Rohit Raju is the reigning Impact Wrestling X Division Champion, and he is taking considerable pride in proving he possesses what it takes to star as a champion.
“It took a long time to get here, but I always knew I could succeed at it,” said Raju. “Now I finally have that opportunity.”
Raju’s charisma, skill on the microphone, and in-ring ability have turned people into believers, and the 12-year wrestling veteran has taken notice. Unfortunately, the one person he would like to share his experience with is not here to celebrate it.
Raju is the living embodiment of his mother Shira Smith. She passed away 13 years ago, one year before Raju began his pro wrestling training. He always wishes he could thank her for giving him the courage, heart and tenacity to succeed in such a complex, cutthroat business.
“I wish she were still here,” said Raju, who was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was three. “For the longest time, she was going to school, working, and supporting the family with no help. She finally graduated and became a nurse.
“No matter if we were dead broke, she knew my love for professional wrestling. She still made sure I had the action figures, and she’d sit and watch with me. I remember finding a yellow Superman shirt from a rummage sale, and she cut the shirt to resemble Hulk Hogan’s. I would wear that and give promos on the tape recorder, imitating all my favorite wrestlers. The fact that she’s not here to share this success, it breaks my heart, but I always keep her close to my heart.”
Impact Wrestling gambled on Raju by putting him in a marquee spot as X Division Champ, and it paid off. His segments on Impact! provide some of the most entertaining content each week, and he is grateful to wear the same title previously held by the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Petey Williams and Chris Sabin.
“I loved the ‘90s WCW cruiserweights,” said Raju. “They brought such a different style, mixing the Japanese style with the Mexican and the American style. The X Division upped that, and I instantly fell in love with it. I was at Bound for Glory in 2007, watching Chris Sabin win the X Division title. It blew me away.
“This belt means I am in a top spot in Impact. The X Division is known for high-flyers, but I’m doing something different with the belt. I’m bringing that old-school character work into the ring work. Some people like what I’m doing, and some people actually despise it, which means I’m doing what I should be doing.”
Since winning the title in August, Raju has been a focal point of the weekly Impact programming, and he has made the most of his time on the mic. He defends the championship at Bound for Glory on October 24 in a six-way intergender scramble that includes Bey, TJP, Jordynne Grace, Willie Mack, and Trey— a fitting place for a character who has done everything to evade his opponents and hold onto his title.
“Everyone in this match, they’re all top-notch, and they each bring something different,” said Raju. “Storyline, I love it, because I’ve been screwing them all over. I’m dangling the carrot every week, but I take it away from them every time. Now people want to see me get my comeuppance, so what will I do to make sure I walk away the champion? It’s an opportunity I’m so happy to have. I worked for this, and it feels good to finally have it.”
Ingenuity and resourcefulness are two of Raju’s strongest characteristics, as a person and a wrestler. Against the odds, he is becoming a household name for Impact, an overnight success that took 12 years to manifest. And he is especially proud to be succeeding in his own distinct manner, not due to a stereotypical gimmick.
“I love the fact that I get to represent India, and Impact lets me express myself the way I want,” said Raju. “In order to succeed, you need to let me be me. I can act like a complete jerk, or be obnoxious and over the top, plotting and scheming to get what he needs to get. I’m a pro wrestler, so I hope that’s what comes through more than anything else.
“Sometimes it feels like people in pro wrestling don’t want you to be a pro wrestler. But 30 years later, who are we still talking about? Flair, Hogan, Dusty. Or Austin and The Rock—the ones that exuded pro wrestling. That’s who I model myself after, the ones that were so good they transcended the normal stereotypes and stigmas.”
One of wrestling’s triumphs in this peculiar year has been Raju’s success, but he refuses to allow people to embrace him too tightly. Raju takes tremendous pride in being a disliked villain, invoking an old-fashioned spirit into an industry that feeds off believability.
“My job is to make people hate me, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing,” said Raju. “I am going to do what I do better than anybody else, and I’m going to make sure Impact knows that and my peers know that. I’ll continue betting on myself. The best is yet to come.”