Exclusive interview with Retesh Bhalla aka Sonjay Dutt of Global Force Wrestling.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: Retesh Bhalla, 33, an Indian American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name, Sonjay Dutt – named after the Bollywood film star Sanjay Dutt – is renowned for his appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. He is also known for his stints with Combat Zone Wrestling and Major League Wrestling.
Dutt’s parents moved to the United States from India before he was born, though most of his extended family still lives in New Delhi, according to Wikipedia. Dutt graduated from the KYDA Pro Wrestling training school in northern Virginia, and later worked for KYDA Pro wrestling for the first two years of his professional career.
Dutt got his first break wrestling in Major League Wrestling in 2003 where he debuted the Dragon Rana on Jimmy Yang. He would go on to win an international tournament, hosted by MLW in September 2003 to win the company’s Junior Heavyweight Championship, defeating Tony Mamaluke, Eddie Colón, and Christopher Daniels. In an early 2004 MLW Junior Heavyweight Title match Dutt pinned Jack Evans to retain the title at MLW Reloaded.
Dutt made his debut for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) on October 15, 2003, when he teamed with Eric Young to defeat Jerrelle Clark and El Fuego in a tag team match. In 2004, Dutt began a Best of Three Series with Amazing Red to determine the number one contender to the TNA X Division Championship, which Red won. Throughout the summer of 2004 Dutt participated in the America’s X-Cup as a part of Team USA along with Jerry Lynn, Chris Sabin, and Elix Skipper against Team AAA (Héctor Garza, Mr. Águila, Juventud Guerrera, and Abismo Negro).
Since making his TNA debut, he has worked for independent promotions such as Ring of Honor, UWA, Combat Zone Wrestling, MXW Pro Wrestling, VCW and NWA Virginia and has toured Japan with Pro Wrestling Zero1. He also has wrestled for HUSTLE in Japan as a member of the stable Takada Monster Army under the ring name “Monster J”. In November 2006, Dutt returned to UWA and won the 2006 Grand Prix Tournament Championship.
Dutt made his Pro Wrestling Guerrilla debut on April 11, 2009, at Ninety-Nine, where he defeated Roderick Strong in a singles match.
On May 13, 2015, Global Force Wrestling (GFW) announced Dutt as part of their roster. He made his debut for the promotion at GFW’s first-ever event on June 12, where he defeated Jamin Olivencia.
Dutt was featured in the 2004 video game Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood and the 2008 video game TNA Impact!. Dutt also did some of the motion capturing for Saints Row: The Third.
In an interview to The American Bazaar, Dutt talks of his career, and how he got there. Excerpts from the interview:
You studied foreign relations at George Mason, which one would assume would lead to a different career path. What led to professional wrestling?
Well, I was still in high school when I decided to be a pro wrestler. It was senior year, I was close to graduation and a wrestling school had opened up near me, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to give this a shot.” You guys are probably familiar with Indian parents and how they are, and they said, “Look, if you want to try this wrestling, you got to go to college.” So college was just something that I just sort of did because I had to. I finished school, I got my Bachelor’s from George Mason, but all the while I was still wrestling. I was making a living wrestling and two years into starting I had just signed my first contract at 20 or 21. I was still a sophomore at George Mason so it was a juggling act for a while.
After a number of successful years with TNA and on the independent circuit, you’re now part of the Global Force roster, which has a working relationship with TNA and was also founded by Jeff Jarett. How is GF different than other wrestling promotions?
It’s so hard to differentiate yourself within pro wrestling right now; there’s a ton of companies out there and there’s so much more interest from the general public for pro wrestling in recent times.
What we’re trying to do is stand out as much as possible. Jeff Jarrett has always said we don’t tell stories, we document them, so that’s what we’re doing. It’s a reality-based, kind of a documentary-style look at pro wrestling and what it takes to develop a new pro wrestling company in such a cluttered market. We’re just trying to be as different as we possibly can. We use talent from all over the world — it’s a slogan but it’s also a reality. We’re trying to bring people together from everywhere under one banner and that really hasn’t been done before.
