His high-flying, aerial spots, and solid technical prowess made him a beloved figure in Japan and a huge influence on wrestlers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain.
Real Name: Tom Billington
Stats: 5′ 8″ 228 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
At one time in the history of wrestling, the division now known as cruiserweights or lightheavyweights received very little fanfare or prestige, despite its long history and the talents of its participants. As is currently (and always has been) the case, wrestlers in the lighter weight division had to work much harder to attract and maintain the interest of the wrestling public, which has traditionally preferred their gigantic heavyweight counterparts. Another similarity between Junior Heavyweights of the past and Cruiserweights of the present is that the division’s success is being spearheaded by a few select, highly talented wrestlers. In the 1990’s it’s been Brian Pillman, Chris Jericho, Jushin Liger, Rey Mysterio Jr., Taka Michinoku and others. In the mid-late 1970’s, the elite Junior Heavyweights of the day included Tatsumi Fujinami, Les Thatcher, Tiger Mask, and the high-flying British sensation known as The Dynamite Kid, Tom Billington…
The Dynamite Kid was a world-traveler, and wrestled frequently on his home continent of Europe, as well competing regularly in Canada, the U.S. and Japan. His talent was known far and wide, even before he gained “mainstream” fame along with countryman Davey Boy Smith as part of The British Bulldogs, during the WWF’s incredible explosion of popularity in the mid-1980’s. In the 10 years he wrestled prior to entering the World Wrestling Federation, Tom Billington clearly established himself as one of, if not the top, Junior Heavyweight in the world. His style, and execution of particular moves (such as the Snap-Suplex) has been an inspiration for numerous wrestlers, including many heavyweights. In what has got to be an honor for Billington, even multi-time WWF-WCW World champion Bret “Hitman” Hart has openly stated that he directly copied the style of his favorite wrestler, The Dynamite Kid, when perfecting his “excellence of execution”.
The supremely conditioned Dynamite Kid’s technique of incorporating impressive, high-flying moves with a truly dangerous and equally exciting mat attack also had a huge influence on his Japanese audience, which included many future Lightweight superstars. Be it North America, Europe or Japan, The Dynamite Kid helped keep the Junior Heavyweight-Light Heavyweight-Cruiserweight division alive during a very trying time for the lighter weight class. Without The Kid’s incredible talent and ability to draw interest, as well as live audiences, the high-flyers of today might not have had such a comfortable place in the current wrestling product.
He began his career wrestling as a teenager in the gritty, underground world of the British independent scene, and quickly gained a reputation throughout Europe for being a future star. His explosive timing and high-impact repertoire earned him his nickname, and more importantly, championship after championship. He won the British Lightweight championship in 1977 and the British Welterweight title in 1978.
After conquering Europe, The Kid traveled to The Great White North, and more specifically, Stu Hart’s Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling promotion. The regional Canadian promotion had one of the best reputations for giving Junior Heavyweights a fair shot, and was known as a great training ground for up-and-coming wrestlers. The Dynamite Kid brought his European style and with some help from Hart’s instruction, integrated it with the catch-as-catch-can style of the Stampede wrestlers. The result was a wrestling style that was exciting, believable, and very popular with the fans. While in the Stampede promotion, The Kid captured the British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title (twice) in 1978 and the World Mid-Heavyweight title in 1979. It was as World Mid-Heavyweight champion that he began a bitter feud with a young Bret Hart, a feud that traversed the entire Calgary territory. In 1980, he continued his feud with the Harts by teaming with Luke McMasters, and later, Kasavudu to defeat Keith and Bret Hart for the Stampede International Tag Team title. He also won the Stampede Int. Tag title with Duke Myers in 1982, this time defeating Bret Hart & Leo Burke, as well as two reigns with Davey Boy Smith. By 1984, The Dynamite Kid had put on enough bulk to compete as a heavyweight, and he snared a Stampede North American Heavyweight title in 1984 when he defeated the hated Killer Khan.
His success was just as great in Japan, where The Kid was a major superstar. While in the Orient, Billington captured the WWF World Junior Heavyweight title in 1984, and in 1985, the NWA International Junior Heavyweight title. When The Kid (along with Johnny Smith) jumped from New Japan to All Japan, his winning ways continued. In 1991, The Kid & Johnny Smith won the All Asia Tag Team title, defeating Kenta Kobashi & Johnny Ace. It was also in Japan that the heavily-favored Kid was upset by the debuting (and soon to be legendary) Tiger Mask on January 1, 1982. The Dynamite Kid was a major competitor within the brand-new, and highly popular, IWGP Junior Heavyweight division during its formative years in the early 1980’s. However, at the same time back in Calgary, The Kid was squaring off in a heated feud with the young man who would eventually accompany him to unimagined fame, Davey Boy Smith…
Smith and The Kid — cousins in the “real world” — were intense rivals prior to their inspired union, and the two equally matched Junior Heavyweights (the heavily-muscled Smith was much smaller during this period of time, as was The Kid) wrestled in cities all across the Stampede territory in a feud that lasted for years. However, when they put their differences aside and agreed to form a tag team, the careers of both men skyrocketed to new heights.
