wrestling / Columns

Examining The Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask Series of Matches

September 3, 2014 | Posted by TJ Hawke

This will be the second in the unofficial series of columns that examine a feud, storyline, etc. in a slightly “deeper” (for wont of a less obnoxious word) way than the typical wrestling video review that I provide (and most complain about for being too negative). I did the first one of these columns literally over two years ago. (Ten internet points to the person who finds that one. The column was not perfectly written for sure though, and it was often misunderstood as a result.) When will the next column come out? I have no idea! That’s just part of my charm.

This column will look at the (unquestionably) historically significant and innovative Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask series of singles matches in the early eighties. I will only examine them based on what can be seen on the screen. I’m not interested in backstage stories or theories about why things happened the way they did. The intentions of artists rarely interest me while critiquing, and it’s certainly beyond the scope of this article. I’m looking for in-ring stories and character arcs and to see how much (or little, as the case may or may not be) emotion the matches generated.

April 23, 1981

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
This was the debut of the Tiger Mask character. Dynamite Kid had been wrestling for NJPW since 1979.

Tiger Mask had the early advantage and moved at an incredible speed. Dynamite had to try to slow the match down. Dynamite went after the mask at one point. Tiger Mask came back with some lightning fast strikes to back Dynamite off. Dynamite grounded him and went after the mask again. Tiger Mask got the dominant position, but they shook hands instead. Dynamite then shook his hand again only to kick him. They botched a powerbomb attempt into an armdrag spot, but then did an awesome sequence to make up for it. Dynamite then started to sell his back. He was just playing possum though and brought Tiger Mask to the floor to beat him up. Back in the ring, Dynamite hit a scoop slam, but Tiger Mask then avoided the diving headbutt. Tiger Mask then brought Dynamite to the floor to beat him up. Dynamite caught him with an enzuigiri. Dynamite went to vertical suplex Tiger Mask back into the ring, but Tiger Mask avoided it and hit a bridging German: 1…2…3! Dynamite kicked out at 3.1 and kicked Tiger a time or two.

The athleticism on display here was remarkable. It seems obvious to me why these matches stood out at the time and are still so important to so many people. This match was a ton of fun to watch and seemed like a great introduction to their rivalry.
Match Rating: ***1/2

Neither man dominated the first match for any length of time. Tiger Mask won, but Dynamite Kid popped right up at 3.1. Will we see a different dynamic at work eight months later in their second match?

January 1, 1982

Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask [WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship]
This match was for the vacant WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Dynamite had more success in slowing down Tiger Mask early on than he did in their first match. Dynamite tied up Tiger Mask’s left leg in the ropes and then went to work on it. This will be interesting. Tiger Mask fought back with some kicks on Dynamite’s left leg. They teased the finish of the first match, Dynamite avoided the German and hit a saito suplex. Dynamite then hit a Gotch Tombstone and the diving headbutt. He had the match won, but he pulled Tiger Mask up. He hit another Gotch Tombstone. He went for a second diving headbutt, but Tiger Mask rolled away. I like that Dynamite’s pride got the better of him, but Tiger Mask rolling away after two tombstones and a diving headbutt seems weird. Dynamite applied a submission to the injured leg after that. Tiger got to the ropes, but Dynamite refused to break the hold. The referee went to the mat, but he didn’t force Dynamite to break the hold for a while. Tiger Mask twice avoided leg submissions, hopped around like nothing was wrong and then caught Dynamite with a schoolboy: 1…2…3!

Much like the first match, Dynamite kicked out at 3.1 and then kicked Tiger some more after.

This match was a really good next chapter in their series of matches, but Tiger Mask not selling his leg in the last minute really annoyed me. The whole match was basically Dynamite working over the leg, but then it didn’t matter at the end. That is irritating. I really enjoyed the match until the final minute at least.
Match Rating: **3/4

Dynamite Kid applied a new strategy in their second match, but he ended up with the same result. Their second match was eight months after their first match. The third match is less than a month later.

