5-Star Match Reviews: Dynamite Kid vs. Tiger Mask – NJPW, April 21st, 1983
This is said to be one of if not the most revolutionary wrestling matches in history. It pitted two of the quickest and most innovative wrestlers of their day against one another. Both were in their primes, making waves around the world for their incredible wrestling skills. Though it wasn’t the first match to do so, it was the highest-profile match at the time to get rated five stars by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
Now, thirty-seven years later and after countless changes and transformations in the wrestling industry, we’ll see if this match does indeed hold up.
There’s not much to a story here. NJPW was pushing smaller wrestlers more than any other company in the world, and Tiger Mask was their main star in that division. He was quickly becoming the hottest star in the Japanese wrestling scene, and the company wanted him to take on some gaijins to give him more of an international reputation. Enter the Dynamite Kid, an internationally-recognized worker of great repute who was making a name for himself in the English-speaking world as arguably the most transformative wrestler of that decade.
Dynamite was touring Japan at the time, and earned a shot at the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship that Tiger Mask held at the time. This was before NJPW severed ties with the NWA and created its own IWGP titles.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll be referring to Tiger Mask as ‘Tiger’ going forward.
This match is for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. Tiger extends his arm for a handshake but Dynamite walks away. The bell rings and the crowd is already pretty hot. Dynamite starts with a standing armlock, but Tiger does some lightning-quick flips and transitions to escape. I’ve seen very few wrestlers, even today, move that quickly. Dynamite cinches in a headlock followed by a few strikes and a reverse chinlock. Tiger tries to throw him off but Dynamite keeps it locked in. Dynamite hits a falling elbow and pins but Tiger kicks out at one. Tiger tries a headlock of his own but Dynamite whips him, only to eat a shoulder block for his efforts. Dynamite gets up right away and Tiger flips over his back. We have a stalemate. Dynamite charges but eats a spinkick and falls out of the ring. Tiger charges and flies through the ropes with a suicide plancha. Great move.
Both get in the ring at the ref’s count of 18 (out of 20). Tiger hits a vertical suplex and climbs a corner but Dynamite cuts him off and throws him off the top turnbuckle. Gorgeous missile dropkick by Dynamite. Dynamite kips up and cinches in another chinlock and starts working the head and neck. Tiger escapes a neck lock with a flip and stomps on Dynamite. He kicks Dynamite a few times and whips him, but Dynamite hits a huge shoulder block that sends Tiger flying (literally).
Tiger hits Dynamite with a diving elbow smash. Tiger tries a bow-and-arrow hold, but can’t get Dynamite up for it. He goes for some other leg hold, but Dynamite answers by pulling in Tiger’s mask. Dynamite eventually reverses this with a facelock and tries ripping the mask once they’re both vertical, but Tiger fights back. Tiger whips Dynamite, but Dynamite nonchalantly sidesteps Tiger as he tries a flying forearm and faceplants. Dynamite charges, but Tiger ducks and sends him over the rope and out of the ring. Tiger charges and does the Tiger Feint Kick (i.e. the 619), which the crowd loves.
Dynamite returns to the ring and hits a single leg takedown and transitions into an Indian deathlock of sorts. Tiger eventually fights out of it, whips Dynamite and hits a big clothesline to send him back down. A flip senton/elbow combo by Tiger gets a one-count. He cinches in another headlock, but Dynamite reverses that into a sort of camel clutch and also goes back to pulling on the mask. He actually succeeds in tearing a bit of the mask off, but the referee pulls Dynamite off of Tiger…very forcefully. Dynamite hits a picture-perfect snap suplex that gets a two-count, and hammers away with grounded strikes for a one-count. A gutwrench suplex also gets a two-count, then Dynamite locks in another neck lock that goes on for quite a bit.
