Review of Pure Dynamite

By Ernie Santilli


Wrestlers"off duty" are all nice fun-loving guys with a pretty normal wife-and-kids-type family relationship . . .

Tag team partners, especially those related by blood, have a very special bond, one that makes them tight as "twin sons of different mothers" . . .

With the huge money made working in the Big Two, a retired grappler can invest the millions he's socked away and live high on the hog the remainder of his life . . .

The ring has a lot of give, so it's not like anyone gets seriously injured from the daily grind associated with bouncing around the mat . . .

Wrestling biographies conclude with a happy ending, leaving readers with lots of warnth and compassion for the subject . . .

 

If you agree with all or any of the above, I'm afraid I've got a reality check even Roddy Piper can't cash: some of the above applies to some of the mat athletes, but those are the fortunate few. In many cases, veterans of the ring wars are battered, broke, divorced, estranged from their children, grudge-bearing, or half-forgotten by a business notorious for its fickleness and failure to recognise its past. Tom Billington managed to hit the proverbial grand slam by fitting all of those dsecriptions, as illustrated by his unflinching book, Pure Dynamite.

"Who is Tom Billington?" you might ask. That is a far more complex question than it would appear. In the ring, Tom was known as the Dynamite Kid, one of the most fearless, innovative, tough, powerful junior heavyweights ever to compete at international level. Some would say his battles with Japan's first Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) were the top pro wrestling matches in history. Having seen tapes, it's difficult to dispute that claim.

But Dynamite did more than accumulate individual accolades. Teaming with his cousin Davey Boy Smith, Kid had remarkable success in the tag ranks as well. Superstars in both hemispheres, the British Bulldogs reached their Western pinnacle by holding the WWF duo belts for over nine straight months in 1986-7. No they weren't the "greatest of all times"; however, when both men were "on" they very well may have been the best team on the planet that given night; certainly worlds better than most of the flavor-of-the-month combos we hear TV announcers constantly overrate today.

So that's who the Dynamite Kid is? Not exactly. Pure Dynamite is a revealing study of the man behind the Kid, of the person who was and is Tom Billington the rest of the day. His story is more gritty than pretty.

The son of a miner who boxed professionally, young Tom put up the dukes early and often, frequently getting punished in or sent home from school. A small though scrappy lad who excelled at soccer, rugby and gymnsatics, Master Billington switched from boxing to wrestling at the ripe old age of 13. It was a decision that would take him around the world, from poor to rich and back again. At age 19, he left for Canada "for a few weeks" with 20 British pounds in his pocket, eventually returning to England in basically the same financial shape - 13 years later.

Pure Dynamite is the brutally frank account of Billington's saga, tracing his journey from Britain to Canada, to Japan, the the WWF, and home again. It is not, however, a chronicle of cherished friendships and endless glamour. And that's what makes it so fascinating.

Although never catty or gossipy, Dynamite bluntly discusses behind-the-scenes hypocrisy, backstage fist-fights, steroid abuse (including his own), a broken marriage, and double-crossing promotional agents. He's particularly generous with his rips on Davey Boy and Mrs Smith, whom he considers to be backstabbers to the Nth degree.

Also eye-opening is Billington's take on the Hart family, from Stu on down, detailing some rather bizarre behaviour amongst the Canadians. Strangely, despite claiming repeatedly Bret is a good friend, Tom paints a less-than-flattering picture of the Hitman.

Most telling is Billington's recollection of pranks he pulled on fellow wrestlers, gaining a notorious reputation for such deeds. Far from harmless practical jokes, his antics often were mean-spirited and cruel.

In fairness, however, it should be pointed out that Tom's sincere desire to entertain the fans, regardless of the physical consequences to himself, erase any notion he is a completely heartless cad. For wowing ringsiders by taking the highest riskes in and out of the ring, Tom paid dearly. Today, at 41, he is wheelchair-bound, with little chance of ever walking again. Adds Dynamite: "But I'd do it all again and I wouldn't change a thing. No regrets. I had a blast."

Pure Dynamite is not for those who'd rather preserve idealistic notions about the mat game. The book is not meant as a sugary Valentine to the business or the Dynamite Kid Fan Club recruitment pamphlet. It's the refreshingly honest memoir of an enigmatic man who took the sport to another level. As such, Pure Dynamite is an absolute must for any serious wrestling fan.

 

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