Fans who tuned into Emergence last week saw a new X-Division Champion crowned after a thrilling match, and it was Rohit Raju who stood tall as the new Impact Wrestling X-Division Champion. Raju has been one of the most consistent wrestlers in Impact, and after delivering so many stellar matches his time as Champ is now here, and he's enjoying the hell out of it. ComicBook.com had the chance to talk to Raju about his big win and how Impact is setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack, though we also slip in some geek talk about Marvel and the X-Men. That said, we had to start with his big win, and if you were watching, you could see how emotional and important of a moment it was to him.
"Absolutely unreal. When I first learned of it, I didn't think it was... I thought it was a joke," Raju said. "I thought somebody was pulling a rib on me, because the narrative for me, I was just the bottom guy, bottom guy, bottom guy for the longest time. I knew the boys in the back knew how hard I worked. I knew what I could do, judging off of things I was doing on the indies. I just didn't think management saw what a lot of other people saw in me.
"And then I have like a small cult following of fans that kind of is growing, but they saw it too, and when it finally happened and that bell rang, man, it felt great," Raju said. "It honestly feels great right now, just because of the attention and the recognition that I've been getting, being able to do more media than I normally do. It's awesome, man. I can't explain it. It is the definition of hard work paying off. The cool thing is, for me, it just makes me hungrier. Like I had a taste of it, so now I want more. So that's what success tastes like, so now I want more of it. I just want to work harder to get more success. So it's awesome."
Raju actually already has someone in his sights, and that happens to be one of the new Impact arrivals who struck the first blow at Slammiversary. "Well, I owe Heath Slater a whooping for what happened at Slammiversary, so he would be... out of all the new guys coming in, he would be number one on the hit man's hit list, so yeah, I owe him a kick in the mouth."
Speaking of Slammiversary, that event took over social media and got quite a bit of buzz going, and Impact has followed that up with their successful Emergence events. All of it seems to be bringing new eyes to the product and the stars of Impact, and Raju thinks that success is the result of several factors.
"I think we're keeping it basic professional wrestling," Raju said. "I think we're keeping in what works, but adding that new twist. There's a lot of creative freedom at Impact. Like sure, they have me representing India, which I wasn't really doing that on the indies. I was kind of doing my own thing, but still, when I go out there, it's still me. I still swagger to the ring. When I cut my promos, it's still me, which is really cool. They have bullet points that say, 'this is the message we want you to get across, but you do it in your own way,' which is awesome, because then it comes out organic and it's natural."
That creativity and flexibility extend to inside the ring as well. "Same thing with guys in the ring. You're allowed to wrestle," Raju said. "They want you to get certain points across. They want you to tell the story, but you're allowed to get there on how you want to get there."
"That, and we kind of offer a mix of things that are innovative, like the Wrestle House," Raju continued. "Nobody else was doing that. Some people don't like it. A lot of people do, and I understand it, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Tessa was the champ. That was groundbreaking for the way professional wrestling is going. Again, a lot of people didn't like it, a lot of people did. So we're doing things that other people aren't. I think we're staying creative and innovative, but we're also giving people professional wrestling. It's not something that it looks like it came from a script, or anything of that nature."
Raju also feels Slammiversary helped shed some of the unfair stigma that Impact Wrestling fights at times. "The biggest thing though was getting the eyes on us, because people still want to beat us up and treat us like the redheaded stepchild, which is totally unfair in my opinion," Raju said. "We're not the old Impact Wrestling. We're not even the Impact Wrestling when I got here in 2017, those days are gone. We are much better. Our roster is awesome. I'll put us up against anybody, the talent pool, and I honestly think people just need to give us a chance. Slammiversary helped that, because that mystery always creates a buzz, and people want to see who's tuning in, or who's going to show up. 'I wonder who this one's going to be.' So that was awesome, and then we kept a good chunk of those people, and now they're just watching like, 'Oh, you guys are actually doing really good business. Let's continue to keep eyes on them.'"
Impact also gives new stars a chance to shine as well as stars from other promotions a chance to truly be themselves.
"And then you have a lot of new faces that either weren't top indie names, or just professional wrestling fans in general, don't know who they are," Raju said. "I'll use The North for instance, one of the top tag teams in professional wrestling, not just Impact, but in professional wrestling. You could put them up against any team and it's going to be a great match. And then you have guys that never got their due, that have always been bottom guys. Like Heath, he never got his just desserts, but now he can. Same thing with The Good Brothers, now they can. And then the Motor City Machine Guns, they're getting introduced to a whole new set of eyes, and that's awesome. So it's cool to see that. EC3, again, a guy that is loaded with talent, but never really got the ability to showcase it on a wider audience, but now he's ready. He's back at Impact. Same thing with Eric Young. These guys are going to be able to show the world that they're stars."
"And then guys like me. I didn't complain. I didn't do this. I didn't do that. I just stuck with it, and now my hard work's paying off. Same thing with guys like Eddie Edwards. We have stars. People just need to tune in and see that, and then they'll realize that like, 'Man, these guys are doing something really, really good here.'
If you've been following Rohit's social media you've likely noticed a photo of him sharing a protein shake with his X-Division Championship, and there's more to come. This is part of what makes wrestling so fun at times, and Raju is enjoying the ride.
"Right now, it's just BFF. I was thinking of Exxy, E-X-X-Y. I think that's the name I'm going to go with. Maybe I'll let fans name it. Maybe I'll have a contest. I'll have a poll like, 'Hey, name the X Division Title. Nickname my BFF, but that's the goal right now," Raju said. "You know, I would like to post photos of me grilling with it outside, I had an idea, I wanted to make montages of me and my best friend, which is the X-Division Title, so I took as many pictures as I could. There was one recently where I put the shades on the belt, and I'm laughing at a joke as he's talking, telling me. And then there's going to be a few more that are coming out. So yeah. I mean, why not? I'm enjoying this. Some people are like, 'Oh, it's just a belt, it's just a prop.' Whatever, man. I'm X-Division Champion. I share this belt with some of the best names in professional wrestling, so you better believe I take that as a badge of honor. I take that pride, and I'm going to make the best out of it."
Raju is also a huge comic guy, recently listing some of his favorite X-Men, and it's a strong list, featuring Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Bishop and Psylocke. That said, we had to ask who his sixth choice would be.0comments
"Oh, the sixth would've been everybody else, to be honest, and then I didn't know if you could count Professor Xavier. I picked Cyclops, the stoic leader and brave. You have the Bruiser in Wolverine, but he's also the wild card. Then you would call the Stealth Psylocke. Jean Grey, you need a strong telepath on any type of X-Men team, or any type of superhero thing, so that would be Jean Grey. Bishop, he'd be my bruiser, but it could've been Rogue. It could've been Gambit. It could've been Professor X, could've been Colossus. Storm, I can't forget about Storm. So there's way too many. There is way too many, it's such an unfair list.
All of those are strong choices really, so we can't hate on any of them, and make sure to look out for more from our interview soon. In the meantime you can catch Raju every week on IMPACT! on AXS TV at 8 p.m. ET! You can also talk all things wrestling and Marvel with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!