Tiger Mask 1 (First Tiger Mask)
The first of only 4 select wrestlers to ever don the comic book hero-inspired mask he helped make famous, Tiger Mask 1 is a 33-year veteran of wrestling and combat sports and martial arts in general who remains very active today. To avoid confusion with his present day New Japan-based counterpart, he is normally referred to as “First Tiger Mask”.
He debuted as his real name, Satoru Sayama, in New Japan in 1976. He had trouble making the roster because of his size-he was quite small-so he was sent on an excursion to England, where he competed as Sammy Lee, and Mexico. It was in Mexico where he started to grow not only in physical stature but also in prominence, winning the NWA World Middleweight Title in EMLL. In 1981, NJPW 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 Thursday, April 23, 1981 Satoru Sayama made his way to the ring in the Kuramae Kokugikan as Tiger Mask. Initially, many traditional Japanese fans scoffed at the thought of artist Ikki Kajiwara’s popular comicbook wrestling hero being pushed as a legitimate wrestling star, but he shocked the Japanese fans in the arena by pinning Dynamite Kid with his German Suplex. As a result, he was immediately regarded as the premier star in New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight ranks.
On May 6, 1982, 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 less than 3 weeks later on May 25, 1982. The very next day, Tiger Mask defeated Black Tiger in a match for the WWF Junior Heavyweight title. This victory was met with controversy, as some board members on the NWA declared the title vacant, as they felt that the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship was the premier title for the division. However, during an annual meeting between the NWA and New Japan Pro Wrestling, it was declared that Tiger Mask was still recognized as the official champion… which cemented him as the only man to simultaneously hold the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship and the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship.
During a tag team match on April 3, 1983 he was injured by Dynamite Kid; two days later, he was forced to vacate the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title after it became clear that he would need time off to recuperate. However, once the determined Tiger Mask recovered, he regained his NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship by defeating Kuniaki Kobayashi on June 2, 1983, making him a simultaneous NWA/WWF Jr. 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 August 12, 1983. 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.
After nearly a year of inactivity, Sayama resurfaced in the Japanese UWF in 1984. By then, All-Japan had purchased the Tiger Mask name and gimmick and given it to Mitsuharu Misawa. As a result, Sayama initially made appearances for UWF as The Tiger (which was the same colors as Tiger Mask), then alternated between using his real name and the gimmick of Super Tiger (colored silver and purple). He initially supported the UWF concept and had several memorable matches against Akira Maeda and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Sayama would soon disagree with Maeda over style ideology, as Sayama wanted more kicking, while Maeda wanted more submission holds. 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. With no key opponents for Maeda, the UWF collapsed and Maeda and the rest of the roster headed back to NJPW. Sayama retired from puroresu in 1985.
After his retirement, Sayama founded the Shooto promotion in 1986, which since has become one of the oldest and most popular promotions in MMA. Shooto has also spread worldwide with several regional branches in areas outside Japan. In 1995, Sayama was offered to return to puroresu for a match against old mentor Antonio Inoki. As there was already a Tiger Mask on the scene (his disciple, Tiger Mask 4, who currently has the approval and blessing of Sayama in using the mask and name), Sayama used the name and gimmick Tiger King, using a gold-colored outfit. Since then Sayama has mainly worked as a freelancer, and although much heavier and slower now he still dons the legendary Tiger Mask and outfit and competes primarily in Tatsumi Fujinami’s Dradition promotion as well as Real Japan, which he founded in 2006. Today he focuses more on mat-based wrestling, though he still uses his trademark martial arts kicks and still finishes matches with his signature Tiger suplex hold.
Stats & Info:
Real name: Satoru Sayama
Weight: 202 pounds/92 kg
Experience: 33 years
Finishing move: Tiger Suplex Hold
Current affiliation: Independent/Freelancer, but competes mainly in Real Japan and Dradition
3-time WWF Jr. Heavyweight Champion
1-time NWA World Middleweight Champion
2-time NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Champion
1 Wrestling Observer Newsletter 5 Star Match
1982, 1983 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Flying Wrestler Award
1982, 1983 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Technical Wrestler Award
1982 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match Of The Year (8/5 vs. Dynamite Kid)
Inducted Into Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame In 1996