Former Champion Makes Shock Return On WWE NXT

WALTER Ilja Dragunov in NXT

Ilja Dragunov hasn’t been seen in NXT since October, but the Russian star has finally returned.

On the February 7th episode of NXT, JD McDonagh was squaring off against Carmelo Hayes when Dragunov’s music hit. He then proceeded to run right through Trick Williams on the outside providing enough of a distraction for Hayes to roll up McDonagh for the win.

Dragunov briefly stood on the apron seemingly staring a hole through Hayes before entering the ring. Despite Hayes looking nervous, Dragunov launched himself over the star and onto McDonagh who was gathering himself in the corner. Unsurprisingly the Irishman escaped the ring at the first opportunity and ran out of the arena through the crowd with Dragunov in hot pursuit.

Ilja Dragunov has been absent from the ring since losing to McDonagh on October 25th via referee’s stoppage. In storyline, it was this loss that caused Dragunov to take a break from the ring, but in reality, he was missing due to visa issues.

Ilja Dragunov Looks To Take NXT By Storm

Ilja Dragunov signed with WWE in 2019 and was added to NXT UK.

In October 2020, the 29-year-old challenged Gunther (WALTER) for the United Kingdom Championship but was unsuccessful. However, the match garnered praise from critics and fans alike, eventually being awarded a five-star rating by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

Following the defeat, the star eventually worked himself back into title contention and finally overcame WALTER at NXT TakeOver: 36 in another bruising encounter. Dragunov kept hold of the title until July 2022 when he was forced to vacate it through injury.

The NXT UK brand was closed during Dragunov’s hiatus with plans for a relaunch in 2023 as NXT Europe. When the former champion returned to action he did so in the United States before competing for the NXT Championship at Halloween Havoc in a Triple-threat-Match with the champion Bron Breakker and JD McDonagh.