August 26, 2004
Sheldon Kane III

World Wrestling Federation Junior Heavyweight Championship
Tiger Mask (Champion) vs. Dynamite Kid (Challenger)
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
August 30, 1982

STRAIGHT OUT OF FANTASY
It's hard to believe, but one of the greatest junior heavyweight wrestlers was born out of a classic animated series. Long before "Mucha Lucha" ever existed, and even before "Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling" hit the CBS airwaves, there was a an animated show based on professional wrestling, based upon manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Naoki Tsuji in the late 1960s. The show's title? "Tiger Mask", on the air from 1969 to 1971. The series turned out to be quite popular, not only for being an animated series based on the sport of puroresu, but also for its share of genuine human drama. Little did anyone in Japan realize that over a decade later, the Tiger Mask character would be brought to life. And when he was brought to life, it was no joke; he became one of puroresu's most celebrated athletes, so much that there have been four different incarnations of the "Tiger Mask" character who have competed in the squared circle.

Satoru Sayama first started competing in 1976. After achieving a measure of success under his given name, including a run as the NWA World Middleweight Champion, Sayama was ready for a change in his career. In 1981, when New Japan Pro Wrestling first announced the debut of a man named Tiger Mask, many fans in the country couldn't believe what they had heard. Many of them couldn't help but laugh at the idea that a wrestler based on an animated wrestling character was about to enter their rings. But after Sayama debuted the character on April 23, 1981 in Tokyo's Sumo Hall, the fans were no longer treating this as a joke. In his first match as Tiger Mask, Sayama defeated the man who would become his most famous opponent: future World Tag Team Champion the Dynamite Kid.

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
What Tom Billington lacked in size, he more than made up for with quickness, aerial ability, and a high-impact arsenal which included snap suplexes that could make a man's insides quake. At 5'8" and 228 pounds, the Dynamite Kid made his debut in 1975, and within his first few years attained success in his homeland and the world over, acquiring his first title on January 25, 1978, winning the British Welterweight Championship from Jim Breaks. Dynamite also managed to win the British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Title on more than one occasion. His style was so original and revolutionary that he became one of the most influential wrestlers of all time. Former RAW World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit regularly cites Dynamite as his primary inspiration, and when one watches a Benoit match, the Dynamite Kid influence clearly shows.

At the dawn of the 1980s, the Dynamite Kid started competing in Japan, and soon became a chief rival of the legendary Tatsumi Fujinami, who at the time was Japan's top junior heavyweight as well as a former two-time World Wrestling Federation Junior Heavyweight Champion. When Sayama debuted the Tiger Mask persona and defeated Dynamite in his debut match, it kicked off one of the most talked-about feuds in puroresu history. On January 1, 1982, Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid fought for the vacant Federation Junior Heavyweight title, a match which Tiger Mask won to begin his first of two title reigns. Their feud would continue for many more months in Japanese rings, and the two would eventually find themselves competing for the Junior Heavyweight Title in front of a standing-room only crowd at New York City's Madison Square Garden, on August 30, 1982. This match is considered legendary today, as it features two of wrestling history's greatest junior heavyweight athletes competing for one of the sport's most coveted prizes.

THE MATCH
The bell sounded and the two celebrated competitors started off the latest battle in their legendary feud. The match started off slowly, with both men testing one another in a feeling-out process of sorts. Quickly, Tiger Mask turned things up a few notches by surprising Dynamite with a spinning kick. Frustrated, Dynamite charges toward Tiger Mask like greased lightning, only to get his leg sweeped out from under him. Desperate to gain some sort of an edge, Dynamite then grabbed for Tiger's arm, only to have Tiger reverse the move. In response, Dynamite scores with a lightning fast back bodydrop, but to further add to the Kid's frustration, Tiger Mask simply landed on his feet. A stiff elbow from Dynamite drops Tiger Mask, but an attempted elbowsmash misses its mark. Dynamite then attempted to score with a kick, but Tiger was right there to catch his incoming leg, and responded by spinning him around and landing a kick of his own in Dynamite's throat. With the Madison Square Garden fans on their feet, Tiger Mask then clamps on a side headlock, eventually taking him down to the mat after a beautiful sequence of maneuvers, where Tiger applied a leglock. Dynamite eventually reached the ropes, forcing a legal break in the hold.

