Tom Billington, known to us as the Dynamite Kid, whether you know it or not revolutionized the way people viewed professional wrestling and the performers who embody it.
Born in Golborne, Lancashire, England in December of 1958, Billington became recognized due to his small, yet strong and agile build. Trained in the notoriously rigorous Snake Pit training facility in Wigan, England, sometimes referred to as the home of Catch as Catch-Can Wrestling, Tom honed his craft, being scouted by Bruce Hart and brought to Stampede Wrestling where his career and life would change forever.
The Dynamite Kid quickly became a popular figure in the Canadian wrestling scene. Alongside the Hart brothers including Bret and Bruce, crowds flocked to Stampede Wrestling to get their fix of wrestling action – but behind-the-scenes Dynamite became fixated on getting a fix of his own, and it wasn’t wrestling. It was in Canada that Kid was introduced to several drugs which would be the eventual downfall of his career.
Making a name for himself in Japan in his bouts with Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid became renowned for his limit pushing style, for him it was either you give 110% or you don’t show up at all. This would eventually factor along with the abuse of narcotics to his fall, but at the time many saw it as inspiring, influencing the likes of Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and others to pursue a career in pro-wrestling.
Dynamite achieved success inside the ring to the failure of relationships outside it. Despite being a generation inspiring performer Billington would create many enemies during his days as a performer, isolating himself from family and friends, divorcing his then first wife who has previously accused of holding a shotgun to her head, and eventually breaking down due to his lifestyle.
Suffering a seizure while traveling with The Ultimate Warrior in 1987, Billington would suffer another a decade later a day after competing in his retirement match for Michinoku Pro, where he performed to the description of several spectators as nothing more than a man made of skin and bones. Tom lost the use of his left leg due to complications caused by his lifestyle, he now uses a wheelchair to get around.
Several “Rise and Fall” tales have been wrote in relation to professional wrestling, but none more tragic than this. Dynamite Kid inspired those who weren’t naturally built to perform like the “superheroes” wrestling was originally built around, but did so at a cost. And until the making of this documentary Tom Billington, who ignores modern day professional wrestling, didn’t know what his career had started.
This is the story of The Dynamite Kid, this story is a Matter of Pride.
Narrarated by former ROH World Champion Davey Richards, your immediately given an insight into how much Tom influenced aspiring pro-wrestlers, with Davey stating when he originally saw pro-wrestling he’d little to no interest in it, until he saw Dynamite Kid. Dynamite now lives in a small apartment, confined to his wheelchair, the film opens with him signing old merchandise as Davey sings his praises.
From the outset you get a good indication of what Dynamite had to overcome. Coming from England to Canada he was seen by Stu Hart as a, “little skinny bastard” with Stu unable to believe his son’s tales of what he’d seen while scouting across the pond. Billington entered Stampede with a chip on his shoulder, as he believed the heavyweight performers looked down on him due to his stature.
When Billington debuted in Stampede Wrestling he weighed 167 lbs – smaller than any lightweight or known to many fans in the modern age of professional wrestling, cruiserweight in the Stampede territory – fans laughed at Dynamite as he entered the ring the night of his debut, but by the end the fans were applauding the then 20-year-old Dynamite who’d entered the ring a joke but left the real deal.
“Dynamite was raising the bar so high that… you know, all the older guys had to start picking it up a bit in the ring, put a little more creativity in their spots and stuff… and that’s a big part of what I think Dynamite did. He transitioned everyone into a faster, better team,” – Bret “The Hitman” Hart
Bret Hart and Dynamite Kid gained Stampede Wrestling exposure in the late 1970’s due to their fast-paced, unique, innovative, hard-hitting matches that saw audiences grow in numbers, newspaper editorials grow in length and streams of blood from each competitors noses grow in severity. Dynamite introduced the stiff offense to Bret Hart which would make Kid such a feared and respected performer.
Dynamite Kid’s style began picking up interest overseas. Billington toured with Japanese promotion IPW before it went bankrupt in 1981, but before this could happen Stu Hart was contacted by New Japan Pro Wrestling who wanted Kid on their card and would do near enough anything to get him. With a mind for good business Hart made an agreement with NJPW which would see the two promotions swap talent.
