Thursday, June 29, 2006

Dynamite Kid and Satoru Sayama

The world of professional wrestling has been inhabited over the years by larger than life figures. However, as large as Andre the Giant and Big Van Vader loomed physically, there were other wrestlers that although smaller in stature, were able to leave just as large of a legacy. Today Inside the Squared Circle inducts two of the most legendary light heavyweight wrestlers of all time, “Tiger Mask” Satoru Sayama and “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington into its Hall of Fame.

Satoru Sayama was born November 24, 1957, and was involved in judo and amateur wrestling prior to joining the New Japan pro wrestling dojo at the age of 17. He made his professional wrestling debut on May 28, 1976, under his real name. Shortly thereafter, he left Japan to learn his craft overseas. He went to the EMLL promotion in Mexico, and became well versed in the more high flying lucha libre style. Next, he traveled to Great Britain, where he competed as Sammy Lee. In 1981, New Japan decided Sayama was ready to make an impact, and they brought him back to Japan to debut as Tiger Mask.

Tiger Mask was already a popular children’s cartoon show in Japan. Tiger Mask debuted as a wrestler amidst heavy fanfare, and quickly developed into a real life superhero for Japanese children. Older fans who were initially skeptical were won over by Sayama’s revolutionary in-ring style. He defeated Dynamite Kid handily in his first match as Tiger Mask on April 23, 1981. Sayama rarely ever lost as Tiger Mask, particularly by pinfall, and became a genuine superstar.

While the junior heavyweight division had been around prior to Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask would take it to an entirely different level. Over the next two years, light heavyweight wrestling would reach its international pinnacle. Tiger Mask became a social phenomenon in Japan, and his matches were years ahead of their time in terms of excitement.

From 1981-1983, Sayama would beat an incredible list of opponents in Mexico, Japan and the United States. Some of his more noteworthy victories were over Chris Adams, Hiro Saito, Gran Hamada, Nobuhiko Takada, El Canek, Bret Hart, Steve Wright, Les Thornton, David “Fit” Finlay, Eddie Gilbert, Perro Aguayo and Fishman. Three of his biggest rivals were Villano III, Black Tiger and Kuniaki Kobayashi. However, his most famous opponent by far was Dynamite Kid. Their series of matches became the standard for which professional wrestling matches were judged until Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat’s great series in 1989. Dynamite Kid only beat Tiger Mask once, and that was by disqualification.

Sayama was seemingly on top of the world in 1983. Tokyo Sports named him Most Popular Wrestler of the Year in 1981, and Wrestler of the Year and Best Technical Wrestler in 1982. Such awards had never gone to such a small wrestler before. That made it all the more shocking when in August of 1983, he gave notice that he was leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling. He had personal and monetary disputes with New Japan executives, and wanted to move towards a realistic, no-nonsense, shoot oriented style. Sayama joined the new UWF, a promotion with predetermined finishes, but a more realistic style. Sayama was not as successful in UWF, where he was unable to use his trademark high flying style. The UWF did not last long in this incarnation, folding in 1985. At that point, Sayama left pro wrestling altogether.

From 1985 to 1994, he concentrated on his shooting, and trained at his famed Tiger Gym. He also wrote an infamous book entitled Kay Fabe, which exposed the wrestling business in Japan and garnered him tremendous resentment from those within the industry. Sayama made a brief return to pro wrestling, working sporadically from 1994 to 1996 in promotions such as Michinoku Pro, UWFI and Tokyo Pro. He is still involved in promoting more shoot oriented pro wrestling.

Tom Billington was born December 5, 1958 in Lancashire England. He began training for wrestling under Ted Betley at the age of 13. He picked up on the art of wrestling with remarkable speed, and was quickly identified as something special. He debuted in 1975 under the name Dynamite Kid, and was quite successful when in 1978, Bruce Hart recruited him to Canada to work for Calgary Stampede Wrestling.

In Calgary, Dynamite feuded with a young Bret Hart, as well as Bad News Allen and others. Hart later credited Billington for teaching him how to wrestle. Billington convinced the Harts to bring Davey Boy Smith over from England, and he would later begin teaming with Smith. He first traveled to Japan in the late 70s, and feuded with Tatsumi Fujinami. He then entered into his legendary feud with Tiger Mask, and was a featured junior heavyweight competitor until he jumped to All Japan with Davey Boy Smith.

