Last week, NXT UK announced the signings of four brand-new Superstars. While Meiko Satomura was the one to earn many of the headlines on wrestling sites worldwide, fans of the Canadian indies were thrilled to see the WWE also announce the signing of Rohan Raja.
Since making his debut in Alberta in 2015, the former Tony Cage has gone from a fledgling pro training at Calgary’s Storm Wrestling Academy to signing with the biggest promotion in the world. Though, of course, every WWE Superstar’s story is one of perseverance, determination, and grit, Raja’s origin story still stands out as one of the more unique in pro wrestling today.
Even in an industry well-versed in the trials and tribulations of worldwide travel, Raja’s air miles count would still impress most. Prior to the start of his wrestling career, Raja was well-versed in the rigors of extensive travel. His father’s work with Virgin Airlines required the family to move often, and frequently across long distances. As a youth, Raja spent time living in both Belgium and England, before officially settling in Australia at the age of 8.
However, through the travel, there were two fulcrums that Raja’s life revolved around: his family, and professional wrestling.
“All of my time growing up watching wrestling was WWE,” he commented to me when we chatted in 2019. “WWE’s the reason I fell in love with and into wrestling. My dad and my granddad and my brother watched it, so it kind of passed on to me.”
Time to Get Serious
It wasn’t long before Raja began to dream of his own in-ring exploits. Unlike today, unfortunately, Australia’s professional wrestling scene wasn’t quite as thriving in Raja’s early career as it is now. Though there were options to train, he says, what Australia had to offer wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.
“There wasn’t really any notable training schools (in Australia),” Raja lamented. “I think at one point when I was quite young, Al Snow had a school, but besides that, there were all these schools that weren’t all that well-known.”
“I started searching, and the schools I was coming across were all in America and Canada. I thought ‘Man, I’m probably going to have to move.”
Yet again, Raja found himself forced into yet another relocation. This time, however, it was in pursuit of his own dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Of course, where there was wrestling for the future Rohan Raja, his family wasn’t far behind.
“Eventually, after doing some more research, I narrowed it down to Storm [Wrestling Academy],” Raja explained of his decision to train in Calgary. “[Lance] comes from the Hart Dungeon as well, and my family’s always been big with the Hart Family as well,” Raja laughs. “So, it was kind of a no-brainer when it came to that.”
Of course, it wasn’t as though it was simply family politics that inspired Raja to venture above the 49th parallel. The Storm Wrestling Academy has become iconic for it’s ability to produce high-level professional wrestling talent including the likes of Chelsea Green, Oney Lorcan, Rachael Ellering, and Taya Valkyrie.
“He looks for the small things that not necessarily fans would pick up if you watch a student wrestle,” explained Raja. “It’s more so when talent scouts look at you for a big company, they’ll notice the small things. He gives you the tools on how you’re going to have success and how to move forward. He teaches you a bunch of things, but the small things are the ones that stand out to me.”
It was while with Storm that Raja found himself introduced to the Canadian indies for the first time. As part of his training, he said, his training class would attend the local wrestling events to familiarize themselves with both the shows and the promoters hosting them.
“As the classes were going on, me and my classmates would go to the local shows, PWA being one of them,” he reminisced. “We’d go watch to see how the independents worked and everything like that. We pretty much went to all of them while we were there for that three-month period, and the way the show was run was great and the guys there were really nice. No one had a big ego and everyone was sort of helping each other out, and the shows were quite entertaining. I asked Lance, too, and he pretty much said they were the greatest promotion in Alberta, if not Western Canada. I was like, ‘that’s definitely the perfect start to go there’.”
“So, I talked to the promoter, and he said they would love to have (me). It was cut-and-sewn pretty quickly from there.”
Under the name Tony Cage, Raja quickly became one of Alberta’s most popular stars. His innate ability to engage a crowd and his old-school approach to his work inside the ring were quick to endear him to the traditionalist Albertan crowds. In June 2016, under two years after first stepping inside the ring, Raja won his first professional wrestling championship. It’s a moment that still stands out to him for more reasons than one.
“The biggest thing that stood out was probably when I won my first title,” Raja reminisced. “That was at Night of Champions in Calgary (for PWA). That was really cool because my Dad was actually there, so he actually got to see me wrestle for the first time and see me win a title for the first time.”
“That’s probably my favourite wrestling moment; there’s been so much that I’d probably have to sit down and think about it, but I don’t think I can top that in Alberta. It’s the first time my dad saw me wrestle, so it was obviously very cool.”
