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Best of Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
Reviewed by Digable James Cobo

5. Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid Here's why I love wrestling tapes: In any other field - science, literature, history, whatever - comprehensive studies of important events tend to end right after the event. Not so with this tape. It's not specifically tracking the evolution of the style these two were creating - even if it actually is - it's there to track the feud. What's interesting is that one match after essentially crystalizing the precepts of their new style of wrestling, they've got to give it a baptism by fire: they've got to go to wrestle in front of WWF 1982. This is, to put it mildly, not the ideal audience for this type of wrestling. Worse yet, they only get ten minutes to do their thang.

So basically they go out there and blow everyone away. DK's pop is mixed, although most of it's heel heat, and TM's pop is aneimic to the point of being nonexistent. By the time TM pins DK with a twisting bodypress - there's that "fancier = better" thing again! - they're popping like CRAZY. Cuts to the audience during the match only confirm what's already been made clear through the previous four matches on this tape: people love this style of wrestling.

What's ironic is that this is probably their worst match in the feud. It's horrifically one-sided, with TM staying in control almost the entire match, and Billington basically bumping like a madman, basically because he's the one not holding the belt. But even ignoring things like that, this match ain't great shakes; their execution seems markedly off tonight, frequently abetted by the World's Loosest Ropes. I think it's really all about the setting - whereas in Japan, they had confindence in their audience to pick up on the subtleties of stuff like DK putting extra force behind a bodyslam, here they didn't have that luxury. Actually, now that I think about it, it works the other way, too - in Japan, they have predetermined expectations as to the level of execution they demanded from their wrestlers, whereas in America, the fans think it's amazing even when Sayama drops an ugly twisting bodypress.

I dunno. I'm always somewhat perversely interested in seeing good wrestlers have bad matches, especially if I'm familiar with their previous work. This one in particular actually wasn't even that bad - it's just that I had just seen them have an all-time classic, essential match, and they give me this. If you think about it, the **1/2 that I give to this match may be even more impressive than the ****1/2 that I gave to the prior one.

6. Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid I liked this match an awful lot, but less for the work than for the fact that for the first time, it was Tom Billington's match to lose.

By this point in the feud, they'd gotten over exactly how they wanted to wrestle, thus freeing them up to simply get down to the business of feuding as wrestlers. The focus of the match wasn't the aesthetics; it was how both guys could combine brutality and risk. Which isn't to say that there weren't plenty of highspots; Sayama won the match with his twisting bodypress, amid a host of other spots. It's just that Billington decided to show the world an alternative to the style he had helped create - one where aesthetics were less important than cleaning the other guy's clock.

And of course, there's Tom Billington, ready and able to give the match the essential qualities of HATRED that were so important to making the match work. But, again, he manages to hit a precise, different pitch with his expressions: whereas in the third match, he dived over the guard to choke TM, here, he's methodical, capable, and totally focused on one thing alone: hurting Satoryu Sayama. When he gives Sayama a tombstone piledriver here, or a suplex on the floor there, it's fucking WICKED. Billington is out for Sayama's blood, and we all get to watch.

Ironically, though, Sayama still gets most of the offense. As with most of these matches, the lion's share of the time is spent with Sayama in control, with the spot of Billington locked in the triangle choke being the centerpiece. Here, though, Sayama's got to get something else across - danger. He feels no remorse apparently as he SLAMS Billington's head into the mat with a bunch of piledrivers, including one at the end which might well have been the inspiration for the Emerald Frozien. He is patently unafraid to dive like a MAN out of the ring, giving structure to the finale of the match. And, of course, he doesn't think twice about sending Billington over the top rope directly to the floor not once, not twice, but THREE times.

That's the other reason why Billington made this match. Nobody in the world had a deathwish like he did - hell, arguably nobody does even today. Without that deathwish, this match has no structure, because the thrust of it is to get over that Sayama may be flashy, but he's not afraid to be as legitimate a threat as the next guy. Hell, Billington gets that over even when he's not taking a death bump - he's screaming in the holds, leaning back to make them look even more painful than they already do.

