TIGER MASK 1ST DIMENSION
review by Mike Campbell
Satoru Sayama a.k.a. Tiger Mask, the man who revolutionized junior heavyweight wrestling in Japan. I haven’t seen a whole lot from the early 1980's, so this seems like a good place to start. He only wrestled for two years, but New Japan made sure their investment in him paid off. They’ve released tons of commercial tapes dedicated to him.
Bret Hart . . . looks like a chump, rather than The Best There Is, The Best There Was, you know the rest.
TIGER MASK © vs. BRET HART (WWF Jr. Heavyweight Title)
I haven’t seen very much of Bret’s non WWF work, so I don’t really know if he was much good at this stage in his career, but this match doesn’t make him look too good. Bret doesn’t do (or isn’t allowed to do) anything that would make him look on the level of Sayama. Not that Bret gets squashed, he actually gets a decent amount of time on offense, but the bulk of it is spent with Bret hacking away at him with punches and kicks, or just sitting in rest holds. Bret makes quite liberal use of a spot where he’ll send Sayama into the ropes and then just boot him in the gut on his way back. Bret does work in a few nice spots, like his backbreaker, and a nice reversal of a leg grapevine into a school boy, but Bret moving out of the way causing Sayama to miss a senton or to wipe out on a pescado gets more of a reaction than anything else from Bret.
Sayama shows the quickness and athletic ability that made him a legend. Many a time here does he take a back bump and then nip up and hit Bret with a spin kick or dropkick that sends him to the mat or tumbling to the floor. He actually sticks to the ground for the most part, two out of his three attempts to take things to the sky wound up backfiring on him, only a springboard dropkick was successful. He’s content to use his speed and catch Bret off guard with kicks, and even take him to the ground a couple of times, including a nice drop toehold into a bow and arrow. The double arm suplex that he finished off Bret with came a bit out of nowhere, maybe it was a big move back in 1982, but it just seems odd and random as a finisher.
TIGER MASK vs. BLACKMAN
Blackman looks better than Bret was able to, but that’s the only thing that really separates this from the last match. They both spend most of the time on mat working various holds, with Blackman looking the better of the two in that regard. Despite being more well known for his high-flying stuff, Sayama looks very good on the mat himself, using several nice looking counters and reversals of his own. Including an especially nice moment when he mounted a headstand, locked Blackman in a head scissors and spun him around to take him off his feet. Blackman had his own answer though, and countered to a leg submission that looked like a sort of seated Gorilla clutch. When the wrestlers are on their feet though, Blackman looks good, but Sayama owns him at every turn. He uses his flying tackle to drop Blackman, and when Blackman tries to follow suit, Sayama puts on the breaks, and armdrags him. Blackman is able to send Sayama to the floor and dive on him, but Sayama hands it back to him pretty quickly. Sayama goes for a victory roll, and Blackman again tries to follow suit, only for Sayama to put the kibosh on that and finish off Blackman with a big German suplex.
TIGER MASK/KENGO KIMURA vs. STEVE WRIGHT/BLACKMAN
Steve Wright, where have you been all my life? Mike Tenay once claimed that Fit Finlay retired him. Where are the Wright/Finlay matches, I must see them! Steve Wright looks awesome here. He’s able to hang with Sayama both on the mat, and in doing the flashy stuff on his feet. The match is clipped up a bunch, so it’s hard to piece anything together as far as any sort of story, but it’s great to just sit here and marvel at watching Wright and Sayama do their thing. This may as well have been a singles match, all Blackman does is bump around a bunch for Sayama, screw up and elbow drop Wright, and take the fall to a Tiger suplex. Kimura isn’t even shown in action here. But the main attraction is Sayama and Wright’s exchanges. Why didn’t Steve teach any of this to his kid, unless Steve fancied himself as a dancer as well, and that was just easier for Alex to grasp?
TIGER MASK © vs. BABY FACE (WWF Jr. Heavyweight Title)
Does this mean that Sayama is a heel? On the surface, this doesn’t look like it’s much good, it looks a lot like the Bret Hart match actually. But what makes this interesting is that Baby Face appears to have done his homework a bit, and Sayama is nice about making the holds that he’s stuck in show they’re having an effect. While it looks like Baby Face is just sitting there holding a simple armbar, Sayama is shown with a look of pain on his face, trying to clasp his hands together to relieve the pain. A little bit after that, Baby Face has what appears to be a chinlock applied, and Sayama is trying to bend back the arm so he can escape. As usual, once it’s off the mat, it’s all Sayama all the time. He sends Baby Face to the floor and fakes him out with a Tiger Feint Kick (619), which looks a little bit loose and shaky. Sayama goes for victory roll and Baby Face smartly shifts his weight to counter and lands on top, Sayama tries to power him over into his own pin, but that also looks ugly. Finally Sayama just plants him with the Tiger suplex and ends it. Sloppiness aside though, this is actually a fun little match, and along with Steve Wright, Baby Face is someone else I’d be interested in checking out again.
TIGER MASK © vs. BLACK TIGER (WWF Jr. Heavyweight Title)
“Pure Dynamite” states that Bad News Allen was the original choice to play Black Tiger, I’d actually like to see how that would have played out. I don’t foresee Bad News being the pinball for Sayama that everyone else seems to be. The Rocco version of BT isn’t the pinball either, it’s actually the first time someone has looked like they could beat Sayama. Not so much because of what he was actually doing, but because of how long he was able to do it, and how well Sayama was selling for him. Rocco mostly punches, kicks, and works various holds, it doesn’t look very threatening, but it’s remarkable how well Sayama makes them look effective.
