Ilja Dragunov returns to NXT

Sep 20, 2022 - by Marc Middleton

“The Czar” Ilja Dragunov has returned to WWE NXT.

Tonight’s taped NXT 2.0 episode saw JD McDonagh defeat Tyler Bate in the main event to become the new #1 contender to Unified NXT Champion Bron Breakker. After the match, Breakker and McDonagh faced off until the music interrupted and out came Dragunov.

Dragunov played to the crowd while a furious JD lashed out at no one specific. Breakker looked on from the ring, as Dragunov wiped his feet on the apron, then entered the ring. Dragunov stepped to Breakker but McDonagh stepped to them both. Breakker then raised the NXT Title belt in the air as the three-way face-off continued in the middle of the ring.

While not officially announced by WWE as of this writing, Bate vs. McDonagh vs. Breakker for the Unified NXT Title is expected for the NXT Halloween Havoc event on Saturday, October 29.

WWE posted a backstage clip of Dragunov after NXT went off the air and he said, “JD McDonagh, Bron Breakker… long live The Czar!”

Dragunov last appeared before a crowd on the August 4 NXT UK episode, where he announced that he was relinquishing the NXT UK Title due to a severe ankle injury. Dragunov then appeared in a vignette on the August 18 NXT UK show, vowing to get his title back. Bate ended up winning a tournament for the vacant title, but Breakker defeated him to unify the NXT UK Title with the NXT Title at Worlds Collide on September 4.

There’s no word yet on if Dragunov will be joining the NXT roster full-time, or if he’s around until NXT Europe launches in 2023. He has already worked six matches for the main NXT brand – a loss to Kona Reeves at the August 16, 2019 live event in Sebring; a win over Bronson Reed at the January 24, 2020 live event in Shreveport; a loss to Finn Balor at Worlds Collide 2020; a loss to Butch on the August 10, 2021 NXT TV show; a win over Roderick Strong on the August 17, 2021 NXT episode; and the title win over Gunther at TakeOver 36. Dragunov also has a match against Xyon Quinn, which has not aired yet and was just taped last week.

Dragunov held the NXT UK Title for 346 recognized days after defeating current WWE Intercontinental Champion Gunther back at NXT TakeOver 36 on July 7, 2022. The reign made Dragunov the third-longest-reigning NXT UK Champion in history, behind Gunther’s 870 recognized days, and Butch’s 685 recognized days. The fourth-longest NXT UK Title run was the inaugural reign by Bate, with 125 recognized days. The fifth and final NXT UK Title reign was Bate’s three-day reign back in the summer.

There’s no word yet on what’s next for the NXT Title chase on the Road to Halloween Havoc, but we will keep you updated. Below are related clips from tonight’s show:

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