At the ten-minute mark, Tiger escapes that hold and locks in a Romero special. After escaping that, Dynamite teases a Tombstone Piledriver but Tiger escapes so Dynamite dropkicks him. Dynamite charges again, but Tiger flips Dynamite over the top rope with his legs. Tiger charges, lands on the apron, and nails Dynamite with a plancha that sends both of them over the steel guardrail into the fans. Seconds later, someone rings the bell. Why? Was the match stopped temporarily? Is that the end? I have no clue. A bunch of Young Lions help both men up to their feet.
Back in the ring, Dynamite catches Tiger off guard and nails a Tombstone Piledriver. He climbs the top rope but Tiger rolls away to safety. Dynamite gives chase and appears to choke Tiger under the ringropes. The referee pulls Tiger off and the bell rings again. Again, why? Even with my rudimentary understanding of Japanese, no explanation is given. I can’t tell if the match is being called off or if that’s a temporary stop, or if they’re wrestling the old school British style where matches had timed rounds. What the hell is going on?
Dynamite raises a pointed finger while saying ‘one more’ and Tiger gets back in the ring. Dynamite grabs a microphone and cuts a promo that’s hard to understand because of the overlapping ringside commentary. From what I can make out, he says ‘one more time’, much to the fan’s delight. Tiger nods in approval and approaches Dynamite. Then Dynamite tosses the mic away and tries to cradle Tiger who has been caught off guard. The two of them plus the referee all go down together in a heap. The fans are chanting…something (it almost sounds like ‘EN-ZO’) as the match appears to be at a stalemate. The ref grabs the mic and basically says ‘the match continues’ and the fans cheer wildly in approval.
The match resumes/is restarted and Dynamite hits another huge Tombstone Piledriver followed by an equally-huge diving headbutt. Oddly enough, he doesn’t capitalize right away but starts waving his hands saying ‘victory’. They both get to their feet and Dynamite locks in a front chancery, cranking Tiger’s neck. Then Tiger gets a second wind and hits a huge backdrop out of nowhere. Great counter.
Tiger’s in control as he hits a huge Tombstone of his own, but can’t pin because Dynamite gets his hand on the rope. Dynamite escapes the ring and Tiger tries to his a pescado, but Dynamite moves out of the way. Dynamite tries to suplex Tiger over the top rope, but Tiger lands on his feet behind Dynamite. They trade waistlocks and German suplex attempts, but after several reversals Dynamite lunges forward and sends both of them back out of the ring.
Dynamite whips Tiger hard into the steel ring barricade and lands another snap suplex on the ringside ring mats. Dynamite headlocks Tiger, but Tiger escapes and sends Dynamite head-first into the steel ringpost. He smashes Dynamite into the ring apron and then reverses a whip and sends Dynamite into the ring barricade. Tiger returns to the ring while Dynamite skulks around the ring, looking for something. He eventually grabs…something, an object meant to be a weapon, and when the ref confronts him, Dynamite just headbutts the ref and he goes down. How is that not a disqualification? Dynamite grabs another such object (which must be made of metal, given the sounds it makes when he hits the ringpost with it), and the crowd is going nuts over this.
The ref has already gotten back up (imagine that, a referee that ISN’T made of glass) and holds Dynamite back. Another Young Lion tries to pry the weapon out of Dynamite’s hand as he headbutts the same ref a second time. He holds the weapon up to the ref to scare him and some people in the audience legitimately scream. The ref backs off and Dynamite shifts his focus to Tiger, who has been standing around all this time. Dynamite gives up and throws the object away and the crowd cheers.
Suddenly Dynamite’s a babyface again as he says ‘one more’ to the crowd again. The referee holds him back as a Young Lion comes in with a broom to sweep something away. What, is that the next scheduled match? That Young Lion versus the broom? What the hell is going on?
Dynamite charges Tiger and clubbers him. He starts choking Tiger on the ropes while pulling on his mask again. The ref counts to four and Dynamite releases the hold…only to resume pulling on the mask again seconds later. The ref keeps trying to stop Dynamite from ripping the mask, and Dynamite just shoves him away. Dynamite hits a snap suplex but gets a two-count, which gets applause. I’m not surprised, because that’s like the first proper wrestling sequence in the last ten minutes or so.
