While fans know all about Raju’s entertaining exploits inside the Circle, his journey through martial arts has been just as interesting.
Ahead of Friday’s clash, we bring you five facts about “The Kerala Krusher.”
Inspired By A Martial Arts Icon
During his adolescence in Kerala, Raju frequently watched martial arts films and enjoyed the theatrics of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and others.
However, there is one famous martial artist and actor who stood out to the Indian warrior.
“I started training kung fu when I was 14 or something like that, and one of my biggest inspirations was Bruce Lee,” Raju said.
“I learned a lot about him from watching his movies. He only starred in like five movies, but I watched each movie 100 times. I bought the DVDs and watched [them] over and over again. I really like his style, and I adopted some of his kicks in my martial arts career.”
A Schoolyard Fight Changed His Life
Raju wanted to follow in Lee’s footsteps and learn martial arts, but his mother and father wanted him to focus on academics instead.
The Indian teenager obliged, but one day at school, an unfortunate incident dramatically changed his parents’ minds.
“When I was 14, I got into a small school fight, where I got beaten up a little bit,” Raju said.
“I told my parents that if they had listened to me before – if they had let me pursue martial arts – I would have been able to defend myself better. The very next day, my father found a kung fu school nearby, and my brother and I started training.”
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Left Engineering Job To Pursue MMA
In 2011, Raju traveled from his beloved homeland to Singapore, where he studied Mechatronics Engineering at Temasek University.
Soon after he enrolled in the college, the Indian discovered mixed martial arts and fell in love. Though his focus was still firmly on academics, Raju – then 21 years old – started training in the all-encompassing sport during his free time and even competed in amateur bouts.
Following graduation, “The Kerala Krusher” worked in the semiconductor industry and had a stable gig in “The Lion City.” But it was difficult to juggle his full-time job with his burgeoning MMA career, so he was forced to make a life-changing decision.
“I didn’t want to waste any more time, and needed to go 100 percent in training,” Raju said.
“When I had my job, it was always difficult because I was competing against guys who were training full time. Sometimes, I got bad injuries because I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
“However, I pushed through and never gave up. Giving up was never an option for me. Even though I started late, I always go all out.”
A Brown Belt In Two Disciplines
Raju works on his all-around game under the guidance of head coach Arvind Lalwani at Juggernaut Fight Club in Singapore.
In addition to training daily with Lalwani, the Indian teaches at the facility as the gym’s head grappling coach.
Though he trains in a variety of martial arts disciplines for his ONE Championship career, two individual styles have truly captured his heart: his old friend, kung fu, and his new love, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“The Kerala Krusher” currently holds a brown belt rank in both disciplines, and he won’t rest until he gets a pair of black belts.
His Biggest Fear
There isn’t much that scares Raju.
After all, he moved away from home and then sacrificed a high-income job to pursue his dream of mixed martial arts stardom.
But he would be absolutely crushed if a physical limitation shortened his combat sports career or derailed it for even a little bit.
“My biggest fear is injury – anything that happens to my health that won’t make me follow my passion,” the lightweight said.
“I’m not worrying about anything much because I don’t want to be negative. But if something can bother me, it would be an injury.
“I went through a lot previously, so I have a tough heart, and things don’t really affect me. Training is the thing that gives me hope, happiness, and control about myself. If my mind is not good, I just train hard. If I had a breakup, I just train hard.”