Making an IMPACT
Though the then-Tony Cage was quickly earning a reputation in Western Canada, it was time to expand his horizons once again. This time, it was Eastern Canada that came calling. In 2017, Raja attended a two-day camp help by IMPACT Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH. After impressing the various scouts in attendance, Raja signed a developmental deal with IMPACT and made his way to Ontario to train under Scott D’Amore.
As part of his developmental deal, Raja was a participant in the inaugural – and to this day, only – edition of Global Forged, a reality-wrestling competition in which the winner earned a match at that year’s Bound for Glory pay-per-view event.
Though he didn’t win, Raja was able to impress both wrestlers and management alike through his time in the competition. Shortly after its conclusion, IMPACT signed Raja to his first contract in professional wrestling.
“It was a weird feeling,” he admitted to me. “It’s one thing getting told that you’re getting signed and reaching an agreement, but when you get the paper in front of you, it’s such a cool feeling. It’s like, ‘holy shit, this is the first step. This is the first contract of many I’m going to sign.'”
“It just reassures you that you’re moving from a rising independent star to a competitive TV wrestler. Your name’s more out there, and you’re on to the next level.”
Though his time in IMPACT was perhaps shorter than expected, it was certainly fruitful. Under the name Gursinder Singh, Raja was featured as a member of the promotion’s Desi Hit Squad stable with Raj Singh and Rohit Raju. The stable not only provided him an opportunity to work with a pair of individuals he considers friends, but also to work closely with legendary wrestler Gama Singh.
“Obviously, he’s a big legend so we knew about him before,” he admitted. “Like, my granddad even knew about Gama. When it comes to the Indian community, that stuff spreads. When I first came to Alberta, I knew he was based out there, and when I first met him it was super nerve-wracking.”
“We’d sit and watch old wrestling tapes with him, which was cool because you’re thinking ‘man, I’m watching Owen Hart vs. Gama, I’m watching Bret Hart vs. Gama,’” he laughed.
Raja took a moment to collect himself.
“It’s so surreal. Even thinking about it now, I kind of get chills. When that turned into more of a mentor role when I was on TV and he was our manager, offscreen he was actually mentoring me. During matches, if you [saw] him huddling up to us he would actually tell us legitimate stuff. He’d constantly be mentoring us, which is really good.”
In 2019, Raja requested his release from IMPACT just over a year after debuting with the promotion. Though many were surprised by the move, Raja said it wasn’t one made with any ill will or harsh feelings in mind.
“(Management) was quite taken back, because they didn’t see it coming,” Raja admits. “They understood where I was coming from…they really understood and always said I was very professional through my time there and respectful to everyone. They knew I wasn’t trying to stuff them around on purpose, and that I was just doing the best for me.”
As we ended our first chat, Raja alluded to some major plans in the works that admittedly, even off the air, he was unable to reveal.
“I’m in talks with other places to go, and I’m going to be making a big career move soon,” he mused at the time. “It’s very exciting, but it’s only good things coming ahead.”
A Puzzle Completed
Now, nearly two years later, Raja laughed as he told me exactly what happened following his IMPACT departure.
“After IMPACT I was in talks with WWE and they invited me to the Canada Tryout in August 2019,” Raja revealed to me. “I impressed everyone there and they suggested I move to England. Once arriving back [in] the UK I wrestled one independent show and went to the UK Performance Centre in November for a couple of weeks. After that, I was told I would be starting with NXT UK.”
“The process started in January 2020 and was scheduled to finish in March 2020,” he continued. “I had one more thing on my medical and then bam, COVID happened, so that delayed things for me. Once things opened back up they brought me back to finish my medical in September and October.”
“I officially signed in November and the rest is history.”
Finally, it looks as though Rohan Raja has a long-term home, which is a boon for both he and wrestling fans alike. Even in a division as diverse as NXT: UK currently is, Raja stands out as one of the most well-travelled, well-educated professional wrestlers in the business.
“There’s literally no one like me in the WWE. My background is Indian, I was born in the UK, grew up in Australia, and started my career in Canada. I bring a combination of styles that can make me adapt to any opponent I go up against. Originally trained by Lance Storm, I’ve also had training with Yuki Ishikawa, Santino Marella, and, when I first arrived in the UK, I trained with James Drake and Zack Gibson. Now, fast forward, I’ve furthered my knowledge at the Performance Centre, which is literally the Harvard of Professional Wrestling.”
And, of course, once it was official, there was only once person who could be the first to know.
“My dad was the first person I told,” says Raja. “He has been my biggest supporter since the day I told him I wanted to follow my dreams. My Dad, Brother, Sister, and especially my late Mum all believed in me from the beginning and knew I would make it.”
Please credit Spencer Love/Love Wrestling with any transcriptions used.