Thomas "Tom" Billington (December 5, 1958 – December 5, 2018), best known by the ring name Dynamite Kid, was a British professional wrestler who competed in the World Wrestling Federation, Stampede Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling in the mid- to late-1980s. With his cousin Davey Boy Smith, Billington became best known for being half of the tag team the British Bulldogs. He has had notable feuds with Tiger Mask in Japan and Bret Hart in Canada. He was born in Golborne, Lancashire.
Academics were not a priority to Tom, but he was drawn to the sport programme at his comprehensive school; his adherence to it, particularly wrestling and gymnastics, helped him develop a relatively small but powerful and agile shape. In addition, he had also received training in boxing during his formative years, which helped instill toughness in him before his career. His father, the brother of Davey Boy Smith's mother, was a miner and itinerant labourer who often took young Thomas to see wrestling matches in Wigan, then as now, well known for its wrestling tradition. It was during a home visit that the younger Billington met and caught the attention of Ted Betley, who had been running a pro-wrestling school in his home; it was here that Billington began his training, as a way of avoiding the back-breaking work of the coal mines.
Professional wrestling career
Early years (1975–1984)
His first shot in the pro ranks was working for Max Crabtree, as he debuted in 1975. During his early days, he won the British Lightweight title on April 23, 1977, and the Welterweight title on January 25, 1978. He was also instrumental in starting the career of then-Judo star Chris Adams while still competing in Britain, was scouted and moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1978.
Dynamite made a big impact in his matches for Stampede Wrestling with the increasingly popular Bruce Hart, and rookie Bret Hart. Despite differences between them due to comments Dynamite Kid made about Stu Hart in his autobiography, Bret still regards him as "pound-for-pound, the greatest wrestler who ever lived". Dynamite Kid began taking steroids in 1979 when Big Daddy Ritter, aka the Junkyard Dog, introduced Billington to the anabolic steroid Dianabol. Billington was also introduced to speed during his stay in Canada by Jake Roberts.
After doing big business in Canada, Dynamite was booked on his first tour of Japan, working for International Pro Wrestling from July 19–25, 1979. Stu Hart and Stampede Wrestling switched their business relationship from IPW to New Japan Pro Wrestling shortly after Dynamite's first tour, and he wrestled for New Japan from January 4, 1980, to August 2, 1984. Perhaps the most memorable matches that came out of Dynamite's run in New Japan were from his now legendary feud against Tiger Mask; Tiger Mask's debut was against Dynamite, in which Tiger Mask shocked the wrestling world by gaining the victory over Dynamite. The two would compete against one another several more times in a feud that is often credited as putting Junior Heavyweight wrestling on the map, as well as setting the standard for future generations. Both the NWA and WWF Junior Heavyweight titles were vacated after Tiger Mask was injured by Dynamite Kid in a tag match on April 1, 1983. Dynamite and Kuniaki Kobayashi competed for the vacant titles, but no winner was decided. On April 21, 1983, Dynamite and Tiger Mask met for the vacant WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, but no winner was decided after the match ended up as a draw three consecutive times.
On February 7, 1984, Billington captured the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship by winning a tournament in New Japan Pro Wrestling; although it was a WWF Title, it was primarily defended in Japan. He defeated Davey Boy Smith earlier in the tournament, and would go on to defeat The Cobra in the finals.
World Wrestling Federation (1984–1988)
Dynamite Kid made his WWF television debut on August 29, 1984, where he and Bret Hart defeated Iron Mike Sharpe and Troy Alexander in a match eventually shown on September 15, 1984, on the Maple Leaf Garden broadcast. Billington would end up teaming with Davey Boy Smith as the British Bulldogs, while Bret would team with Jim Neidhart as The Hart Foundation, and it led to matches between the two teams that usually ended in No-Contests. On April 7, 1986, accompanied by Captain Lou Albano and Ozzy Osbourne, the British Bulldogs won the WWF World tag team title from Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake at WrestleMania II. Dynamite Kid was injured in December 1986 in a tag match in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada against Don Muraco and Bob Orton, Jr. and several wrestlers including Roddy Piper, Junkyard Dog and Billy Jack Haynes would substitute for him when tag title defenses were made. While recovering in the hospital from back surgery, Billington would later recount that Bret Hart showed up and stated that Vince McMahon had sent him to get Dynamite's tag belt; Billington refused. Shortly after checking himself out of the hospital (against doctors' orders), Billington met with McMahon, who requested that the Bulldogs drop the tag titles to the team of Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik; Billington refused, saying that he would only drop the belts to The Hart Foundation.
