Why WWE's Ilja Dragunov Says Struggle Is Necessary & Pain Is His Friend

Ilja Dragunov has spent the last few years making a name for himself in WWE, but it wasn't always smooth sailing for the 29-year-old European wrestler. However, having gone through the struggles that he has, Dragunov still has no regrets. Speaking on "Out of Character," the WWE performer said that he uses adversity to drive himself, likely indicating one of the factors that makes him such a compelling professional wrestler.

"If there is no struggle, there is no meaning," Dragunov said. "If I can push through those times and just [take] one step after another, and to never give up, it's gonna be worth it."

Some of the struggles Dragunov faced included raising a young child while wrestling as well as keeping another job during the week. The WWE star called 2017 and 2018 some of the most difficult years of his life, as he went through an extreme physical transformation on top of the other stresses he was dealing with. Still, Dragunov has the mindset that this adversity has been for his benefit.

The former WWE NXT U.K. Champion acknowledged that his size works against him in wrestling, but he knows that he has other skills that help him more than make up for his smaller stature. One of those skills is the understanding that struggle helps a performer connect with their audience.

Dragunov or GUNTHER: Who Is The Embodiment Of Pain?

When asked about his longtime rivalry with GUNTHER (previously known as WALTER), host Ryan Satin described the WWE Intercontinental Champion as a physical manifestation of pain. However, Dragunov corrected him.

"I think I am pain, because I'm the person overcoming it every single time," Dragunov said. "Pain is my friend. When I talked about the most horrible years in my life, just physical-wise, I still don't want to change a thing. I know there will be other years where it's going to be horrible and exhausting and mentally painful, too. But if I can take all this pain and put it into the ring, like putting color on a canvas and painting my own picture, creating my own art, ... then I do something in a way that nobody else can ever do this."

Dragunov signed with WWE in 2019, becoming a part of the NXT U.K. brand. He would eventually go on to become WWE NXT U.K. Champion, defeating WALTER (now GUNTHER) in August 2021. As of now, Dragunov is the last person to pin GUNTHER. Additionally, before their time in WWE, Dragunov and WALTER competed many times in German promotion wXw, and even became tag team champions together for a time.

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit "Out of Character with Ryan Satin" with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.