Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
is no place for people with long memories."
Plenty of people come along that change the way the BUSINESS of professional wrestling is done. After all, as a BUSINESS, it's got to be constantly evolving, or else nature dictates that it'll die. Unfortunately, people all too frequently confuse the BUSINESS of wrestling with the ART of wrestling. Arguably, the ART of wrestling is pretty much immutable, having barely changed since its birth - which is why, if you're willing to squint hard and look at the STRUCTURING of a match, wrestling that was happening years before you were born still holds up today. It takes someone incredibly special to change the art of wrestling - someone like a Mick Foley, who saw the potential for advanced storytelling in the WWF main-event brawling style and gave it an ideal to constantly build towards, or a Toshiaki Kawada, who created one of the most singularly compelling - and impossible-to-duplicate - characters in history. There have been a couple of them in my lifetime, and even a few in my lifetime as a fan of wrestling.
But none of them - NONE of them - hold a candle to Tom Billington.
By diving off of Davey Boy Smith's shoulders in a WWF ring, Tom Billington completed what Hulk Hogan started - dragging the ethos of American Wrestling out of the 1970s. When he'd pull great matches out of workers who ranged from perfectly capable (viz. Marc "Rollerball" Rocco) to criminally underrated (viz. George "The Cobra" Takano), Tom Billington set out to prove that he was always game for being a part of his opponent's - whoever they may be - best match. That's huge, huge stuff. But consider this: Tom Billington - the Dynamite Kid - could have ONLY had matches with Satoryu Sayama - Tiger Mask - in 1982 and he'd still be the most important wrestler ever.
The repercussions of that series of matches are still being felt today. Before them, Sayama was a really good junior with an incredibly flashy offense, most of which still looks state of the art today, and Billington was an undeniable talent who, judging by his matches in Stampede, always seemed limited only by the potential of his opponent. But by the time they got done, they had created a new type of wrestling. Not a hybridization, like shoot-style or lucharesu, but an honest-to-god new type of wrestling, which is about as rare an occurrence as happens in professional wrestling. They forged a new ethos for what professional wrestling could attain - it was all about speed, and telling a story NOW in addition to telling it over the course of the match. Simply put, Tom Billington - and it is Tom Billington, because one look at Sayama's matches either before or after the series with the Kid reveals a wrestler more than content to hit the big spots and let the crowd do the rest of the work - brought a sense of immediacy to the way wrestling played out. He said "Slow build is cool, and we're still gonna do that, but look at *BAM* this!", and before he knew what happened, it was twelve years later and Great Sasuke and Chris Benoit were paying tribute to him.
Of course, he's paying for his legacy now. He's in a wheelchair, and he's got nothing but time to consider his actions. The quote at the beginning refers specifically to wrestling fans, and how attention to detail typically ends in frustration, but in the case of Tom Billington, it's a colder, crueler consideration. Can you imagine being Tom Billington and realizing that your matches don't hold water today? My god, what would you do if you traded your ability to walk for the chance to see a bunch of kids show you up?
That's where I come in. When Tom Billington started changing wrestling in a way it arguably hasn't been changed since, I wasn't even two years old. I never even started watching wrestling until I was seventeen, and happened to pick it up smack in the middle of a climate especially friendly to effacing one's memory. All I can do is watch the tape and say whether I think it's worth seeing or not.
For the sake of Tom Billington's legacy, I sure hope it is.
1. Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid I believe this is their first singles match - although on another tape I have them meeting in a tag match - but I can certainly say that if it is, it sure shows. The two look a little off; TM's spots look rather sloppy (his run-up-the-opponent-in-the-corner kick...I mean I've seen him do it a billion times, but here he just kinda flails his way up), and Kid seems unprepared for TM's arsenal (especially in the powerbomb-reversed-into-armdrag spot). But even in spite of all that, there's enormous potential here; you can tell that they just MESH. It's the little things, like the Kid taking a German Suplex at a LUDICROUSLY high angle just to get it over or Tiger Mask giving his opponent the credit to let him lay fuckin' IN to some European Uppercuts; you don't see them that much, and you certainly don't see them all occur so many at a time, and you CERTAINLY don't see them in what may be a first match. I can't really rate this, because Some Jackass decided that by clipping lage holes in this match the viewers would FINALLY be able to see more God Damned Inoki Shit, but what was here was interesting. It's even more interesting if you look at it in the context of the whole feud - this is where they start off; this should be as bad as it gets, and it STILL looks pretty great.
2. Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid I don't think I'd ever heard about this particular match before, but that just made me appreciate it all the more. On the surface, it's flawed as HELL. For one, it's really, really short. I know it doesn't crack ten minutes; I doubt it cracks eight. And considering both the wrestlers involved, there shouldn't be selling issues this glaring in a match of this calibur.
But make no mistake about it; this is a central, central match in their feud and in the evolution of the style they were championing. The first match - what got shown, anyway - seemed to be pretty traditional junior wrestling, like Fujinami was espousing - *essentially* the heavyweight style with junior-specific spots. This match, on the other hand, was one of the first times when MOTION became a key factor in the match.
Let me be more specific. I've seen matches that Sayama had with other opponents, both before and after this feud, and though they're damn sure good matches, none of them are as compelling as this series. Watching the feud play out, I started to realize something that Billington seemed to pick up on, but nobody else did: People like Sayama because he does things before they even realize he's doing them. When TM does a go-behind, it's like you blink and you missed it. Billington - subconsciously? consciously? - picked up on that and made a very significant change to his style. Not only did he wrestle a style that was designed to slow Sayama down as much as possible - thus getting him (DK) over as a heel - whenever he'd do any move, he'd accentuate the moment of hesitation. Early on, when he did a side salto suplex, it obviously could have been done faster, and arguably as a result have looked more impressive. But DK picking up on the fact that by doing so, he was heightening the tension in the audience, well...like I said, he's the greatest :)
Watch the whole match looking for that type of offense. Look at how often Sayama will copy a move just to show off how fluid his execution is, compared to Billington's. In terms of impact, that's one of the most important stylistic changes ever to hit wrestling. To the best of my knowledge, this is where wrestling split off from "the move being done" to "how the move was done". And THAT is why Sayama had to be the other half of this feud and not The Cobra or Marc Rocco - because like nobody before him, Satoryu Sayama did his moves with more sizzle than ever before.
But even beyond historical impact, this match is really, really good. Unlike the first match - again, based on what was shown - which basically served as an exhibition, this was where they really planted the seeds for why the pair was feuding. It's interesting to watch what KIND of selling is done here - not the actual selling, because in terms of a "big match" like this one, it's pretty flawed (Sayama running around on a leg Billington was just working, Billington arbitrarily switching back and forth between working the shoulder and the knee) - but rather HOW they sell the moves. There's quite a bit of overselling in this match, but it just hits the right notes. Billington's early oversell of Sayama's initial offensive maneuver - a kick to the mush - doesn't get across the impact of the move so much as it does the affrontery of Tiger Mask for daring to kick Tom Motherfucking Billington. Now compare that to how he sells TM's late-match second-wind; it's not affrontery, it's actual PAIN. And for all the suckjobs being given to Billington, it's impossible to ignore Sayama - he gets DK over as an unfriendly force of nature as effectively as I've ever seen.
I got all that out of a seven minute match. I've seen twenty-minute matches - good twenty-minute matches! - that don't have a thimbleful of that essential goodness. My life is better for having seen this match. ***1/2
3. WWF Jr. Title Match: Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
In every great feud, there's one moment where it all comes together. You don't even have to be looking too closely - just watch the match, and there'll be one spot where in the back of your mind, you hear a click.
About six-ish minutes into this match, TM had DK in a triangle choke. TM was sitting up, DK was on his stomach. The Kid started to get a second wind, and began to kip up in an effort to break out of the hold. In one of the cooler spots I've ever seen, when DK kips vertically, TM grabs him and sits up, then drops back down in a WICKED piledriver from about three or four inches off the ground, and never releases the hold. I am ROLLING in exuberance, so just in case I missed any of the subtleties, DK tries to kip out again, and TM again catches him with a short piledriver and keeps the hold on tight. Finall, DK tries to work himself into a position of advantageous leverage to get out, and he's finally able. The first thing he does once he gets free? He ROARS on top of TM, blatantly choking him to the point where I thought something had snapped.
