posted by Billy Carpenter (@4CR_Billy)
April 23, 1981. Kuramae Kokugikan, Tokyo. While nobody was aware of it at the time, a rivalry that was to revolutionize the sport of professional wrestling was born in this building, on this night. The two men who were leading this revolution—Tom Billington, the “Dynamite Kid” and Satoru Sayama, now competing as Tiger Mask—more than likely had no idea that the feud they were about to embark on would become one of the most influential in history. Not only did it showcase the amazing ability of Dynamite but this feud, in particular the first match, made Sayama-under the guise of Tiger Mask-an instant superstar. The style of these matches influenced a generation of wrestlers, a few whom became some of the biggest names of all-time. This is the story of Dynamite Kid & Tiger Mask: A (r)Evolution in Pro Wrestling.
“It had been nearly a year since I’d wrestled for New Japan…By this time, my little friend from England, Sammy Lee, or Satoru Sayama, was a regular on the New Japan cards.”—Tom Billington, from his autobiography ‘Pure Dynamite’
By 1981, Dynamite Kid had established himself internationally as one of the top junior heavyweights in the world. Matches in Stampede Wrestling, England and his tours of Japan garnered him much respect in the pro wrestling ranks. On the last night of his latest 4 week run in New Japan, Dynamite was to face a new character, Tiger Mask. Based on a popular manga character, the initial thought when looking at Tiger Mask was that this was not to be taken too seriously. The first mask was very cartoonish and the story goes that those in charge of getting Sayama’s wrestling gear ready forgot the original mask on this night. But still, the match went on and a legendary story was soon to write its first chapter.
“(Dynamite Kid) worked on live TV with a small, sensational wrestler, (Satoru) Sayama, known as Tiger Mask. Between the two of them they set new standards of fast paced-paced, high-flying razzle dazzle”—Bret Hart, from his autobiography ‘Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling’
After an unexpected victory, Tiger Mask almost instantaneously became the biggest Junior Heavyweight star in Japan by virtue of defeating Dynamite. While this was not the best match in their feud, it established the story of what was to come. To those who just watched the match, it certainly was an exciting display of moves between the two. But if you look closer, Dynamite did an incredible job of selling the kicks—even the ones that missed—with great facial expressions. He called the spots during the course of the match as well, and he did so much to get the character of Tiger Mask over on that night. When Tiger Mask hit the German suplex for the win on Dynamite, a star was born, and you could tell by the reaction of the crowd. Often times the bully in the ring, he was one-upped on this night, and helped take what was at first a cartoonish, almost laughable character and made him into a legitimate superstar.
“We had a great match that night…the crowd were just going crazy. What I was doing with Sayama was all new stuff for me…”—Tom Billington, from his autobiography ‘Pure Dynamite’
As they continued to feud into 1982, they also continued to redefine not only what Junior Heavyweights could do, but also what pro wrestling could be. Look at the moves that were innovated during this feud: Sayama gave us the Tiger Feint (known more commonly now as the ‘619’), the Tiger Flying Space Drop, the Tiger Suplex, the Tiger Spin. Dynamite Kid not only innovated the top-rope superplex, but took moves that were around and made them his own, adding a little twist—most notably a Gotch-style tombstone pledriver, and an awesome top rope front dropkick with a nip-up. Alot of these are used quite often now, but it was Dynamite & Sayama that brought these moves to the wrestling audience.
“For whatever reason, it did work between us. Sayama was the flyer…Then, I’d get him in the ring and kick the sh*t out of him—and the people loved it.”—Tom Billington, from his autobiography ‘Pure Dynamite’
Fans of the series between the two will praise every match, which is fine. I’m one of those guys who will too. Their rivalry wasn’t confined to Japan, as they also had a great match at Madison Square Garden for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship:
“It was a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden that night…My match against Tiger Mask was short, but it was 12 minutes of fast, non-stop action, which I think the people enjoyed.”—Tom Billington, from his autobiography ‘Pure Dynamite’
But, for many fans, the best match of the series took place on April 23, 1983 for the NWA Middleweight Title. This particular match earned itself 5 stars from the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and is a perfect synopsis for the feud. Hard hitting, spectacular moves, near-flawless execution and everything that fans had come to expect from these two at this point.
Not long after this, Satoru Sayama would abruptly quit NJPW, following reported disputes over money and card placement. After competing for the UWF (Japan) for a time, he retired from wrestling for a while. He eventually made his return and worked for various companies, and even started a few of his own. Dynamite Kid would continue to tour for a while longer, eventually feuding with the person who would be next to don the Tiger Mask-Mitsuharu Misawa-among others. We all know what became of Dynamite following his days in the WWF as half of the British Bulldogs to the tragic story that he is now. But no matter what happened after the fact, no one can deny that these two men left an indelible mark on professional wrestling through this revolutionary feud. From Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero & Davey Richards here in the US to Jushin Liger, Ultimo Dragon, Great Sasuke & KENTA in Japan, their influence can be seen in some of wrestling’s biggest names over the last 30 years. There is no doubt, as the legend is passed to the next generation of wrestlers and wrestling fans, that their influence will continue to be felt for years to come.