Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Building the Match

On October 29, 2020, WWE NXT UK presented a professional wrestling match that brought pure, unscripted drama to the forefront. The reigning NXT United Kingdom Champion, WALTER, known as “The Ring General,” defended his title against challenger Ilja Dragunov. Filled with animosity and a strong desire to win, their encounter turned into an instant classic. However, what made or shaped the match to be so captivating, and how did they distinguish the construction of brilliance from the intensity of the physical performance they both delivered?

In April, Dragunov emerged as the winner of the Battle Royal—a close-quarters contest featuring twenty wrestlers or more competing for an opportunity. The victory secured his right to challenge WALTER. The narrative was straightforward and refreshing; its simplicity lay in its focus on a specific theme: Dragunov’s determination, the nature of his challenge, and the prize. Within the neat framework, there was effectiveness. The audience was left to comprehend Dragunov’s victory, the prestige associated with the NXT UK Championship, and the clash between the two wrestlers.

Match Breakdown

The bout is for the WWE NXT UK Championship. The bell sounds and Dragunov swiftly drops to his knees. He lands forearm strikes in the corner, but WALTER answers with a series of powerful punches. WALTER follows up with kicks and strikes, yet Dragunov counters with his own resilient efforts; their battle intensifies. When WALTER goes for a powerbomb, Dragunov counters with punishing knee strikes. Another knee strike hits WALTER in the corner, and Dragunov ascends the top turnbuckle. However, WALTER interrupts with a forceful punch to the chest. They meet again on the top turnbuckle, but Dragunov gains the upper hand. He executes a diving senton splash. After teasing an insect-like running attack, Dragunov resumes his assault. Nonetheless, WALTER retaliates with a decisive sleeper suplex. WALTER then drops Dragunov on his head. Thus far, the match has been outstanding.

Both competitors slowly get to their feet, each emitting a noise akin to a gunshot. WALTER delivers a punishing sequence of a punt kick followed by a scoop slam-back. Dragunov retaliates with a rolling punch, but WALTER intercepts his arm and hurls him into the ropes, causing Dragunov to land heavily. Following a short break, Dragunov reenters the ring only to be met by another forceful punch from WALTER. Despite Dragunov’s attempts to fight back with his own strikes, WALTER brings him down with one arm.

WALTER secures a ground headlock while Dragunov searches for a way to counter or escape. WALTER swiftly executes a two-count and follows with a knee drop. As they get back to their feet, Dragunov attempts a suplex but fails due to the pain in his neck. Demonstrating effective selling, WALTER seizes the opportunity and delivers a powerful punch to Dragunov’s neck, showcasing his superior understanding of ring psychology compared to many contemporary wrestlers.

Dragunov attempts to retaliate with forceful slaps, but WALTER counters with a powerful chop to the chest. Nonetheless, Dragunov persistently rises, only to be brought down repeatedly by WALTER. WALTER then locks in a neck crank and a sleeper hold, but Dragunov manages to break free with a standing arm hold. In a display of resilience, both wrestlers exchange hard slaps to the face, leaving them reeling. WALTER employs a Greco-Roman knuckle lock, forcing Dragunov to the mat before stomping on his neck. The camera zooms in, revealing Dragunov’s face and neck to be as red as a beet.

WALTER applies a neck twist for a two-count before stomping on Dragunov. Dragunov tries to fight back with powerful strikes, but WALTER counters with a German suplex. WALTER continues to target Dragunov’s neck with a facelock/chin lock and slaps his neck for emphasis. He follows up with another knee strike to the neck. Dragunov is in such pain that he cries out with every neck movement. Yet, somehow, he remains on his feet. The commentators even marvel at how he manages to do so. It demonstrates how he can make a smaller competitor appear resilient and tough.

Dragunov lands another powerful punch, but WALTER brings him down with one of his strikes for another near fall. Enraged, WALTER positions Dragunov on the top turnbuckle and delivers another chop to his chest. However, he doesn’t stop there. He stretches Dragunov over the turnbuckle and chokes him with his foot. It is incredibly brutal.

Dragunov tumbles onto the apron, and WALTER follows him. As WALTER exits the ring, Dragunov grabs his leg, but WALTER stomps on Dragunov’s throat. When Dragunov attempts to re-enter the ring, WALTER pulls his hand away from the rope, making him fall back again. Finally, Dragunov gets onto the apron, but WALTER bends him over the ropes like Sheamus and hits his chest with a forearm. Then he delivers a brutal punch to the back of Dragunov’s neck. WALTER aims for another chest strike, but Dragunov catches his arm. Dragunov delivers several hard slaps and then a Sheamus-style chest strike of his own and is back in the fight.

