I was struck by something Case Lowe wrote in his AAW Alive review last week.

I’m currently detached from the world of Impact Wrestling, but people I trust say that Hakim Zane, who goes by Rohit Raju in that territory, does not jump off the screen.

For me, Raju has stood out almost as much as anybody in Impact during the pandemic era. He’s nailing his gimmick, delivering on the mic and in the ring to a level he’s never previously reached in the promotion and he’s got X-Division gold.

Yet, his run over the last few months was something that seemed a million miles away during his first two-plus years with the company. He wrestled a couple of matches in April 2017 before winning GFW’s ‘Global Forged’ competition later in the year. That was supposed to net him a match at Bound for Glory in 2017 but that never materialized…

Aside from a few wins on Xplosion, he was mostly a bottom of the card pin-eating heel in his first few months before he became part of the Desi Hit Squad stable. Ostensibly designed to satisfy the Indian viewership, the DHS never really amounted to anything – they rarely moved the needle on Impact’s social platforms, their in-ring work wasn’t anything to write home about and they never had any feuds that would move them up the card. Raju worked away in the background and was consistently the best part of all segments involving the Desi Hit Squad. Frankly, though, that was a low bar.

The pandemic created an opportunity.

Raju was on hand, but his usual tag partner Raj Singh was injured and there was no Mahabali Shera or Gama Singh. In need of a new direction, the promotion repackaged him as the Desi Hitman and from there a great new addition was born. That character was breathed into life backstage before Raju took part in the World Championship No #1 Contender tournament and since then every facet of his game has developed and been given greater exposure.

He was always in good shape but he’s used the last few months to sharpen up his physique and he looks jacked right now. Whether that’s had an effect on his in-ring or not I’m not sure, but his work between the ropes has easily been the best throughout his time with the promotion. There’s a renewed confidence to his control periods and more snap and intensity to his strikes and moves.

Importantly, he’s also had more time on the mic. Much like in his backstage promo before that tournament, there’s been nothing ground-breaking in them but they’ve worked because they’re based in fact and they’ve allowed Raju to show people more of his real character than ever before. He’s also always sounded confident in his own voice, and that sincerity helps massively with audience connection.

His X-Division title victory at Emergence was a surprise but it was a clear show of faith by the promotion in him and a reward for the work he’s put in over the last few months. It also gave him a chance to prove that he can really add something moving forward. In many ways, the empty arena setting may have been a blessing for Impact for things like this because they’ve been able to try out different people without worrying about the reaction.

That said, I don’t think that would have mattered because Raju’s title victory and run since hasn’t been the culmination of some shocking unbelievable transformation. He’s still a heel and he’s still booked to lose as many, if not more, matches than he wins. What comes through in his work, both in the ring and on the mic, is a greater intensity and a sense of opportunism. Hakim Zane the man recognizes that he’s been given the opportunity he’s worked so long for and now he’s trying to extract every ounce of rub he can get from it, while Rohit Raju the character is doing the same, taking the titles he’s never had before and clinging to it with everything he’s got.

The six-person scramble at Bound for Glory got him a PPV title defense under his belt and now it’s clear he’s getting the chance to express himself in individual programs. His promo this week oozed confidence – the line ‘God created all men equal and then made me the sequel’ was simply exceptional – and his interactions with TJP were superb.

At various points this year my interest in wrestling has waned. The lack of fans has sucked the air out of the presentation, promotions seemed to be running low on ideas, and the revelations outside the ring made it hard to view things through the same lens. I’ve probably become more cynical and more focused on what I’d like to see rather than whether I like what I’m seeing, but I’ve also become a sucker for the work of certain individuals and their power to draw me back in. Eric Young has killed it since coming back and he’s got me invested, and the same extends to Rich Swann and the Motor City Machine Guns. I’m excited by the promise of Ace Austin and every time he’s on the show he intrigues me, and the same extends to Chris Bey. Above all those though, watching Rohit come through the pack and become one of Impact’s biggest successes in a year where the focus has often been on who they’ve signed or let go has put the biggest smile on my face.

Raju was right when he tweeted before Bound for Glory that he’s never been anyone’s special project or someone with loads of hype. That doesn’t matter anymore though because he worked hard for an opportunity and he’s smashing it every week. Long may the reign of the Desi Hitman continue.

The Week in Review

  • The who shot John E. Bravo stuff is bad, but Tommy Dreamer dressing up like Sherlock Holmes is worse.
  • Hornswoggle is signed, which is something.
  • Johnny Swinger got a rare win this week, so I am at peace with the world once again.
  • Next weekend’s Turning Point card is taking shape and it should be a good show, with Deonna Purrazzo getting another shot at Su Yung’s Knockouts Title, Brian Myers facing Swoggle, Moose wrestling Willie Mack, The North against The Good Brothers and Rich Swann defending the World title against Sami Callihan.

Well, until next time…