However, despite the fact that Rocco is probably one of Sayama’s most common opponents, there are a fair number of odd moments into things. At one point Rocco picks up Sayama off the mat and then does a monkey flip. It was a cool looking spot, and a nice way to show off Rocco’s agility, but it was just so random. The Tombstone treatment is weird too. For all intents and purposes, it’s a big move and worthy of being a finisher, but they both hit it at one point, and it means nothing. Sayama is better about it, barely getting a shoulder up, whereas Rocco got planted with it, and as soon as Sayama started climbing to the top, Rocco was on his feet and cutting off Sayama. There’s a couple of nice revenge spots that Sayama is able to get in, which help lead to the non finish. The big one is Rocco kicking Sayama low when the ref’s back is turned. Sayama put it over awesomely, and it’s another case where you think Rocco can actually beat him, but Sayama returns the favor by crotching him on the top rope. There’s another one on the floor that’s easy to miss. When Rocco first gets his control segment, it’s on the heels of sending Sayama into the post. When Sayama follows him to the floor after the crotching, he throws Rocco into the post, and Rocco puts it over just as well as Sayama did. The finish is common for the time frame. They struggle to get into the ring, and neither makes it by the twenty count. It had some flaws, but it was refreshing to see someone who actually looked like they could hand Sayama a loss.
TATSUMI FUJINAMI/TIGER MASK/KENGO KIMURA vs. DYNAMITE KID/GREG VALENTINE/ BRET HART (2/3 Falls)
I’m not quite sure how exactly this made the cut for inclusion, if the producers just wanted something to lead into a Dynamite/Tiger Mask match, I’m sure there are plenty of other, and better, tag matches than this. There isn’t anything *bad* about this, but this really doesn’t have much to do with Sayama or DK. The first fall is basically just the filler/feeling out a portion. There isn’t anything of note that happens, but it sets the tone for the important theme. In a nutshell, it establishes Kimura as the low man on the totem pole. Dynamite, Hart, and Valentine all take their turns pounding on him. They don’t really do much other than take turns using him as a punching bag, although Valentine does drop a couple of elbows on him, but it’s more what message it sends, rather than what they do. When Kimura tags out, Fujinami and Sayama always have the gaijin bumping all over the ring. Kimura gets back in and tries to pull his weight by putting Bret in a Boston crab, and DK hits him from behind to break the hold up. DK and Valentine throw him to the floor and send him for a rail ride, with a pretty sick bump from Kimura, and the bell rings, the gaijin team is apparently disqualified.
The second fall is over almost as soon as it starts, thanks to Valentine being an opportunist. All three of the heels work over Kimura’s knee, and Valentine slaps on the figure four, this is actually probably the best part of the match that contain Sayama. He’s quick as lightning here, darting in and saving Kimura, and then darting back out. Eventually ‘The Hammer’ slaps the figure four back on, Bret holds back Sayama, and DK looks imposing enough to make Fujinami think the better of trying to save, and Kimura gives it up.
The heels try to end the third fall just as quick. Valentine, still the opportunist, tries to pull Kimura off the stretcher and keep things going. At first it looks good for them, but then Kimura makes the tag, and the match breaks down into the usual bit of mayhem. Dynamite and Sayama take things to the floor, Kimura holds back Valentine and Fujinami knocks Hart for a loop with an enzuigiri to give the good guys the win. It’s a fun little match, but why it was chosen for this particular collection is beyond me.
TIGER MASK © vs. DYNAMITE KID (WWF Jr. Heavyweight Title)
This is far and away, the best match of the tape. It’s not radically different from what came before it, the match is still largely an exhibition, but it’s not just an exhibition for Sayama. DK is sort of like a combo of Rocco and Wright, he’s able to hang with DK doing the flashy stuff, but is also able to control Sayama for extended periods of time, like Rocco was. DK lacks the showmanship of Wright, but he makes up for that with intensity and attitude. They both go full speed ahead, and like everyone else has on this tape, when Sayama hits something, even the simplest of moves, DK has his flying shoes on. But again, unlike everyone other than Rocco (who had to keep Sayama on the mat and trapped in basic holds) DK is able to hand the abuse back, but while Sayama uses his normal flashy stuff like the spinning kicks and flying cross chops, DK just mows him down with shoulder tackles, and tees off with punches and forearm shots.
These two may have been revolutionary in working matches of this style in Japan, but that’s not to say the matches are perfect. As typical with juniors matches, the early work, especially on the mat means very little in the grand scheme of things. The most frustrating thing, for me anyway, here was the way both of them just blew off the work being done to their knees. Working over the leg area, on either of them, seems to be a bit like Wrestling 101, you take out the leg and you take away the speed factor. But you’d never know it had any effect, at one point DK locks Sayama in a figure four, and Sayama gets the customary roll over reversal, which has DK writhing and screaming in pain. DK reaches the ropes for the break, and as soon as Sayama breaks, DK jumps to his feet and starts unloading all over again. As also seems be the case with Sayama, the finish comes out of left field and there doesn’t seem to be any build to it. Sayama was in the process of stringing some stuff together, but wiped out on a cross body press, DK planted him a tombstone and diving headbutt for a near fall. That by itself was okay, but then Sayama sends DK to the floor, and hits a big dive, and that was just after taking a fairly big move, and DK’s finisher. Sayama brings him in with a sort of gut wrench tombstone and hits the Tigersault to win. It’s somewhat forgivable since Sayama’s tombstone looked much nastier than DK’s, but it’d have been nice for Sayama to give DK’s big moves a bit more respect. Nonetheless, this is still quite the fun contest, and a good representation of why the TM/DK series is legendary, even if it doesn’t hold up under higher scrutiny. ***
Conclusion: If you’ve never seen Tiger Mask before, this isn’t a bad intro to him at all. Matches against his legendary opponents like Dynamite and Rocco, and a few surprises like the matches with Baby Face and the Steve Wright tag make this an easy thumbs up.
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