Ilja Rukober is a 30-year-old professional wrestler from Russia. Rukober is currently signed to the WWE and performs on NXT under the ring name, Ilja Dragunov. He is the current NXT Champion in his first reign.
Rukober began his wrestling training at the German Wrestling Federation and then made his in-ring debut in 2012. A year later, he began wrestling for Westside Xtreme Wrestling. Rukober experienced great success at Westwide Xtreme Wrestling; he was a one-time wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion, three-time wXw World Tag Team Champion and two-time wXw Shotgun Champion.
Rukober’s Progress Wrestling Debut
In 2018, Rukober also began wrestling for Progress Wrestling and made his in-ring debut in October in a losing match to Pete Dunne. At Chapter 83 in January 2019, Dragunov defeated Timothy Thatcher. At Super Strong Style 16, he defeated Chris Brookes in the first round and then beat Trevor Lee in the quarterfinals. In a triple threat match against David Starr and Travis Banks, Ilja was the first wrestler eliminated when Banks defeated him by pinfall.
At Progress Wrestling’s Chapter 91, Rukober defeated Jordan Devlin in a number one contender match for the Unified World Championship. He lost the following day at Chapter 92 to Walter. At Chapter 95, he competed in a royal rumble match for the Proteus Championship entering as number two and eliminated Niwa, TK Cooper and Chuck Mambo, before he and William Eaver simultaneously eliminated each other.
Rukober’s WWE Contract & Debut
In January 2019, Rukober signed with WWE and began using the ring name, Ilja Dragunov. He defeated Jack Stars in his televised NXT UK debut in May 2019. Dragunov then began a short undefeated streak, beating Joseph Conners and then Ashton Smith. At NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff, Dragunov lost to Cesaro after answering his open challenge.
On January 2, 2020, Dragunov defeated Wolfe in a no disqualification match. In retaliation, Barthel and Aichner attacked and beat Dragunov after the match. At NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool II, the main event title match was between Walter and Joe Coffey. Wolfe interfered in the match attacking Coffey and Dragunov came to the ring and hit Wolfe with the Torpedo Moskau.
As a result, after NXT UK Tag Team Champions Gallus (Mark Coffey & Wolfgang) defeated Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch on the February 13, 2020 episode of NXT UK, Dragunov came out and confronted Coffey and Gallus. This led to a beat down on Dragunov by Coffey and Gallus. This was due to Coffey stating that Dragunov owed “the Gallus firm” a debt, and led to a match between Dragunov and Coffey on the February 20, 2020 episode of NXT UK, where Dragunov defeated Coffey.
After the match, Gallus’ Mark Coffey and Wolfgang appeared in order to commit a post-match assault on Dragunov, but Joe Coffey stopped them and informed Dragunov that he had paid his debt and that matters were now settled.
In April 2020, Dragunov won a 20-man battle royal to become the #1 contender for the NXT United Kingdom Championship, last eliminating Tyler Bate. NXT UK was put on hold though due to how the United Kingdom managed the COVID-19 pandemic. NXT UK was relaunched in September, being filmed behind closed doors at Here East.
Dragunov feuds with WALTER
Dragunov’s feud with WALTER was reignited in September after he was confronted by WALTER following his match where he defeated Noam Dar. On the October 29th episode of NXT UK, Dragunov was defeated by Walter by referee stoppage, due to him passing out after being put in a rear naked choke. This match gathered critical acclaim and was rated 5 out of 5 stars by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Ilja Dragunov returned to NXT UK in 2021. He had a short feud with Sam Gradwell. A few months later in May, he faced Dave Mastiff but the match was cut short as Mastiff broke his nose. In June, Dragunov defeated Noam Dar in a singles match. He later appeared after the main event, staring down Joe Coffey and Rampage Brown.
On the June 24th episode of NXT UK, Dragunov defeated Coffey and Brown in a triple threat match to again become the #1 contender for the NXT United Kingdom Championship. Afterwards, WALTER held Dragunov in a sleeper hold until he passed out.
During the in-ring press conference segment held on July 15th, Walter berated and belittled Dragunov. Ilja told WALTER that while he once respected him, he no longer did and all that is left is hate. It was revealed that WALTER had a injured hand and was unable to defend the title on July 22.
Triple H, Shawn Michaels and William Regal announced that the match would happen a month later, at NXT TakeOver 36. Dragunov made his debut for NXT on the August 10th episode of NXT, where he addressed the crowd but was interrupted by Pete Dunne. In the main event, Dragunov was distracted by WALTER turning up which caused him to lose to Dunne.
Ilja Dragunov Wins the NXT UK Championship
On the August 17 episode of NXT, Dragunov answered Roderick Strong’s open challenge in a winning effort. On August 22, at NXT TakeOver 36, Dragunov defeated WALTER by submission, ending WALTER’s two-year reign as the NXT United Kingdom Champion.
Dragunov successfully defended his NXT UK Championship against A-Kid in December 2021. The following month, he made another successful title defense against Jordan Devlin. On another episode of NXT UK, Dragunov would successfully defend the NXT United Kingdom Championship against Roderick Strong. After back and forth verbal shots with Jordan Devlin, another match for Dragunov’s NXT UK championship was made, under the stipulation that the loser leaves NXT UK. The match took place on the 200th episode of NXT UK where Dragunov retained his title. Devlin had to leave (kayfabe) NXT UK.
Dragunov was forced to vacate the title on July 7, 2022 after he suffered an injury. On the September 20th episode of NXT, Dragunov made his return. He interrupted a segment between NXT Champion Bron Breakker and JD McDonagh. On October 22nd, Dragunov fought Breakker and McDonagh in a triple threat for the NXT Championship at Halloween Havoc, but was unsuccessful.
At Stand & Deliver on 1 April 2023, Dragunov took part in a fatal five-way match for the NXT North American Championship. Dragunov was pinned by then reigning champion Wes Lee in a match that also featured JD McDonagh, Axiom, and Dragon Lee. At NXT Battleground in May, he defeated Dijak in a Last Man Standing match. On the July 14th episode of NXT, Dragunov defeated Breakker to earn an NXT Championship match against Carmelo Hayes at NXT The Great American Bash. At the event, Dragunov failed to win the title.
Dragunov Wins NXT Gold
On the September 12th episode of NXT, Dragunov defeated Wes Lee to earn another shot at Hayes’ NXT Championship. On September 30th, Dragunov defeated Hayes at NXT No Mercy to win the NXT Championship for the first time in his career.SHOW LESS
Ilja Dragunov Photos
Career Championships and Accomplishments
- German Wrestling Federation/Next Step Wrestling
- NSW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NSW European Championship (1 time)
- Westside Xtreme Wrestling
- wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship (1 time)
- World Tag Team Championship (3 times)
- wXw Shotgun Championship (2 times)
- 16 Carat Gold Tournament (2017)
- World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
- NXT UK Championship (1 time)
- NXT Championship (1 time, current)