Ilya Rukober was born on 10 October 1993. He is a Russian professional wrestler. He is currently signed to WWE, where he performs on the NXT brand under the ring name Ilja Dragunov. He is the current NXT Champion in his first reign. He is a former NXT United Kingdom Champion.
Dragunov fought on the European independent circuit before signing with WWE. He is particularly well-known for his stint with Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw), where he was a former one-time wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion, three-time wXw World Tag Team Champion, and two-time wXw Shotgun Champion. Rukober is the first non-kayfabe Russian male wrestler to participate in the WWE, as well as the company’s first Russian-born champion.
|10 October 1993
|5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Also Read: Carmelo Hayes
Early Life and Path to Wrestling Stardom
Born on October 10, 1993, in Moscow, Russia, Ilja Rukober’s life took an unexpected turn when he migrated to Germany with his mother at the tender age of five. Neither of them spoke the German language, and young Rukober faced the challenge of adapting to a new country. To support his family, he worked various jobs, including stints at a pizza parlor and a gas station.
The Birth of Ilja Dragunov
Rukober’s entrance into the world of professional wrestling came through rigorous training at the German Wrestling Federation (GWF) school, under the guidance of seasoned veterans Axel Tischer (known in WWE as Alexander Wolfe) and Rick Baxxter. In 2012, he made his in-ring debut, embarking on a remarkable journey that would see him rise to prominence in the European independent circuit.
wXw: The Crucible of Champions
Ilja Dragunov’s association with Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) proved pivotal in shaping his wrestling career. During his time with wXw, Dragunov achieved numerous accolades, including the wXw Unified World Wrestling Championship, the wXw World Tag Team Championship (thrice), and the wXw Shotgun Championship (twice). His impressive tenure at wXw solidified his reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Breaking Barriers and Making History
Rukober, now known as Ilja Dragunov, etched his name in the annals of WWE history as the first non-kayfabe Russian male wrestler to compete in the company. Moreover, he achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the first Russian-born champion in WWE’s illustrious history.
The WWE Odyssey Begins
In January 2019, Ilja Dragunov’s talents caught the attention of WWE, leading to his signing with the company and his subsequent debut on NXT UK. His journey in WWE began with a bang, as he quickly established himself as a fan favorite, captivating audiences with his unique style and intensity.
Dragunov’s pursuit of excellence led him to challenge for the NXT United Kingdom Championship, held by the imposing Walter. Their epic battles inside the squared circle captivated fans and garnered critical acclaim, ultimately culminating in Dragunov’s historic victory at NXT TakeOver 36. The win ended Walter’s two-year reign as champion and cemented Dragunov’s status as a bona fide WWE superstar.
Ilja Dragunov’s journey took another extraordinary turn when he returned to NXT in September 2022. His relentless pursuit of success brought him to the NXT Championship, where he defeated Carmelo Hayes at NXT No Mercy to claim his first NXT Championship. In doing so, Dragunov became the first wrestler to hold both the men’s NXT and NXT United Kingdom titles.