When Vince McMahon, Jr. took the WWF national, it forced many regional promoters to choose between fighting him or throwing in the towel. Stu Hart was one of the few promoters who gave in to McMahon. As a result, when he sold Stampede Wrestling to McMahon, he was able to get him to take Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart.

The British Bulldogs went to the WWF, and experienced success in the tag team division. Their most noteworthy feud was with the Hart Foundation, and they won the WWF Tag Team Titles by defeating the Dream Team at WrestleMania II. However, by this point, Dynamite Kid’s body was falling apart from years of ware. He had pushed his body way past its limits, such as notoriously missing diving headbutts from the top turnbuckle down to the concrete floor. The situation caught up with him in late 1986, when he sustained a major back injury. A callous Vince McMahon forced Dynamite Kid to leave the hospital months earlier than he should have so he could drop the tag team titles to the Hart Foundation. Dynamite was literally carried to the ring, and did not do anything in the match.

Billington would return to the WWF months later against the advice of his doctors, who told him to retire. He would not last much longer, as his body just could not take the punishment of the road schedule. From there, Dynamite Kid was phased out of wrestling. He worked some for Stampede Wrestling and All Japan, but was unable to perform at his previous level. All Japan held a retirement ceremony for him in December of 1991, a day after his 33rd birthday. He would make a few brief comebacks in later years, but was not able to do much. Most notably, he participated in a six man tag match in 1996 with old rival Satoru Sayama.

After Billington’s final retirement, he wrote an autobiography on his experiences in wrestling. It was a very controversial book, much like Sayama’s. Most notably, it went into great depth on the usage of drugs in wrestling, and specifically his own grave abuse. He started taking steroids in 1978, and took more and more over time. He says he was never pressured to do so, but that they were necessary for him to advance in a big man’s business. Additionally, he developed a very hard ring style that made him reliant on painkillers. On top of that, he took all sorts of other drugs, from cocaine to marijuana. All of these drugs destroyed his body over time, and it also made him a nasty individual. He had a short temper and was notorious as a locker room prankster, pulling what were frequently very cruel jokes on other wrestlers. This left him estranged from most in the wrestling business. One such example was Davey Boy Smith. While he teamed with Smith for a long time and played a crucial role in Smith’s career, they ended up bitter enemies. Today, Billington’s body has completely given out on him. A man who did things never before seen in wrestling now is confined to a wheelchair, a solemn reminder of the dangers of professional wrestling.

Tom Billington and Satoru Sayama will forever be linked due to the great Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid feud. However, they are parallel figures for more reasons than just that feud. Both were innovative masters in the ring, who paved the way for today’s more fast paced style, and opened doors for smaller wrestlers. However, they both also ended up disillusioned with the sport of professional wrestling, culminating in a pair of controversial books that frankly spoke about the business in a way that many didn’t want to hear. Finally, their legacies carry on twenty years later. Sayama’s legacy is seen in wrestlers like Ultimo Dragon, Jushin Liger and Great Sasuke. Chris Benoit has completely patterned his style after Dynamite Kid. While their glory years in the ring were short, they were spectacular. Inside the Squared Circle inducts into its Hall of Fame “Tiger Mask” Satoru Sayama and “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington.


Anonymous the masterbater said...

That was great post. I always liked Dynamite Kid. I always loverd watching the Bulldogs. Do you think that the WWE will do a DVD on them any time? I hope so. Also, do you think they will do DVD's on Rick Rude or Mr. Perfect? Thanks, and again, love these posts they keep the day to go buy faster at work.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

That's an interesting question on the Bulldogs. Tons of question marks, between the Smith/Hart family and also the status of Billington. I would guess that with Harry Smith coming in with a push at some point in the near future, they would at least do a DVD on Davey Boy Smith with Bulldogs matches in it, but a tag team is also a possibility. I would absolutely expect DVDs at some point on Rick Rude and Mr. Perfect. They would be great fun, and they are already marketing Rick Rude t-shirts, so it can't be too far off.

7:39 AM  
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7:23 PM  

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