Billington got Sayama over in other ways in this match, too. I remember watching it and noticing that for the first time, the history of the feud was hyper-important, thanks to DK's countering. Watch, for instance, the way he counters out of TM's german suplex attempt - there's more urgency there than at any other point in their feud yet. And notice how he's starting to pick up on where Sayama can introduce transitions, and either countering (i.e. finally getting an effective escape/no-sell of the Sayama armdrag counter to the argentinan backbreaker) or "feeding" him a limb (i.e. giving him license to counter into the indian deathlock). It's all important, and it's all part of the central story: these two know each other so well by now that at this point, it's goint to take something giant to win the day. THAT'S why big, risky moves are the order of the day: they haven't really been showcased too much in and of themselves in this feud yet.

All that being said, this match is pretty far from flawless. Considering the show he put on, Billington sure dropped the ball in terms of selling; TM spent a LOT of time working his legs, all of which was lost when Billington suddenly popped up and did the swandive headbutt for his most credible near-fall. And that's just the most egregious example; Billington did a lot of running and such after having his legs worked on explicitly and emphatically.

Nevertheless, this is a solid **** match, a rating which might even be higher if it weren't Dynamite Freakin' Kid and Tiger Freakin' Mask in the early 80s. Like all of their matches, there's so much to love that even fundamental flaws get sorta pushed to the background.

7. NWA Junior Heavyweight Title Match: Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid

Sometimes, there are words to describe great pro wrestling. And other times, there are not. This is almost - by thiiiiiiiiiiismuch - one of the latter.

The structure of the match just can't be beat. From the entrances, for christ's sakes, they're establishing that tonight, DK's going to win, or he's never going to win at all; he storms to the ring, swatting away flowers offered by awed fans, and stares holes in Sayama. And from the moment the bell rings, Billington's doing nothing but MURDERING Sayama - not DK MURDERING TM, mind you, but BILLINGTON and SAYAMA. That's why the mask-ripping, which is played up more in this match than in any other, works so well: Billington's trying to get directly at Sayama, not dick around with Tiger Mask. From there, the match basically devolves into a brawl; the match gets restarted TWICE, with both guys basically throwing everything they have at each other. It's in the process of these three matches that they wrap up all the spots - the german suplex, the lock piledriver, the diving headbutt, the topes and planchas, everything. The spots aren't being referenced here simply because they happened in a previous match: they're being referenced because they ARE the previous matches, and it's time to bring 'em on home.

The belle of the ball here is DK's intensity. Ever since the match with the SFTD, his intensity's been on display, but here, it's focused, and it's PISSED. There's no awe when Sayama manages to kip out of his triangle choke; just quick, determined fire and anger, which Billington expresses by roaring after Sayama. He doesn't even look like he's trying to win the match so much as end Sayama's career; most of the most credible moments of implied victory for Billington come off of moves that would either result in a disqualification or a count-out. The apex of this, of course, is the two bottles which Billington retrieves from under the ring, breaks, and threatens Sayama with during the third fall, but it's there throughout - note the number of moves Billington does on the outside of the ring compared to in the other matches. He does a LOT more here.

Ironically, though, that same determination somewhat hinders the match. This is the seventh singles match between the two, and at this point the closest Billington's gotten to a win is in a DCOR. Aside from that, he's 0-5. I certainly can't fault the booking of the match if it was set up to make Billington look like a caged bear set free, but it doesn't make emotional sense; by this point, the audience - and not just me, the actual audience is going CRAZY for DK - desperately wants to see snag a win. Having him maul Sayama just doesn't work for me.

It also counteracts a lot of what they were doing with Sayama. Before this match, he and Billington were equals, if Sayama wasn't in fact superior. At the end of this match, however, he seemed somewhat relegated to the old Tiger Mask: some young, flashy punk who isn't in the same league as DK when it comes to laying it all on the line. Considering how important TM was to the company - a few years later, and he was drawing better than Inoki - that seems enormously short-sighted.

