3 big matches for Ilja Dragunov on the main roster

Which WWE stars should face "The Mad Dragon" on WWE Monday Night Raw?
Ilja Dragunov Dec.jpg
Ilja Dragunov Dec.jpg /

You never know what you're going to get with NXT. One minute, you'll see folks like Axiom or Nathan Frazier providing some exhilarating action and the next you'll be subjected to some questionable booking decisions and silly skits.

However, former NXT Champion Ilja Dragunov was an unwavering source of consistency among the sea of wackiness. With his intense (to say the least) persona and stellar in-ring track record, the 30-year-old star lived up to his moniker as "The Czar of NXT", becoming a key pillar for the brand.

Now, Dragunov will ply his craft on Monday Night Raw, earning his promotion from the developmental roster during the second night of this year's WWE Draft. He joins a talent pool that includes stars like Sami Zayn, CM Punk, Jey Uso, and Seth Rollins. As such, he'll have plenty of great opponents to choose from for the next year or so.

Of course, some wrestlers are more obvious choices than others. That doesn't mean that Dragunov has to face these wrestlers right away, but WWE should prioritize getting them in the ring with him.

These are three big opponents that are waiting for Ilja Dragunov once he officially reaches the main roster.

Apr 2, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Sheamus during Wrestlemania Night 2 at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory
Apr 2, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Sheamus during Wrestlemania Night 2 at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


Over the last couple of years, Sheamus has enjoyed a career resurgence. While the multi-time WWE Champion has always been a reliable performer, his recent string of "bangers" and his no-nonsense babyface gimmick have won over fans who are tired of him.

Who would've guessed that having good matches and presenting yourself as a tough guy gets you over more effectively than "1-800-FELLA" skits and a John Cena-lite schtick?

At this point, Sheamus' role with the company is to stabilize the midcard with quality workrate and win enough matches to make his inevitable losses to the top stars feel meaningful. This makes him an ideal candidate to put Dragunov over.

With Sheamus still chasing after the Intercontinental Championship (after he returned from a lengthy absence, he noted that it was the only title he hadn't won in WWE), he could end up on a collision course with Dragunov on his way to a title shot, particularly if WWE wants to hold off on him going after the belt until a heel like Chad Gable gets it.

In the meantime, he can tear it up with Dragunov. The two work a similar smashmouth style, and while that doesn't guarantee anything, it's hard not to imagine these two bludgeoning each other to the delight of the audience.

Drew McIntyre Mar.jpg
Drew McIntyre Mar.jpg /

Drew McIntyre

Boy, Drew McIntyre picked a great time to go on the hottest run of his career. As good as he was as a babyface, that character grew stale with the fans, and this reinvention as a self-righteous jerk who trolls people on social media has reinvigorated him just in time for a big contract extension.

McIntyre has plenty on his plate -- pursuing the World Heavyweight Championship (a title he held for roughly five minutes after winning it at WrestleMania XL), obsessing over CM Punk, and the aforementioned budding feud with Sheamus -- and a match with Dragunov could easily end up on that growing docket. It's not hard to imagine WWE booking it on TV, but it also works as a pay-per-view showcase. In fact, the latter would probably afford Dragunov and McIntyre more in-ring time, especially with how Triple H manages the the non-Big Four supercards.

Similar to Sheamus, WWE wouldn't need to work hard to whip up interest in a Dragunov/McIntyre match. Something as simple as Dragunov interrupting a whiny McIntyre promo would suffice to get things rolling. There's no need for wacky skits or drawn-out bits of "cinema" to sell this match to fans; WWE just has to tell them when they're going to wrestle and to expect to see, in Clubber Lang's words,pain.

As of May 1, McIntyre is nursing an elbow injury, so we might have to wait a little while before we see these two lock up. That should give WWE some time to heat Dragunov up in the interim, which could make this an even more anticipated match. As it stands, though, it's still one that a lot of people want to see, and it behooves WWE to get to it as quickly as it can.

GUNTHER Jan.jpg /


Regardless of name and promotional affiliation, Dragunov will always be tethered to GUNTHER. The two have faced each other countless times in Gemany's Westside Xtreme Wrestling and warred a couple of times over the now-defunct NXT UK Championship, with Dragunov getting the last win over "The Ring General" to win the gold at NXT TakeOver 36.

Recognizing the longstanding rivalry that it had, WWE supposedly planned to capitalize on it by...putting Dragunov in GUNTHER's Imperium faction, an idea that even baffled Dragunov. Of course, that didn't happen, and "The Mad Dragon" became the ace of NXT, but it looks like "destiny" has brought them together on Raw.

Perhaps this means that the rumored GUNTHER/Dragunov team-up will happen (it's worth mentioning that Giovonni Vinci got violently removed from the group and is now on SmackDown), but these two make much more sense as opponents. Sure, it would be fun to watch the two of them and Ludwig Kaiser wreck shop on the rest of the roster, and WWE could use the pairing as vehicle to build tension between Dragunov and GUNTHER.

But keeping them as eternal adversaries gets you to the same place without muddying their backstory with a needless contrivance. Like the other potential opponents, all Dragunov and GUNTHER need is a wrestling ring, a good crowd, and tangible stakes to hook the viewers in.