So Global Force will be a more grounded, reality-based approach to pro wrestling as opposed to the soap opera style pageantry that the WWE has popularized?
Yeah. We recognize that’s one road that’s already been taken so there’s no need to take a similar route. That’s what we’re trying to do — take a more reality-based concept. We’re not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence; we’re trying to present these characters and personalities as real as we can in the ring.
Is there any particular reason you chose to pay homage to actor Sanjay Dutt with your stage name?
Lots of people change between colorful characters and gimmicks and names but I’ve pretty much always been Sanjay Dutt since I first started. Before my first match I went through the same dilemma every wrestler goes through beforehand, I thought to myself, “What’s my name going to be?” Growing up in an Indian household, I always liked the name Sanjay. I thought that was a neat name and it was the first thing that came to me. As a kid growing up in an Indian household with Bollywood movies playing left and right the first association that came with Sanjay was Dutt, so I said, “Let’s go with it because I guarantee no one in this country knows who Sanjay Dutt is.
That’s a fun allusion to your heritage.
Yeah, I’ve actually gone to India a few times for wrestling and one of the first times I went over there were we doing some promotional work for ESPN Star Sports and they mentioned that Sanjay Dutt had seen me and he was a big fan, so I got a thumbs up from the guy. That was good, I wasn’t sure if he hated me or not!
Speaking of India, what is the country’s lure in the context of pro wrestling?
I think it’s kind of a similar thing with any facet of business today. India is one of the largest growing economy in the world, we’ve got 1.4 billion people, a growing middle class that didn’t have as much money to spend before — people want to capitalize on that and wrestling is no different. Jeff Jarrett and I and our team went down there a few years ago and did “Ring Ka King” for Colors Television. We produced 26 episodes and we shot it in India in Hindi. I went to three different auditions over the span of a week all across the country and picked 15 Indians to come to the U.S. and train to be pro wrestlers. It was a monumental thing that has never been done before and I was real proud of the work we did with one whole season. Now TNA is trying to cross over into the country — they ran a tour last year. Wrestling is just so popular all over the world and India is no different. Every business out there really wants to capitalize on that huge growing market.
You mentioned TNA is trying to tap into the Indian market, is Global Force going to be working with TNA in India?
Actually, you know what, I think there’s a misconception now that Global Force and TNA have a working relationship. We did for a little but once our television presence on “Impact” ceased to exist our relationship ceased to exist as well, so they’re doing their thing, we’re doing our thing, but you definitely can’t eliminate the notion of Global Force heading into India in the near future. It’s definitely one of our goals. Our goal is really not to tap into just India but other markets all over the world. We’ve got relationships with New Japan Pro Wrestling, with AAA Wrestling down in Mexico, we’ve got promotions in South Africa and Europe, so crossing into these other countries and tapping into those markets is definitely a goal for us.
Back in 2005 a riot broke out during a TNA event that you were attending in Bhopal, India. Have you dealt with rowdier fans anywhere else?
No, I think India is probably the rowdiest of the rowdy. That was a crazy scene. In fact, every time I’ve gone to India for pro wrestling, in some way, shape, or form we see a riot or mini-riot break out. It’s kind of understandable if you understand the culture and understand these supposed stars and these big mythical characters, they just don’t go to India that often. When they do, the people have the opportunity to get up close and personal, to shake hands and get autographs and pictures, the whole nine yards, so I understand where they’re coming from but when I’m with these Americans and they see these crazy, rowdy Indians it’s a difficult scene for them. That specific riot in 2005 I remember very vividly, it was crazy. They chased our car down the street — it was almost scary.
If you could enter the ring for a marquee billing with a wrestler from any era, who would it be?
