Ilja Dragunov vs WALTER
16 Carat Gold Tournament 2017 Finals
Turbinenhalle, Oberhausen, Germany
(reviewed 03/19/2017) Watching this tournament, this finals matchup makes the most sense, really. Ilja’s a ball of fire, constantly stuck in fourth gear, the embodiment of a “go go go” mindset. On the other hand, WALTER has spent the whole tournament shutting down faster opponents with his size and his sleeper hold. Ilja uses his strength and sheer determination to win, but with WALTER, he’s finally found an opponent who can match him strike for strike, and his realization is a cool, subtle moment. WALTER’s no tortoise either, being able to sprint around when he wants to, and it only makes things worse for the young Russian. Whenever Ilja gets a head of steam behind him, WALTER lays him out with a lariat or an apron powerbomb. He rips into Ilja with some murderous chops too, busting his chest open badly. Ilja’s able to free himself from WALTER’s sleeper, the first person in the tournament to do so, and uses some misdirection to hit a clothesline and big back suplex for a momentary advantage, but WALTER chases him up the ropes for a superplex that earns him a two count. Surviving a few more gross shots, Ilja’s able to muscle the big man up and hit a second rope powerbomb before eating a boot coming off the ropes like a plane shot down over France. WALTER wastes no time with going for the sleeper and it seems like it’s all over for our young hero, but he somehow survives it, a killer clothesline, and a huge powerbomb for one hell of a falsie. Slowly making their way back to their feet, both men trade a long series of chops, really getting the crowd going. Ilja eats a boot in the corner and fires back with a clothesline, following it up with the Torpedo Moscow, but WALTER finds it in himself to kick out. A second attempt is reversed into a brief sleeper and fire thunder driver from the Austrian, but somehow Ilja kicks out at the last moment. The crowd chants Ilja’s name and WALTER eggs them on, as if to say “keep going; he’s already dead”. Ilja rises to his feet and WALTER slaps him across the face once, twice, sending him back into the ropes, giving Ilja the momentum he needs to hit another Torpedo Moscow and win the match.
The best wrestling makes you feel. The best wrestling makes you believe. Before I sat down to watch this tournament, I knew who was in the finals, and I knew who won the tournament. Before the shows, my friends and I had an inkling it might be Ilja, considering the sort of following he was quickly garnering, but we weren’t sure. As night three dawned, it was all but certain that he was going to do it. But watching this match, you wouldn’t know that. Sure, an extended heat from the heel would indicate a big fiery comeback and win for the babyface, but that knowledge and that understanding doesn’t always matter in the moment. It didn’t here. Watching this match, you felt that there was no way WALTER could lose. He had the game plan. He had the size. He had all the attributes needed to shut Ilja down. There was no way this tubby, pale, weird-looking Ruskie could upset the ace of wXw, the backbone of wXw, the very essence of wXw. But this match made you believe that not only could he do it, he would do it. When his chested started bleeding from the chops, when he survived the sleeper hold, when he came careening off the ropes for the Torpedo Moscow, you believed that he would win. In those moments, I forgot the knowledge that he did win. I believed that he would. That sort of emotion, that sort of feeling is the reason why I watch wrestling. I want to believe.