Mick Foley with some touching words about Dynamite Kid.
On December 5th, the wrestling world lost another member of the sport as former Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Champion Thomas Billington better known by wrestlers and wrestling fans as the Dynamite Kid passed away. Stars from the past and present paid homage to the late influential athlete. WWE Hall Of Famer Mick Foley recently published a detailed post on Facebook about the career of Dynamite Kid and at the end of the post, Foley noted that he is going to spend his Monday re-watching some of Dynamite Kid's matches.
Just a week ago, I was asked about my Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling. Almost everyone has one - and with so many incredible choices to pick from, there is no right or wrong line up. My personal Mount Rushmore has probably changed a dozen times. But more often than not, as was the case last week in the UK, I had Tommy Billington, The Dynamite Kid, etched in stone on my mountain.
I believe I saw Tommy on television for the first time in 1984. I had no knowledge of the Stampede wrestling territory in Calgary, let alone any type of mad action taking place in Japan. I just knew this man was exciting and intense, and when broadcaster Vince McMahon followed a post match slow-motion kip-up from Dynamite, with the words “that man is ready!”, I heartily agreed. But it was not until 1986, when I was months into my own wrestling training, that fellow trainee Brian Hildebrand (later known as WCW refferee Marc Curtis) suggested I watch a video cassette with a match between Bruiser Brody and Terry Funk, in order to work on my in-ring punches, which at the time, were simply dreadful. That VCR tape was my entry into Japanese professional wrestling - and in a sense, a window into a whole new world to me. Brody vs Funk was everything Brian had promised it would be - the wildest brawl I had ever seen at the time. But I was equally transfixed by a match between The Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask - a match involving athleticism I had never even conceived could be possible in a ring, and an intensity that gave the contest a stunning sense of legitimacy. It was the match I would show to my non-wrestling friends-the cynics, the doubters - and it never failed to open eyes and drop jaws.
In 1986, driving the 700 miles round-trip to Dominic DeNucci school, sleeping in my car every Friday night, barely scraping together enough money for the ride, let alone for food, I was 6 foot 4, 220 pounds. Despite reading up on all the bodybuilding magazines of the day, and working out diligently since I was 14, I had barely a hint or suggestion of muscle tone to my frame. I wanted to brawl like Bruiser Brody, but knew I was not physically imposing enough to do so. I wanted to fly like The Dynamite Kid, but absolutely knew I wasn’t a fraction of the athlete that Tommy Billington was. But WHAT IF, I thought. WHAT if I could combine those two styles I was so enamored with - brawling like Brody, and using my own body as a weapon; launching myself the way Dynamite did. Maybe I would be onto something! Later, I would borrow liberally from the entire Terry Funk catalog, and, with the help in guidance of too many people to count, things will fall in place for me. But without that VCR tape, without Brody, without Tommy Billington, there is a very good chance that no one out there knows my name.
Imagine how honored I was - not to mention terrified- to face Tommy in the second match of my career, a tag-team contest pitting me and British great Les Thornton against Tommy and Davey Boy Smith as the British Bulldogs. While it’s true that I was worse for the wear after that match, and could not eat solid food for about three weeks, it was a valuable lesson; an emphatic example of how high that bar was set, and how hard I would have to work if I ever hoped to reach it. Witness the suffering here, if you dare! I was about 230 lbs by this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ez5YQUWPP7Y
I had the chance to work with Tommy again in 1991, on my first and only tour with All Japan wrestling. He liked me and respected me, coached me and encouraged me, and having the belief of someone I looked up to so much helped me believe in myself. Tommy was only 33 at the time, but already in chronic pain. Night after night I would watch as he struggled to put on his tights and lace up his boots-and then somehow found it within himself to go out and tear down the house. Every single night.
In recent years, I have befriended Tommy’s daughter Bronwyne, and his ex-wife Michelle, and always look forward to getting together and sharing stories when I travel to Calgary. Earlier today, while preparing for this article, I watched a classic match between Tommy and Tiger Mask from Madison Square Garden in 1982, and smiled, thinking about Michelle noting that it was one of the few matches Tommy ever wrestled wearing trunks. Because he did not have his green card, and did not want to get held up at the border, he had not traveled with his tights and boots-and therefore, prior to this landmark match, had to borrow a pair of boots and trunks from one of the other wrestlers.
When I get home Monday, I’m going to put on my Dynamite Kid t-shirt T-shirt, and spend some time watching a few of his classic matches. It’s easy today-you just type in his name on YouTube, and watch. But there was a time when I would eagerly await the arrival of new VHS tapes in the mail, and then try to make out some of the action amidst the squiggling swirling lines of those antiquated cassettes, some of them 5th or 6th generation. It was worth it, though. For in watching Dynamite Kid, I was watching the very best, and expanding the possibilities of what I might one day be capable of. Rest peace, Tommy. Your greatness is timeless and continues to inspire a new generation of athletes.
Please feel free to share your favorite Dynamite Kid match or memory.
To read some of the reactions to the passing of Dynamite Kid, head over to Fightful's "Wrestlers React" article.