On a Friday in July, the first thing viewers of “All Elite Wrestling: Rampage” saw was an unlikely trio of pro wrestlers: record-setting veteran Jay Lethal, 7-foot-4-inch-tall behemoth Satnam Singh, and — perhaps less impressively — a man in a suit, tie and dress shoes, a pencil tucked behind his ear, who seemed apprehensive on his way to the ring.
The latter is Sonjay Dutt, a 20-year veteran of wrestling who was about to make his first in-ring appearance in nearly five years. While he looked like an out-of-place office worker next to a former world champion and a former NBA prospect, Dutt was capable in limited action. But after a little vamping and getting in a few stomps on his opponent, Dutt eventually took a flying punch to the jaw, crumbled to the mat, and was pinned for the loss.
Aside from his brief in-ring return, Dutt is more likely to be seen serving as a mouthpiece for Lethal and Singh, or — most often — not seen as all, as a behind-the-scenes player who is more responsible for making sure the show goes on without a hitch than nearly anyone else in the building. As a producer for AEW, Dutt is exploring what a life in pro wrestling means after you hang up your boots.
Born in Washington, D.C., Sonjay Dutt has spent most of his 40 years in Northern Virginia. And for more than half of his life, the Indian-American talent has been a pro wrestler, competing around the world for companies of all sizes as the high-flying “Original Playa from the Himalayas.”
But an in-ring career in the physically demanding world of pro wrestling can’t last forever: all those bumps and bruises turn into bad backs and sore knees. That is the case for Dutt: after first dabbling in production in 2012, injuries caused him to step out of the ring and behind the curtain in 2017. While logical, the move came with its share of soul searching.
“I think it’s hard to transition from one role in front of the camera and go behind the scenes and still have that passion,” Dutt says.
After a stint with Impact Wrestling — where he had some of his most fruitful years — he signed on as a producer with WWE, but, after a year and a half, decided the leader in sports entertainment wasn’t the best fit for him and his future. He departed WWE and shortly thereafter joined AEW, a relative newcomer which launched in 2019.
“Everything in wrestling is all about timing,” he says. “AEW came at the right time, when fans needed a different product, and they have totally captured that audience.”
Dutt says the creative freedom that talent has sets AEW apart from all the companies he has worked at. While also producing much of the company’s backstage content, Dutt says his “bread and butter” is producing matches: being a conduit between wrestlers and the creative team, led by company owner Tony Khan. At AEW, producing matches is a collaborative effort where everyone involved figures out the best way to tell a story. Dutt says he’s having the most fun he ever has.
“I feel more passionate now helping a lot of the talent that we have and helping them produce their matches and backstage segments,” he says. “A lot of times I feel more fulfilled and more passionate by doing that than I did in-ring.”
Since becoming a producer in 2017, Dutt had made it clear to all of his employers that he had no interest in being back on screen. That changed when Khan, fresh off purchasing wrestling company Ring of Honor, suggested that Dutt manage Lethal, nicknamed “The Franchise” of ROH and one its most decorated champions. Dutt jumped at the chance to team with Lethal.
“Everything that you hear me say about Jay Lethal on television is all 100% true,” Dutt says. “He’s like family to me. He’s been my best friend for about 20 years now.”
Along with the personal connection, being a heel manager has allowed Dutt to be a suit-wearing, pencil-flicking jerk who jaws at fans and throws tantrums on camera. It’s the type of character he’s never portrayed and thought he never would.
“It’s felt natural to be this annoying, high-pitched, loud little monkey on the outside, jumping around, and screaming and shouting and hooting and hollering,” he says. “I’m having a blast with it.”
While Dutt is having a blast, AEW has been navigating fraught waters as it looks to firmly establish itself on a wrestling landscape long dominated by WWE. Along with fending off WWE interest in its talent, fighting for fan attention, selling tickets and scoring ratings points, the company has had to deal with real-life backstage drama that has forced some of its top talent off TV. Despite the flurry of rumors, Dutt says the mood backstage has been great in recent weeks.
“Everybody’s come together as a team… I don’t think that any professional wrestling company can survive if it’s not a team effort, especially in the position that we are in,” he says. “Now more than ever, we are working together as a team for one goal.”
Dutt is ready to continue being a key part of that team, whether as an on-screen manager or a backstage producer. For him, a life in professional wrestling hasn’t changed that much, no matter what hat his boss asks him to wear.
“I got home last night at four o’clock in the morning driving home from Philadelphia,” he said when we spoke. “The grind just keeps going.”
AEW is at the Entertainment and Sports Arena Wednesday, October 5 for “Dynamite” and Friday, October 7 for “Rampage.” Purchase tickets here.
Sonjay Dutt: prowrestlingtees.com/sonjaydutt