Ilja Dragunov has finally exorcised his demons, and ended the longest championship reign in WWE’s modern era. In a rematch that lived up to the expectations, The Mad Russian halted WALTER’s rule over NXT UK and etched his name into the history books.
Dragunov said he barely survived his first encounter with WALTER, a brutal bout that was among 2020’s best matches in all of WWE. That war changed Dragunov, haunting him as he tried to move past The Ring General and continue his career. The spectre of WALTER hung over him, the sound of the Austrian’s chops across his chest echoing in his dreams.
While it seemed like a nightmare, in reality it was preparing Dragunov for NXT TakeOver 36.
The highly-anticipated rematch started out as a cat-and-mouse game, Dragunov using his agility to evade WALTER and his devastating chops. But The Ring General is inevitable, and when he finally connected with one, it sent Dragunov crashing to the arena floor, where the champion powerbombed his challenger into the ring apron.
But despite WALTER’s dominance, Dragunov’s heart and resilience won out on this night. As WALTER drove him into the canvas, Dragunov stood up. As The Ring General chopped him, leaving handprint-shaped bruises on his chest, Dragunov stood up. When WALTER clotheslined him out of mid-air, Dragunov stood up.
And when Dragunov stood up and absorbed a thunderous chop to the back, something awakened in The Mad Russian. WALTER knew it, as for the first time in 870 days, the seemingly invincible champion backed off from his challenger. Dragunov scaled the ropes for a dropkick, then a senton, and then a Tornado Moscow to the back of WALTER’s head. A second Tornado Moscow did not fell the champion. Out of desperation, The Ring General unloaded his complete arsenal on Dragunov. Vicious chops and kicks, the splash from the top rope that won him the title 870 days ago; nothing could put the resilient Russian down.
At TakeOver 36, the roles were reversed from their first encounter. Dragunov locked on the same sleeper hold that WALTER used to put him out, standing up and squeezing even tighter, leaving the once-unbeatable Ring General with no choice but to tap out.
The emotion of the moment was pure and raw on Dragunov’s face as he was awarded the title that evaded him for so long. As Dragunov raised the title high, he placed a defiant boot on the chest of the fallen WALTER, making it clear that a new era has begun for NXT UK.