The moment Dragunov gets back in the ring, WALTER hits him in the face with a big boot. WALTER attempts a German suplex, but Dragunov counters with a huge German suplex of his own. Dragunov just suplexed someone twice his size.

As Dragunov stands up, clutching his neck, WALTER sees a prime target. WALTER delivers a heavy clothesline to the back of Dragunov’s neck and tries for another German suplex, but Dragunov counters with his second German suplex. They continue to struggle. Dragunov lands a third German suplex. The commentator underscores Dragunov’s resilience, stating, “Dragunov is not human.” Despite his small size, he is extraordinarily tough; it much is clear.

Dragunov taunts WALTER in German (telling him to get up) and delivers a powerful knee strike. WALTER responds with a massive chop that sounds like a gunshot. Dragunov doesn’t sell it and hits two enzuigiris. He then performs a deadlift German suplex, showcasing incredible strength. Dragunov attempts a pin, but WALTER kicks out at two. Commentator Nigel McGuinness aptly states: “This is a display of extraordinary brutality reminiscent of the golden age of Japanese wrestling. This truly is the King’s Road style of All Japan Pro Wrestling in 2020, and it is spectacular.”

Dragunov strikes back at WALTER with slaps and open-hand hits, each one resonating through the arena. WALTER interrupts with a quick kick to Dragunov’s leg and a heavy forearm to his back, producing a sickening sound. WALTER, unfazed, delivers a forearm to Dragunov’s head with another awful thud. It’s astounding that Dragunov is still conscious. WALTER targets a sleeper hold, but Dragunov breaks free, delivering a strong punch to the chest followed by a thunderous lariat. Dragunov attempts another lariat, but WALTER ducks and applies a sleeper hold. Dragunov grabs the ropes, but WALTER knocks his arm away and applies another sleeper. Dragunov counters into a roll-up, WALTER counters with a ground sleeper. Dragunov then rolls into a pin, and WALTER kicks out at 2.5.

WALTER delivers another big boot, but Dragunov responds with a lariat. He focuses on the ropes and lands a huge discus lariat that knocks WALTER down. Dragunov goes for the pin, but WALTER kicks out just before the three-count. Dragunov rises first and strikes, but WALTER knocks him down decisively with a powerful blow that sends him flying. Both fighters are exhausted and struggling. They manage to stand at the count of nine, and WALTER delivers even more devastating punches. Dragunov staggers, barely supported by WALTER holding his arm. WALTER steps on Dragunov’s exposed neck and intensifies his assault with slaps, chops, and kicks while taunting in German. By now, Dragunov’s chest has turned from red to purple. Yet somehow, Dragunov finds reserves of strength and continues to fight back but it’s not enough. WALTER finishes him off with another huge lariat. But he’s not finished yet and folding electric bomb. WALTER pins Dragunov and Dragunov kicks out at 2.9. WALTER follows up with a running lariat and another near fall.

WALTER continues his attack with relentless chops to the side of Dragunov’s neck. He tries a different version of the sleeper hold, but Dragunov rolls to the ropes for safety. WALTER pulls Dragunov by the hair and kicks him from behind with another sleeper hold attempt. Dragunov fights back with punches and slaps. WALTER traps both of Dragunov’s arms and starts hitting him with his own chest and shoulders. But Dragunov responds with a headbutt, followed by chops and knee strikes, and finishes with a double-handed chop to the neck. Dragunov executes a missile dropkick, flying from one corner to another. He goes for the pin, but WALTER kicks out just before the three-count.

Dragunov gets up, muttering in German, and lands another chest strike. Without flinching, Dragunov goes for an Exploder, but WALTER resists. Dragunov tries to shift to other submissions, but WALTER overwhelms him with powerful strikes. However, Dragunov finds a way through. He executes an Exploder Suplex but WALTER still kicks out.

WALTER assaults Dragunov in the corner, but Dragunov blocks and retaliates with a strong strike to the back of WALTER’s neck. Another strike follows, then a Torpedo Moscow attack. However, Dragunov’s injuries prevent him from capitalizing. The accumulated damage from the match weighs heavily on him. He attempts to gather strength to run again but can barely take two steps forward without stumbling. Despite his efforts, the pain is overwhelming. Then he charges forward with running knee. Dragunov goes for the pin but WALTER still kicks out!

