Ilja Dragunov might not necessarily be mentioned much when discussing the best pure babyfaces in the world of wrestling. To my mind, nonetheless, the Invincible one is definitely in the conversation for that accolade. His character, which is based on the struggle of fighting against all odds for his dreams and fighting to provide for his family (he has a wife and son at the young age of 24), is one that anyone of us can relate to.
It was only last December that everyone thought Dragunov had wrestled his last match, as the elusive balance seemed to become forever unachievable after failing to defeat John “Bad Bones” Klinger for the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship, the promotion’s top title. It seemed that his career highlight would be his victory over WALTER in the 16 Carat Gold tournament final earlier on that year, a victory which led to what everyone thought would be his last title shot. That was not to be, however, as he made a shock return to a thunderous ovation this past March at Night 2 of this year’s 16 Carat Gold event (arguably the most important event on the wXw calendar), and proceeded to beat both Klinger and WALTER in an incredible three way match to finally win the big one.
Klinger has since left the promotion, which has left Dragunov and WALTER as the promotion’s top 2 stars. The aforementioned matches involving both men are arguably two of the best matches to have ever been contested inside a wXw ring, and so the rematch which was to be held at the True Colors event was naturally hotly expected to recreate the fireworks that occurred in those matches. The two men enjoy incredible chemistry in the ring, which is compounded by their evident clash of styles, with WALTER being a big bruising fighting machine with chops for days, whereas Dragunov embodies the grit and fighting spirit that you would expect from Russian-born athletes. What is more, this was to be the first one-on-one championship match between both men, which would only add further to the stakes and anticipation of this match. Invincible vs General for the world title, it did not get any bigger than this.
Dragunov made his entrance to a rapturous ovation and chants of “unbesiegbar” (invincible) from a hometown Dresden crowd, and from the off it was clear that the fans would be firmly in his corner. WALTER did receive his share of cheers, however, which is to be expected considering that he is arguably the biggest name to ever emerge from the German independent scene, and has become one of the biggest breakout stars in all of independent wrestling over the past year or so.
The match kicked off with WALTER establishing his size and strength advantage, constantly getting the edge in tests of strength. Dragunov would obviously not take this lying down, however, and kept on trying to dig away at his larger opponent with a variety of strikes and holds. Every time it seemed like he was finally gaining a foothold in the match, though, WALTER would hit back with a huge strike or a hold of his own. Dragunov eventually managed to hit a series of chops, and made his first attempt at slamming Dragunov, which would be too much too early for him, allowing WALTER to throw his opponent to the outside.
It was on the outside that WALTER would truly begin the rampage of devastating chops that he has became known for. Dragunov’s chest immediately started turning beet red and bloody from these chops, and his face was a clear indicator of the pain that they were putting him through. Although Dragunov attempted to cut this flurry off with a tope, WALTER merely caught him out of mid-air, and slammed him into the ring post. This would actually serve to be his undoing, however, as he went for a chop near that post, which Dragunov just about ducked out of, leading to WALTER slamming his hand into the ring post. Naturally, metal beat flesh & bone, causing WALTER a great deal of pain himself.
This allowed Dragunov to finally gain some momentum in this match, and he let a roar out which the crowd acknowledged and reciprocated. This would be detrimental to him, however, as his momentary loss of focus allowed WALTER to hit a huge big boot on him in the corner. WALTER hit another huge chop on Dragunov, but it was evident that his hand was bothering him. Nonetheless, after Dragunov kept trying to fight back with chops of his own, WALTER merely repeatedly slapped his opponent back down.
Dragunov’s fighting spirit was on show for all to see, and this was clearly frustrating for WALTER as he simply could not keep his opponent down. This frustration paved the way for WALTER to resort to the heelish tactics which he was known for in the past, but which he had somewhat shied away from since his international emergence. The kicks to the back, chest and neck of Dragunov, the increase in venom and power with each chop, and the look on his face were all indicators of his frustration and offense at his own inability to finish his opponent off once and for all.
