Today’s wrestling fans take for granted the flashy, high-flying, technical-based wrestling associated with smaller wrestlers. During the peak of WCW, the Cruiserweight Division was the company’s “car-crash” hour. Executive Director Eric Bischoff used the innovative, fast-paced matches to compel his viewers to stay tuned. Most would call this style “luchador” wrestling, and this isn’t all wrong. But even before Mexico popularized this style of wrestling, one British wrestler had already established the framework.
Thomas Billington, known by his ring-name The Dynamite Kid, was a wrestler years ahead of his time. Long before the days of Eddie Guerrero and Daniel Bryan, The Dynamite Kid showed fans that wrestling was more than power and rest holds. He showed the world that wrestling could be as exciting as a Hollywood blockbuster or Kung Fu film, without losing psychology and characterization.
Praised with the most highly rated matches in the sport for his feud with the original Tiger Mask, The Dynamite Kid was also a world-renowned tag team specialist. He is perhaps best known to American fans as one-half of the British Bulldogs tag-team, where he wrestled in the 80s with his cousin, the late Davey Boy Smith. Dynamite Kid was a universal star who bridged the gaps between several countries and their respective styles. He invented many of the moves seen on nearly every wrestling program, yet very few fans know his name. The Dynamite Kid changed the wrestling business, and this is why.
10. Innovated the Superplex
Turn on any wrestling program, and you’ll see the maneuver done in nearly every match. One competitor tries to dive off the top rope. Their opponent jumps to his feet and a battle ensues atop the turnbuckle. The ensuing top rope vertical suplex is an invention of The Dynamite Kid. He also popularized another, more destructive move (see below), but this is perhaps his most recognizable contribution to the wrestling business.
The Dynamite Kid combined two already recognized facets of a match. The first: a traditional vertical suplex. The second: a struggle to knock the opponent off the top rope. Enter Dynamite Kid to forever change the course of wrestling by inventing one move larger than his career. That’s what innovators do: create timeless contributions.
9. Worldwide Star in US, Japan, Canada, and Europe
Before the days of cable TV and the Internet, wrestlers had to work hard in a particular territory to earn a reputation. For instance, while Ric Flair is considered one of the most complete wrestlers in the history of this industry, during his heyday he was only known in Southern territories such as North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. That’s not a knock on the man, that’s just how the business was in those days. Yet somehow Dynamite Kid was able to leap over these territorial divides and establish a track record not only in multiple parts of the US, but in the markets of other countries as well.
Consider this: Dynamite Kid was born in England, completed his training in Canada, traveled the roads of America, and became a legend in Japan. Add to his tours of Mexico, and you have a wrestler who transcended national barriers before such a trend existed.
8. Bad-Ass With Sense Of Humor
If you read Dynamite Kid’s autobiography “Pure Dynamite,” you’ll find many stories of both his intense, serious side and his light-hearted, pranking nature. Even with pranks, however, you often find a chilling, sadistic approach. One example is when Dynamite Kid tricked his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, into injecting milk in his body instead of steroids.
What you find in the book overall, however, is a man you’d be afraid to cross paths with. Although The Dynamite Kid was short in stature, he was also quite dangerous. He could hurt you, and he wasn’t afraid to. He had the massive Andre the Giant at his mercy on several occasions. Consider that, and you’ll know why his opponents feared him as much as they did.
7. Who Said Small Meant Lightweight?
Remember Rey Mysterio? Before his WWE run, Remember his small frame? Now compare that image to how Mysterio grew later on. You have a growth of about half of Dynamite Kid’s throughout his career.
When Dynamite Kid first burst onto the scene in Stampede Wrestling run by the Hart Family in Alberta, Canada, he was paper thin. Not as small as ROH’s Cheeseburger, but you get the idea. With the help of more than a few supplements, he ballooned. Some of his later footage is downright frightening. No man should reach those levels of girth.
Dynamite Kid also takes credit for introducing a lot of the boys to steroids. Perhaps this is a negative contribution. Still, Kid challenged what fans and promoters alike considered a smaller wrestler. He was one of the first to combine a rugged, powerhouse style with brilliant technical and fast-paced moves.
6. Ambassador Of Multiple Styles
Hybrid wrestlers are another part of today’s wrestling world that fans take for granted. Wrestlers such as Daniel Bryan and CM Punk are highly regarded for their striking as well as their technical prowess and ability to perform unbelievable athletic displays. Dynamite Kid had all of this and more, and in an era when guys had one style and one style only.
