At Emergence Special Event, four weeks ago, Rohit Raju shocked the world when he became the new Impact X-Division Champion by defeating both Chris Bey and TJP. The word shock is more than appropriate, as probably no one saw it coming. For most of the fans, Rohit Raju was just the goofy member of the Desi Hit Squad Gama Singh, never stopped slapping in the back of the head.
The man who has stepped in the ring on his own for a few weeks now is definitely not the same. Focused, driven, he has finally been able to show the talent he really is. Since 2017 and his debut with Impact Wrestling, Raju has been in the mid-carder ranks more than on the top of the list. Despite a decade-plus career in the ring, he was struggling to make a name for himself on TV.
SteelChair Magazine had the opportunity to talk to X-Division Champion Rohit Raju two weeks ago. The new Impact X-Division Champion has a lot to tell us about winning the title, his path on Impact Wrestling, witnessing a company’s revolution, The Desi Hit Squad, and what the future may hold for him.
When we look at the match and the pictures of the X-Division Championship match you had against TJP and Chris Bey, we can see your eyes balling when you are given the belt, as if you just couldn’t believe it and it was too good to be true. How do you feel being the Impact X-Division Champion, because it’s a really prestigious and important Championship in the company?
“That emotion was all real, and it was really like it’s too good to be true. I’m still honestly riding that high right now, especially doing all the media and seeing all the recognition and attention. It’s really what you work for, and finally, you’re getting a piece of the pie. It feels fantastic, I never can put it into words how that feels because you struggle, you struggle, you struggle, and you’re always like, man, I know I’m good enough to be there, and everything’s going to happen. And then it happens, and it feels amazing.”
People don’t realise that you’ve been there for nearly three years, you have struggled and worked very hard just to have this Championship opportunity. At the same time, we could see the happiness in your eyes, I couldn’t help but see a bit of angriness and maybe frustration getting out of you at that very moment.
“You’re absolutely right on that, it’s like, ‘Hey, I told you so.’ You always got to know your worth, and I knew my worth. I knew my worth was way more than being at the bottom. That was always the narrative being pushed like I was always in the background. I was always in the back of the line. So now, my goal is to hustle and work hard to get out of that position, to get out of that, I guess we could say funk. There were times where I wasn’t going to let it defeat me, but there were times where I got really frustrated, and that right there, you kind of develop a chip on your shoulder because you’re telling everybody, and you’re trying to show everybody, yes, I am good. I’m good enough to be on this playing field, but no one’s really paying attention to it like you’re screaming at the top of your lungs in a room full of crowded people, but nobody’s listening.
Then, finally, you make them listen. You do something where you become undeniable at that moment. It’s definitely there, this is a great emotion, it feels great, but there also was that that anger and that frustration like, hey, I’m here, you didn’t think I could be here, you just think I should be here, but I’m here, and now I’m not going to go anywhere, but yeah, that’s definitely spot on.”
I’m not sure many people can remember your very first match on IMPACT was against none other than Taiji Ishimori after you won the Global Forged Wrestling contest, an extremely talented wrestler. Have you ever had during the last three years any kind of doubt that maybe Impact Wrestling was not the place for you to succeed?
“It always crosses your mind. You always think about, well, I don’t know if these guys see my worth, there are other places where I can go, but I’ve always been happy at Impact Wrestling. I’ve always wanted to excel there because it means to me. It’d be like, okay, well, they’re not doing what I think they should be doing or what they could be doing with you, so I want to leave. There’s that part of you that’s so hungry and so driven.
I think they did see it after a while, and then elevating me with the X-Division title was kind of like, hey, we kept you here for a reason, you endured all of it, and now this is your reward, being X-Division champion. It’s funny because, if you look at a lot of the attention and praise I got from some of the best wrestlers or people in the business that know me, a lot of people, like fans, started to realise that there’s a reason why these people are saying, man, you deserve this, you work hard. You never complain about stuff because it’s true. I do feel like I work really hard even if I don’t agree with something or like the position that I’m in. I can’t turn it off. I have to work hard. I have to keep going and keep busting my thoughts because I want to prove people wrong.
The thought of leaving crossed my mind because there are other pawns jumping, but I wanted to make a statement here, that’s what I wanted to do because I love the roster. I’m really good with a lot of the production people, and it’s almost like a small little family, so I didn’t want to have to leave to make a statement, so I’m glad I finally got to make a stake in here because that’s what I want to do, I want my seat at the main table, and now that I’ve had a little taste of it, I want more of it. It tastes great being able to sit at the main table, so I want more of that. I don’t want that to go away, so I’m working as hard as I can to maintain that.”
Because you’ve been there for three years, you’ve been able to see all the changes, the evolution/ revolution/ rebuilding, whichever word we can use, because the company completely reinvented itself. No one would have expected Impact Wrestling to be trending on social media now. What is your reaction to that as you have lived and witnessed all those changes?
“When I got there in 2017, I remember saying to myself, it’s kind of not the best, and then, finally, it got into the right hands of people that wanted to make a positive change, and I think we’ve been doing that, especially with some of the names that we’ve welcomed back, some of the stars that we have produced from the stars that we have produced that have gone elsewhere and become bigger stars. They started with us. They were putting in their work with us, and they were turning heads with Impact Wrestling. One of my biggest things is I don’t feel like we get enough recognition. I still feel like Impact Wrestling as a company is very disrespected by mainstream professional wrestling fans or like those certain wrestling fans or even journalists that don’t give us enough credit.