McMahon acquiesced and at a TV taping on January 26, 1987, The British Bulldogs wrestled a match to drop the titles to The Hart Foundation; the match would air on the February 7 edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling. The match itself was an odd sight, as Dynamite could barely walk due to back surgery, and thus needed to be assisted to the ring by linking arms with Davey Boy Smith. Dynamite was knocked out by Jimmy Hart's megaphone early in the match, avoiding his having to wrestle in the match for story purposes. From that point forward, the Bulldogs would not be a top-tier team anymore, and while they would not become straight jobbers, they would mostly wrestle to double disqualifications, double countouts or time-limit draws against the top teams in the WWF.
After getting into a real life backstage fight with Jacques Rougeau, the Bulldogs wrestled their last WWF match at the 1988 Survivor Series. Throughout his time in the WWF, Dynamite Kid made several enemies, including Brutus Beefcake (who - alone of the wrestlers on the show - had refused an autograph for Betley who was visiting his old student backstage at a 1986 WWF show) The Honky Tonk Man whom Dynamite claimed had made light of injuries suffered by his friend Harley Race, - an account largely corroborated by Hart - and Jacques Rougeau. After a prior incident in which Rougeau had blamed Dynamite for having cut up his clothes for a prank (in fact committed by Curt Hennig) and Dynamite in return had confronted and punched Rougeau and his brother Raymond, he ambushed and assaulted Billington with three shots in the face while his fist was loaded with a roll of quarters (including one in the mouth that knocked out four of Dynamite's teeth) Because of Billington's history of bullying, many wrestlers thought he deserved the beating.
Many claimed that Billington never recovered from this humiliation. Billington was known for being a legitimately tough guy and for his stiffness as a worker. Mick Foley tells the story of when Kid and Smith wrestled the team of Les Thornton and a young Mick Foley. By Foley's account, Billington manhandled him so badly in the ring that he couldn't eat solid food for a time, and tore a ligament in Foley's jaw with his trademark Hook Clothesline. Outside of the ring, WWF-champion Randy Savage once specifically asked for him to watch his back when he went drinking in a hotel bar frequented by NWA wrestlers, including Ric Flair. Billington himself, however, has claimed that the Rougeau incident was not in fact the final straw that drove him to leave the WWF. Rather, he has stated, it was a dispute with WWF management over issuing of complimentary plane tickets, over which he resigned from the company on principle and, to his surprise in retrospect, Smith followed suit.
Stampede Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and Michinoku Pro Wrestling (1988–1996)
After leaving the WWF, the Bulldogs returned to Stampede Wrestling to win the International Tag Team Titles. The Bulldogs also competed frequently in All-Japan Pro Wrestling where they were paid $20,000 each by Giant Baba, along with the liberty of choosing which tours they wanted to participate in. In 1990, Davey Boy Smith abruptly withdrew the Bulldogs from AJPW's annual World's Strongest Tag Determination League by returning to the WWF, and fabricating a story to the All-Japan office that Billington was in a serious car accident and was unable to compete. Since Davey Boy Smith had trademarked the term "The British Bulldog" during the Bulldogs' previous run in WWF, he decided to return to the WWF as The British Bulldog, and would send people to the United Kingdom to warn the promoter every time a flyer was distributed promoting Dynamite Kid as a "British Bulldog".
Johnny Smith would end up taking Davey Boy Smith's spot in the World's Strongest Tag Determination League, and the duo (known as the British Bruisers) continued to compete in All-Japan Pro Wrestling. The duo managed to capture the AJPW All-Asia Tag Team Championships, but the partnership was short lived; the years of steroid abuse (including an incident in which he used horse steroids), working a high impact style, and cocaine usage caught up with Billington as he suddenly announced his retirement on December 6, 1991, immediately after the Bruisers defeated Johnny Ace and Sunny Beach at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. He returned to Japan as a special guest with Lord James Blears on February 28, 1993, and claimed that he was going to send his 17-year-old brother to All Japan's Dojo, but it wasn't realized. He returned again for a tag team match with Johnny Smith on July 28, 1993, and was planning to promote an All-Japan show in his country in 1994, but it wasn't realized either.
