wrestling / Columns

The Playa From the Himalayas Climbs the Highest Mountain

June 19, 2017 | Posted by Dino Zee
Sonjay Dutt

Back in 2004, I was fortunate enough to work a job where my weekend actually took place on Thursday and Friday. Because of this, when then-TNA Wrestling secured a spot with Fox Sports to broadcast their show, I was able to sit back at 3 o’clock and enjoy some Impact.

I still remember that first episode of Impact, and I remember it fondly. I had waited two years to be able to see TNA, and that Friday afternoon introduced me to someone who, since that day, I have considered myself a fan. It was that day, you see, that I first watched Sonjay Dutt wrestle.

Dutt instantly won me over with moves like the Hindu Press, as well as a kneel-out neckbreaker done from a high cradle. In 2004, I was 100% certain that, in just a short amount of time, I’d be seeing Sonjay Dutt holding gold for TNA. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and while Dutt was still giving us great matches, it became clear with time that the company didn’t see him as a tippy-top X Division guy, but instead viewed him as more of a gatekeeper, where a win over him meant that you were probably ready for bigger and better things.

That’s not to imply that he didn’t do anything in the interim at all. In fact, Dutt was usually kept pretty well occupied with other angles/feuds when he wasn’t going for the X Division title, with his participation in Kevin Nash’s Paparazzi Championship Series allowing the fans to see a different aspect of the man, where he could use his comedic chops instead of his wrestling skills to entertain.

I personally was a fan of his feud with Jay Lethal in 2008 that saw the rise of Black Machismo the arrival of The Guru, and gave us some surprisingly fun matches (only because the stipulations seemed designed to hamper) out of the whole thing. I felt that this feud showed that both guys were much more than just X Division spot monkeys – they proved able to portray actual characters, to cut emotional promos on each other, to be heel and face, and to deliver in payoff matches. No, this wasn’t the single greatest feud in the history of professional wrestling, but it’s also one that deserves to be remembered, if only out of respect for the huge push it gave both men.

During that first stint in TNA, commentator Mike Tenay began to refer to Dutt as “the best wrestler to never hold the X Division title.” I remember thinking that it was just a nice way to remind us that he hadn’t won it, but only to keep it in our minds so that when he did win it, it’d be something of a big deal. And again, I thought it was something that was in the somewhat immediate plans, especially once the feud with Lethal was over.

Instead, Dutt would be out of TNA in early 2009, and would not be seen there again until the summer of 2012. The hype of “best wrestler to never win the X Division championship” got louder, as he returned to win the belt. Unfortunately, a separated shoulder would cost him a shot with Austin Aries. From there, he would earn a shot for the title at that year’s No Surrender against Zema Ion (DJ Z), but again would wind up on the losing end of the battle.

When Dutt left the company again towards the end of 2013, I started to wonder if he truly would forever be known by that Mike Tenay tag, if he really was going to be the “best guy to never win the X Division title.” I’d do the usual wrestling-dork thing, looking at the list of people who did hold the belt, and then retroactively declaring that they were undeserving, if only because Dutt should have had it at least once, and didn’t. Did Douglas Williams really deserve two fucking reigns? Was that silliness with Abyss worth it? Thank goodness we got that historical Rob Van Dam title reign.

Of course, these were just unfair complaints from a fan, and nothing more. In reality, I rather dug Williams, felt like the Abyss run was a nice change in X Division pace, and can at least understand why RVD got a go with the belt, even if I still think it was underwhelming and unnecessary. But it was never about the other guys – it was about Sonjay Dutt, and a guy that had been with TNA for a long time never really getting any of the shine for his efforts the way others had before (and after) him.

This past April, however, a glimmer of hope was reignited in this Sonjay Dutt fan when he made his big return to Impact Wrestling, and inserted himself back into the X Division picture. Unfortunately, he would be injured almost immediately, as an errant knee from Low Ki (also making his return) caused a pretty serious eye injury to the Playa From the Himalayas.

Again, as had happened so many times before, what seemed like a promising point for Dutt turned into yet another setback. Dutt would watch as Low Ki paraded with his fifth X Division title, earned off the back of injuring Dutt. Sonjay felt that six pack challenge was his moment. Instead, he’d have to listen as Low Ki would talk about how this was “his” division, and that he was going to raise the bar even higher than before. All of this while he was unable to do anything about it.

With each passing week, Dutt knew his time would come. He’d heal, and he’d strike. Even better, in Low Ki he would face someone he knew extremely well. There would most likely be no surprises. There would be no tricks. Low Ki may be cunning and cold, but he’s not one to engage in all sorts of extracurricular shenanigans to get a win.

So when Dutt made the big return and laid out the challenge for Low Ki to defend his X Division championship against him, I could feel the momentum finally swinging. When he demanded that the location of the title defense be in India, it felt like a lock.

Dutt would be bringing so much with him into that match with Low Ki, it almost made it seem like the champion was to be considered the underdog. All those years of coming up short. People who tried to turn “Best wrestler to never win the X Division title” as a point of derision. The fire of knowing that this run could be it. And, to top it off, the personal matter of getting revenge against a man you once considered a friend. All of these fires burned inside of Dutt.

Meanwhile, Low Ki was simply looking to prove that he is, in fact, the standard of the X Division. But outside of that, he didn’t have any further motivation. He’d beaten Sonjay many times before. He won the title on his first night back. Things had been going pretty easy for Low Ki. Thursday night on Impact, Sonjay Dutt would look to bring that trend to a screeching halt.

The two wrestled a fine match. One that showed the familiarity between the two, as well as the new things they’d try in an attempt to surprise the opponent. Low Ki was his usual brilliant self, seamlessly blending his athletic strikes with some strong grappling. Dutt was resilient as ever, fueled on by the cheers of the Indian fans, and using his standard aerial brilliance to stay in the match. After nearly twenty minutes of incredible action, Low Ki appeared to have the match in hand. With Dutt perched on the turnbuckle, Low Ki would look to set up a running Death Valley Driver into the corner. Dutt, however, would be ready. Once Ki began to run, Dutt would flip out of his grasp, land an incredible Tornado DDT, and head up top for a big splash which brought the decisive 1, 2, and 3.

The fans in Mumbai went crazy. The announcers went crazy. I, sitting at home and having already had the result spoiled, still went crazy. The culmination of years and years of hard work and dedication paid off. As Dutt celebrated, guys like Eddie Edwards, Braxton Sutter, and Mahabali Shera would enter the ring and join in, with Shera lifting Dutt to his shoulders for a proper champion’s celebration.

Few things in wrestling really hit me in the feels anymore, if I’m being honest. A guy finally getting rewarded for years of excellence is still one of those things. And with that in mind, I’m proud to say CONGRATULATIONS to Sonjay Dutt, the X Division Champion of Impact Wrestling. As those who like to chant the same thing over and over would say, you deserve it.