WALTER embodies dominance, no matter what promotion he’s in or continent he’s on. His record-smashing 870-day run as NXT UK champion is the ultimate testament to both WALTER’s wrestling ability and the power his aura alone brings to the table.
If WALTER is dominance, then Ilja is pure, unadulterated anarchy. He is fire and passion personified. No matter if he is performing in front of 10,000 people or in an empty venue, Ilja brings an unmatched intensity to the ring.
These two clashed for the first time in WWE in October of 2020, with more than four years of shared history coming before them in Germany’s wXw. Despite giving his entire soul into the match, Ilja came up short against der Ringgeneral. He was haunted by his failure and the looming fear that his very best might just never be good enough. Ilja said that after his loss, WALTER had become his nightmare. He was instilled with a belief to never accept failure and steeled himself for his next title opportunity
This rematch was Ilja’s chance to clear his mind and become WALTER’s nightmare instead.
The bell sounds, and WALTER and Ilja circle each other. It’s not long until WALTER gets Ilja against the ropes and goes for a chop, but Ilja dodges and hits a chop of his own. He baits WALTER into missing another chop. The two go to the canvas for a bit of ground wrestling, and WALTER delivers strikes that Ilja absorbs with little trouble.
Ilja takes WALTER down with a crossbody, then a body slam. A man 100 pounds smaller being able to knock his opponent off his feet is an incredible feat on its own, but for Ilja to lift WALTER off the canvas and slam him back down is a testament to Ilja’s unmatched power. WALTER, who is known for his control over the pace of his matches, has to go for a rope break when Ilja tries to apply a submission.
Ilja’s early offense is the main crux of the story for the match’s first act. Ilja hasn’t just been haunted by his loss to WALTER ten months ago, he’s been planning for revenge ever since. His control of the match out the gate is evidence of that.
WALTER goes for another chop and Ilja catches it, taking WALTER to the ground and going for an arm-scissor. However, the tides are about to shift against the Russian.
WALTER lifts Ilja onto his shoulder, places him on the corner turnbuckle, and finally delivers a signature, devastating chop to the chest that sends a limp Ilja off the turnbuckle to the floor. Ilja’s momentum is brought to a dead halt.
WALTER follows up his attack with a powerbomb to the apron, nearly breaking Ilja in half. He beats the Russian with kicks before trapping him in a sleeper hold, the hold that defeated Ilja ten months prior. An onslaught of submission attempts follows; while he’s held in a Boston Crab, Ilja bites his own hand to bear the pain.
The mere thought of tapping out is horrifying in his mind. His last match against WALTER ended from referee stoppage after Ilja lost consciousness. If he were to lose again, it would likely be the same way. As long as he’s awake, he’s fighting.
Ilja starts to find new life. He reverses a Piledriver attempt into a backdrop, then delivers a jumping kick, and picks up momentum by running the ropes to nail the general with a series of lariats. This command of the match is short-lived, though, as WALTER shuts down his momentum with an ura nage suplex. Even more chops leave Ilja’s chest red and raw. Never one to give up, though, he delivers chops of his own to WALTER’s chest, along with slaps across the face, and elbow strikes that culminate in a big knee to the jaw.
Just when things are looking up for the challenger, he leaps for another jumping knee. WALTER swats him out of the sky with a lariat that echoes through the arena.
As Ilja pulls himself up using the ropes, WALTER delivers a chop across his back. Something seems to awaken in the Russian; his eyes are maddened. His breaths get deeper and heavier as he rises to his feet. The rage that’s been building up inside of him for the last 10 months has passed its boiling point, and all of it is about to be unleashed on the NXT UK champion.
Ilja catches WALTER with an explosive lariat, and delivers a chop to the back, returning the favor from earlier. He then absorbs another chop and returns with another kick, and a pump handle slam – a miraculously athletic feat from the smaller opponent.
After absorbing another sleeper hold and a german suplex, Ilja hits WALTER with the Torpedo Moscow, a running headbutt that he uses as his finishing maneuver. His efforts earn him only a two count. Ilja is beside himself. He sits and bites his hand before collecting himself and rising to his feet. He delivers more echoing chops across the chest of WALTER, but one devastating returned blow to the chest drops the challenger to the canvas.
WALTER grabs Ilja by the throat and slaps him twice across the face; the general is agitated that this little thorn in his side has caused him so much trouble. He heads to the top rope and delivers a frog splash, the move that won him the belt off of Pete Dunne 870 days ago. Ilja, who’s all but inhuman at this point, kicks out.
Ilja applies a sleeper hold. WALTER goes to the top rope and jumps backward to get Ilja off of him, but like a ravenous dog, Ilja pounces and applies the choke again. WALTER stands and falls onto his back, squashing Ilja, but the Russian doesn’t break the hold despite the impact.
Ilja drops the choke on his own accord to deliver some desperate, wild kicks and elbows across WALTER’s side and shoulders. Ilja then applies the choke again and lifts the general to his feet by his neck. It’s the same maneuver that drained the life from Ilja ten months ago. All this time, in his nightmares, he was reliving that moment. This was the time to repay WALTER for all those recurring memories.
WALTER taps out. Ilja drops the general’s lifeless body to the canvas. Ilja’s face is red and there are tears in his eyes, and before the belt is even placed in his hands he’s started to cry.
Finally, his nightmares are over. WALTER’s historic reign comes to its end, his kingdom toppled by a little torpedo from Moscow.
If you haven’t watched this match before, by all means, do it. It’s a brutal display of pro wrestling, as well as a masterpiece of storytelling.
WALTER is at his best when he’s a dominant heel champion, mostly because it creates the opportunity for matches like this. Ilja, too, was in his most ideal role in this match as the hungry babyface on the hunt for redemption. It’ll be interesting to see how the two fair now that they’ve switched roles. WWE seems to struggle with booking their babyface champions, and without a title to hold I’m worried that WALTER might be lost to the midcard.
No matter where their WWE careers take Ilja and WALTER, their encounters will remain testaments to their extraordinary wrestling talent.
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