Dynamite tosses Tiger out of the ring and starts hitting hard strikes, but Tiger just no-sells those and hits a Tombstone Piledriver on the ring mats out of nowhere. But Dynamite sells that for about thirteen seconds and then hits a Tombstone of his own. Both men are down as the bell rings for a third time.
Final result after 22:10: Draw/No Contest
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here’s how I’d sum up my initial reaction to this match:
This match was well on its way to being great during the first third. The in-ring action was incredible, the wrestling was good, and the crowd loved everything. Then Tiger hit that over-the-steel-barricade plancha and things went off an immediate cliff.
From then on it was a series of ridiculous inconsistencies and confusion. The match just fell apart, with absolutely no explanation being given as to what was going on. If there were a sudden disqualification, or if the match were ruled a no-contest when the bell rang for the first time, the ring announcer would’ve grabbed a mic and said something. Instead, the commentators continued in the same tone as if the match kept going. What was the point of that first ring bell? They went into the stands, so what? Was that immediate grounds for match stoppage at the time? Maybe, but we don’t know.
They tried to keep the match going in the ring, but that lasted all of twenty seconds because someone rang the bell a second time. Maybe this was to tease some kind of disqualification. If so, for what? Dynamite had been attacking Tiger’s mask the whole match, and all of a sudden NOW it’s grounds for stoppage?
It just gets worse from there. Dynamite spent the entire match unsure if he’s supposed to be a hero or a villain. One minute he’s trying to rip his opponent’s mask off; the next, he’s playing to the crowd trying to get them to support his intention of continuing the match. This didn’t make any sense and it ruined the structure and pacing of the match. If he wanted to continue the match so badly, why was he looking for ways to cheat in the first place?
Then he gets a weapon, and the referee doesn’t disqualify him the moment Dynamite touches him. Now, I’ve seen a handful of older Japanese matches in which the ref got hit and the match continued. But those were either light touches or one time incidents. In this match, Dynamite headbutted the referee twice and then shoved him down hard later on with incredible force. Although it was nice to see the ref getting back up quickly and not overselling it like he was shot in the face with a large gun, the ref could’ve disqualified Dynamite at any time but didn’t. Also, for all the effort put into getting that weapon into the ring, Dynamite just throws it away without even using it. What was the point of all that? Clever stalling?
They even managed to screw up a no-sell spot at the end. When Tiger hit a Tombstone on the ringside mats, that should’ve been important. Instead, Dynamite barely sells it and is up only a few seconds later and hits his own. There’s no expression of anger or determination, no overcoming the pain to keep going, to fighting spirit sequence. Dynamite just thought ‘screw this’ no-sells Tiger’s big move, and hits his own. That is a textbook example of how NOT to do one of those segments. It made the match end flatly. Simply put, the selling in those last ten minutes was terrible, and it felt like nothing from the opening bell, or even any of the, like, fifteen or so earlier Tombstones, meant anything.
Final Rating: **
I’ll give them (limited) credit where it’s due. Everything up to the ring barricade plancha was good, and the crowd was incredibly loud and invested in the action throughout. But to call this a five-star wrestling match is downright asinine. The match lost all semblance of structure after the bell rang for the first time. Nothing made sense beyond that point, and the constant ref bumps and his inability to control the match went from silly to irritating really fast.
At its core, a wrestling match is supposed to tell a story. How could this twisted mash-up of inconsistencies and contradictions possibly tell any story, much less one deserving of being rated as one of the few perfect matches in professional wrestling history?
This doesn’t come anywhere close to being a five-star wrestling match. I’ve seen forgettable RAW matches where the action ends with a roll-up of death that had better structure than this. At least those contests had a continuing narrative and the wrestlers remained consistent in their characters. Here, things stopped making any sense after about twelve minutes or so.
As for why the crowd was being so loud and appreciative? I don’t know. Maybe they realize early that this was turning into a dumpster fire and decided to go the extra mile to be polite.
You can check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Review series right here. Thanks for reading.