The British Bulldogs are generally thought of as one of the greatest teams of the late 20th century, and their precise teamwork, agility, stealth and power was a model for all other tag teams. Although their one WWF World Tag title reign lasted just 9 months (a relatively short reign for that period of time) the team made a profound impact during their 3-year stay in the WWF. Although their pure wrestling ability was often overshadowed by the cartoonish aspect of the wrestlers who made up the WWF during the mid-1980’s, the Bulldogs consistently made fans notice them, until the WWF had no choice but to give them a title run. The British Bulldogs were an exemplary tag team, and true crowd-pleasers that the WWF ‘s bookers could always count on to deliver a high-quality match. Unfortunately for most of the WWF’s roster of one-dimensional giants in the 1980’s, going on after The Bulldogs could (and did) expose their lack of ring technique to the fans, who, after being blown away by the intensity and skill of a Bulldogs vs. Hart Foundation battle, would often sit on their hands during Hulk vs. Whoever. But even the professional demeaner and no-nonsense style of the Bulldogs was not immune to the frequently childish storylines and gimmicks of the WWF during the mid-1980’s…and soon, the Bulldogs started bringing their own bulldog to the ring. The pooch, named Matilda, would often scare off the Bulldogs’ frightened opponents, and one man in particular, “The Weasel” Bobby Heenan. However, it was later announced that Matilda was missing, and that the canine had actually been “dog-knapped”. The Bulldogs appeared distraught, unable to cope with life minus Matilda, and pleaded for her return. Meanwhile, Heenan offered false sympathy, and dropped hints that he might know the whereabouts of “that flee-ridden mut.” The WWF, humanitarian entity that it is, tried to “help” by starting a “Get Well Matilda” crusade, in which WWF fans were encouraged, week after week, several times per show, to send in their messages of support for Matilda and The Bulldogs. It was never actually explained just how sending a post card to a dog could help the scruffy little guy — or how the WWF would be able to forward the bags of mail to the supposedly missing canine, for that matter. The whole affair was very childish and rather embarrassing to the Bulldogs, their fans, and even the WWF. Not long afterward, the British Bulldogs left the WWF, returning “home” to Stampede Wrestling.
At the time, the move from the WWF to Stampede was a shock to wrestling fans. After all, the WWF was at the height of its fame and power, and Stampede Wrestling, while respected, drew crowds that often would not exceed even 1,000 fans. What fans didn’t realize back then was that behind the scenes at the WWF, Billington had burned many bridges with both wrestlers and front office personel, which probably had more to do with the Bulldogs returning to Stampede than any other factor. Nevertheless, the now world famous Bulldogs returned to the Calgary mat wars, as well as travelling to the AWA’s Central States promotion (after the territory had withdrawn from the NWA) to take on The Rock `N Roll Express in what was built up as a Tag Team “dream match”. The former respective NWA and WWF World Tag Team champions never really settled the question of who was the better team, but their mini-feud was still a independent wrestling highlight of the late 1980’s.
Smith and The Kid, however, soon had a bitter falling out with Davey Boy, not only turning his back on on his longtime partner, but also his loyal fans. Davey Boy’s cousin, Johnny Smith, was recruited into the war by The Kid, and the feud was shaping up to be the main attraction of Stampede for some time to come. However, Davey Boy was unexpectedly involved in a serious car wreck which took him out of the picture for quite some time, effectively ending their feud. It is said in some circles that the late 1980’s Stampede feud was simply a portrayal of the “real-life” personality conflicts between the longtime partners/cousins which manifested after years of spending virtually every day with one another. Other “inside” reports were that The Kid was living on the edge, so to speak, and could be a very difficult, tempermental and easily-provoked individual. Whatever the case, their split in Calgary in 1989 marked the end of the British Bulldogs forever…
Although Smith would go on to a long career that would see him gain solo success in the WWF and WCW, Tom “The Dynamite Kid” Billington’s storied career was about to end. After 15 years in the ring, he was no longer “The Kid” he once was, and the years of injuries, surgery, and then more abuse to his body finally took their toll. Billington’s back was simply too battered to continue wrestling, and the career of one of the greatest Junior Heavyweights and Tag Team wrestlers in the history of the sport was forced to come to an end. Sadly, Billington is now essentially bed-ridden, paralyzed due to complications from a series of back injuries. The former worldwide superstar now lives modestly in his native England, and has written a book about his trials and tribulations in and out of pro wrestling.
Fittingly, The Kid’s influence is still being felt in the styles, techniques and manuevers of current wrestlers like Bret and Owen Hart, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon — and many others — who employ ring styles that have more than a few similarities to that of The Dynamite Kid. It’s no coincidence that those who have adopted The Kid’s style and execution of moves are all regarded as some of the most exciting, believable wrestlers currently in the business. In perhaps his most lasting contribution, if you watch a Chris Benoit or Bret Hart match today, in a sense you are watching the Dynamite Kid from 1980. For those who saw him in his Middle weight prime, the resemblance in the technique of The Kid when compared to that of Benoit or Hart is striking, if not an outright copy. A genuine trailblazer, his importance to the sport in both the lighweight and tag team divisions is frequently overlooked by contemporary fans, despite its legitimacy. So much more than just “the other British Bulldog”, in his day, The Dynamite Kid — with his precise timing, razor-sharp delivery, and ability to make everything happening in the ring seem very “real” — was about as good as you could get inside the ring. With that in mind, we at The Ring Chronicle proudly induct “The Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington, the high-flyer who could grapple with the best of them, into his deserved spot within the T.R.C. Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…