January 28, 1982

Tiger Mask(c) vs. Dynamite Kid [WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship]
Tiger Mask’s speed was too much for Dynamite Kid for a minute until Dynamite caught him with an enzuigiri. Dynamite then got the firm advantage by sending him into a barricade. Dynamite Kid teased doing a dive, but the timing was not right. Dynamite Kid then controlled the match in the ring. Dynamite went after the mask while he applied a leg submission. Tiger Mask survived and then made a flippy comeback. He got the advantage after sending Dynamite hard into a turnbuckle. He went after his left arm. Dynamite escaped an arm submission and then got back control of the match. Tiger Mask got a Cloverleaf variation out of nowhere. Dynamite got to the ropes, but Tiger Mask then went after the left leg. In what has to be considered a big nitpick given wrestling logic, Tiger Mask applied the figure four to the wrong leg. Dynamite got to the ropes again. Dynamite fought back and got a nearfall with a side suplex. Tiger Mask fought right back though. Dynamite Kid tried to escape a headscissors, but Tiger Mask piledrived him from the mat. Dynamite tried again but got the same result. Something, something, something, the definition of insanity. He escaped and choked Tiger Mask. He then hit a tombstone: 1…2…NO! There was an awkward moment where Dynamite basically dropped Tiger Mask and went for the diving headbutt. Tiger Mask avoided it and hit a double arm DDT. He then went for a diving headbutt (or splash?) of his own, but Dynamite avoided it. Tiger Mask sent Dynamite to the floor and then hit a tope suicida. In a great tribute to the first match, Tiger Mask went to suplex Dynamite into the ring, but Dynamite avoided it and almost hit a German like Tiger did then. Tiger avoided it though and hit his own bridging German: 1…2…3!

Unlike the first two matches, Dynamite was not capable of kicking out at 3.1 this time.

I found the substance of this match less interesting than the first two matches, but there wasn’t a big logic gap at the end like the second match had and the finish brilliantly played off the first match’s finish. The substance appealed to me less because it was unfocused. Going after various body parts is not that interesting to me in such a short match. The finish was fantastic enough to make up for a number of the deficiencies in the match for me.
Match Rating: ***

Dynamite Kid has now lost three straight singles matches to Tiger Mask. He’s fallen victim to bridging German suplex twice, and he doesn’t seem any closer to finding a way to defeat Tiger Mask. Their next match takes place about six months later.

July 23, 1982

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
Tiger Mask actually grounded Dynamite early for a change and then blew him away with his quickness. Dynamite managed to take him down and went after the left leg. Tiger Mask escaped and then took Dynamite down with the left leg, himself. They had submissions applied at the same time and ended up in the ropes. Both men struggled to get an advantage. Dynamite ended up on the floor, and Tiger Mask did a feint 619. Dynamite then grounded him back in the ring. Tiger Mask escaped a headscissors (something Dynamite failed to do as easily in their last match). Dynamite remained in control after that though. Tiger Mask got to the ropes and then made a comeback. He went for a diving elbow, but Dynamite avoided it. They both then avoided German suplex attempts (a good callback to their previous matches). Dynamite then murdered him with a backdrop driver. He went for a diving knee drop, but Tiger Mask avoided it. Dynamite reinjured his left leg. Tiger Mask was an expert at putting the figure four on the wrong leg. Dynamite got to the ropes with some assistance from Bret Hart. Hart then kicked Dynamite free from Tiger Mask. Tiger Mask then sent Dynamite to the floor. He hit Bret with the Space Flying Tiger Drop, but Dynamite then immediately gave him a tombstone to the floor. Dynamite was then sent into the crowd. The bell rang. Some sites are calling this a victory for Dynamite via countout, but I believe he won via disqualification (for Tiger Mask sending him into the crowd). Either way, Dynamite Kid has finally defeated Tiger Mask.

I found this match to be unsatisfying in ways beyond just the finish. The work done earlier in the match were sound strategies, but it wasn’t paid off in any substantive way. (The finish was even more disappointing as a result.) All the leg work done really did not lead to much other than the figure four spot being mildly dramatic. Their last two matches have gotten more time, but they haven’t used it to their advantage.
Match Rating: **1/2

Dynamite Kid finally defeated Tiger Mask, but he didn’t really earn the victory. Tiger Mask just really messed up in a stupid way. Dynamite Kid was not desperate enough to cheat, and Tiger Mask just seems like a moron for getting disqualified. I like Dynamite Kid sneaking in an unsatisfying victory here. I think it could have been done in a better way though. Will this victory change anything in their next matches?