Dynamite Kid first trained in the notorious wrestling dojos of Wigan, England. He then moved to Canada and trained at the most highly decorated training facility in the wrestling world: the Dungeon run by Hart Family patriarch Stu Hart. This is all before he mastered the Japanese Strong Style during his bouts to the East. Dynamite Kid was a complete wrestler in every sense of the word, one who embodied the philosophy of every school where he graduated.
5. Inspired A Generation
Ask Bret Hart who his favorite wrestler is. Bret learned the ropes early in his career working with The Dynamite Kid in Stampede Wrestling. The two had matches that showed talent and psychology well beyond their years. But the influence of Dynamite Kid is not limited to the “best there is, best there was, and best there ever will be.”
Speaking about Chris Benoit after what he did is quite difficult. Yet regardless of his shocking, heinous actions, Benoit was a stellar performer between the ropes. Benoit could have easily gone down as one of the top ten wrestlers in history. His mastery of the art of professional wrestling came as a result of the direct tutelage of The Dynamite Kid.
A more pleasant example is Daniel Bryan. If you check his early work in Ring of Honor, where he wrestled under his real name, Bryan Danielson, you’ll find a near carbon copy of The Dynamite Kid. In a good way. You see hints of The Kid in some of today’s stars such as Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro. As good as everybody in this list is, there’s no supplement for the original.
4. Regarded For Both Singles And Tag Team Matches
The Dynamite Kid is perhaps best known to fans in America for his tag team work. The tag division in the 1980s was stellar. The perennial champions were The Hart Foundation, but champions are only as good as their rivals. The British Bulldogs were the workhorses that helped put the Hart Foundation on the map.
As good as the Bulldogs were, the individual parts became some of the best singles performers in the business. Fans of WWF and WCW need no introduction to “The British Bulldog,” Davey Boy Smith. Some could argue, however that his cousin is the standout of the duo.
In his legendary rivalry with Japanese star Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid paved a road of quality that few could follow. No exaggeration, every major feud in the industry since is but a fraction of the magic that existed between these two light heavyweights, one from England, one from Japan.
3. Redefined The Term “Rivalry”
Think about all of the major rivalries in the history of wrestling. You got: Flair/Steamboat, Bret/HBK, Austin/Rock, Booker/Benoit, Guerrero/Malenko, Taker/HBK, Kobashi/Misawa, and the list goes on. Whilst many of these feuds were built around promos and storylines, they captivated audiences with amazing matches. And you won’t find better matches than the series between Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask.
Whereas the major rivalries listed above have one match that defines their feud, the matches between Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask are impossible to separate. These two men took competition to an entirely new plateau. Watching the bouts, you’ll even find their chain wrestling and chin locks compelling. Everything had a purpose and was done with sheer brilliance. Most of their contests are available on the Internet, even for those without NJPW World. Do yourself a favor and look them up. You’ll find the personification of everything great about this business.
2. Invented The Tombstone Piledriver
The bell tolls, and every fan knows who’s next down the aisle. The Undertaker has dominated the WWE for 25 years now. This dominance, of course, is backed by the power of his finishing move, The Tombstone Piledriver. Very few have overcome this maneuver, and that speaks just as much about the move as it does The Taker.
The Tombstone is banned in WWE for everybody other than Undertaker and Kane. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin suffered a nasty neck injury after a botched Tombstone from Owen Hart, to show you how dangerous the move is – almost as dangerous as the man who invented it.
Although Dynamite Kid is more known for his high-flying displays, he mixed up his offense with brute power. Nothing says power more than the Tombstone.
1. Earned Respect For The Little Guy
The wrestling business has always had an obsession with size. In some eras and for some promoters, a wrestler’s size was directly related to his position on the card. Some considered smaller wrestlers as something of a side show act. In fact, Vince McMahon’s rationale for deconstructing the Cruiserweight/Light Heavyweight Division is that he feels it creates a stigma which limits a wrestler. We’ve since seen Rey Mysterio defeat The Big Show and Eddie Guerrero defeat Brock Lesnar. Dynamite Kid opened the door for smaller guys getting a shot atop the card.
While Dynamite Kid never achieved a reign as Heavyweight Champion during his stint with the WWF, that says nothing about his ability to perform. He was in the promotion during the time when size reigned supreme, when champions pushed the limits of seven feet tall. In truth, the champions of the time couldn’t keep up with Dynamite Kid in the ring.
Still, his shadow inspired many wrestlers to enter the business. This wave of wrestlers understood their genetic limits and brought something fresh to the table. They built an innovative approach to storytelling with competition and excitement at the core.
Sometimes leaders are reduced to living in the shadows. The wrestling business owes a great deal of thanks to The Dynamite Kid for all of his contributions. His name is not often heard, and that’s a shame because he changed the business forever.