall. An O’Connor roll from Dragunov’s rolled through into a Chernobyl Bomb for a near-fall as the momentum kept on swinging. Bate blocks Ilja as he went up top, throwing some right hands as Tyler instead gets headbutted down as Ilja flew in with a back senton off the top rope… which Bate rolled away from! An airplane spin’s next as we got some classic Tyler, but after letting go, Tyler followed Ilja outside… only to get met with a tope and a back senton as those rented chairs were tested. Bate blocks another leap off the top with an enziguiri, before a superplex sent Ilja crashing to the mat for a near-fall.

With both men on their knees, Ilja and Tyler trade strikes, with Dragunov’s chops seemingly having more effect, at least until he was caught in an Exploder. There’s an instant response as Dragunov nailed a Saito suplex, before duelling clotheslines left both men down on the mat! Bate’s back up first and lands a running shooting star press… only for Ilja to roll up and haul Tyler into a death valley driver into the corner, before a Coast to Coast dropkick found its mark.

From there, Ilja called for the Torpedo Moscau, but a Koppo kick stopped him, before he back body dropped out of a Tyler Driver, coming back in with Torpedo Moscau for the win! That’s Ilja’s first win in PROGRESS, and what a contest – anyone who’s followed Ilja for any length of time won’t have been surprised by the quality of his wrestling, although I do wonder what the long game is here. Is Ilja gunning for a title, or is he just place-holding? ****¼

Ilja Dragunov vs. Timothy Thatcher – from PROGRESS Chapter 83: Remove Child Before Ironing (January 20, 2019)
Thatcher simply boots Ilja at the bell, as he neutralised Dragunov’s attempted hot start with a series of uppercuts, only to get caught with some chops as Dragunov fought back. Clotheslines wallop Thatcher, as do chops and clubbing forearms as Dragunov largely relied on his striking game early… but Thatcher struck too, catching Ilja’s swivel in the ropes before catching him with a pair of belly-to-belly suplexes.

Thatcher looks for a cross armbreaker, but Ilja rolls him up for a near-fall before an uppercut restored space between the two. Space that Thatcher quickly closed down as he rained down knees into Ilja as he began to brutalise him again… and that leads us to gunshot like chops from Dragunov. Yup, WALTER may not be on the card, but we’ve got loud chops anyway! Thatcher’s quickly back with a leg trip as he catches Ilja in a single-leg crab, at least until we get a rope break, but Dragunov looked to be in trouble until his desperation strikes led to an enziguiri to Thatcher. Palm strikes are next for the RINGKAMPF member, who then ate a DDT before he caught Dragunov up top… and got slapped back down to the mat.

Undeterred, Thatcher’s back up… and straight back down again as Ilja finally get stopped, when Thatcher just goozles and slaps him to the floor with a thud. Back inside, Ilja again trips doing the 619 as he lands a clothesline for a near-fall, following up off the top rope as he this time connects with a back sentonefore a tope caught Thatcher – and the front row – unawares. A Coast to Coast dropkick looked to follow, but an uppercut sent Dragunov flying back on himself instead for a near-fall. THAT LANDING. OW. Still, Dragunov counters a butterfly suplex into a modified Northern Lights for a two-count, before we’re back to the ol’ chops and uppercuts. My GOD, the percussive noises Thatchers’ chest made were damn near sickening.

Just like the Saito suplex he took… then dished out! Both men show Fighting Spirit and get back up for more, with Ilja again getting goozled and slapped away. Eventually Ilja fires up and hits back with a back-chop, only for another Saito suplex to greet him, as he retaliated out of nowhere with a Torpedo Moscau for the win. A nice, heavy-hitting contest to start us off… and I like how they made Torpedo Moscau look deadly… but given the speculation around his future, I can only be wistful about how this should have been a year ago to build up the Pete Dunne match, not what happens four months later. ****

Ilja Dragunov vs. Chris Brookes – from PROGRESS Chapter 88: Strong Style 16 2019 Night One (May 04, 2019)
Duelling chants at the bell are trampled over by Glen Doing History on commentary, as the happenings in the ring took a back seat to the pre-amble. Chops from Brookes and Ilja ring around the venue before Brookes got taken down for a crushing back senton.