Dragunov simply refused to give up, and kept on going with strikes (especially chops) of his own. Although 2 further attempts at slamming his opponent failed, he finally managed on a fourth attempt after countering a powerbomb. He followed this up with a Senton from the top rope, but could only get a 2 count. After trading some more huge chops and other strikes with each other, WALTER managed to hit a series of suplexes on his opponent. He once again failed, though, to connect with a powerbomb, as Dragunov incredibly countered with a back body drop. Sensing he could finish off the match, he set up for his finishing flying headbutt, the Moscow Torpedo.
WALTER, however, managed to counter this into his own finisher, the Gojira Clutch. It looked like it was all over, but Ilja just barely managed to fight out of it right before his hand dropped for the 3 count. Charging up for the Moscow Torpedo, he flew into WALTER, who just about dodged in the nick of time, causing a big collision between Dragunov and the referee. This confusion allowed WALTER to finally hit the powerbomb on his opponent. The extra few seconds it took for a replacement ref to slide in the ring would be costly for WALTER, allowing Dragunov to kick out at the last second.
WALTER was absolutely incensed at this point, and his rage got the better of him, leading to him hitting a big boot on the referee himself. The heelish tactics had come to a head – WALTER had snapped. As WALTER continued hitting his opponent with a series of chops, a third referee slid into the ring and called off the match as No Contest. Dragunov was having none of this, however, and snatched the microphone from the ring announcer to call WALTER back in the ring for the match to be restarted. WALTER and the referee duly obliged, and the match continued.
It was overtime at this point, and you could tell as the two men expounded all the energy they had by going all out in yet another chop battle. Dragunov actually won this battle, sending WALTER to this outside. Ilja followed up with a tope to his opponent on the outside, but this only momentarily startled his opponent, who promptly hit another big boot on Dragunov. Although he would go for another powerbomb on the outside, Dragunov managed to avoid this by grabbing onto the ropes. He showed his utmost defiance and fighting spirt by spitting on WALTER on the apron, which ultimately led to him being flung into the audience’s chairs on the outside.
WALTER promptly rolled his opponent back in the ring and hit another powerbomb, and it looked like it was all over. It was not to be, however, as Dragunov once again kicked out at 2. WALTER’s frustration just kept getting worse, and he remonstrated with the ref and the fans for not counting the 3 that he felt that he deserved. This desperation culminated in him hitting yet another series of stiff kicks and chops to his opponent’s back, and dragging him to the top rope for the final powerbomb. Despite this, Dragunov miraculously managed to counter and hit a powerbomb of his own from the top rope, only for WALTER to kick out himself at 2.
The fans had reached fever pitch at this point, and it was evident that the finish was moments away. Dragunov once again signalled for the Moscow Torpedo, but yet again WALTER countered this into the Gojira Clutch, which Dragunov himself countered immediately into a huge German suplex. This was the move that Ilja needed to allow himself enough time to set up the Moscow Torpedo, and actually connect with it to pick up the 3 count and retain his title.
This was a brutal back-and-forth encounter that perfectly showed off both men’s strengths. WALTER was an absolute beast in this match, hitting countless brutal chops and strikes. It is evident that he is at his best as the bullying heel, with an underdog like Dragunov as his opponent. On the other hand, Dragunov’s style is best served against men that do have that size and strength advantage over him, as it gives his character the ideal fuel to shine brightest, with him taking an insane amount of punishment but finally digging deep enough to get the victory in the end.
It is almost a shame that Dragunov seemingly seems content to remain in Germany, as it would be incredible to see him compete in promotions such as Progress and Evolve. Nonetheless, I have the utmost respect for the man for making his family his number one priority, which unfortunately is a decision that is rarely made in the wrestling business. As for WALTER, this was yet another chapter in his book of great matches over the past 2 years, and as the rumours of him moving to the WWE intensify, it would be best for us to appreciate him on the independent scene as much as we can before he moves on to the bright lights of NXT (and beyond). I fully recommend that you not only watch this match, but also their matches at 16 Carat Gold the past 2 years. This could end up being THE greatest rivalry in German professional wrestling history once all is said and done.