When Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju was told he could not learn martial arts as a child in India, he did not accept it.
A few years later, he was warned against going to live abroad, but he moved away from his home and his family, and discovered a passion that took him to the global stage for martial arts.
Now, the 28-year-old is aiming for his second win in a row in ONE Championship when he takes on Furqan “The Lion” Cheema in a 79.5-kilogram catch weight bout at ONE: EDGE OF GREATNESS in his adopted hometown.
Ahead of his assignment this Friday, 22 November, Raju reveals how he has forged a path in his dream career despite the doubts he faced along the way.
Martial Arts Ambition
As a boy in Kerala, India, Raju became fascinated with martial arts through movies and was desperate to learn the skills that made his heroes capture his imagination.
However, his parents would not allow it because they believed his time would be better spent studying so he could make sure he could get a good job.
“I was forcing my family to let me join a gym, and my brother was also interested,” he says.
“They refused and kept telling me that I could do it when I’m grown up, or after I finish my 10th standard (secondary school certificate).”
They changed their minds when their son got into trouble at school. He was hurt, and that was the incentive they needed to look past their misgivings.
“When I was 14, I got into a small school fight where I got beaten up a little bit,” Raju explains.
“I told my parents that if they listened to me before, if they 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.”
Raju’s martial arts training did not stop him from doing well in school, but as he looked ahead to his higher education, he yearned to broaden his horizons.
While many of his peers were happy to stay at home and follow a ‘traditional’ path by getting a degree and jumping straight into a job, he wanted to get out of his comfort zone – even if his parents had their doubts, once again.
“I wanted to explore more, so my plan was to study outside of the country,” he shared.
“At first, they were hesitant because moving out is not an easy thing. However, my decision was very strong – once I decide on something, I will do anything to make it happen.”
That leap into the unknown paid off when he found a new home in “The Lion City” and took the next step in his martial arts journey.
“When I moved to Singapore, I studied Mechatronics Engineering at Temasek University, and was impressed with their silat team. I joined the team and started training,” he adds.
Though he enjoyed his new discipline, it merely proved to be a catalyst for the next step in his life.
When he was 21, he discovered mixed martial arts when he went to an event with his silat team, and realized this sport – more intense and demanding than any he had experienced in his life so far – was what he was destined to do.
It was not long before Raju started to compete as an amateur, and had a winning record, but he was not satisfied with the way he performed. After one close bout, he decided he needed to make a change that would propel him toward the professional ranks.
“I realized that I really needed to join a proper gym to start training because I wouldn’t have gotten the win if the guy was a little bit better,” he says.
“I looked for a gym and found Juggernaut Fight Club. At the time, I was working part-time in a bar at Clarke Quay while the gym was [close by] at Boat Quay. My manager took me there one time, and I instantly got hooked. I fell in love with the atmosphere and everything.”
After he graduated from university, Raju worked in the semiconductor industry until he was 26, but he left his stable career behind to concentrate on his passion and make the most of his potential as an athlete.
“I didn’t want to waste any more time, and needed to go 100 percent in training,” he says.
“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.”
The Next Challenge
After he posted a 5-1 record with four wins by stoppage and claimed the SFC welterweight title, “The Kerala Krusher” earned a contract with the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Though he experienced a trial by fire against some of ONE’s most skilled competitors, Raju showed he was worthy of the step up to the highest level, and he confirmed that with a few tweaks to his game when he submitted Richard “Notorious” Corminal in May.
“The biggest difference is one of our newest coaches, Matt Pillino,” he explains.
“He’s an All-American national wrestler, and a very experienced mixed martial arts coach. Because of him, my wrestling and overall game have improved a lot. Obviously, [head coach] Arvind [Lalwani] is there to focus on the striking aspect of my game, and I have a great team behind me.”
Now, with the support of his team, as well as his family and friends in attendance at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the 28-year-old believes he can make the people of his native India proud, as well as those in his adopted home country, by beginning a winning streak against Cheema this Friday.
“I don’t see myself losing any other fight in the future because of them,” he adds.
“I’m confident because I feel like I’m getting stronger in every aspect of this sport.”