Red dragon wearing blue sunglasses

Three Reasons Why Ilja Dragunov vs. Jey Uso is so Exciting

Call it an era of good feelings, but tonight’s Ilja Dragunov vs. Jey Uso match – which WrestleOps and others have noted is scheduled to be the main event – feels important.

Let’s take a look at threee reasons why this match is resonating with fans.

Vince McMahon is not in Charge

If this was the late 1980s and Vince McMahon was at the helm of a major tournament, then yes, there might be some excitement brewing. Even the early King of the Ring tournaments (1993, 1994, and 1996 were especially good) carried a certain gravitas.

Over the past twenty years, though, King of the Ring felt, at best, like a letdown. At its worst, it carried the hokey, cartoonish remnants of bygone eras that felt anachronistic and awkward.

Under the Paul Levesque era (which seems to be sticking as a title), though, the brackets for the men’s and women’s tournaments feature enough up-and-comers who could genuinely benefit from not only winning the tournament but from simply having a strong showing.

Neither Uso nor Dragunov have held a main roster world championship (or any singles championship, for that matter), so both join the cast of talent including Carmelo Hayes, Tama Tonga, LA Knight, and Gunther who could theoretically project themselves into the main event picture with a tournament victory in Saudi Arabia.

Given the handling of numerous performers and storylines over the past couple years, there is also a sense that the victory will not be squandered. It is hard to imagine any realistic winner – even a former world champion like Randy Orton – donning a cape and affecting a strange, regal British accent.

Dragunov vs. Gunther III

For fans who watched the runs of Dragunov and Gunther (fka WALTER) in NXT/NXT UK, they know the duo clashed in two of the most critically acclaimed matches in WWE canon. Whatever you ratings metric of choice – Dave Meltzer, Jim Cornette, Cagematch, general fan reaction, or the response of other wrestlers – these two matches embodied many of the qualities that are generally considered “best in class” for modern pro wrestling.

Now, many have speculated that having these two square off at a major PLE (like Summerslam or Summer Slam) would be ideal. Others feel like waiting until Royal Rumble for the two to touch before battling at Wrestlemania 41 would be better.

Considering Dragunov has only has a couple main roster matches and Gunther is coming off a major loss at Wrestlemania, having one of the men lose in the semi-finals seems like it could delay their momentum. In the spirit of continuity, however, WWE could tap into the storied history between the men – even touching upon the European matches they had years ago – to draw a bigger rating and build anticipation for what would likely be one of the most critically acclaimed television matches in years.

This match could also lead to Dragunov joining Imperium, taking the vacant spot after Giovanni Vinci’s dismissal. Having Gunther aligned with both Ludwig Kaiser and Ilja Dragunov could make Imperium the strongest WWE faction since The Bloodline.

It could also add a much-desired “story” to fuel the inevitable next battle between the two – possibly for a world title at WrestleMania.

“The Mad Dragon” – pro wrestling’s answer to “what would happen if Joffrey Baratheon was part Targaryen” – winning this week against Uso and setting up what could be a multi-year storyline with Gunther and Imperium makes all the sense in the world.

The Bloodline: Act Four

The debut of Tama Tonga and (the re-debut of) Tonga Loa added a much needed layer to what has been arguably the best storyline WWE produced since the “Yes Movement” in 2014. It is easy to imagine the upcoming roads leading to either a traditional elimination match or a War Games match at Survivor Series. The Rock, Roman Reigns and, presumably, Jacob Fatu will likely be involved in a Godfather-esque saga that could continue the Bloodline story for another year or two.

Since Jey is coming off a loss to Damian Priest at Backlash, though, another defeat here against newcomer Dragunov could slow his momentum (and perception as a legitimate main event single’s talent). As we are approaching summer, however, planting the seeds for Jey’s re-involvement with the Bloodline seems appropriate.

Two scenarios could reasonably play out, then.

First, the less likely of the two: Solo, Tama Tonga, and Tonga Loa help Jey win the match. The lone-wolf Dragunov, dejected after losing, exacts revenge next week, helping Gunther defeat Jey and move on to the finals. Even less likely is the possibility that the Bloodline helps Jey defeat Gunther (and likely win the King of the Ring), leading to Dragunov joining Imperium to create a powerful rival stable.

More likely, then, is the possibility of the Bloodline costing Jey the match. This plants seeds for a Jimmy Uso return to help his brother while keeping the Bloodline/Imperium “Game of Thrones” battle on the shelf until the appropriate time.

Since both men are positioned to hold strong roster positions moving forward, expect some form of hijinks from some of the aforementioned players tonight.

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