August 5, 1982

Tiger Mask(c) vs. Dynamite Kid [WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship]
Bret Hart was once again in Dynamite’s corner.

The crowd was electric from the start here. Tiger Mask’s quickness got the better of Dynamite early on. Things slowed down after that for a few minutes and neither man could get much going. Dynamite eventually took him down. Both men went after each other’s legs while on the mat. Dynamite got to the ropes and then gave Tiger Mask a vertical suplex on the floor. Dynamite briefly had control after that, but Tiger Mask came back quickly enough and even did (what I’ve always referred to as) the Dynamite Kid suplex to the floor. He then hit the original Tiger Driver in the ring. Dynamite tried to escape a headscissors, but Tiger Mask piledrived him from the mat. He then hit a standard piledriver. Tiger Mask then crashed into the ropes while going for a crossbody. Dynamite then got back control of the match. Tiger Mask escaped a headscissors though and then applied a bow & arrow. He couldn’t hold the submission long but it gave him back control of the match. He started to attack Dynamite’s left leg. Dynamite Kid got to the ropes and then delivered some strikes. He went for a piledriver, but Tiger Mask reversed it into a back body drop. Dynamite avoided another leaping crossbody. Tombstone from Dynamite! Diving headbutt: 1…2…NO! Tiger Mask managed to dump him to the floor though and then hit a leaping pescado! Tiger Mask then hit a tombstone variation in the ring and a turning moonsault: 1…2…3

I thought this match was a ton of fun and very easy to watch. What’s funny about these matches is that I think the athleticism still stands out (even compared to today’s wrestlers) as being exceptional. It’s the in-ring storytelling that holds the matches back. They’re not working some crazy or over-the-top style at all either. They’re completely under control, but it feels very unfocused. This match continued that theme, but the finishing stretch was a bit more exciting. The crowd continues to be into all of these matches, but Dynamite and Tiger are not taking them on an emotional ride like they seem capable of.
Match Rating: ***1/4

Dynamite Kid seemingly had the match won, but Tiger Mask proved his resiliency. Tiger Mask needed to use some new weapons to defeat Dynamite this time. I love seeing progression in what is needed to finish an opponent during a feud.

Despite several of the matches being for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, every match in this rivalry so far has taken place in Japan under the NJPW banner. This match takes place under the WWF banner in Madison Square Garden. It takes places less than a month later.

August 30, 1982

Tiger Mask(c) vs. Dynamite Kid [WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship]
Thankfully, the commentary is still in Japanese. Tiger Mask took him down early on. Dynamite got to the ropes though. Dynamite came back with a diving knee drop for a nearfall. Tiger Mask escaped a headscissors, but Dynamite remained in control. Tiger Mask came back with a lightning fast sequence that concluded with a feint 619. The crowd was impressed with that. Dynamite got back into the ring and slow down Tiger Mask. He hit an enzuigiri and scoop slam, but Tiger Mask avoided the diving headbutt. Tiger Mask then hit a vertical suplex and a twisting moonsault: 1…2…3

This was by far the weakest match in the series. There were a couple of moments where the crowd was very, very impressed with Tiger Mask, but that was just about the only notable thing about the match. This was a disappointment and doesn’t really need to be seen to be perfectly honest.
Match Rating: **

That last match concluded the five matches Tiger Mask and Dynamite had together in 1982. Four of them were for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, but Dynamite lost all of those. He only managed to win one match, and it was via disqualification. Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid would meet one more time in a singles match about nine months later in Japan.