Also around his later period with All-Japan, he was divorced from his first wife Michelle (the sister of Bret Hart's ex-wife Julie), with whom Billington had one son and two daughters (Marek, Bronwyne and Amaris). As a result, he moved from Canada back home to Wigan, England with his parents. Before embarking on another All-Japan tour, he visited Dan Spivey and stayed in his home in Florida for a week, while Spivey went on vacation. When Spivey came back, he and Billington took hits of LSD, which resulted in Billington coming close to death twice in one day, but he was revived with adrenaline shots by paramedics both times.
His final match took place on October 10, 1996, at a Michinoku Pro event called These Days. The match was promoted as a "Legends of High-Flying" 6-Man Tag featuring Dynamite paired with Dos Caras and Kuniaki Kobayashi against The Great Sasuke, Mil Máscaras, and his greatest rival, Tiger Mask. Dynamite's body had clearly degenerated to the point where he was practically skin and bones, as the bottom portion of his tights were very loose. In the end, Dynamite delivered his trademark tombstone piledriver on Great Sasuke, leading Dos Caras powerbombing Sasuke for the pin fall. While at the airport to return home on the next day, he had a second seizure (as the first one was in 1987, while traveling with the Ultimate Warrior) and was sent to the hospital immediately.
In 1997, after marrying his second wife Dot and having a great deal of complications he was experiencing with walking, he lost the use of his left leg. He now has a paralyzed left leg and he now uses a wheelchair. Billington is cared for by his second wife Dot.
His autobiography, Pure Dynamite, written with Alison Coleman was published on October 1, 1999 (and reissued as a paperback on August 15, 2001). Billington would remain reclusive until a three-minute appearance eight years later in the 2007 CNN documentary, Death Grip Inside Pro Wrestling. He discusses the effects professional wrestling had on his life.
In 1991, he was divorced from his first wife Michelle Smadu (the sister of Bret Hart's then-wife Julie), with whom Billington had one son and two daughters (Marek, Bronwyne and Amaris). Following the end of his marriage to Michelle, he moved from Canada back home to Wigan with his parents.
Billington was a close friend of Wayne Hart. When Billington was living in Calgary they co-owned an apartment together where they lived with their respective girlfriends.
Due to the large number of back and leg injuries he suffered during his career, Billington was disabled and used a wheelchair. Billington was told he would never be able to walk again. Harley Race, the inventor of the diving headbutt, has stated that he regrets ever inventing the move, due to the fact it appears to cause spinal problems, and may have contributed to Billington's disability. In addition to his paralysis, Billington also suffered from heart problems.
Billington died on December 5, 2018, his 60th birthday.
Billington's British training, combined with an aerial arsenal honed during numerous tours in Japan, influenced a generation of later wrestling stars, especially those normally associated with Stu Hart's "Dungeon." Among Billington's most notable imitators was the late World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler Chris Benoit, who idolized Billington growing up and adopted a similar moveset that included the swandive headbutt and the Snap suplex. Former TNA wrestler Jay Lethal often used Dynamite's swandive headbutt, which Mike Tenay referred to as the "Diving Dynamite Headbutt", in tribute to him. Bret Hart stated in a 2008 documentary about Chris Benoit, that he believes Dynamite Kid was the best wrestler Hart ever saw.
The playable character in the Mat Mania/Mania Challenge/Exciting Hour arcade games of the mid '80s is named Dynamite Tommy, frequently presumed to be modeled after Billington.
In February 2013 Highspots.com released a full feature documentary on the Dynamite Kid.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Entrance themes
Championships and accomplishments
- AGPW International Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Joint Promotions
- Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship (5 times)
- Stampede International Tag Team Championship (6 times) – with Sekigawa (1), Loch Ness Monster (1), Kasavudo (1), and Duke Myers (1), Davey Boy Smith (2)
- Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Stampede World Mid-Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
- Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame
- 5 Star Match (1983) vs. Tiger Mask on 23 April
- Best Flying Wrestler (1984)
- Best Technical Wrestler (1984) - tied with Masa Saito
- Best Wrestling Maneuver (1984) Power clean dropkick
- Match of the Year (1982) vs. Tiger Mask on 5 August, Tokyo, Japan
- Most Underrated (1983)
- Tag Team of The Year (1985) - with Davey Boy Smith
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)