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NewsThe Best Of British, Vol. 10 - We Are The Champions

The Best Of British, Vol. 10 – We Are The Champions

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Dynamite Kid (English)

Tom Billington is one of the most influential in-ring performers in wrestling history. He is credited as innovating a style of wrestling which took from the British, Canadian, Mexican and Japanese styles. His most famous feuds were against Tiger Mask in Japan, and Bret Hart in Canada.

As a youngster in school, Billington was more interested in sports like wrestling and gymnastics over academics. He also trained in boxing, which instilled toughness in him. His father (the brother of Davey Boy Smith’s mother) was a miner and labourer, and would take Tom to see the wrestling in Wigan. As a way of avoiding work as a coal miner, Billington joined the local wrestling school.

In 1975, Billington joined the reformed Joint Promotions with Max Crabtree as the booker. During his time he won the British Lightweight title in 1977, and the Welterweight title in 1978. Aside from that, Big Daddy remained the top star, and was carefully positioned in tag teams with young bucks like Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith and Steven Regal to protect him. The idea was to have the young guys carry the match and tag Daddy in to finish. While it was good for TV, live events suffered as a result. It was around this time that Billington helped Chris Adams’ career and got him noticed by Stampede Wrestling. Adams would go on to train Stone Cold Steve Austin and several other talents.

Due to a lack of push in Joint Promotions, many young English wrestlers took their work to Japan and Canada in the late 70’s. This was a turning point in British Wrestling, as the talent who left went on to become household names in other promotions while British Wrestling struggled to draw like it once had, and there was no one to replace Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and others.

In Stampede Wrestling, Dynamite Kid was first noticed for his matches with upcoming star Bret Hart. Their matches were on another level of athleticism and helped to mold the ‘techincal’ style we know today. Despite them having differing opinions, Bret Hart still claims Dynamite Kid to be “pound-for-pound, the greatest wrestler who ever lived”. In 1979, Dynamite started taking steroids after Junkyard Dog introduced him to Dianabol. He was also introduced to speed by Jake Roberts.

After a successful run in Japan in 1979, Stu Hart switched his working relationship from IPW to New Japan. This was a smart move as the companies worked together throughout the 80’s. Because of this, Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask met in the ring. This was important in the evolution of light heavyweight wrestling, as it put the style on the map and inspired the next generation of wrestlers to join the industry knowing they had a place in a business filled with giants. One of their matches was given the honour of being the first ‘5 Star’ match in wrestling history by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. In 1984, Dynamite won a tournament to claim the UWA/New Japan sanctioned WWF Light Heavyweight Championship.

It was around this time that Chris Benoit showed interest in joining wrestling. He looked up to Bret Hart and Dynamite Kid as his idols. After watching tapes of matches between Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask, Chris was determined to follow in his footsteps. When he debuted in 1985, he was given the name ‘Dynamite’ Chris Benoit, and the resemblance was uncanny as he perfected his trademark moves such as the Diving Headbutt, the Snap Suplex, and the way he worked. For the rest of his career, he worked a style similar to Dynamite, with the same level of intensity. Daniel Bryan continued this tradition by adopting some of Dynamite’s moves and mannerisms into his arsenal.

In 1984, Dynamite Kid joined the World Wrestling Federation with Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart. After winning his debut tag match with partner Bret, the pair split with Dynamite joining Davey as The British Bulldogs, and Bret joining Jim Neidhart in The Hart Foundation, and the two teams started a rivalry. At Wrestlemania II, The British Bulldogs were accompanied by Captain Lou Albano and Ozzy Osbourne to challenge the tag team champions Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. They were victorious.

In late 1986, Dynamite picked up an injury in a tag match while holding one-half of the tag team titles. During this time, Davey Boy defended the titles with guest partners in Roddy Piper, Junkyard Dog and Billy Jack Haynes. While recovering from back injury, Bret Hart came to visit and stated that Vince had sent him to bring the tag belt back to the promotion, however Dynamite refused to hand it over. Shortly after checking himself out against doctor’s orders, Vince asked Dynamite and Davey to drop the titles to The Iron Sheik and Volkoff, and again refused as he wanted to drop the titles to the Hart Foundation.