We’ve changed. We’re not the same company we were years ago. We are a way better company, and we’re doing a lot of things that other promotions aren’t doing. I think it’s about time we get recognized for this. You can go on the Impact Plus app, look at all the old stuff and compare to all the new stuff that we’re doing, and you’ll see such a huge change. I don’t think a lot of people want to give us that credit. They want to keep us in that. I always use the term redheaded stepchild, like they want to keep us down, but you can’t because we’re starting to shine through, and now it’s time to give us the respect that we rightly earned and deserve. I’m hoping that will change as far as the eyes on the product because the product is doing nothing but getting better.”
What were the good things, but also the bad things about The Desi Hit Squad?
“I miss Raj, Shera, and Gama, even though Gama was flattening me all the time (laughs). It was funny because I was always the one that would get frustrated. I would get frustrated with the direction they were going. Unfortunately, because of all this stuff that happened, we never got the big payoff and saw where it was going to go. Raj got injured. He’s recovering right now. Shera is in India right now, taking care of some business. Gama is not being gone, he’s just relaxing. So sooner or later, I’m sure they’ll come back. I think they had big plans for the Desi Hit Squad because it was myself and Gursinder and Gama when we first started. I think they had well intentions, and it just didn’t go how they wanted it to, and then we just kind of got lost in the shuffle.
It was weird because we were brought in as individuals where all the tag teams that were in the company at the time were all tag teams that worked together, and that knew each other for years. Gursinder and I were finally starting to find our rhythm, and then he went. Raj came in. It takes a while for him and me to find our rhythm. As soon as we do that, they brought in Shera, and then, it was mostly Shera and me who were trying to find our rhythm. It was really a stop and go process, and anytime we built momentum, it would get cut off for whatever reason, and we never got it going. We just got lost in the shuffle. It honestly just fizzled out, and we really became nothing really, nothing really came of it.
Luckily, I had a chance to step out on my own and that obviously turned out really well, but I do keep in touch with the guys. I know Shera just opened up a gym in India, l talk to Raj on a weekly basis, and I always asked him how Gama’s doing. I definitely keep in touch with those guys. Sooner or later, they’ll all be back bigger and better. It’s just a matter of when.”
Do you feel better now being back as a singles competitor or do you also feel good being a part of a tag team or stable?
“I got into wrestling to be a singles star. I think that’s where I thrive at my best. I enjoy doing tag team matches, but me being in the ring and all the weight is on my own shoulders. I don’t have to worry about this or that or the other. I prefer that. I prefer being a singles wrestler because I think I thrive being a singles wrestler, there’s just something out there, I push myself, I have a drive, and I want to succeed, no matter what, like I was saying earlier, I just can’t turn it off. So me being a singles wrestler is what I want to do. That’s what I want and right now having this run with the X-Division title means a lot to me. It feels great. All eyes are on me right now. We’re heading for Bound For Glory on October 24, that’s what I’m gearing up for, getting ready for. I’m trying to keep this belt all the way until then and beyond. I’m trying to ride this wave as long as possible. Being a singles star is what I want to do. I don’t mind being in tag. I’ve done the whole tag thing the majority of my career on Impact Wrestling, but I’d rather be a singles wrestler.”
Were you a fan of TNA in the early days and what was your reaction knowing that some major names from the TNA era were coming back?
“I thought it was great. I was a huge fan of Monty Brown, one of my hometown buddies. I knew him before he started getting into wrestling, and then when I saw him on TNA, I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud. I actually spoke to him when I won the X-Division title. He was one of the first people I texted because he’s always been in my corner. Having the Alpha Male in your corner is a pretty huge deal for me, because like I said, I was a huge fan of TNA. Of course, the X-Division to me, the 90s Cruiserweights from WCW I thought really set it off, and then the X-Division stars really elevated the game and continued. It was really cool to see the Motor City Machine Guns come back so a whole new set of eyes can check them out. It’s great to see guys like Eric Young, who was so underutilised for so long finally come back home. Same thing with EC3.
These guys are stars, and they deserve to be treated like stars. When you actually get to see them in the element, it’s fantastic. You’re seeing these guys that were actually kind of like in the role I was in for the longest time just being the bottom guy, and then finally getting a chance to show the world kind of like how I am right now, getting a chance to show the world what they can do, that’s fantastic. I think these guys deserve that because they are stars, and they should be treated like stars, and now they get to showcase like, hey, we are more than what we’ve been pushed as for the longest time. I can relate to that. If anybody can, I can definitely relate to that.”
Who are the wrestlers that you have never had the chance to compete against over the last three years that you would like to and who could be the wrestlers you want to defend the title against?
“Cousin Jake would be my number one. He and I, we’ve known each other before we started wrestling, we messed with each other on the indies, and we just have a connection. There’s like chemistry. It’s like Vegeta versus Goku if anyone’s a Dragon Ball Z fan. We are really good friends. We can tag up, but we’re way better as rivals. I think he’s one of those guys that is underutilised at IMPACT right now. He’s a star. If people see him outside of the Cousin Jake thing, the guy’s a star. Anytime he’s walking to the airport people look at him, he has that hit factor with people, they’re drawn to him. He looks like a giant caveman, and he’s great in the ring. I would love to work with him.
If Rich Swann ever comes out of retirement or gets healthy, I would love to have a singles match with him because the stuff that I had with him in the tag matches, there was just something there I felt, and I think I could really do a lot of great things one-on-one with Swann. I never had a one-on-one with Dez yet, Trey and I, we put on some really good matches. Zach and I had the one single match I love. I haven’t had a one-on-one with Dez yet, and I would like to put that into the universe as well.”
Follow Rohit Raju on Twitter @HakimZane.
IMPACT Wrestling is airing on Tuesday at 8/7c on AXS TV and Twitch in the USA. The show is available to view in the UK from 2 am Wednesdays on the IMPACT Plus app and airs on 5STAR on Fridays in the late evening (please check local listings weekly).
All pics, videos and screencaps courtesy of Impact Wrestling, AXS TV and Basil Mahmud