There aren’t many matches which have happened during the “no crowds” era of wrestling which you could say with near certainty will hold up as classics in the years and decades to come – but Ilja Dragunov vs. WALTER isn’t only a safe bet in that regard, the clash was almost enhanced by the lack of audience.
While the rematch has been heavily anticipated, with the bout originally scheduled for NXT UK TakeOver: Dublin and also a weekly edition of NXT UK, WALTER-Dragunov II will finally take place at NXT TakeOver 36, one night removed from WWE SummerSlam.
“This is a chance that some people are waiting years for and maybe they might never get,” Dragunov proclaims before discussing the possibility of main-eventing NXT TakeOver 36 – or perhaps more surprisingly for some, the possibility of NOT headlining the show.
“Talking about the position of the card, I mean, if you look at our last match, I think on every card, this would just completely stick out. And this is the mindset I’m going in with this time, too. It doesn’t matter where this match is on the card, this match will turn heads, this match will make people remember it so is absolutely not necessary.”
The story arc of Ilja Dragunov being “broken” by WALTER is arguably one of the most captivating in WWE, but the NXT UK star says he only has “positive” thoughts going into the monumental match as the grander stage is the “jackpot” for him to make people sit up and take notice.
“I think about positive thoughts like showing this, this thing that only we two can create to this bright audience, to people that might… A lot of people know WALTER, might not know me before, showing this here and having this stage. That’s the jackpot.”
If the match doesn’t main-event the show? Well, you’d have to feel sorry for anyone tasked with following what’s certain to be an epic encounter, and the potential culmination of a story which has spanned over a year. Long-term storytelling, of course, is a critique many viewers point at WWE, stating the lack of such. Is Dragunov vs. WALTER the exception to the rule? Is long-term storytelling a lost art?
“That is simply not true. We obviously see that it definitely, definitely works. Not everything needs to be long and not every great story is long. Some great stories are short – but it still works. We, both, are the best proof of it.”
Meanwhile, following the revelation that WALTER is one of many NXT Superstars working in a behind-the-scenes role in WWE alongside his on-screen role, might Ilja Dragunov be looking to transition into helping produce the matches and storylines of others in the future?
“Until now, I actually really have been focusing on myself, on my performance in the ring, because there is so much more for me to do, so much more for me to prove, but as comfortable as I feel at this company and how I get treated, I definitely could have that.”
Watch Ilja Dragunov challenge WALTER for the NXT UK Championship when NXT TakeOver 36 airs live on the WWE Network tonight.