Rohan Raja is the latest in the ever-growing list of Indian-origin wrestlers WWE have signed up in recent times, but it not just because Raja has roots in Punjab’s Gurudaspur and Hosiapur that this 29-year finds himself among an elite band of athletes at the WWE NXT UK brand. In just five years of pro-wrestling experience, Raja training has been as versatile as it can get which includes learning technical prowess at the Storm Wrestling Academy under Lance Storm, grinding it out under Japanese’s shoot and MMA wrestler Yuki Ishikawa, picking the brains of the Great Gama Singh and now horning his skills at the WWE Performance Center – Harvard of Professional Wrestling – as he puts it.
WWE Universe got the first glimpse of this Sikh Sworn, British Born, Australian Raised, Canadian Trained (believe every word of that) 6’0,200 lb superstar last week in his WWE NXT UK debut against Toeman. News18.com caught up with the Crawley, West Sussex-born as he talked about his early memories watching wrestling, why he once called himself ‘The Cockiest Man Alive’, and the support he’s got from the Indian fans.
What makes Rohan Raja stand out?
I bring something different which is a combination of different styles. Every time I am on TV you will see something new. I have just started out here in the WWE, but I feel every match going forward, I want to be very creative and want to entertain the fans, especially in India.
Early Wrestling influences and struggling with the idea of pursuing it…
I started watching wrestling when I was four years old with my Bapuji (granfather), dad and brother. I feel even if didn’t start watching it early I would still have gotten hooked to it later on. As years went by it would me and my brother watching it week by week, my mom and sister would watch with us and it kept us all close together and I didn’t realise how much wrestling had an impact on our relationships, later on in life. When I was in my early teenage phase, I was thinking of taking different career paths, but the older I was getting, it was just wrestling. However, especially coming from an Indian background, I was scared of what my relatives would think. I was struggling with the idea of pursuing it, thinking how my family would react. Eventually, I and my siblings came up with a plan to tell my dad and he has been my biggest supporter ever since.
Moving to Canada and tutelage under Lance Storm and Yuki Ishikawa
I was in Australia at that time and once I decided to go for it, I moved to Canada. I started to train under Lance Storm and learned a very technical, submission style of wrestling. A lot of it was very quick, but it was the little things in between he really preached and really wanted to teach his students. That was my initial training.
After that, I started working on wrestling shows in Western Canada. Eventually moved to Toronto, the Eastern side of Canada and trained under Yuki Ishikawa – Japanese shoot fighter and pro-wrestler, he actually trained Asuka. His style is submission-based, but the transitions in his style are very crisp, more of ground game stuff. And the things I got to learn from Lance and Yuki I try to put it together and aim for that unique mix.
Performance Center and learning from the best
Fast forward to UK and in the Performance Center I am learning from the best – this is like the Harvard of Professional Wrestling. My childhood hero is Shawn Michael and I am learning from him. I get Goosebumps talking about it – I don’t know how you top that. And that’s what I have done, combined all these styles and I made them my own. I have been wrestling for 5 years and am still learning. I feel like every time I am on TV, I will keep getting better
What style would define Rohan Raja the best?
I am more of a technical wrestler, but I call my style hybrid. if I am in the ring with someone like A-Kid who is very submission-based, I will pull that out of my repertoire against him. With someone like Tyler Bate, he is technically sound – there nothing he cannot do – so I try to up him in technical wizardry. With WWE NXT UK’s diverse roster each opponent will be different and it’s that clash of styles I am excited about
From ‘The Cockiest Man Alive’ to ‘Sikh Sworn, British Born, Australian Raised, Canadian Trained’
My personality is someone who likes to be liked. Am pretty laid back generally, but in wrestling, I got into this cocky persona as a character early on, but as I progressed I put more of my Indian roots to it and now I have started putting myself into it more. My slogan is ‘Sikh Sworn, British Born, Australian Raised, Canadian Trained’ – and it is basically me, turned up 100 notches. It is also a big part for me to honour my Indian heritage and I try to do that with my entrance, with what I wear. And when you start getting me talking – my accent is a bit mixed – but I want that to come across as well, that’s my personality. I feel like there is only one of me in the world, let alone the WWE, so I feel if I continue doing what am doing with my personality, the sky is the limit for me.
On India and response from the Indian Fanbase
My dad’s side of the family is from Gurdaspur of Punjab and my mom’s side is from Hoshiarpur. I still have family over there. I have been to India just twice, but it’s a place I continually want to go to. Just to visit and experience the place my family comes from.
And also the fan base there, I get most of my message requests, comments from people in India and that really touches me. It’s like someone from India makes it, it is a very big deal because if you look across other sports there are not much Indian representation; so when someone breaks through the barrier, it gives the children, teenagers, and even young adults hope for them to pursue this and do well. I feel like it is such a strong connection I have already, I have been here for a short time only and I am getting such good support, it really warms my heart.