WALTER and Ilja Dragunov delivered the best culmination to a feud see in recent WWE programming.
During the last two weeks of 2021, the Daily DDT team took the time to vote for several End of the Year award winners. Now, it’s time to unpack what made those moments special for many of the individuals on the staff. First up, is the 2021 Men’s Match of the Year with a winner that was certainly considered an upset of sorts: WALTER versus Ilja Dragunov II at NXT TakeOver 36.
Looking back at the NXT of old will be painful for many fans of professional wrestling. As WWE NXT 2.0 cements itself as the future of the program, it’s hard to not long for the past. There was a time when NXT boasted perhaps the best talent of pure wrestlers in the industry. That time is long past. But what else may be long gone are the types of matches that would be near the top of any Match of the Year list. WALTER versus Dragunov is essentially a dying breed in the WWE.
Rematches in WWE often feel meaningless. It’s one of the big complaints about the product. Even Macaulay Culkin wouldn’t want to watch constant rematches if he was left home alone. But that wasn’t the case for the second bout between WALTER and Dragunov.
The two men first battled in October of 2020. After 25 minutes, WALTER defeated Dragunov, leaving him on the mat in such a broken shape, that WALTER’s theme music played completely through before Dragunov could even get himself up off the mat. But what happened next was important to the development of Dragunov’s character and stock on the roster. He would go undefeated throughout 2021, forcing another title match with WALTER in August of that year.
And what a match it was.
Ilja Dragunov did the unthinkable
The air heading into the contest was that Dragunov would be the man to unseat the dominant champion. But that didn’t make the impact of every move feel any bit less as they tore into each other. WALTER brought out every move in his repertoire in an attempt to beat Dragunov down like he did less than a year earlier. But nothing worked. Dragunov continued to come back and seemingly gain more power with every blow he took.
As the match reached the 20-minute mark, fans were still standing in the CWC. Everyone expected this match to deliver, but the level of “special moment” everyone witnessed went beyond just that. This seemed like a match in another promotion, even for NXT.
The end would come when Dragunov snatched up a rear-naked choke on WALTER. Twisting his head around and pulling him to his feet, WALTER surprisingly tapped out, falling back down to the ground as the broken man this time around. Dragunov had done it. He stopped the man that had held that title for 870 days, breaking the incredible streak.
The Daily DDT team would like to recognize WALTER and Ilja Dragunov for their exceptional match and the award of the 2021 Match of the Year.