After a rough start to the year, Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju took a much-needed hiatus to clear his head and recharge his batteries.
Now six months later, the 30-year-old Indian feels completely energized and is eager to kick-start his path to greatness on Friday, 13 August.
That evening, he will square off against Mongolian hard-hitter Otgonbaatar Nergui in a lightweight mixed martial arts encounter at ONE: BATTLEGROUND II, and a victory is absolutely crucial to Raju’s career.
“This match is very important for me,” the Kerala native says.
“I’m coming from back-to-back losses, so my mindset was a little bit off. That’s why I took a long break. So now, I’m really ready. I’m ready and I can’t wait to get inside the Circle again.”
Everything seemed to be going in the right direction for “The Kerala Krusher” two years ago.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt had earned a pair of submission victories in front of his adopted hometown crowd at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and he was looking to build on that incredible momentum in 2020.
Unfortunately for the Indian, he was stopped in his tracks.
Last October, Singaporean star Amir Khan snapped Raju’s winning streak with a thunderous KO, and this past February, Pakistani dynamo Ahmed “Wolverine” Mujtaba knocked out the aggressive Indian with a powerful overhand right.
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In the span of four months, the surging contender saw his hype train derailed and suddenly found himself on a two-bout losing skid.
That was a tough pill to swallow, but Raju didn’t stay down for long. Instead, he reflected on those experiences and made some pivotal adjustments at Juggernaut Fight Club in Singapore.
“I learned a lot from those two matches,” he says. “I made some huge changes in my striking game and my [mental] game too. My mind was a little bit down. I was not just there.
“Also, I have made a few changes in my style and in my defense. I’m going to be calmer and more precise, and my timing’s going to be great.”
Raju may have improved in those pivotal areas, but Nergui is eager to make a statement in his ONE Championship debut.
The Mongolian, who comes from a wrestling and Kyokushin Karate background, has a reputation for being a finisher – and a fast one at that.
Nergui has earned all five of his professional mixed martial arts victories by knockout or submission, and four of them happened in the first round.
Moreover, the Zorky MMA athlete earned his spot on the main roster by submitting Shooto veteran Takuya Nagata via guillotine choke in the first round at ONE Warrior Series 8.
Raju certainly knows that his opponent is capable of a quick victory. At the same time, he sees some holes in the Mongolian’s game, and he believes he can capitalize if he weathers a potential early storm.
“Nergui’s strength is his explosiveness, and he has a pretty good defense,” the Indian says.
“About his weakness, I think when he’s coming to fight, he just explodes everything out at first and eventually gets tired.
“My strength will be my grappling against him, and I have made some good changes in my striking game too, so I won’t be scared to strike him either. So, we’ll see how it goes.”
If it goes the way Raju hopes, it will indeed be an early night.
“My prediction is probably submission in the end of first round or second round,” he adds.
While “The Kerala Krusher” recently traversed an unsteady road in his mixed martial arts career, he knows the setbacks will only make him better.
They forced him to catch his breath, re-evaluate his training, and make important changes that could take him to the next level.
Come 13 August, he hopes to showcase those changes and deliver a performance the global fan base won’t soon forget.
“I will make sure that I will come back [stronger], and I will make you all proud,” Raju says. “I promise that.”