Satoru Sayama (佐山 聡 Sayama Satoru) (born November 27, 1957) is a Japanese professional wrestler and mixed martial arts promoter, best known as the original Tiger Mask. He's wrestled under his real name as well as the names Sammy Lee, and masked Super Tiger, Tiger King, (Shodai) Tiger Mask and The Mask of Tiger. He is the only man to hold the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship simultaneously. He is also the founder of Shooto, Seikendo and Real Japan Pro Wrestling. Bret Hart has called Sayama the 'Bruce Lee of wrestling' because of his lightning speed, martial arts abilities and athleticism.
Beginnings: New Japan Pro Wrestling, excursion abroad (1976–1981)
Sayama debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling, against Shoji Kai, a jobber known to have been the debut opponent for future stars (Rusher Kimura, Masa Saito, Osamu Kido, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Mitsuo Momota had debuted against him before). Sayama weighed only 160 pounds, which, even given his training, impaired him from getting a permanent spot on NJPW cards. So they sent him abroad, to England (where he wrestled as Sammy Lee) and Mexico, where he wrestled under his real name. 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.
Return to New Japan as Tiger Mask (1981–1983)
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 a wrestling character 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 comic book 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. Moreover, that match would be the first of many classic battles between the two men.
On May 6, 1982, Tiger Mask was forced to vacate the WWF Junior Heavyweight title after injuring his right knee. Tiger Mask would go on to win the NWA World Junior Heavyweight less than 3 weeks later on May 25, 1982. The 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 made him the only man to simultaneously hold the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship and the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship.
World Wrestling Federation (1982)
In late 1982, while still a member of the New Japan roster, Sayama made at least two tours of the United States. He appeared primarily in the World Wrestling Federation, at the time a regional promotion in the northeast region of the country.
Sayama defended the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship by defeating Dynamite Kid at Madison Square Garden in New York City on August 30, and Eddie Gilbert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on November 25. During his time as Tiger Mask, Sayama had faced mainly English and Mexican opponents, with styles complimentary to his own. As a result, the match with Gilbert would be regarded as one of his higher-profile matches against an American-style opponent.
Sayama also made appearances at WWF television tapings during these tours, in which he had televised matches against José Estrada and Mr. Saito.
Joe McHugh, the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission-appointed ring announcer for WWF events in the state and nearing 80 years of age, mistakenly introduced Sayama during one of his appearances as "Timer Mask."
Departure from New Japan (1983)
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.
Universal Wrestling Federation (1984–1985)
Sayama was inactive from the ring for nearly a year, having founded the Tiger Gym and spending most of his time training with his protege Kazuo Yamazaki. Sayama resurfaced in the Japanese UWF in 1984. By then, All Japan Pro Wrestling 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 some controversial kicks 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.
Retirement and Shooto (1985–1995)
Sayama left professional wrestling altogether due to his experience in the UWF, and spent the next few years criticizing it as worked. It was Sayama who [re-]popularized the term kayfabe, which was also the title of a book he wrote in which he exposed the pro wrestling business's secret to a Japanese audience.
In 1986 he founded Shooto, finally realizing his dream of becoming a martial arts trainer. He taught the art of shooting to fighters like Yorinaga Nakamura, Yuki Nakai and Rumina Sato, among others. During this time Sayama hosted the Vale Tudo Japan event, leading to the introduction of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in Japan, which drove him to change the rules of Shooto to adapt them to the vale tudo. In 1996 he left Shooto due to disagreements with the board of directors, and was sucedeed by Taro Wakayabayshi.
Return and aftermath (1995–present)
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 IV, who debuted with the mask), Sayama used the name and gimmick Tiger King, using a gold-colored outfit. Inoki ended up winning the match.
In subsequent years, he (using the Original [Shodai] Tiger Mask identity), competing sporadically in various independent promotions, often in legends matches and teams with his younger disciple. In 1998, he was invited by Inoki to be a part of the board of his new venture, Universal Fighting-Arts Organization. He did, but left a year later to form Seikendo , his own promotion, defined as a martial art.
In 2005, he founded a new promotion called Real Japan Pro Wrestling and started to promote his old Super Tiger gimmick. However, with a career spanning over 30 years in addition to being actively involved in martial arts aside from wrestling, have taken its toll, with Sayama being fodder in singles matches for current stars aiming to become legends, such as Shinjiro Otani and Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion Minoru Suzuki (the title was not on the line in their match).
