53. Ilja Dragunov (c) vs Jordan Devlin (Empty Arena Match for the NXT UK Championship, NXT UK 20/1/2022)

Ilja Dragunov had a Match of the Year contender last uear against the incomparavle Walter. Who’s Walter, you ask? Oh, he has been renamed as Gunther on WWE Smackdown! That match was for the NXT UK Championship, with Dragunov coming out victorious. He has held that title ever since. I do dip into NXT UK every now and again, because you are guaranteed good to great matches. And I couldn’t help but feast my eyes on this Empty Arena match between Dragunov and Jordan Devlin for the NXT UK Championship.

And boy, did my eyes receive a feast! I’ve not seen much of Devlin outside the Inaugural NXT UK Championship Tournament, but even then I recognised that he was slick and finessed in the ring. Dragunov…well, he’s Dragunov, contending in two of the best matches in NXT UK history against Walter. Seriously, if you haven’t watched either match, watch both of them. Then watch this match.

It’s not on a par with those two classics, but it is damned close. The only Empty Arena match that I can think of (barring all those that took place during the pandemic, and they don’t count, do they?) is Rock/Mankind at the SuperBowl Half Time. And that’s overshadowed by the other great bouts in the Rock/Mankind feud. Dragunov and Devlin push each other to the limit, taking the fight around most of the BT Arena.

Like any other match during the pandemic (and any other Empty Arena match), it suffers from a lack of crowd noise. It’s surprising how much that noise adds to a match. I stopped watching wrestling for much of 2020 due to the lack of a crowd. However, Dragunov and Devlin fight as if they are in the main event of WrestleMania. They use every weapon at their disposal (at one point Devlin brings out a screwdriver!), and clobber the holy hell out of each other. Even zip ties are used!!! And they both come out looking like stars.

NXT UK is the forgotten child of the WWE Network. And that’s a shame. Every week it delivers easy to follow storylines and good to great matches. This is an example of the latter, and I reckon most people have missed out on it. If you have, do yourself a favour and watch it. Not quite a classic, but a damned good bout all the same.

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘A Wrestling Match A Day‘)

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