During his time in New Japan, Dynamite Kid wasn’t willing to slow down for the talents unfamiliar to him, instead he wanted to kick it up a gear and leave a lasting memory in the minds of fans who’d came to see the show, performing moves Japanese audiences had rarely seen before such as over the top rope suicide dives as common moves to the plaudits of the Japanese spectators.
The feud that placed Dynamite Kid on the map was that with a performer of the name Tiger Mask. Leo Burke states that Kid wouldn’t hit high-offensive maneuvers for the sake of hitting them like a lot of Japanese performers, “he had timing, he knew when to hit them and he knew how to.” However, when asked if he knew these matches had such a profound effect on wrestling, Billington was clueless.
Behind-the-scenes however, Dynamite Kid got his introduction to alcohol, something he’d promised his mother before leaving England to come to Canada he would isolate himself from, having never had a drink before. Honky Tonk Man states, “I don’t know what he was like in Canada but later on in the WWE he became notorious for that, notorious for it.”
“Dynamite started on steroids very early in his life… I didn’t have to, I worked for my dad but Tom, he started on them really early because they helped him with his injuries, they helped him become an athlete; I mean, its a huge advantage if your familiar with steroids,” – Bret “The Hitman” Hart
“If he was asked “Do you do steroids?” He’d be like, “Fuck yeah I do steroids,” and he’d say he couldn’t care if he died when he was fifty… as long as he has the success that Hulk [Hogan] has,” – Keith Hart
“He was beat up and I mean… you know, people talk about how Mick Foley does all these dangerous maneuvers and how Mick Foley comes diving off the steel cage; Dynamite Kid was doing all these maneuvers twenty years before Foley and doing it in a way that was… like… not human to be able to do what he was doing,” – Honky Tonk Man
The abuse Dynamite Kid was taking utilizing such a high impact, high-risk arsenal of moves amalgamating with his steroid use began taking his toll on his body at only 25-years-old, especially his spine which he states just simply ached and gave him serious issues. His steroid use also brought on fits of rage which even Kid admits at times made him believe in his mind that he could kill somebody.
In the fall of 1982 Dynamite’s cousin Davey Boy Smith came to Stampede Wrestling – not to Dynamite’s delight who felt the young Davey who he’d not seen in three years was cut out for the rough and tumble of life in Calgary. Upon arriving in Canada, Davey entered a program with his older cousin, the two are praised for putting on spectacular matches, but only to Davey’s expense.
During their bouts Dynamite was known for being overly-aggressive on his younger cousin, whether it be slamming him too hard, being overly stiff when it wasn’t needed, intentionally blading him too deep causing large lacerations or in one instance throwing him so hard into a ring-post that Davey’s head from the forehead to the back was covered in blood from a long, deep cut.
Despite their differences, and the belief from the Hart brothers that in-truth Billington had a hidden dislike for Davey – referring to him as “Simon” in-reference to a British nursery rhyme Simple Simon, therefore calling him a simpleton – they were put together as a tag team which would later be known as The British Bulldogs, with Davey and Dynamite touring Japan to gain experience.
“When I go back and watch tapes from Stampede Wrestling, I’m amazed how far ahead of their time those matches were. Another man ahead of his time, was Vince McMahon, who was poised to take over the wrestling world. To do that he needed some of the best talent in the world, and he looked no further than Western Canada,” – Davey Richards
Kid was very pessimistic about joining the WWE when Vince McMahon bought the promotion in 1984, feeling that the company saw no value in smaller, hard workers like himself and instead focused on the heavyweights. Not one to speak too often he saw himself at a disadvantage until facing the newly formed Hart Foundation alongside Davey, gaining the approval of one Vince McMahon.
With Vince’s sign of approval Dynamite was still reluctant to “sign his soul to the devil” and instead declined a contract from the then World Wrestling Federation, opting to work under an open contract so that he could feature in Japan, the country he felt appreciated his talents more and where he knew he’d be treated as a star, instead of working exclusively for McMahon and the WWF.
