Top Star Makes Surprising Return To WWE NXT, Big Match Coming

Top Star Makes Surprising Return To WWE NXT, Big Match Coming

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

In tonight’s recorded NXT 2.0 episode, JD McDonagh defeated Tyler Bate in the main event to become the new No. 1 contender for Unified NXT Champion Source Breakker. After the match, Breakker and McDonagh faced each other until the music was cut and Dragunov came out.

Dragunov played for the crowd as an enraged JD lunged at no one in particular. Breakker watched from the ring as Dragunov wiped his feet on the apron and then entered the ring. Dragunov approached Breakker, but McDonagh stepped toward both of them. Breakker then lifted the NXT title belt in the air as the triple face-off continued in the center of the ring.

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While not officially announced by WWE at this time, Bate vs. McDonagh vs. Breaker for the Unified NXT title expected for the NXT Halloween Havoc event on Saturday, October 29.

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

Dragunov last appeared in front of a crowd during the August 4 NXT UK episode, where he announced that he was relinquishing the NXT UK title due to a serious ankle injury. Dragunov then appeared in a vignette on the August 18 NXT UK show, promising to get his title back. Bate eventually won 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.

It is not yet known whether Dragunov will join the NXT roster full-time, or whether he will be there 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 in the August 17, 2021 episode of NXT; and the title win over Gunther at TakeOver 36. Dragunov also has a match against Xyon Quinn, which hasn’t aired yet and was just taped last week.

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

There’s no word yet on what’s next for the Road to Halloween Havoc NXT title hunt, but we’ll keep you posted. Below are related clips from tonight’s show:

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