According to spoilers, Ilja Dragunov is injured and has been forced to vacate the NXT UK Championship. Relinquishing the title was certainly not how he or anyone on WWE Creative likely imagined would be the end of his reign, but that’s the nature of the business.
In fact, WWE alone has already seen 3 other titles vacated this year so far. It sucks, but all you can do is try to make the best of it and move forward.
With that being said, Dragunov needs a successor. Let’s explore that.
Interim Championships & Future Champion’s Length
Jon Moxley is currently the interim AEW world champion and we’ve seen the NXT Cruiserwieght Championship explore the interim title route, but that isn’t typically what WWE does. As evidenced by Dragunov relinquishing the title, that’s an indication he’ll be out for more than a short absence.
That means we need a champion who can hold down the fort for a little while longer than just a few weeks. That is, of course, unless WWE wants to switch up the formula and play a little hot potato with the championship.
So far, the NXT UK title is one of the most protected belts in the company. Since its inception on January 15, 2017, there have been only FOUR champions. Tyler Bate held it for 125 days, Pete Dunne (now Butch) had an impressive 685 day reign and Walter (now Gunther) set the record at 870 days. Dragunov was on his way to a full year with 319 today, which will be considered a little while longer as the episode where he vacates it won’t air for a few more weeks. He’ll come just shy of that goal.
Nothing says the next champion has to hold it for 9+ months or several years. It can be a good change of pace to see the belt go to someone in late July, early August, who drops it by December, even. Hell, we could have another champion a few months after that, too.
But your outlook on who the next champion should be may very well depend on your philosophy for long title reigns. If you want the NXT UK Championship to remain a long-term investment, you’re going to pick someone you want to watch for a year. I’m actually of the opposite perspective, but before we get into who I want to win, let’s address some spoilers of what might actually happen.
I can’t corroborate this information, but it has been passed around that these four matches took place on these tapings:
- Tyler Bate defeated Kenny Williams
- Joe Coffey defeated Mark Andrews
- Trent Seven defeated Wolfgang
- Oliver Carter defeated Charlie Dempsey
If this is true, I’m fully expecting to see Bate vs. Coffey and Seven vs. Carter, followed by Bate vs. Seven for the title in the finals of this miniature tournament.
My Ideal Pick
To be perfectly honest, I was hoping Charlie Dempsey would be the next champion. I wanted to see him built up over the coming months where he’d leave Die Familie and rise up the card until he was ready for the top spot.
If we didn’t already have Brooks Jensen and Josh Briggs holding the tag titles, I would have suggested someone from another roster to win the title. I’d have gotten behind a run for Giovanni Vinci, for example, or Duke Hudson, or even Jinder Mahal, funny enough. Those wouldn’t have been my first picks, but I would have at least entertained the idea.
With the current crop on NXT UK, though, I think there is only one real answer: Trent Seven.
Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t be even my fourth pick, let alone my top option. But he JUST turned heel. That’s one of the main, if not THE main, stories going on with this brand. He’s a veteran who might not have any other opportunity to ascend the throne. And he has a built-in feud with Bate that can stretch out for a while.
This is easily the way to go. And frankly, I’d go against the norm here and instead of me complaining about something dragging out, that’s exactly what I would do with Seven vs. Bate—so much so that I wouldn’t even have it as the finals of the tournament to crown the champion.
I would position the bracket where Bate and Coffey fight each other and Seven does something to interfere, costing Bate the win. Coffey’s been frustrated at his losses lately and took some time off to find himself. Now that Mark Coffey is holding the NXT UK Heritage Cup and the more righteous of the two, you can play into that idea that Joe doesn’t like that Seven interfered, but he’s not going to turn a blind eye to a title match.
Seven cheats to beat Joe Coffey, wins the title. Joe is upset and wants a rematch. You can get 1-2 weeks out of that. Meanwhile, Bate is upset, too, and Seven is dodging him. Joe loses his rematch in a way that makes him feel lesser since his brother is a champion and he isn’t, so those two start a sibling rivalry with Wolfgang in the middle.
Meanwhile, Seven forces Bate to go through the ringer to become No. 1 contender. Seven can keep opting to defend his title against enhancement talent and say that he’s contractually filled his obligations. Better luck next time. He can keep trying to screw Bate out of winning title shot opportunities. But eventually, he can’t run any longer, and we get Seven vs. Bate for the title in what could be a best of 3 or 5, specifically with some gimmick matches thrown in there to spice things up.
By then, Dragunov might be ready to return. If so, Dragunov vs. Seven writes itself as the hero champion who never lost the title trying to save NXT UK from its P.O.S. current heel champion. Or, Bate just wins the title from Seven and has a transitional reign, dropping it to Dempsey, maybe, and we get back around to that.
Not only do I think Seven is the clear favorite to win the title next, I think he is the smartest choice, too.
Who do you want to see hold the NXT UK Championship next? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!