April 21, 1983

Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid
The crowd is HYPED for this one. Dynamite Kid tried to slow things down early, but Tiger Mask hit a couple of kicks and then connected on a tope suicida. Perhaps a suicida crossbody would be a more accurate description for that dive of Tiger Mask’s. Back in the ring, Dynamite hit a missile dropkick and then grounded Tiger Mask. Much like the rest of the matches between these two, Tiger Mask escaped the headscissors. I was hoping for a payoff to that spot. Tiger Mask hit a diving elbow to a standing Dynamite and then applied a short-lived bow & arrow. Dynamite escaped a leg submission by going after the mask. Tiger Mask then sent him to the floor and did the feint 619. Dynamite got back in the ring and went after the left leg. Tiger Mask forearmed his way out of a submission and then applied a chinlock. Dynamite went back after the mask. Dynamite then got back control. Tiger Mask came back and applied the Romero Special. I’m a big mark for that move. Dynamite escaped and went for a tombstone, but Tiger Mask avoided it. Tiger Mask came back with an apron crossbody that sent both men into the crowd. The bell rang! Not a disqualification again!

The match was thankfully continued/re-started back in the ring. Dynamite Kid hit a tombstone, but Tiger Mask rolled away before the diving headbutt attempt. The bell rang again. Tiger Mask was injured, but he refused to not continue the match. Dynamite talked to the crowd. Everyone but the referee seemed to want the match to continue. Tiger Mask and Dynamite went at it, but the referee separated them. Finally, the match is started up again.

Dynamite immediately hit a tombstone and a diving headbutt. The overbooking is totally working by the way even though it probably seems annoying on paper. Tiger Mask came right back with a nasty backdrop driver. Tombstone from Tiger Mask. Dynamite was too close to the ropes to be pinned though. Tiger Mask went for a slingshot pescado, but Dynamite avoided it. He then went for the vertical suplex back in the ring, but Tiger Mask tried to reverse it into a German (an excellent callback to their earlier matches). They both desperately avoided Germans and then ended up on the floor. Dynamite seemingly took a NASTY ringpost shot to the head. Tiger Mask had all the momentum on the floor. I think Dynamite banged the ringpost with something and then headbutted the referee. And again. He threatened to hit the referee with the metal object again. Will the match re-start? Yes, yes it will.

Dynamite went to the mask right away. The referee kept trying to pull him off, but Dynamite pushed him away. Dynamite finally just hit a vertical suplex and brought Tiger Mask to the floor. Tiger Mask then hit a tombstone on the floor. Dynamite got right up and hit a tombstone on the floor himself. They both got counted out.

Wow, the emotion and the character work (primarily from Dynamite Kid) here were just off the charts compared to their first six matches. I don’t even think the finish is unsatisfying. I think it’s beautifully bleak. You saw the tragedy of failure in Dynamite Kid’s face down the stretch as he realized he was getting closer to not beating Tiger Mask again. It didn’t make his character a hero or even a “good” person. It made him human though and all the bitter disappointment that can come with being human.
Match Rating: ****1/4

That was the last time those two had a singles match together. There are a ton of things to love about these matches. When I heard that some people did not think these matches aged well, I just assumed that they were referring to the athleticism or the speed of the matches (those seem like common complaints of older matches). Let me assure you, the athleticism and speed of these matches would not only fit in with today’s wrestling, there were moments where it became clear that the level of athleticism on display exceeded the great majority of junior heavyweight wrestling that you see today. Tiger Mask pulled off some sequences that I have never seen from anyone else (that fact could also have to do with some ignorance on my part to other wrestlers). He was a tremendously gifted athlete.

When I watch a series of matches, I look for moments in earlier matches to be played off later in the series. That happened here in a big way. The finish of the first match was Dynamite Kid trying to vertical suplex Tiger Mask back into the ring, but Tiger Mask ended up reversing it into a bridging German Suplex for the victory. There were several callbacks to that finish in the rest of the series and all of them got big reactions from the crowd. That is just fantastic storytelling.

The final thing that happened in their series that made me love watching it came at the very end: Dynamite Kid’s desperation to defeat Tiger Mask. This is the type of character work that I find missing in a lot of modern NJPW juniors wrestling. His facials as he got more and more desperate to finish off Tiger Mask were perfect. I actually found the fact that the last match in the series ending without a winner to be just fine. Dynamite Kid, a heel, being unable to defeat Tiger Mask proved to be more interesting and artistically satisfying for me than the great majority of feuds that I’ve ever seen. The tragedy of failure is a note that stories in wrestling rarely end on. This put the rivalry over the top for me as something special based on the content and not just the historical significance.

