Ilja Dragunov Beats Walter, Wins NXT UK Title at WWE NXT TakeOver 36August 23, 2021
Ilja Dragunov upset Walter at NXT TakeOver 36 on Sunday to win the NXT United Kingdom Championship.
Facing almost impossible expectations, Dragunov and Walter delivered another classic that will be remembered long after the final bell rang.
Walter clearly had the strength advantage on Dragunov, but the Russian steadily wore the champion down. And nothing can fell a giant quicker than restricting his air flow. Walter tried unsuccessfully to break Dragunov's sleeper hold and eventually had to tap out.
Entering the pay-per-view, Walter had held the NXT UK title for nearly 900 days, making him the longest-reigning current champion in WWE and one of the longest-reigning champs of the past few decades.
Walter faced and beat all comers, but perhaps nobody provided him with a bigger challenge than Dragunov when they went head-to-head on an episode of NXT UK in October 2020.
Dragunov and Walter took the fight to each other in what was widely considered one of the best matches of the year in professional wrestling. Walter prevailed, but fans hoped a rematch would happen at some point in the future.
It initially looked as though that rematch would happen on NXT UK in July, but after Walter was diagnosed with a hand injury, the bout was delayed and moved to NXT TakeOver 36 instead.
In anticipation of the match, Dragunov appeared on the Aug. 10 edition of NXT and cut a promo about the importance of winning the NXT UK title. In the midst of it, he was interrupted by former NXT UK champion Pete Dunne.
That confrontation led to Dragunov and Dunne battling in the main event of the show, although they weren't the only ones who played a role in the result of the match.
Walter showed up during the latter stages and distracted Dragunov, allowing Dunne to hit the Bitter End for the victory. The leader of Imperium then attempted to add insult to injury.
Dragunov got the last laugh, though, by taking out Walter with an uppercut and holding the NXT United Kingdom Championship as the show went off the air.
The 27-year-old native of Russia had the makings of a legitimate threat to Walter's reign and entered TakeOver with some momentum on his side despite the loss to Dunne.
Walter remained the favorite despite that because of how dominant he had been for the previous two-plus years, but Dragunov pulled off what was previously thought to be impossible by beating Walter for the title and changing the landscape of NXT UK.
Listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot wrestling topics. Catch the latest episode in the player below (warning: some language NSFW).