Fifteen years ago AJ Styles, Low Ki and Jerry Lynn (with a little early help from Psicosis) laid the groundwork for what would become the central attraction of TNA Wrestling.
As the original three pillars, their performances helped establish the X-Division as the very life blood of TNA. Over the following 15 years when the X-Division was good, so was TNA. When the X-Division was neglected, the product as a whole suffered greatly.
Prior to this week’s episode of Impact Wrestling, there have been 82 separate X-Division title reigns with 37 individual champions. Names like Chris Sabin, Low Ki, Jay Lethal, Petey Williams and Christopher Daniels were stalwarts of the division while people like Styles, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe used the X-Division as a springboard to bigger and better things. The X-Division provided a platform for many of TNA’s biggest stars and best matches over the years.
However, if you were to peruse that list of X-Division champions there is one notable absence. Despite wrestling for the company for 14 years, across four separate runs and nearly 300 matches—somehow Sonjay Dutt had never won the X-Division title. In fact, Dutt failing to win the belt was so notable that Don West (and later Mike Tenay and Jeremy Borash) dubbed Sonjay the “best wrestler to never win the X-Division title.” Don was a little flighty about that tag—he also applied to Alex Shelley (who would capture the X-Division title in 2009) and Elix Skipper at a various stages—but with Dutt it stuck.
Sonjay Dutt has challenged for the X-Division title 34 times (I had said 39 in a previous Impact review but I inadvertently counted a few number one contendership matches so consider this a correction with my head hanging in shame). Of those X-Division challenges, 16 happened on television and 18 on live events. All 34 times he came up short.
In preparation for this I went back and watched each of those televised attempts and here’s some fun stats. Those title shots occurred across nine separate years, eight were on Impact or Xplosion while eight were on PPV. Five were singles matches and 11 were multi-man matches. Within those multi-man matches Sonjay was pinned or eliminated six times and there were five title changes—none of which were in favour of Sonjay.
Chris Sabin and Zema Ion thwarted Dutt more than anybody else, having defeated him three times each. His X-Division title matches were 10 minutes 32 seconds long on average (with the longest being a 28 minute gauntlet match in which he was the first man eliminated and the shortest being a three and a half minute loss to Zema Ion) and there were an average of 1.1333 dives to the outside per match. In many ways you can experience TNA history through Sonjay’s failed attempts—they cross practically every era, under every regime, against a wide variety of opponents veering from the six sided ring to fours sides and back. But there was one constant, like Hirooki Goto and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, every single time Sonjay challenged for the belt, he lost.
It seems trite to use the always the bridesmaid expression but considering Dutt did once play best man for the much more successful six time champion Jay Lethal during his wedding to SoCal Val (which ended in disaster and you can read all about here) it seems rather fitting. He was a supporting player. The tag team partner of the more featured Lethal. The third and fourth man thrown into multi-man matches. Sonjay was the guy people beat on the way to winning the title, not the guy to win the title.
Somehow across his various runs with the company, in spite of constantly being one the highlights of the division, Sonjay never broke through. A brief heel run with SoCal Val never took off the way it seemed it could. He was separated from Lethal, but the focus still wasn’t his. And it was a shame. Sonjay displayed over and over again that he had the skills to take the ball and run with it.
And yet the ball was never given to him.
After a three year absence, Dutt returned to TNA in the lead up to Destination X 2012 and it would appear fate was conspiring against him. He suffered a separated shoulder in the Ultimate X match to crown a new X-Division champion after Austin Aries had vacated the belt in pursuit of heavyweight gold. Runs in 2013 and 2015 came up empty as well and circumstances tried to intervene again when Dutt returned to Impact Wrestling once more back in April. An errant knee from Low Ki (who has actually come out on top over Dutt in two X-Division title matches in the past) caused Dutt’s eye to severely swell in his return match and it felt like 2012 all over again. It seemed like Dutt’s time would never come.
And the thing that makes Dutt stand out in all of this is that pretty much everybody got a turn as X-Division champion. It’s not like a belt that was only bestowed upon the very best. Johnny Devine, Sheik Abdul Bashir, Michael Shane and many more all had their time. Even Bobby Lashley, Abyss, Mike Bennett, Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle have won the belt. On average the belt switched hands five times a year and yet never ended up in Sonjay’s hands. In spite of being considerably better than many who called themselves the king of the X-Division, Dutt was somehow repeatedly overlooked.
That all changed last night.
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) June 16, 2017
Sonjay Dutt had one more shot at X-Division glory. A shot at a five time champion who had beaten Dutt before. A shot in his homeland, the land of his heritage. A shot at the belt he had pursued for 14 years to no return. And in an emotional match steeped in every bit of that context, Sonjay Dutt finally did it. In his 35th attempt to capture the X-Division title he can finally include his name among the likes of Styles, Daniels, Joe, Angle, Aries, Lynn, Lethal and indeed Low Ki.
The idea of somebody “deserving it” is thrown around with very little regard these days but there is absolutely no doubt that Sonjay Dutt truly deserves an X-Division title run. He consistently delivered quality performances whenever called upon, regardless of the role.
14 years ago, Sonjay Dutt entered TNA as a 21-year-old kid. It’s taken a long time, frankly longer than it ever should have, but we’ve followed Dutt’s journey through the years. He’s a different performer and likely a different man than he was then. Over all this time we’ve watched him grow and develop and improve, through the highs and lows, in and out of TNA, maybe lose a hair or two – but that roller-coaster ride has made the destination all the more satisfying. Sonjay Dutt has claimed his rightful spot at the top of the X-Division—a position Dutt has undeniably earned.
debuted Oct '03 in Nashville.
won it for 1st time June '17.
Thank you so very much. pic.twitter.com/EymvYmnSvl
— SONJAY (@sonjaydutterson) June 16, 2017
At Slammiversary Don West will finally have to come up with a new “best wrestler to never win the X-Division title.” Might I suggest Shark Boy.
If you’d like to go on a little gif journey through Sonjay Dutt’s many failed X-Division title efforts check out the #SonjayX hashtag on Twitter.