I should mention that even if these flaws in build weren't there - these specific flaws, mind you - the match still wouldn't be anywhere near perfect. For one thing, they hit a LOT of big moves REALLY early, moreso than usual. Hell, the second match starts off with DK getting the lock piledriver off of a collar-and-elbow. I also take issue with the length of the match; IIRC it didnt' go 20 minutes, which is ludicrous even by the standards of a one-fall, non-blowoff match.

Mostly, though, I have to question the booking. This being the blowoff match for the feud, you kinda expect something emphatic - TM finally earning DK's respect, or DK finally getting the win he's been dying for, or SOMETHING. And while I can understand the logic behind the finish both logically - by doing a DCOR finish, both guys keep their heat, and it doesn't look like TM was just being built up to be 'fed' to DK - and on a meta-level - TM finally proved that he can hang with DK, no matter what he's throwing around - the match still felt like the antecedent to a blowoff match rather than the real thing.

All that being said, I still loved this match. On a gut-reaction level, it's probably my favorite of 'em all; there's something very visceral about this, a sort of primal wildness that they're tapping into that the fans - who are NUCLEAR all through the first two falls - can't get enough of, and if you're willing to accept that it's not as good as it would be if they didn't condense it down to the big moves, it tells a really great story. I hate to be so imprecise, but this match just has all the intangibles that the great matches have - all those things that people more learned than myself can look at and say "Damn, that match is awesome".

As a match, it's probably ***1/4-ish. And until I sat down and started writing this review, I thought that it was a shame for a series like this to end on such a relative down note. But then, when I cooled down and thought about it, I realized that really, there isn't a good way to end this feud. You can't have Billington go over, because he's the hate-filled heel; you can't have Sayama go over, because that would just make Billington look like a jobber; logically speaking, it's the only way out. So a part of me likes that this feud ended on such a lady-or-the-tiger note. After all, I think I can count the feuds that are too good for a climax on one hand.

Closing Thoughts

One of the problems that I frequently have whenever I'm watching movies that recieve acclaim for their contributions to the "ouvre of film" or whatever is that the text itself doesn't live up to the impact. Going into this tape, that's exactly what I was afraid of: that I'd get a bunch of matches that looked state-of-the-art twenty years ago, but really weren't all that great compared to contemporary stuff.

I've never been so glad to be so wrong in my life.

This feud - this tape - is GREAT. You absolutely cannot go wrong here. On a gut-reaction level, this stuff looks as good as just about any of the contemporary junior stuff to come down the pipe in a while. But even better yet, for once the impact itself is so obvious, so overpowering that it intensified my love of the match. I'd be watching a match and thinking "Hey, there's Malenko/Guerrero" or "Look, it's Liger/Benoit" or "Whaddya know, I just saw that sequence in EMLL a few months back". The simple trick of keeping it in the back of my mind that these two guys were doing all this - and more - back in 1982 made my jaw drop like the Dow. Add to that, of course, the divine Tom Billington smack in the middle of his annus mirabilus, doing the best stuff he'd ever do over the course of his career - which is really, really saying something - and you've got the grandfather of just about every splinter group or style in Japan not just standing up to most of the modern stuff, but towering over it. Way over it.

I hope Tom Billington's memory isn't short. I hope that once in a while he musters the courage to slip a tape of this series of matches in the VCR and take a look at what he did. Because I know - I know - that if he did... well, I'm certainly not going to say that it'd totally compensate for the physical hell he's in these days, but I know for a fact that it'd bring a smile to his face.

Simply knowing that what he gave it all up for will outlive him, and me, and my kids...knowing that his work is still great decades down the line....the confirmed knowledgel that art - true art - lasts forever... that's all of it. I consider myself singularly lucky just to have caught a glimpse of it.

I have confidence that he knows all about it.

Digably Yours,
Digable James Cobo
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