"The Comeback Kid"
PowerSlam Issue 72 - July 2000 / by Fin Martin
For those who know of Tom ‘Dynamite Kid’ Billington, no introduction is necessary. For those who don’t, here’s a synopsis of a pro wrestling career which took him to the top in Canada, Japan and the United States, but ultimately left him with injuries so severe that he is now unable to walk.
Born on December 5, 1958 near Wigan, Lancashire, Tom Billington made his pro debut as The Dynamite Kid on the British circuit in 1975. Three years later, at the age of 19, he headed to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for a long and successful stay with Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion.
Arguably the game’s best young worker, Dynamite soon received offers from Japanese organisations, which led to his seminal series of matches with the original Tiger Mask, Saoru Sayama, in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1982-1983.
With his cousin and tag team partner Davey Boy Smith, Dynamite jumped to All Japan in 1984, then went full-time with the WWF the following year. Known as the British Bulldogs, Dynamite and Davey Boy were one of the greatest combos of the decade. Remembered for their thrilling encounters with The Hart Foundation, Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, The Bulldogs held the WWF World tag team belts from April 7, 1986 to January 26, 1987, earned big money and were major stars.
It was during their title reign that Dynamite suffered a serious back injury in a match in Canada. Though he was advised to quit, The Kid returned to the ring just weeks later.
As the years passed, Dynamite’s physical condition deteriorated. In late 1990, he famously fell out with Davey Boy Smith, and in December 1991 he officially retired in a ceremony at Budokan Hall, Tokyo.
Like most wrestlers, Dynamite made a comeback, and continued working in Japan and England until his battered body raised the whit flag in 196.
In wrestling circles, Billington wasn’t heard from again until November 1998 when he gave Power Slam its greatest interview ever. That set the stage for his candid autobiography, Pure Dynamite, which was released to widespread critical acclaim on November 1, 1999.
Seven months on, Fin Martin caught up with The Dynamite Kid for an addendum to the “tale of drugs, politics and pranks” . . .
How has Pure Dynamite changed your life?
Well, Pure Dynamite has changed my life, big time. After retiring from wrestling, I always wanted to do a book, but I never knew anybody who could help me with it because in all honesty, I had no money. Anyway, I found some people who could back me up with it and that’s how I got the book published.
Your autobiography has received glowing review from fans and critics alike. Were you surprised by the response?After all those years in retirement, I was very surprised: I though most pole would have forgotten all about The Dynamite Kid. Really, the response was unbelievable because, like I said, I thought people would have forgot. But evidently they do remember me, and now I do quite a few interviews overseas with radio and internet shows, and they’ve always had positive things to say about the book.
One person who didn’t like Pure Dynamite was Bret Hart. After he read it, he accused you of having a broken brain in his Calgary Sun column. Have you any idea why he wrote that?
I know I had my cartilage removed, so he said I’ve got broken legs. He said I’ve got a broken back, which is true – I’m now in a wheelchair. But if I had a broken brain I wouldn’t be able to talk to you or anyone else.
As far as Bret goes, he’s always got everything he wanted in his business. When we wrestled in Stampede in 1978, he had no talent, but he would still beat me nine times out of 10. I had no problem with that. But as long as Bret got the glory, he was happy. The same thing happened in the WWF: he got the glory and he thought he had the power too. And when things went his way, he was on top of the world. But when things didn’t go his way, all he did was cry and complain. He blamed Vince McMahon for his divorce. Then, as you’ll probably remember, Bill Goldberg gave him a good slap last December and he ended up with a concussion. Well how long do the effects of a concussion last? A week or two weeks. Now he’s saying he’s going to be out for several more months.
To be quite honest, I didn’t think there’s a place for him in WCW any more. He’s done his time. And he’s been out for so long that I can’t see him going back. Last time I saw him wrestle – well, he came out in jeans with a plastic baseball bat – there was no big reception for him. Now, all he does is moan and groan in his Calgary Sun column. Why doesn’t he just write the truth about himself and stop whining? If anyone has a broken brain, it’s him, not me.
A lot of people reading this will never have seen The Dynamite Kid wrestle and will really have no idea who you are. Do you think they would enjoy Pure Dynamite?
Well, I’ve received a few e-mails on that subject. One from Houston, Texas, for example, from a man around my age who used to watch The British Bulldogs, Don Muraco and others in the 1980s. Now he bought the book, then he lent it to his teenage son, who’s a big fan of today’s WWF programmes. His son read the book and, afterwards, he said he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Then his son laughed and cried – and read the book again. So that’s just one example.
Tell us about the operation that could enable you to walk again.
There is an operation that might be successful. But the thing is, in England, on the NHS, they may or may not do it. And, to be honest, I don’t want them to do it anyway because I consider them to be butchers. But if you have money in you hand – if you go private – you’ll probably get a good doctor and they’ll do the best job they can. Of course, there’s no guarantees. Still, if I had the money to pay for it, I would have the operation, even if there’s only a five percent chance of success, because at 41-years-old, I’m too young to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. My legs do work, they bend, but I can’t walk on them due the nerve damage.
