Some roads to become a professional wrestler have become commonplace. Some Superstars come from sports, some come from modelling and some might work the independent scene hoping to build up a cult following big enough to catapult them to the big time. NXT UK’s newest signing, Rohan Raja, has taken a path off the beaten track to reach sports entertainment’s summit. Rushonrock’s wrestling editor, Andy Spoors, caught up with a truly global Superstar in the making before his eventful debut match…
Rushonrock: How excited are you to be debuting on NXT UK?
Rohan Raja: I’m super, super excited you know! As you can imagine I’m nervous at the same time but I’m ready. This is my moment. This is to show the world what I can do. I’ve been patiently waiting for this and now it’s finally here and it’s literally hours away. Words can’t describe how I’m feeling but I’m just ready to go.
Rushonrock: The name Rohan Raja means ‘ascending king’. Did you come up with the name or was it given to you?
RR: No, I came up with the name. So essentially, I wanted a name that represented all my backgrounds. With Rohan it’s an Indian name that people use, Australians use the name as well and there’s also some people in the United Kingdom that are called that as well. So I wanted a name that sounds good and something that represents me. It’s something that represents me in that way and then with Raja, I wanted something directly from my heritage from India. Raja means king, I don’t know how you know that, you are the first one to tell me the same thing today, so that’s cool! It was something that as a kid with my brother, we used to play this game that if you reached the top of the hill, you’re the Raja. You are the king. It was just something that is like a real fun childhood memory and I was like, you know, that would work! I just feel like combining the two and then what the name means together, is exactly who I am.
Rushonrock: You mentioned a few times about your journey and it feels like it’s one that’s off the beaten path. Tell us a little bit about that journey and what each location has taught you.
RR: I was born in Crawley, West Sussex in England and I briefly moved to Brussels at around six or seven, then I moved to Australia. So, Australia is where I spent the majority of my life growing up and going to school, college and everything like that. I feel like even before I started wrestling, I’d got so much life experience even at such a young age. So, when I finally decided I wanted to wrestle, there weren’t that many schools in Australia and especially where I lived in Brisbane. I wanted to be trained by someone who was going to accelerate me and who was going to give me a big push. When I was researching everything, I was thinking about guys like Lance Storm but to do that I had to relocate by myself for the first time and leave my friends and family behind. That was really tough. Going to Canada by myself, I didn’t know anyone. The first person I met was Lance when he picked me up from the airport, so he’s essentially the first friend I made there. That was the hardest transition, because I’ve moved around so much and now, obviously, I’m back in the UK. I feel like having gone from Australia to Canada nothing will be harder than that.
Rushonrock: Speaking of Mr Serious (Lance Storm), what’s it like to train under him?
RR: It was great! So, Lance is all about the small things. He’ll look at stuff and you may think it looks good or you may think he did that right or that’s good or something, but he will dissect it. Not many trainers that I’ve come across can do that. He’ll pick out the points when you’re getting scouted by WWE and say did you see that, or did you see this? That’s the biggest part I learnt from Lance, the very small detail things and the amount he drills it into you. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell you he doesn’t like something. If you’ve done something not good, he’ll tell you something is not good. You have to have a thick skin in the wrestling business, you have to have a thick skin anyway, but being trained by Lance you really had to have a thick skin! He would give it to you and some guys couldn’t take that and then at the end of class he will go through you in front of everyone and say ‘hey you shouldn’t wrestle anymore’. Or he’ll say ‘I think this is good, or your safety is going to be in jeopardy, maybe you should be a referee or something’. So he will tell each and every single person what his honest opinion is. It’s heartbreaking and not everyone can do what we do, because at the end of the day we are athletes and it’s a dangerous job. But we’re doing this to entertain the crowd and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. So, I feel like that’s perfect, because he’ll tell the ones that shouldn’t do it anymore and he’ll tell the ones that he thinks has potential.
Rushonrock: It’s interesting to hear you say that when you were doing your research on wrestling schools there wasn’t much going on in Australia, especially when we are currently seeing an influx at the moment. Bronson Reed, Indi Hartwell, Toni Storm and Rhea Ripley to name a few. What is the Aussie wrestling scene like now?
RR: Yeah, the Australian scene now is great. In my area (Brisbane) there’s not really much going on, but especially in New South Wales, in Melbourne, Perth, WA and even in SA there’s so much talent in Australia. That’s why it’s great that WWE go down there to scout, because the names you mentioned are getting noticed and there’s so many underrated wrestlers there. It’s another reason why I moved countries as well. The route I took, I feel like I got there quick. I got there quicker than a lot of people, because I thought hey, I want to be a wrestler, so I thought out a five-year gameplan. I had a game plan going forward and what I was going to do. If you stay in the same country you’ve got to wait until someone comes to you. I was more like, I’m going to go see them. That was my mindset going forward.
Rushonrock: When it was announced that you signed with NXT UK you were announced alongside Meiko Satomura and Bailey Matthews (the son of William Regal). Do you think some fans might have overlooked your name or was it just exciting to have your name mentioned alongside them?
RR: With the four (that were announced) Meiko, myself, Bailey Matthews and Teoman I feel like it was great. Maybe to the UK it wasn’t but in Canada I was a big headline over there, down under in Australia and especially in India. So I feel like I got the same, if not more in some places then others. Obviously Meiko’s got the most experience and everything but I feel like I generated the same level of excitement as the other guys.
Rushonrock: Some of that reputation was built in Impact when you had a little bit of a run there. What have you taken from Impact that you’re going to bring across to NXT UK?