In an odd match, Dynamite needed to be helped to the ring to defend the titles. He was knocked out early by Jimmy Hart’s megaphone as the team lost to The Hart Foundation. The team never reached success again, as they were primarily used as glorified jobbers to the top teams. in WWF, he was known as a tough guy and stiff worker. Foley went on to state he couldn’t eat solid food for a while after a stiff shot to the jaw. Randy Savage once asked Dynamite to watch his back in a bar filled with NWA Wrestlers. He was involved in many real-life backstage altercations with Jacques Rougeau, one incident saw Dynamite lose a few teeth after Rougeau punched him in the face. Dynamite and Bulldog left the WWF in 1988 over the principle of issuing complimentary plane tickets.

After leaving, the team returned to working in Stampede and Japan. In 1990, Davey broke up the team by returning to the WWF as The British Bulldog. As he trademarked the name in his first run, he was legally able to do so, and warned UK promotions not to label Dynamite Kid as a “British Bulldog” on their cards. Johnny Smith took Davey’s spot, as Smith and Dynamite worked in Japan as The British Bruisers. This was short-lived as he announced retirement in 1991. His premature retirement was due to years of steroid abuse (and one case of accidentally taking horse steroids), high-impact style, and illegal drug taking such as cocaine.

He wrestled again with Johnny Smith in 1993. He tried to get his younger brother into wrestling, and promoted tours, but they were not realised. It was round this time he divorced from his wife and moved back home to Wigan. Around this time he almost died twice in the same day after taking LSD with Dan Spivey. He wrestled his last match in 1996, but was a mere shadow of his former self. He suffered a seizure afterwards and was taken to hospital.

In 1997, Dynamite lost the use of his left leg and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He became a recluse and spent his days at home watching old videos of his matches. He hasn’t made many public appearances since. He was given a lifetime achievement award in 2014. He continues to be part of the lawsuit (with a group of former wrestlers) to sue WWE over concussion-related injuries. For years the bridges have never been fixed between Dynamite and the WWF/WWE, and with the ongoing lawsuit on concussions, the likelihood of a Hall of Fame induction decreases.

His legacy is truly Hall of Fame worthy. His innovation of the stiff light heavyweight style placed more emphasis on a wrestler’s skill and athleticism. He and Tiger Mask put on matches that were years ahead of their time, and still holds up to this day. However, his career was riddled with drug use and steroid abuse. His personality, and other circumstances made him difficult to work with. But just because he had a hard time in the business, does not mean we should allow that to overlook him. His accomplishments and contributions to the business are apparent to this day. Many of the wrestlers you see today, whether they saw Dynamite Kid’s matches or not, have been inadvertently effected by his work in Canada and Japan. Had he stayed healthy, and able to main relations with WWE, he could have a great trainer of the next generation.

Kendo Nagasaki (English)

The gimmick of Kendo Nagasaki has been used by two wrestlers, the original being Peter Thornley in the UK, and the second portrayed by Kazuo Sakurada to Japanese and American audiences in the 80’s. The gimmick is one of a masked Japanese warrior with a mysterious past and supernatural powers.

Peter Thornley debuted as Kendo Nagasaki in 1964. His most notable match in the 60’s was beating his mentor Count Bartelli. He made his debut on World Of Sport in 1971, beating Wayne Bridges in his first match. For the next few years I gained mainstream popularity as he feuded with top stars like Big Daddy. In 1977 he appeared in an unmasking ceremony in one of the most hyped and viewed segments in the history of World Of Sport. In 1978 he retired from the ring on doctor’s orders.

Thornley discussed the relationship with his character in an interview in 1976 in which he claimed that his Nagasaki character was “The spirit of a samurai warrior who, 300 years ago, lived in the place that is now called Nagasaki” which he had contacted while in “a trance state” during meditation.”