While this rivalry produced a lot of compelling content. I did find there to be some weaknesses at different points in the matches. The first, and almost always most important for me, weakness is that they struggled to generate the atmosphere and emotion level that most matches need to be considered great. The only match that got there for me was their final match.

There’s one thing though that can compensate for the lack of great atmosphere for a match: fantastic and consistent in-ring storytelling! While their series of matches featured moments of that (the spots around the German suplex), I found that their matches strongly lacked focus. They did not pay off any limb work done in the matches in any significant way, and that can make me feel like I am wasting my time. Don’t start and stop different stories in a match. If you’re going to spend any time on a story, finish it off. Don’t ignore it. While they clearly did enough to entertain me in almost every match, I did find that those two issues held the first six matches back from being great. Art is obviously subjective though, and anyone has the right to not be bothered by what I considered to be the weaknesses.

Wrestling, like all art, can be historically significant and innovative without being great when looked at a bit closer. I do not think that is an insult. Innovation is required to push anything forward. This series of matches deserves all of the kudos it gets for doing just that.

That concludes my look at the legendary Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask series. It’s a set of matches that everyone who calls themselves a wrestling fan should take the time to watch at some point in their life. I hope you enjoyed this. Please yell at me in the comments if you disagree about something. Polite discussion is preferable though.

Bonus Match Review
In what ended up being Dynamite Kid’s last match ever, Michinoku Pro brought him in to be on the opposite side of Tiger Mask in a trios match full of legends.

Michinoku Pro’s These Days
October 10, 1996

Tiger Mask, Great Sasuke, & Mil Mascaras vs. Dynamite Kid, Kuniaki Kobayashi, & Dos Caras
The match started with Dynamite and Tiger Mask. Dynamite was looked skinny in a sickly way here. Tiger Mask was a bit more pudgy than in his prime, but he still seemed to move around well. Sasuke hit an early Asai Moonsault on Kobayashi. Sasuke got cut off after a vertical suplex on the floor by Dynamite. He was only briefly worked over though. Tiger Mask did a couple of his signature spots that popped the crowd. He may not have looked to be in great shape, but he still managed to pull off some impressive stuff. Sasuke ended up back in the ring, but he ate a pescado from Dos Caras. Mascaras made a comeback for his team. Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid went at it again. Sasuke hit Caras with a tope con hello. Kobayashi then hit Sasuke with a tope. Mascaras hit them all with a plancha. Dynamite and Tiger Mask then squared off again for less than thirty seconds. Sasuke accidentally got hit with a dropkick from Mascaras. Dynamite then gave him a Gotch Tombstone. Caras followed it up with a Liger Bomb: 1…2…3

As a match, I thought this was perfectly fine. There were some good moments, but I did not find that it came together as a whole all that well. It should be noted that Sasuke bumped around a lot in this match, which probably elevated the whole thing on its own.

As a post-script to the Dynamite Kid/Tiger Mask feud, it was quite unremarkable. They really did not do anything special in their limited in-ring time together, and there were no significant callbacks to their earlier matches. This is not a match that you needed to seek out just for the match or for the historic rivalry. Unless, you really care about the other rivalries in the match or seeing what Dynamite Kid looked like in his last ever match, you can skip this to be perfectly honest.
Match Rating: **3/4

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Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Prince Devitt (G1 Climax)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Milano Collection A.T. (G1 Climax)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano (G1 Climax)
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Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Togi Makabe (Chain Match)
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hirooki Goto
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Prince Devitt vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Karl Anderson
Masato Tanaka vs. Tomoaki Honma
Kota Ibushi vs. Ryusuke Taguchi [Fantastic Match]
Prince Devitt vs. Kenny Omega
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Prince Devitt vs. Kota Ibushi (With thoughts from Prince Devitt)
Davey Richards vs. Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi vs. KUSHIDA
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Hirooki Goto vs. Karl Anderson & Giant Bernard
Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata
Christopher Daniels vs. Tetsuya Naito
Katsuyori Shibata & Scott Norton vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Jushin Liger vs. Ebessan
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Thanks everybody for reading! You can send feedback to my Twitter or to my email address: [email protected] Also, feel free to check out my own wrestling website, FreeProWrestling.com. Also, check out my Best of Chikara blog and an archive of all my 411 video reviews.

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TJ Hawke