Scout Report by Wrestlingscout
Tiger Mask/Dynamite Kid - The Great Sasuke/Wild Pegasus
I am always mystified how great combinations in pro wrestling are often repeated time and time again. It can be funny how the past repeats itself, but when a booker sees a good thing, why not try and emulate it. When a hot native star is pitted against a rough gaijin in puroresu - success often followed. Though Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu helped work this long-running feud model around this time, one would come about that spawned a phenomenon.
In the 1980s, New Japan was a hot young promotion with Inoki and Sakaguchi running the show. The #3 man in the promotion, Fujinami, was one of the top junior heavyweights in the world. Juniors at that time were usually just faster, lighter versions of their heavyweight counterparts. The roster was also made up of straightforward wrestlers. New Japan was looking to recreate a cartoon character, who would have instant appeal to younger fans. The man they chose was a well-traveled, well-rounded wrestler named Satoru Sayama. Sayama had a unique style that blended Mexican Lucha Libre, Japanese martial arts, and European chain wrestling. He was given a hood and became Tiger Mask.
His first bout was with a successful heel from Great Britian named Tom Billington, who wrestled as - the Dynamite Kid. Billington came from the famed Snake Pit in his homeland and had been successful there before becoming Stampede's top draw. The Kid was rough and reckless, which made him the perfect opponent for this new fan favorite.
The two meet many times in the early 80s in everywhere from Korakuen Hall to Madison Square Garden and they stole the show every time. Dynamite pounded and grinded away on Tiger Mask, who always rebounded with stiff kicks and fabulous highspots. Their matches were so spectacular that Tiger Mask in addition to becoming NWA Middleweight, WWWF Junior Heavyweight, and NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, he became the second biggest star in New Japan.
Tiger Mask's character became a hero to everyone and his highflying and hard kicking replaced the traditional smaller heavyweight style. Junior Heavyweights were now valued for doing their own thing and the division went from undercard filler to top card challenging show-stealers. Men like Black Tiger (Mark Rocco), "The Cobra" George Takano, and Kunaki Kobayashi were given a chance to shine. New Japan's juniors became a crucial part to their success and it often kept them alive when All Japan's heavyweight matches far surpassed their's.
The division produced great match-ups that become a major part of puroresu. A junior heavyweight division became a must for groups. And companies like Michinoku Pro, Osaka Pro, and Toryumon became based on the style. It remained NJPW's forte with their Best of the Super Juniors round robins, but it was the J Cup in 1994 that became a historical event. The tournament consisted of the best in the business: Jushin "Thunder" Lyger, Black Tiger (Eddy Guerrero), Gedo, and numerous others. It was two young men who carved their way that night though: The Great Sasuke and Wild Pegasus.
Masanori Murakawa was a gifted highflyer who had made his name with Yoshihiro Asai and the UWA, then later with FMW. He idolized Tiger Mask growing up and too wore a hood and had a cartoon-like character - The Great Sasuke. His counterpart, Wild Pegasus a.k.a. Chris Benoit, was a carbon-copy of the Dynamite Kid in almost everyway. He had trained in New Japan's dojo and had been competing as the masked Pegasus Kid for a while. This night was a break out night for both men.
On April 16, 1994 in the Sumo Hall in Tokyo, 11,500 fans saw a spectacular night of strictly junior heavyweight wrestling. Sasuke wrestled three of the greatest matches of his career in one night against El Samurai, Jushin Lyger, and of course Wild Pegasus. The matches helped elevate him out of under promotions to the point where he became a huge star, promoter for Michinoku Pro, and even the first J-Crown winner two years later. For the winner, Chris Benoit it helped his career take off not only in Japan, but in the United States. Benoit used this win as a platform to becoming a star in ECW, WCW and most recently the WWF.
The similarities between the Tiger Mask - Dynamite Kid battles and the Great Sasuke - Wild Pegasus match are haunting. Although the native was given the win in the 80s as opposed to the gaijin in the 90s, there is still an echoing sentiment that juniors have an important place in this business. While it is often the heavyweights get the main event statuses and are pushed over smaller wrestlers, it is these "inferior" athletes who bring the speed, agility, and aerial ability to the shows. Just like Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid stole the MSG show from WWWF champion Bob Backlund in `82, the J-Cup was New Japan's best show of the year. Junior Heavyweights, Light Heavyweights, Cruiserweights, no matter what name you give them, they are a vital part of wrestling.
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