He returned between 1981-1982 to wrestle Nagasaki impersonator King Kendo. Between 86-93, he wrestled in All Star Wrestling against British talents Giant Haystacks, Steve Regal, and Robbie Brookside. He made a millennium comeback in 2000, and retired again after winning a Four Corners match in 2001. He returned to wrestling in 2007 for LDN Wrestling, reigniting his feud with Robbie Brookside. The last recorded match saw Kendo team with Blondie Barratt to win the LDN Tag Team Championships.

There’s a reason Nagasaki’s name is still mentioned today. His gimmick was far ahead of its time. With the powers of healing and hypnosis, these traits added to the mystifying and unpredictable persona. His mask added to the mystery further, as he was unmasked several times before his official ceremony. As an English wrestler, he combined a Japanese gimmick, a Lucha Libre tradition, and his style of wrestling to bring something unique to the British public.

As a heel he used his powers to gain an advantage over his opponents, as well as utilize a manager to assist further. If I was going to compare him to anyone in WWE, I would say he was like The Undertaker in the way he was able to get everything out of his gimmick and ring performances. A true professional, and no one had a bad word to say about him.

Just like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, and Mick McManus, he was one of the biggest draws of the World Of Sport era. And he is the last one to be featured in the Best Of British, because he was essential in creating other stars like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, and the history books will look back on that and remember Nagasaki as one of the greatest characters in the history of wrestling.

The British Bulldog (English)

Davey Boy Smith was born in Golborne, Wigan in 1962. He started wrestling on World Of Sport in 1978 at the age of 15 under the ring name Young David, often teaming with his older cousin Tom Billington. At this time he noticed by Stu Hart, who asked Davey to travel to Canada to train in the Hart Family Dungeon. He soon became a key wrestler in Stu’s Stampede promotion. In 1982, Davey feuded with Dynamite Kid over the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title.

While working in Japan in 1983, Davey and Dynamite put their differences aside and formed the team of the British Bulldogs. In 1984, the team shocked New Japan by showing up in All Japan’s annual tag team tournament. After a nice showing in the event, WWF took notice of the team. In 1985, Vince McMahon bought out Stampede Wrestling and the British Bulldogs signed with the WWF.

There’s different accounts of what led to the departure of The British Bulldogs in 1988. Dynamite said it was a dispute with WWF management over plane tickets, whereas Bret Hart stated it was because management decided not to punish Jacques Rougeau for punching Dynamite’s teeth out, so Dynamite and Davey were upset over it and left.

After their departures the team returned to the reformed Stampede Wrestling and struggling All Japan promotions. Following an unsuccessful run, it was decided to split the team up which didn’t go down well with owner Giant Baba. In 1989, Davey Boy Smith, Chris Benoit, Ross Hart and Jason The Terrible were involved in a car crash. Smith wasn’t wearing a seatbelt so he needed 135 stitches after crashing through the windshield and landing 25 feet away. When he recovered, The British Bulldogs reunited for a brief run before personal issues surfaced, leading to a decision by Davey to return to the WWF without Dynamite.

From 1990-1992, Davey changed his name to The British Bulldog and worked in the mid-card feuding with Warlord and Mr. Perfect. Thanks to the WWF becoming a success in the UK on Sky Sports, and UK tours highlighting Bulldog going over in matches, his popularity soared in the eyes of the British public. His popularity grew so large that the WWF decided to hold Summerslam in Wembley Stadium; the last time the promotion has held a major PPV event in the UK. At Summerslam 1992, in front of 80,355 British fans, Bulldog headlined the event as challenger to Bret Hart’s Intercontinental championship. After what critics say was the finest match of his career, he won the championship and celebrated the biggest moment of his career.

The original plan was to have Bret drop the title to Shawn Michaels, but because Summerslam was held in the UK, it was decided to give the belt to Bulldog before passing it on to Michaels. Bulldog and The Ultimate Warrior were released from their contracts after they were found to be receiving shipments of Human Growth Hormone from a pharmacy in England.

In 1993, Davey Boy Smith debuted in WCW. He engaged in feuds with Vader and Sid Vicious, as well as forming an alliance with Sting. During the same year he was involved in an altercation with a man who was hitting on his wife in a bar, leading WCW to release him. He returned to the WWF at Summerslam 94, siding with Bret in his feud with Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart.