He has also appeared in Tatsumi Fujinami's Dradition promotion, as well as Antonio Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation. Sayama is much heavier than he was in his younger days, and as a result, his style has changed; he focuses more on mat-based wrestling, though he still uses his trademark martial arts kicks. Fans, young and old, seem quite pleased just to see Sayama in any form these days.
Still training young wrestlers, Sayama endorsed a second Super Tiger, played by seikendoka and mixed martial artist Yuji Sakuragi. In 2010, Sayama picked Ikuhisa Minowa as the fifth Tiger Mask, but has not wrestled under the mask since.
At the March 20, 2015, Real Japan event, Sayama was defeated by All Japan wrestler Akebono following a splash from the former yokozuna. Afterwards, Sayama began experiencing chest pains, which forced him to pull out of subsequent matches. After multiple tests, it was determined that Sayama needed to undergo emergency heart surgery, which took place on May 22. Following the surgery, Sayama began suffering from angina, which forced him to pull out of Real Japan's 10th anniversary event on June 11. On June 5, Sayama held a press conference, stating that he was not thinking about retiring from professional wrestling despite his life being in danger prior to the catheter surgery. Sayama returned to the ring on June 23, 2016.
In 1995, Sayama starred along Itsumi Osawa in the Toshihiro Sato movie Roppongi Soldier as Ken Washizu, a former kickboxer turned private detective. His master Yoshiaki Fujiwara appears as well, portraiting a fellow kickboxer.
He also had an appearance in the 2004 movie Shinsetsu Tiger Mask, a biographical film about Sayama's life in which he is played by Masakatsu Funaki. Sayama himself plays Tiger Mask's trainer.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Bow and arrow
- Diving crossbody, sometimes to the outside
- Kneeling reverse piledriver
- Moonsault – 1984-1985
- Multiple kick variations
- Multiple suplex variations
Championships and accomplishments
- Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre
- NWA World Middleweight Championship (1 time)
- WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- Real Japan Pro Wrestling
- Legend Championship (1 time)
- TWA Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Yoji Anjo
- Tokyo Sports
- UWF Tournament winner (1984)
- Kakuto Nettai Road "A" League Tournament (1985)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- 5 Star Match (1983) vs. Dynamite Kid on April 23
- Best Flying Wrestler (1982, 1983)
- Best Technical Wrestler (1982, 1983)
- Match of the Year (1982) vs. Dynamite Kid, August 5, Tokyo, Japan
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)
Luchas de Apuestas record
|Winner (wager)||Loser (wager)||Location||Event||Date||Notes|
|Satoru Sayama (hair)||Alfonso Dantés (hair)||México D.F., México||Live event||June 15, 1979|
|Tiger Mask (mask)||Masked Hurricane (mask)||Tokyo, Japan||Live event||October 8, 1981|
0 wins, 1 loss
Legend: Win Loss Draw/No contest
Mixed martial arts exhibition record
|Exhibition record breakdown|
|1 match||1 win||0 losses|
|Draw||1-0-2||Yoshinori Nishi||Technical Draw||Lumax Cup - Tournament of J'95||October 13, 1995||1||5:30||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||1-0-1||Kuniaki Kobayashi||KO (high kick)||Shooto: Vale Tudo Perception||September 26, 1995||1||6:05||Tokyo, Japan|
|Draw||0-0-1||Yuji Ito||Technical Draw||Lumax Cup - Tournament of J'94||October 13, 1995||2||3:00||Tokyo, Japan|
|1995||Roppongi Soldier||Ken Washizu|
|2004||Shinsetsu Tiger Mask||Tiger Mask's trainer|
- Satoru Sayama profile . Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-03-06.
- Profile at Puroresu Central . Puroresu Central. Retrieved on 2013-03-06.
- ja:選手生命の危機！初代タイガーマスクが心臓緊急手術 (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports (2015-05-23). Retrieved on 2015-05-23.
- ja:狭心症が発覚した初代タイガーマスクは復帰の目処たたず！愛弟子S・タイガーが覚悟の出陣！リアルジャパン6.11後楽園の全カード決定 (in Japanese). Battle News (2015-05-28). Retrieved on 2015-05-28.
- ja:手術の初代タイガー “遺言”伝えてた (in Japanese). Daily Sports Online. Kobe Shimbun (2015-06-05). Retrieved on 2015-06-06.
- ja:初代タイガーが狭心症から実戦復帰 (in Japanese). Daily Sports Online. Kobe Shimbun (2016-06-23). Retrieved on 2016-06-23.
- ja:東京スポーツ プロレス大賞 (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports. Retrieved on 2014-01-20.