RR: So, it’s everywhere throughout my wrestling journey and I’ve been wrestling for five and a half years now. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve learned something, whether it’s with different companies or different towns. I wrestled all over Canada, with all different guys and learning different things when I was trained by Lance Storm. Not many people are trained by him. I was trained by Yuki Ishikawa who trained Asuka. I’ve come across so many different people and I briefly trained with James Drake and Zack Gibson in Liverpool when I first moved over here. I feel like I’ve got such a unique style and I’ve combined it. I’ve also been a technical based wrestler but I bill myself as a hybrid and, since I’ve come to WWE, I’ve been training at the UK performance centre which is the best of the best. I’m learning the British style from them as well, so I feel like I’m just putting it altogether. There’s no one like me that you know, that let alone on the roster in WWE. So, I feel like the stuff that people know me from before, this is like a fresh start. This is something different. Now I’m not going to be who I was before — I am who I am now. This is what I’ve been trying to get to my whole career so far.
Rushonrock: In the press release to announce your arrival in WWE, it said that you were inspired by Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. With the latter working with NXT UK, what was it like for you to be able to work with Shawn Michaels now?
RR: It is really surreal and weird! There are certain people that you meet in the wrestling industry that you’ll meet a few times and then you’re like OK you can be calm around them. With Shawn, I can’t get that fan boy out of my head! It’s so weird, I’ll just kind of stop when he’s talking to me and I’ll kind of get lost a second and be like Shawn Michaels is talking to me. He’s my childhood hero growing up and I’m learning from him now? I’m just so blessed! But at the same time, it just shows all the work and all the ups and downs I’ve been through up until this point to get to, it’s nice to see my hard work paying off by just learning from Shawn Michaels.
Rushonrock: Kurt Angle is quite an interesting inspiration because he’s very amateur wrestling and mat based. Was that what makes him an inspiration for you? Or was it the funny and entertaining side of Angle that appealed more?
RR: With Kurt I loved his grappling and like you’re saying his ground style and his technical ability. With Shawn, he was one of then top, if not the best, ‘in-ring’ performers of all time. But when those two had that match at Mania (21) you could just tell that match is great, you could just tell how those styles worked together. So, my styles are influenced from both of them but at the same time it is from everything that I’ve learned too. It’s like one big kind of package that I put together. With Kurt Angle he was very entertaining in the ring, but he had such a personality too. So did Shawn, but they had such good charisma, that’s why I fell in love with both.
Rushonrock: What was the moment, the PPV, or the match that got you into the wrestling world — the moment you thought that is what I want to do for the rest of my life?
RR: It’s hard to say, it’s probably the whole feud with Rock and Austin. They pretty much headlined three WrestleManias and watching week by week what they were doing. There were matches before that that sparked my interest in wrestling and it was why I watched it. But they got me really hooked on at an early age. Then, when I started getting a little bit older that’s when I started falling into Shawn Michaels’ style and Kurt Angle’s style. Then I was really appreciating what wrestling was and what the storytelling is. The Rock and Stone Cold got me thinking I’ve got to do it but then as I kept watching and just seeing guys like Shawn and Kurt tear it up in the ring and entertain me, it just suddenly came together and I was like ‘you know what — I have to do this’.
Rushonrock: You did an interview where you explained you were trying to come up with an elaborate plan to tell your dad that you wanted to be a wrestler. How supportive is he now?
RR: Out of everyone, he’s my biggest supporter for sure. Which is weird, because if you ask me that before I started wrestling, I’d have said he’s not going to go for this! He’s my biggest supporter and he’s the guy that will be like ‘good job’. But then when I’ve come back to Australia, if I talk to my sister or my brother, they say ‘Dad talks about you all the time with his friends, he talks about you when he’s at work!’. He’ll tell me he’s proud of me and everything like tha, but the real excitement I’ll hear from like my siblings and stuff like that so it’s cool to see my dad going through this. And now, because my big debut is coming up, he’s just so proud. He called me a few days ago and was just one of those chats where he’s just saying how proud he is of me getting to this point and he’s looking forward to it and everything, so it’s been really cool.
Rushonrock: WWE ran the Superstar Spectacle earlier in the year that showcased a lot of their Indian talent. As part of your heritage what does that spotlight on Indian Superstars mean to you?
RR: I feel like the Superstar Spectacle was great just to showcase a look at all the Indian talent that we have and gave a platform to show what they can do. I’m all for it but it shouldn’t just be something like another Indian wrestler has being signed. These guys are talented and there are so many people in that country that want to do this and want to do something different and they struggle with that. Then when they see someone like me push through that barrier and do it, they’re like if he can do something like that, I can do something like that. I’m very much no matter what race you are, no matter what background you come from, you have to appreciate what your background is and you have to let the world know of where you come from. Don’t be ashamed of it and I feel with all the new guys, especially guys and girls coming from India, it just shows how much of a country we’ve developed and how much people are chasing their dreams and breaking through that barrier. I feel like it’s just something that should have happened a lot sooner but I’m so glad it’s happening now across the whole sports industry and the entertainment industry as well.
Rushonrock: What are your immediate goals in NXT UK?
RR: I want to make a big impact. Every time I’m on TV, I want to tell a story so I’m all about telling a story and getting fans engaged. Having those moments where it’s like, ‘hey do you remember that match with Rohan and Tyler (Bate)?’ — I want those memories to be in the fans’ minds. That’s my immediate plan going forward but, at the same time, I want everyone on the roster to know who I am. I want all the fans to know who I am and that I’m here to stay and that I’m here in the long run.
Watch Rohan Raja’s new home, NXT UK, every Thursday on the WWE Network.