Ilja Dragunov Thinks WWE NXT Is ‘Straight Up Evolving’ – Exclusive

The landscape in WWE NXT has changed rapidly since the WWE Draft earlier this year. Undrafted main roster stars, like Baron Corbin, have become full-time members of the brand, while some Raw and SmackDown talents have made it their second home. Despite the influx of big-name stars on Tuesday nights, the NXT Championship is still held by someone who has been integral to the brand’s growth, Ilja Dragunov.

Dragunov officially became the NXT Champion at No Mercy last month when he defeated Carmelo Hayes. The two men are set for a rematch in the main event of week two of Halloween Havoc on October 31. In an exclusive Haus of Wrestling interview, I asked Dragunov how he felt about John Cena taking a shine to Hayes and offering him advice.

“I don’t have an opinion on this at all because it doesn’t matter who is where and what is in front of me,” he dryly shot back. “It doesn’t have anything to do with my championship. I know my destiny. I do my destiny. It was my destiny to become the NXT Champion, and I fulfilled it. I know that my destiny is not peace. I had a bit of peace, but I know that those people are coming for my spot. They’re coming for being the NXT champion, but they won’t be. It’s that simple.”

The combination of notable stars and crossover with the major brands has been a success for WWE NXT in the viewership department. NXT has seen a gradual increase in its overall and key demo viewership and just recently beat AEW Dynamite in a rare Tuesday night head-to-head match-up. I pressed the NXT Champion on whether he could feel the energy of the brand being revived.

“Definitely,” he said. “The people are also putting enough effort into this, from every performer in the building that’s put everything that happens to the performances, just to create the best product possible. That we reach those highs at those times right now, even with the main roster talents, it was something that just needed to happen because everybody, without any exceptions, is working really, really hard.”

One main roster WWE talent who has made NXT their second home in recent months is The Judgment Day’s Dominik Mysterio. The much-hated millennial Superstar is currently in his second reign as WWE NXT North American Champion and routinely gets some of the loudest boos in the entire company.

“Just looking at Dominic and, let’s say, the reactions he gets from the crowds,” Dragunov mused. “A lot of it probably isn’t in the best way, but I mean, the people are just forced to hate him. Things like that it is something that only a few people, like, maybe a handful of people, can do.

“Just getting these amounts of huge reactions, every time somebody steps, he just puts one foot into the arena, getting this kind of reaction, you’re going to be an absolute pro to be able to create something like this. That’s something he definitely is. There are so many things NXT can benefit from him, but also benefit from a lot of other people that also come into the brand because I think at the moment, everything is just straight up evolving.”

My full conversation with Dragunov will be released this Monday afternoon on the Haus of Wrestling YouTube channel and podcast feed.

Haus of Wrestling has partnered with Inside The Ropes to present An Afternoon With Kevin Nash And Sean Waltman on November 25 at Joe’s Live in Rosemont, IL, ten minutes from the All-State Arena. Tickets are now available at

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