Wow, that’s interesting! I guess one of the guys I never got to wrestle one-on-one who I grew up idolizing was Sabu. We never got to wrestle one-on-one so I’d definitely like to make that a reality at some point. We’ve tag-teamed quite a bit and I’ve travelled with him to events but we’ve never gotten to mix it up one-on-one.
From your perspective, how has the industry changed since you started in 2003?
I actually started in ’01, and it’s drastically changed! For me, personally the number one change that I’ve been affected with is the amount of work that was on the independent scene compared to now. It’s kind of dwindled, whereas back in the day when I started there were a countless number of independents, and not just independents, but independents you could make good wages at. Today, there may be a decent amount of independents but not much where you could make a good wage. In that respect it’s really changed.
Fans have gotten smarter and more sophisticated over the almost 15 years now I’ve been wrestling — they know what they want. Kind of like what we’re trying to do with Global Force, fans today don’t want their intelligence insulted, they really want to see a good in-ring product, they want to see good action, they know there’s an art to wrestling. It’s an art form, and when it’s done right it’s probably one of the greatest art forms that you’ll ever come across. I think fans today want that; they don’t want some of the stuff that may have been popular in the ’80s when it was all about pageantry and less on the in-ring actions. Now, we want a little bit of everything, but the in-ring product is kind of at the forefront.
Has working in pro wrestling provided gainful employment?
Let’s put it like this — I started when I was 18, and I was still in college, but I’ve never had to work a “real” job. My sole source of income has been through pro wrestling for basically my entire adult life, so it’s been very good to me. No complaints, in fact, it’s been extremely good to me! I’m very fortunate — timing is a lot in the entertainment industry so maybe my timing was good. Maybe I was in the right time at the right time but I’ve got no complaints when it comes to finances when it comes to pro wrestling.
What is your training regimen and diet like?
It’s drastically changed over the years, just because I’ve had to alter it based off my injuries. I’ve got 15 years under my belt now so my body isn’t in the tiptop shape that it was when I was an 18-year-old young buckaroo starting out. I still go to the gym, but I don’t lift as heavy as I used to. I used to be big on lifting heavy to try and get bigger or maintain my size whereas now I’m more about low weight and high reps. I try to keep my injuries to a minimum. I’ve got bad shoulders, bad lower back, and my ankles aren’t doing too good, but I’m still in the gym five days a week. I was a skinny kid and it took me a lot of time and a lot of food to the point that I looked respectable in the ring. When I started I was 135 pounds soaking wet and I’d say I’m about 175 now, so there’s a big difference. My metabolism is still pretty fast so I’ve got to eat a lot. I just kind of eat protein every two to three hours and try and stay eating, because like I said it’s hard for me to keep my size, so if I stop eating I’ll dwindle and shrink away!
How long do you plan on going? Do you plan on staying involved in the industry beyond the ring? Are you interested in an acting career?
I don’t want to be in the ring for too much longer, but I do know that I have at least another five years left in me. I’m only 33, but I started so young I’ve already got so many years under my belt. I love this business and I’m extremely passionate about it. Actually, now with Global Force wrestling I have a huge role behind the scenes, so I’ve kind of transitioned to learning more and readying myself for a future behind the camera once I wrap up in the ring. When we did “Ring Ka King” a few years in India that was my first foray into the production side and creative end of pro wrestling. it was coo, I took to it, and it’s opened the door for my role behind the scenes at Global Force.
What do you do behind the scenes? Do you work with Jeff Jarrett on big picture issues, or are there specific aspects of production you’re involved in?
It’s hard to put a title on it because I kind of wear many hats, but I worked with closely with Jeff on “Ring Ka Kink” and I work closely with him now. Putting together the television show we’ve got, which is called “Amped,” I’m working closely with him on that. On the creative and production end I wear many hats and try to do a lot so I can learn more and wear a couple more.
Sounds like that should be a great transition for you.
Absolutely. I’m enjoying it, I really am!