What did you think of Beyond The Mat?
It was done right. I mean, Terry Funk has taken a lot of knocks and bangs, and I saw that his knees were all messed up on the x-rays. So Terry’s been through it. I can’t say I feel sorry for him: he’s still out there doing it today. But Terry has been a credit to the business, even though he’s getting on now.
Now, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. I met him in 1978 in Calgary. He smoked a little bit of marijuana at the time – but I suppose that was all he could afford in those days; we were only making about $400 a week. From there, he moved to Louisiana, where he worked for ‘Cowboy’ Bill Watts, and then onto the WWF, where he made some money and went on the cocaine. I did that for a short time too. Then he took the crack cocaine.
So, I see Roberts on this documentary, saying this is what happens when you work for the WWF: you take cocaine to wake up in the morning. Now, when did he finish working for the WWF?
His first run ended in 1992. But he went back in 1996.
Well, we’re now in the year 2000. And he’s on about drugs. He said he had to take them in the WWF. But now he’s nowhere, so why is he still smoking crack cocaine? There’s no excuse. As far as I’m concerned, Jake has ruined himself – and he’s a piece of crap.
Now, Mankind, Mick Foley: he seems like a nice man. I have worked with him in the past, in Japan and the United States. To me, he seems very sincere, with his wife and children. The only thing I didn’t like was the footage of him jumping off the house onto a mattress. Okay, he had a mattress there. But, you see, all the children watching might try it. I’ve heard about all the backyard wrestling in the States: kids going into their backyard and trying to jump through tables and breaking their necks. So, I thought that set a bad example, although I do like Mick Foley.
Do you have any advice for you former partner, Davey Boy Smith?
Of course I do: keep on doing what you’re doing.
In the 1980s, he was a fine athlete, very agile in the ring. Later on in life, when he started wearing jeans and walked to the ring like a zombie, winding the finger up at the people . . . At that point, I said Davey Boy Smith is on drugs. And as it turned out, I was right: Vince McMahon paid for him to go into rehab for three months. But he didn’t last three months: he came back at Insurrextion, looking worse than ever.
You saw Steve Austin’s run-in at Backlash. In your opinion, should he quit now?
In my opinion, yes, he should. He went in the ring, tried to get up and he had to use a chair to drag himself up because his knees were knackered. Well, it seemed that way. Maybe it was something to do with the neck operation.
I know Steve Austin’s got money. And it al boils down to money: I mean, I had to return when I broke may back because I needed the money to make the payments on my house. But Austin’s well off, so I’ve heard, he has action opportunities, so why should he go in the ring and take the chance of getting hurt again and put himself in a wheelchair? Enough is enough. It’s like driving a car: if a shock absorber goes, you can change it. But, on a human being, if a shock absorber goes – like a disc – you can’t change it; you’re knackered. So, to Steve Austin, I say: don’t push your luck, quit.
When you watch wrestling today, do you see much evidence of steroid use?
I see some evidence, yeah. One person in particular in the WWF, a guy in a great spot who shall remain nameless, is on steroids. You can see it in his arms, his chest – everywhere. You can work out your entire life and you’ll never get a physique like that . . . I think you know who I mean.
I think I do. If you could have your time again, would you take steroids?
If I had my time over again, I would take them because I would have no choice if I wanted to work for one of the large companies. I’m only a small man: off steroids, I was only 12, maybe 13 stone. So I needed them for my job. That was the only reason I took them.
Finally, as anyone who’s read Pure Dynamite will know, you were a bit of a prankster during your wrestling days. Tell us one that didn’t appear in the book.
Okay. I would have been about 17 or 18-years old, and I was going to a place called Malvern Wells, just past Birmingham, I think. I was working for Jack Atherton, an old promoter, who had a strongman on the bill. He didn’t wrestle – this strongman, whose name I can’t remember, would bend nails and snap chess expanders. And for grand finale, he would blot a hot water bottle up and make it explode, like Ken Patera used to do in the United States.
Anyway, we were driving to the show in the car, myself, ‘The Golden Ace’ John Naylor, Mark Rocco and this strongman, and we put a family pack of laxatives into a flask of hot chocolate. We mixed it all up, let the stuff melt inside, and we gave the flask to the strongman. And he drank it with a little bit of sugar – he thought it was nice.
At the show, intermission came and the strongman went to the ring to do his act. He bent the nails and got a small pair of chest expanders and snapped them. And then he got the hot water bottle and started blowing and blowing, and the people were there going, “Christ! This is good.” Anyway, he’s there, with a leotard on, and he’s just blowing into the bottle for the last time, when s–t flew straight down his legs. He s–t himself in the ring. You can imagine the reaction from all the families in the audience. Meanwhile, we were all standing there laughing.
So that was a nice little joke. But nobody got hurt, right?