This is the match where everything comes into place. It's not clipped like their first match, it's not short like their second one, and it's not operating in a vacuum like both. And now that they've got something to play with, Billington and Sayama start to rip the fucking roof off.
The whole reason for this match happening is to get across Sayama as a legitimate threat. In both of their previous two matches - both won by Sayama - his win had essentially come from left field; in the first match, he got a flash German suplex intensified by the angle of impact, and in the second he got a flash schoolboy rollup. Here, however, from the very get-go Billington is chucking BOMBS at Sayama, throwing him around like a ragdoll at the outset of the match and feeling quite unafraid to stick him repeatedly in the face with his fists. The difference here is that unlike in the first match, where Sayama was essentially playing everything by ear, here he's got an answer for EVERYTHING. He pulls counters from everywhere, he's got answers for Billington's counters, and most importantly he's demonstrating immense reserves of fighting spirit in the face of an enemy who looks like the sword of God brought to life.
More importantly, this is the match where he seems to take an active interest in not just winning the match, but beating Billington. Unlike in the first two matches, Sayama's demonstrating a mean streak here, clamping down on holds and throwing amazingly effective-looking suplexes around. He also starts to add insult to injury here - a significant part of the early match is devoted to him locking Billington in a Figure Four, a callback to their previous match where DK's biggest chance to win seemed to be when he had TM in the same hold, and if you don't think it's significant that TM won not just with a German suplex - the same move that won him the first match - but a suplex that came off a reversal of a reversal of a reversal of a reversal, well, then, there you are :)
But as awesome as those segments were, none of them were as important to the match - or the feud as a whole - as the segment with the short piledriver. Take that out, and you've basically got the first match. But that moment - both the move and Billington's reaction to it - is the whole feud in a nutshell, at its most pure; it's when both wrestlers sum themselves up in one simple action. Sayama's whole schtick is how flashy and cool a wrestler he is, but he makes his mark in this feud by adding determination and a mean streak into the mix. That's that piledriver in a nutshell. And in order for the feud to work, for Sayama to be forced to take his part in creating this new type of wrestling, Billington had to get across that he was everything you DON'T want to face up against in a wrestling ring - inventive (witness his lock piledriver, back in NINETEEN EIGHTY MOTHERFUCKIN' NINE), impressive (the diving headbutt), and DEVASTATING (probably the lock piledriver again). But that by itself just makes for a great exhibition match. The feud itself called for hate, pure, unadulterated hate, and Dynamite Kid never tapped into it more directly than he did when he lept over Sayama's guard and started choking him like there was no tomorrow. Without the feud, the style goes nowhere. And without that moment, the feud goes nowhere.
*sigh* They make it look so easy. Why do I watch anything else? ****
4. WWF Junior Title Match: Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid Those of you who've read my ramblings before - all eight of you - know how damnably exuberant I get when wrestling stops being literal and starts having meta-meaning. To you, I say 'get ready for one exuberant James'.
I've already beaten it to death that this feud engendered junior wrestling via this and that, but until this match, it wasn't really so foregrounded. The previous three matches these two had were all about legitimizing the wrestlers, making them look credible despite doing stuff so non-traditionally. It took this match to take what they were doing and give it a logical context.
This is the match that finally gets over one of the central fallacies behind junior wrestling - and THE central one in terms of legitimizing it as a style - once and for all: that if it looks more impressive, it'll do more damage. That's the kind of logic that makes the Shooting Star Press hurt more than a simple top-rope splash. - it's fancier, ain't it? Here, that logic finally caramelizes. ALL of TM's credible nearfalls come off of moves which aren't just exaggerated - they're practically jazzercized. The apex of this psychology in terms of this match, of course, is the finish, which sees the pair get a double countout after Sayama hits a freakin' SPACE FLYING TIGER CROSS-BODY in NINETEEN EIGHTY FUCKIN' TWO, then sees DK hit a lock piledriver on TM on the FLOOR, then - THEN! - sees TM manage to backdrop DK over the railing into the crowd. It's ALLLLLL flash. Better yet, most of that sequence had been prolected earlier in the match - TM had hit a regular diving forearm smash, DK had chosen not to o for a short piledriver when he had Sayama in the triangle choke, and neither of them had been sufficient to even hint at a pinfall.