Tired of being on the recieving end of Tiger Mask's arsenal, Dynamite Kid started fighting back, with a series of punches. Dynamite followed up with a scoop slam, and a hard kneedrop to the head of the champion, which registered the first two-count of the match. Dynamite then executed a gutwrench suplex, and again only got a two-count. Thinking he had the champion at bay, Dynamite attempted to wear him down further with a legscissors. But Tiger Mask managed to slip out of the hold, leaving Dynamite with an expression which read, "What do I have to do to keep this guy down?" Dynamite then moved in on his opponent, landing a headbutt and dropping him to the canvas after a series of chops. Dynamite then executed a suplex on Tiger, and followed up by attempting a backbreaker. Again, however, Tiger Mask managed to counter the challenger, grabbing hold of an arm and throwing Dynamite over, onto the canvas. A series of kicks landed Dynamite in a corner of the ring. With Dynamite momentarily stunned, Tiger Mask ran up the body of the challenger, somersaulted overhead, and landed a back bodydrop. A well-placed dropkick sent Dynamite out of the ring and onto the floor at MSG. It appeared Tiger Mask was about to execute a plancha, but Tiger merely faked Dynamite out in an attempt to gain a psychological edge.

If Dynamite was frustrated earlier in the match, one could imagine what he was feeling now. About to reach his breaking point, the challenger refused to be made a fool of in front of the New York City audience. Dynamite went on the attack right away, working over a leg on Tiger Mask in an attempt to thwart any future possibilties of the champion taking to the air. Dynamite then Irish whipped Tiger into the ropes and landed a hard kick to the midsection, followed by an enziguri kick. Feeling as though he had the championship in his grasp, Dynamite executed a bodyslam and went to a corner of the ring, climbing the ropes. Dynamite went airborne with a flying headbutt--seen commonly in Chris Benoit's matches today--but Tiger had the presence of mind to roll out of the way, leaving Dynamite to end up crashing head-first on the canvas. Sensing victory at hand, Tiger then moved in quickly, slamming his challenger to the mat and landing a beautiful moonsault splash for the three-count, successfully defending his title after just over nine minutes of breathtaking action. Tiger Mask notched another win in his feud with the Dynamite Kid...but the war would be far from over.

AFTERMATH
The feud between the original Tiger Mask and the Dynamite Kid would continue well into the following year, with Dynamite gaining a measure of revenge by injuring Tiger during a tag team match on April 1, 1983. As a result, Tiger Mask was forced to forfeit the Federation Junior Heavyweight Title. Dynamite Kid faced Kuniaki Kobayashi for the vacant title just three days later, but no winner was decided upon in the match. A few weeks later, Tiger Mask returned from his injury, and faced the Dynamite Kid once more, in a match where there was no conclusive winner decided, mimicking the finish of the Dynamite-Kobayashi match. On June 12, 1983, Tiger Mask was able to reclaim his vacated gold in Mexico City, Mexico, defeating Fishman. The belt was again declared vacant on August 12, when Satoru Sayama, the original Tiger Mask, announced his retirement.

The Tiger Mask-Dynamite Kid wars are heralded today as original cruiserweight classics. Their matches serve as the prototype to the high-risk, high-energy style employed today by many of WWE's greatest cruiserweight athletes. The next time you see a WWE Cruiserweight Championship match on SmackDown! and you see men such as Rey Misterio Jr. and Chavo Guerrero Jr. fighting above ground for championship supremacy, think back to when Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid did the same in Madison Square Garden and beyond over 20 years ago. These legends, as well as others, paved the way for the action seen today in this exciting division. For without the Junior Heavyweight Championship battles of yore, the Cruiserweight Championship matches seen today may not have been possible.

The Tiger Mask-Dynamite Kid wars are heralded today as original cruiserweight classics. Their matches serve as the prototype to the high-risk, high-energy style employed today by many of WWE's greatest cruiserweight athletes. The next time you see a WWE Cruiserweight Championship match on SmackDown! and you see men such as Rey Misterio Jr. and Chavo Guerrero Jr. fighting above ground for championship supremacy, think back to when Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid did the same in Madison Square Garden and beyond over 20 years ago. These legends, as well as others, paved the way for the action seen today in this exciting division. For without the Junior Heavyweight Championship battles of yore, the Cruiserweight Championship matches seen today may not have been possible.

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