Sayama Satoru

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Sayama Satoru
Ring name(s) Satoru Sayama
Sammy Lee
(original) Tiger Mask
Super Tiger
Tiger King
The Mask of Tiger
The Tiger
Real name Sayama Satoru
Billed height 190 cm (6 ft 3 in)
Billed weight 102 kg (220 lb; 16.1 st)
Born 1957/11/24 (1957-11-24) (age 60)
Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi
Shishō Antonio Inoki
Fujiwara Yoshiaki
Karl Gotch
Debut 1976/5/28
1981/4/23 (as Tiger Mask)
Retired 1998/4/4

Sayama Satoru (佐山 聡?) is a Japanese professional wrestler, best known as the original Tiger Mask. He also wrestled under his real name in Japan and Mexico as well as Sammy Lee in Europe. He is the first wrestler to hold the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship simultaneously.


Early years (1976-1981)

Sayama started wrestling and jūdō during junior high school. He quit senior high school after one year and joined New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1975/7 and had a debut match against Kai Shōji on 1976/5/28.

On 1977/11/14, Sayama participated in "Kakutōgi Daisensō", a big event co-promoted by All Japan Kick Boxing and [[Kajiwara Ikki]. Sayama lost by points to Mark Costello, who was at the time ranked number 1 in the professional karate in the United States.

Just like many other rookies, Sayama was sent overseas to gain more experience. In 1978, he went to Mexico, where he won NWA World Middleweight Championship in EMLL. He then went to Britain in 1980 and wrestled as "Sammy Lee", a cousin of Bruce Lee. He was so popular in Britain that Maeda Akira wrestled there as "Kwik Kick Lee", Sammy's younger brother. The 4th version of Tiger Mask also wrestled there, billed as the son of Sammy.

Tiger Mask (1981-1983)

"Tiger Mask" with the NWA World & WWF belts

In 1981, New Japan was looking for a way to attract young fans to its wrestling. They looked to the popular Tiger Mask anime and created an actual wrestler called Tiger Mask for the fans, with the recently returned Sayama playing the role. On the evening of 1981/4/23, just the three days after TV Asahi premiered a new anime series "Tiger Mask II", Sayama made his way to the ring in the Kuramae Kokugikan as Tiger Mask. Initially, many traditional Japanese fans scoffed at the thought of Kajiwara's popular anime hero being pushed as a legitimate wrestling star, but he shocked the audience by pinning Dynamite Kid with his german suplex. As a result, he was soon regarded as the premier star in New Japan's junior heavyweight division. Moreover, that match would be the first of many classic battles between the two men.

With New Japan's traditional "strong style" as his foundation, he pioneered a new style by mixing with martial arts moves and lucha libre maneuvers. Furutachi Ichirō, who was then play-by-play announcer for the New Japan's weekly television program, referred Tiger Mask's style as "four-dimensional". Almost every week, the TV show had the rating higher than 25% when Tiger Mask was on, and of course, every card with him sold out the arenas.

His main rivals included Dynamite Kid, Black Tiger, and Kobayashi Kuniaki.

On 1982/5/6, Tiger Mask was forced to vacate the WWF Junior Heavyweight Title after injuring his right knee. However, Tiger Mask would go on to win the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title less than 3 weeks later on 1982/5/25. The very next day, Tiger Mask defeated Black Tiger in a match for the WWF title.

During a tag team match on 1983/4/3, he was injured by Dynamite Kid; two days later, he was forced to vacate the NWA World title after it became clear that he would need time off to recuperate. However, once the determined Tiger Mask recovered, he regained the championship by defeating Kobayashi Kuniaki on 1983/6/2, making him a simultaneous NWA/WWF champion for the second time.

By 1983, however, Sayama started feeling dissatisfied as he hated the politics behind-the-scenes. As a result, he announced his retirement from active competition on 1983/8/10. It was a shock to the wrestling world, as Tiger Mask was going to retire while he was at the top of his game and as the holder of two junior heavyweight championships. Both titles were declared vacant, as he became a trainer to martial arts fighters. He then had a guest appearance on a variety show, also aired on TV Asahi ironically, to unmask himself and show his identity.

Other than one disqualification loss against Dynamite Kid, Tiger Mask was never pinned, singles or tag team match, during his New Japan days.

Universal Wrestling Federation (1984-1985)

After nearly a year of inactivity, Sayama resurfaced in the UWF (original) in 1984 as "The Tiger" and later as "Super Tiger".

However, there would soon be a disagreement over the style ideology between Sayama and other wrestlers including Maeda Akira and Fujiwara Yoshiaki. This led to a shoot during a match between Sayama and Maeda in 1985, in which Maeda delivered a controversial kick to Sayama's lower abdomen. Sayama signaled that he was kicked in the groin, resulting in Maeda being disqualified. Shortly after this, Sayama left UWF, amid protests from other UWF wrestlers who disliked him for his selfish leadership. UWF eventually collapsed and Maeda and the rest of the roster returned to New Japan to start an "inter-promotional" feud.

Retirement (1985-1994)

Sayama left professional wrestling altogether due to his experience in the UWF, and spent the next few years criticizing it as worked. In 1986 he founded Shooto, finally realizing his dream of becoming a martial arts trainer. However, he had disagreements with the office and left the organization he founded.

He would later be involved in both puroresu and mixed martial arts.

Return and aftermath (1994-present)

In 1994, Sayama was requested by New Japan and had an exhibition match against Jushin Thunder Liger. It was his first match with New Japan in more than 10 years. In the following year, he became more active in puroresu, under the name "Shodai (original/first) Tiger Mask". He wrestled for the smaller promotions such as Michinoku Pro-Wrestling, UWF International, and Tokyo Pro-Wrestling. He then chaged his name to "Tiger King" and finally had his first match against his old mentor Antonio Inoki in 1997 at Tokyo Dome.

Inoki founded Universal Fighting Organization in 1998. Assigned by Inoki as a trainer, Sayam trained Ogawa Naoya, a former jūdō world champion and Olympic medalist. He again had a dispute over the direction and left UFO in 1999/4.

About a month later, Sayama founded another martial arts organization, Seikendō and distanted himself from puroresu. He would, however, once again promote puroresu match when he wrestled under "The Mask of Tiger" in a Seikendō event on 2003/9/21.

On 2005/6/9, Sayama opened Real Japan Pro-Wrestling with "the restoration of the strong style puroresu" as a slogan. He then had the first singles match against Tenryū Gen'ichirō on 2008/3/13 and faced Misawa Mitsuharu, who previously wrestled as the second version of Tiger Mask, in a tag team match in 2008/12.

As "Shodai Tiger Mask" He also has appeared in Fujinami's Dradition promotion, as well as Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation.

External links