Vince however only wanted contracted talent appearing on his shows, worried that open contracted talent would no-show to jump to Japan or another promotion instead of appearing for his promotion due a conflict of interest or some other disagreement which would begin a dispute. Keith Hart states that Vince McMahon never tried to sign anyone harder than he did The British Bulldogs, he knew of their importance.
Eventually Dynamite and Davey caved, agreeing a contract, signing for WWF.
“I was always told that when Dynamite and Davey signed their names on the contracts, that Vince actually jumped up on the table and did a little dance. He was so happy they’d signed. It was a lifeline at the time for me and Jim; for me it was a lifeline, we could go in there and show everybody we can work,” – Bret “The Hitman,” Hart
WWF immediately paired The British Bulldogs in a feud with The Hart Foundation. This led the way to what many believe changed the way tag team wrestling is viewed, inspiring teams like Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz, Motor City Machine Guns, The Young Bucks and The American Wolves who depend on fast-paced, tag team wrestling in-order to sell themselves to audiences.
Honky Tonk Man comments, “they changed the game. They made the locker room, the guys in the main matches step it up a notch cause the matches they were putting on were… amazing.” Agents at the time requested that the quartet tone down the level of their matches, but Dynamite says they did their own thing and ignored the requests of officials.
Eventually the two teams had stopped cards. Tag team matches at this time, as they are for the majority of today, featured near the bottom of the card, but whenever the two clashed in the ring by the end of the match crowds were dead because nothing they saw after a Bulldogs versus Hart Foundation match-up could equal the level they’d set the bar at for that nights respective card.
“He was just so fun to work with and you could see that personality in him. If you saw yourself listed against Dynamite on the card you knew you were going to have a great match, and you knew you didn’t have to worry about anything,” – Bob Orton, Jr
However, it was only a matter of time before Dynamite reached a proverbial wall and his body simply said, “no more.” During a tag team match with him and Davey pitted against Don Muraco and Bob Orton, Jr, Dynamite jumped over Orton who was laying on the ground but then fell to the floor. Kid was left motionless in the ring, he couldn’t move, his back simply gave up on him.
At this you won’t have reached the halfway point of the documentary, yet so much has been covered, this is simply the prelude to the story behind the events which would shape the latter Dynamite Kid’s career and see one of the most revolutionary performers to ever step inside a squared circle binge in performance enhancing narcotics and continue working his highly dangerous style.
Tom Billington pays the price of The Dynamite Kid’s relentless want to be the best in-ring performer he could be. He didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to promote his matches, he wanted a good billing on the match card and enough time to showcase his talents. Despite all his sacrifices you also see that to a degree Billington achieved this, through inspiring so many great talents to pursue pro-wrestling.
The end however isn’t as gloomy as it seems, there is a positive, despite all his trials and tribulations The Dynamite Kid is still in-touch with relatives such as Bret Hart and Harry Smith, his children and old friends such as Harley Race. The ending is a seven minute tribute from guys such as Colt Cabana, Sami Callihan and Gabe Sapolsky speaking of the importance of the Dynamite Kid and how he revolutionized pro-wrestling.
I recommend this for anybody who aspires to be a professional wrestler, it comes across as like a guide as to what you should and shouldn’t do to attain the reputation of being “the best.” For the ordinary wrestling fan it is an informative perspective of how one man inspired a majority of wrestling you view on your screen today, because without Tom Billington many would be unknowns.
Without his revolutionary style there’d be no CM Punk, there’d be no Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian, El Generico, Davey Richards, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, or anybody who standing beside behemoths such as Hulk Hogan or the muscular Randy Savage would be viewed as “small men,” because it was in the late 1980’s Dynamite Kid broke through the mold.
Featuring those who knew him best such as Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Bruce Hart, Keith Hart, Honky Tonk Man, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Bob Orton, Jr, Demolition Axe, Leo Burke, Jimmy Hart, Bad News Allen, Hillbilly Jim, Harry Smith and many others, Dynamite Kid: A Matter of Pride is a fitting look at the career of The Dynamite Kid.
It is an exhibition of how far a perfectionist will go to sacrifice for his art.