But then again, the feud as a whole progresses that way - showmanship becomes part of the contest. It even plays into the booking; note that the Kid grows progressively more showy as the series continues (his nearest falls have been off of his flashiest moves, regardless of the context, such as his diving headbutt in the second match and the lock piledrivers hinting at the COR in this match). Better yet, even outside of his significant arsenal, he seems to be adding little showy touches to his regular moves (watch him flip three times on a kip-up and, later, drop TM in the Greatest Bodyslam EVER here). It's interesting: Billington is waaaaaaay ahead of Sayama in terms of "credibility" the whole time - which enables him to job three times and get a DCOR in the fourth match - but he's the one playing catch-up. It's endemic of both the feud and the implications of the style they were introducing. When Sayama catches Kid off-guard midway through the match and drives him to a knee, and Kid just stares up full of half-hate, half-awe...that's just it right there. That's everything you could want in art.
Of course, all this meta-stuff is facilitated by the simple fact that this is easily the most solid wrestling these two have pulled off in their feud yet. For the first time, selling becomes paramount; they've gotten the fallacy that "flashy = hurt" over, so now they need to show it. It's here that Billington really starts to shine; he has to convincingly portray agony at not only taking these less-credible moves, but he has to fill up all the time in between the moves convincingly too. He does it in SPADES, mostly through facial expressions, which is another sign that he was paying attention to the minutiae of the feud - TM's got to sell through body movements, which seem "bigger", while DK's sells through facial expressions, which comes across as more natural and real.
Note, also, how DK changes his moveset in this match. The three prior matches were almost races to the diving headbutt; here, he spends an inordinate amount of time wearing TM down. But, like the consummate pro that he is, he still gets over his determination by wrenching down on the holds like I haven't seen him do yet. In any other series, I'd be complaining about an extended facelock sequence, regardless of the decade. Here, it's contextual; it's DK forcing TM to play HIS game. And again, back with the meta-, I think that this was the first match that they realized exactly what they had on their hands here, and exactly what the fans wanted to see. The extended wear-down portions of the match were nothing more than drawing out the anticipation of the fans to a fever pitch.
Most importantly, watch how they move in the ring. Before, Billington was brash and determined; here, he seems cagey, having been cowed by Sayama's heretofore unheard-of speed. He ducks his head down, and keeps his hands up, and he seems reluctant to go for the flashy stuff that works for Sayama (i.e. the sequence in the triangle choke). In contrast, Sayama is more confindent here than ever yet. He knows that he can beat DK for real. He's bouncing around the ring, always looking for an opening.
The wrestling here is really, really great - so great, in fact, that it highlights the few flaws that ARE there. The most obvious, of course, is the interference of Bret Hart - yes, THAT Bret Hart, looking for all the world like a puffy Billy Kidman - which just has to make you groan. What's amazing is that it's really not even that bad; Hart never actually physically enters the ring, and in a way, if it weren't for his interference, the ending with THAT dive and the piledriver and the backdrop wouldn't have worked. But watching this series of matches...it lulls the viewer. It makes you feel like, for the few minutes they're wrestling, there really isn't anything else in the world, just two guys making wrestling. Bret ruins the reverie, even if he just gets on the apron.
There's also the issue of pacing. This was the first match in their feud - and arguably of the style they were promulgating - booked to go longer than fifteen minutes. As a result, even two masters like Billington and Sayama didn't know how to fill it up adequately, so they may have laid on the wear-down sequences a little too long. I say 'arguably' because it did make contextual, logical sense, but really, if you're thinking "maybe they went too far with it", that usually means they went too far with it :)
All that being said, this match is essential. The greatness may make the flaws stand out, but when you look at it objectively, the flaws only really underscore the greatness. ****1/2
Whew. Gotta break this up into two parts. Click here for part two.
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