Ilja keeps up the pressure with a grounded variation of a Cobra clutch, forcing Brookes into the ropes before an elbow drop keeps the former 16 Carat Gold winner ahead. A boot out of the corner from Brookes led to him squashing Ilja with a back senton for a near-fall, as he looked to focus over Ilja’s left leg. Dragunov cuts off Brookes with a DDT, before a dropkick through the ropes sent Ilja crashing to the floor as Ilja went for a 619-like rope swivel. Brookes followed Ilja to the outside, but the tables turn there as Ilja cleared the front row as he went for a back senton there… but Brookes avoids it and instead dropped Ilja with a Praying Mantis Bomb on the floor.

Both men make it back to the ring, as Ilja backflips in with a clothesline, before he went back out after Brookes with a tope that took them both into the second row. In the ring again, lariats keep Brookes down, before the pair traded clubbering shots, which built up to an enziguiri from Ilja. Using the tights, Brookes tries to keep Dragunov at close quarters, succeeding as a pair of kicks left him woozy ahead of the rope-assisted neckbreaker for a near-fall. From there, Brookes tries to eke out a submission with an Octopus stretch, but Dragunov powered out, standing up and taking Brookes into the corner with a death valley driver. Brookes boots away a Torpedo Moscau, then looked for Death By Roll-up… but it wasn’t to be as Ilja kicked out and came right back with Torpedo Moscau for the win. A nice, brisk opener, as Dragunov picked up a pretty comprehensive win to get to the quarter-finals. ***¼

Ilja Dragunov vs. Kyle Fletcher – from PROGRESS Chapter 100: Unboxing Live 4 – A New Hope (December 30, 2019)
It’s a little testy from the off as the pair locked up and went into the corner, but we’re quickly at a stand-off after Ilja missed a back suplex, before he got clotheslined to the outside, with Kyle quickly following out with a tope. Chops follow at ringside, before Kyle kicked Ilja into a chair, before he cannonballed him out of it. Back in the ring, Ilja’s sent into the corner after forearms looked to bloody up the former wXw champion as Fletcher was looking to demonstrate a less happy-go-lucky side of himself. Dragunov fought back with palm strikes and a suplex, before a lariat and a huge knee drop off the top began to get Ilja some two-counts. A trade-off of enziguiri has Kyle on the outside, ducking a 619 from Ilja, who instead followed up with a big body press to the floor.

Throwing Kyle back in, Ilja looks to follow up off the top, but had to make do with taking Kyle to the top rope for some chops, only to get caught with an avalanche Michinoku driver. Somehow, Ilja’s back up trading forearms with Fletcher, then chops as a knee lift and an enziguiri looked to have Fletcher stunned, only for him to counter the Ode to Konstantin lariat with a clothesline. A brainbuster from Fletcher’s good for a two-count, so he followed up by looking for an Aussie Arrow, only to have to make do with a superkick as Fletcher again flew with a crossbody, which Ilja caught and rolled through as he readjusted into a death valley driver in the corner. Nice! Dragunov keeps the pressure up with the back senton off the top, only to get caught with another Michinoku driver as the match remained insanely even.

Kyle looked to go for the hammerlocked tombstone, but instead went up top to get caught as Ilja hits a superplex – again for a two-count. A Coast to Coast from Ilja’s cut off with a superkick as Kyle followed him outside with a step-up senton, but Ilja’s ready back inside for another flurry of shots, leading to the Ode to Konstantin, before a Torpedo Moscau’s turned into a Liger Bomb for a near-fall. Fletcher pushes on with an Aussie Arrow lawn dart, before Ilja’s teardrop German suplex evened things up one more time as the Coast to Coast follows… then a Torpedo Moscau for the win. Going almost 20 minutes, this felt almost like a sprint, and utterly refreshing after the prior match. A loss for Kyle may look bad, but he’ll have gained a lot in defeat as he looks to establish himself as a singles wrestler for the forseeable. ***¾

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Having Ilja Dragunov’s best of so “early” in this run on the Network is a bit of an eyebrow raiser, but you can see here that once he got acclimatised to his surroundings, Dragunov was able to hit a run of form pretty early on - with some pretty good matches in the 18 months before the promotion was forced into a break. If you’re a fan, or have only just heard of Ilja because of the WALTER match last year, feast your eyes on this...

article topics :

Ilja Dragunov, PROGRESS, Ian Hamilton