At the 1995 Royal Rumble, Bulldog looked set to win the match after throwing Michaels over the top rope, but only one of his feet touched the floor so he was able to get back in and eliminate Bulldog to win the match. After many changes to the booking of a match involving his new partnership with Lex Luger ‘The Allied Powers’, Bulldog made a heel turn and sided with Owen and Yokozuna before attacking WWF Champion Diesel. He won a WWF Championship match against Diesel by disqualification at In Your House 4. In December at In Your House 5, he was granted a title shot against new champion Bret Hart in a rematch to their Summerslam encounter. After another highly praised match, Bret came out the victor this time.

In 1996, Bulldog entered into a feud with new WWF Champion Shawn Michaels over Diana Hart’s comments about HBK hitting on her. He was unsuccessful in claiming the title on two occasions. He soon returned to the mid-card, this time in a tag team with Owen Hart which saw them win the WWF World Tag Team Championships. In 1997, a tournament was created to crown the new WWF European Champion, Bulldog defeated his partner Owen in the finals to become the first champion. He holds the record for the longest single title reign in the titles history, a total of seven months before dropping it to Shawn Michaels.

The UK fans did not agree with the decision to have Bulldog drop the European title to Michaels in his home country, so they booed Michaels and littered the ring. After the Montreal Screwjob, Bulldog decided to depart with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart and returned to WCW. After a series of injuries in 1998, one of which was caused by a trap door for Warrior’s entrance (which almost left him paralyzed), he received a FedEx from WCW informing him his contract was terminated.

After the death of Owen Hart in 1999, Bulldog returned for one last run in the WWF. With a change of image (dropping the Rule Britannia theme and Union Flag attire), Bulldog started wrestling in the Hardcore division. He beat Big Boss Man for the Hardcore Championship, and shortly after handed it back to the previous champion Al Snow. Then he entered into a feud with WWF Champion The Rock, but again was unable to claim the promotions top title. In late 1999, he defeated D’Lo Brown to claim the European title for a second time. In May 2000, Bulldog beat Crash Holly for the Hardcore title, and lost it again five days later to Crash.

His last match was against Eddie Guerrero on Sunday Night Heat. He burst into Eddie and Chyna’s locker room and accused Eddie of not treating the European title with the respect it deserves. This led to the match which ended in double disqualification. He was soon released from his contract as personal issues, such as his divorce from Diana, and his problems with painkillers and other drugs (to alleviate his back injury suffered in WCW) led him into a drug rehab clinic paid for by Vince McMahon.

In his final days he was planning on getting married to his girlfriend, and was training for a return to wrestling. He worked a few tag matches with his son Harry Smith the weekend before his death. On May 18th 2002, he suffered a heart attack while on holiday with his girlfriend. It was not made clear what caused it, but an autopsy revealed many contributing factors such as steroid abuse, stress, injuries, and illegal drugs as possible causes.

Bulldog’s legacy is one of popularity. He is arguably the most popular wrestler in British wrestling history, with fans all over the world knowing of his work. He was part of the drug culture which many other wrestlers suffered with. An ever-increasing demand to look great, keep match quality high, and not break down over a long period was always going to lead to wrestlers going too far and putting their lives at risk. It seems silly now, but it could have been avoided had wrestling promotions clamped down on performance enhancing and limited schedules so wrestlers had more time to rest between shows. It remains unknown why The British Bulldog is not in the WWE Hall Of Fame.

And that’s all from me. This has been the Best Of British, and you have reached the end. 10 volumes of British talent for you to revisit when you like. You might even tell your friends about it. I hope this series has shown wrestling fans a different side of the business. A side which often goes ignored. We are British, and we F’N love our wrestling. We are the loudest and most passionate fans, and we always have been. One day we will celebrate a British WWE Champion. One day we might be proud to have our own global wrestling promotion. Til then, we will cheer those who continue to scratch and claw their way up the ranks. Thanks for reading everyone, it’s been a fun series.

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