Dragunov hits an elbow to the neck, causing WALTER to exit the ring. Dragunov gives chase and lands fiercer attacks, which only anger WALTER further. WALTER then executes a sleeper suplex on the ring apron! Dragunov is slammed onto his head. He gets up slowly, prompting WALTER to kick him hard in the chest, sending him crashing into the steel steps. But WALTER isn’t finished. He delivers an Electric Bomb on the apron.

WALTER comes back into the ring and slams Dragunov with another powerbomb. WALTER follows up with a senton splash. Dragunov kicks out just before the three-count at 2.99; it’s incredibly close to the fall. Throughout, Dragunov keeps muttering the same phrase: “You will not beat me” in German. WALTER responds with a flurry of harder chops and elbows. He applies a body scissors sleeper hold. Dragunov manages to escape, the referee rings the bell, and WALTER continues to endure!

David vs. Goliath

It’s like a temporal shift across eras. Despite occurring in 2020, the match bears a striking resemblance to All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1990s. Comparing it to that era’s wrestling is the highest compliment, highlighting the match’s outstanding quality.

The match embodies the essence of traditional and ancient brawls, eschewing aerial maneuvers and complex sequences in favor of simplicity and authenticity. Besides its marked brutal intensity, labeling the match as “stiff” would be an understatement. Both competitors relentlessly attack with maximum force for over twenty-five minutes. Unlike kicks to the face, the authenticity of punches and slaps cannot be faked. Both wrestlers endure extremely heavy punishment, creating a genuine impression of how either could collapse from pain at any moment. Particularly notable is Dragunov’s exceptional selling. He absorbs powerful blows from WALTER, especially targeting his neck, and convincingly portrays the realism of the assault. This not only underscores the severity of WALTER’s offense but also highlights Dragunov’s resilience and fighting spirit.

The match narrative is simple yet executed perfectly. WALTER plays the role of dominant champion, while Dragunov embodies the resilient underdog wrestler. From the outset, they are mismatched, with WALTER holding nearly a 100-pound weight advantage and significantly greater reach. Despite relentless punishment delivered by WALTER, Dragunov refuses to surrender. He fights tirelessly, seemingly operating on sheer willpower alone. Dragunov’s performance in the match vividly showcases his toughness, solidifying his position as one of the toughest wrestlers. His spirit and refusal to quit, even in defeat, cement his status as a formidable competitor.

Another notable element of the match is the verbal interplay between WALTER and Dragunov. From the outset, Dragunov confidently asserts in German, “You will never defeat me,” “I am unbreakable,” and “Hit me harder.” The declarations underscore Dragunov’s image as a fearless and indefatigable wrestler, provoking WALTER to deliver more punishment.

In a moment of frustration, WALTER shouts, “Do I have to kill you?” and Dragunov replies defiantly, “You can’t do it!” This exchange brings to mind the intense rivalry between Triple H and Batista from 2005 to 2006.

As the match approached its end, Dragunov drifted in and out of consciousness before finally yielding to WALTER’s last sleeper hold, persistently muttering, “You will not beat me.” In a way, Dragunov was correct; WALTER didn’t defeat him outright. Instead, Dragunov’s body yielded to the unrelenting onslaught, yet his spirit remained unbroken. The match concluded not with a pinfall that would affirm WALTER’s victory, but with a submission hinting that the rivalry is far from over, possibly paving the way for a rematch down the line.

Conclusion

The match serves as a compelling example of storytelling prowess in the wrestling ring, surpassing the limitations imposed by the absence of a live audience. Drawing inspiration from the renowned King’s Road style of All Japan Pro-Wrestling, it stands out as a refreshing anomaly in the context of 2020. Both wrestlers deliver an exceptional encounter, destined to be remembered alongside classic wrestling matches. Their execution is characterized by a straightforward yet highly strategic approach. Instead of relying on flashy aerial maneuvers, they focus on a narrative driven by physical friction. Despite WALTER initially dominating with his superior strength, the match becomes increasingly enthralling with each bold comeback from Dragunov. His unwavering spirit and determination shine through, even as he faces WALTER’s relentless attacks.

The match stands in stark contrast to the contemporary style of WWE. It avoids flashy characters, predictable hero-villain storylines, formulaic sequences, and excessive exposition common in their shows. Instead, it presents a stripped-down David vs. Goliath narrative where both wrestlers fiercely compete to establish dominance through brutal displays. The match’s simplicity enhances its appeal; it offers a refreshing pure wrestling experience, satisfying athletic performances, and is a top contender for the 2020 Match of the Year. It’s essential viewing for any dedicated wrestling enthusiast.

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