Satoru Sayama (b. 1957) is a JapaneseProfessional Wrestler, promoter and Mixed Martial Arts trainer, best known for his work as Tiger Mask. He debuted in 1976 for New Japan Pro Wrestling, but he was sent abroad to Mexico, where he gained fame. Later he moved to Britain, where he learned martial arts and wrestled as "Sammy Lee", with his gimmick being a cousin of Bruce Lee. After his return to Japan, he was chosen to play the Tiger Mask character, based in a manga. He redebuted under the masked and became the founder of the junior heavyweight wrestling, introducing the lucha libre style in Japan along his own abilities. After some years of stardom, in which he had legendary feuds with Dynamite Kid and Kuniaki Kobayashi, he left New Japan in protest for Antonio Inoki's irregular monetary management. He founded the Tiger Gym, a martial arts dojo, and shortly after was convinced by NJPW defectors to return to wrestling and join them in Universal Wrestling Federation. There Sayama adopted the "Super Tiger" moniker and helped to create the shoot-style wrestling along names like Akira Maeda and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. However, he had a falling out with Maeda and some others wrestlers and left to form Shooto, the first Mixed Martial Arts company in history. He acted as promoter and trained many future MMA stars, also doing a second return to pro wrestling by request of Inoki. After leaving Shooto, he freelanced in pro wrestling indies like Michinoku Pro Wrestling and UWF International, and collaborated with Inoki in his Universal Fighting-Arts Organization. He ended founding a martial art, Seikendo, which derived into his own promotion, Real Japan Pro Wrestling.As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki.
Acrofatic: Gained a lot of weight after his retire in 1985, but he moves almost exactly like his former self.
Anti-Hero: Sayama is a puroresu legend and one of the biggest contributors to the combat sports, but his fame as a bordering sadist in the dojo and his role in exposing pro wrestling's inner secrets have shadowed his figure to many eyes. He is a solid fan favorite nonetheless, but still not your usual pro wrestling hero.
A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Hard to take it in real life, but this is how Karl Gotch saw Sayama. Gotch initially called Satoru as his greatest student ever, but he always considered him to be too much of a bully, and later in their life he changed his opinion and claimed Sayama only trained with him to get his knowledge and connections. He ended appointing Fujiwara as his official heir and stated he and not Satoruyama was his best student. Ironically, Sayama and Fujiwara have been close friends for years and are frequent coworkers nowadays.
In real life, Akira Maeda. Their hosility started in 1985, when Maeda shot on Sayama during a match and caused the fall of the original UWF. They continued badmouthing each other during years until 2006, when they were reunited in an interview by Hisao Maki and acknowledged (rather grudgingly) each other's accomplishments. Currently, they seem to have regained a degree of respect between them.
As Himself: Subverted. He did appear in his biographic film Shinsetsu Tiger Mask, but not as himself, but as his personal trainer. His own role was played by Masakatsu Funaki.
Badass: A high-flyer and shoot-style wrestler able to hang with the best in and out the ring.
Bad Boss: Supposedly the reason his colleagues ousted him from UWF was that he was egotistically using his position to book himself over the rest of the roster, which made him impopular among them. To be fair, it was probably the best decision for the promotion, as he always got the biggest cheers regardless the opponent he was facing. Even Maeda and Fujiwara, who were solid draws at the moment, were in second place when Super Tiger was on the ring.
Big Eater: Has quite of a Sweet Tooth. He used to send his cornermen to nearby vending machines to bought sweets during training pauses, and his trainee Naoya Ogawa recalls how Sayama once spent almost ¥10.000 in a coffee shop.
Blood Knight: Back in the NJPW Dojo, Sayama was in charge to welcome dojoyaburi (challenging martial artists) and show them the exit, and while stronger guys like Maeda or Fujiwara have also famously fulfilled this role, Sayama is known for taking a special pleasure in doing it. In Kotetsu Yamamoto's words, only Antonio Inoki himself was better than Sayama in the art of breaking arms with a smile in his face.
Cane Fu: During his stint as Sammy Lee, he used to bring a shinai with him to hit his opponents.
Challenge Seeker: In 2000, Sayama proposed another of his trainees, Kazuyuki Fujita, to fight him in what would be Sayama's MMA debut in PRIDE Fighting Championship. It probably was just a promotional stunt, as one has to wonder why would Sayama want to get killed in the ring.
Dancing Is Serious Business: During the Seikendo shows, Sayama used to wear his mask and introduce Russian female dancers into the ring to work a dance.
Distaff Counterpart: The character Tiger Dream, granted by Sayama to joshi wrestler Candy Okutsu.
Dramatic Unmask: Subverted for a Masked Luchador. He nonchalantly unmasked himself in a TV show and proceeded to vilify pro wrestling, as he was tired of "fake" fighting and its politics (especially the money politics). Unsurprisingly, he was not very popular among wrestling promoters after that.
Establishing Character Moment: Being lifted from the apron by Dynamite Kid for a vertical suplex, then floating over him and reversing the move into a bridging German suplex for the pin, all in his Tiger Mask debut.
From Clones to Genre: His aerial moves started being used only by Tiger Masks, but then extended to all the cruiserweight wrestling. Until then, junior heavyweights in Japan had been esentially miniature heavyweights with almost the same style.
Let's Get Dangerous: In his MMA exhibition match with Yoshinori Nishi, Sayama was being bullied around by the bigger and more aggresive Nishi until he had enough and launched a brilliant flying leglock offensive. He did not manage to make Nishi tap out like he had done to Sayama earlier in the match, but it showed he was not a wuss neither.
Lost in Imitation/Unbuilt Trope: The original Tiger Mask's aerial style barely looks like modern high-flyers's. This is due to Sayama under Karl Gotch's influence wanting to work matches which were spectacular but sufficently realistic at the same time, and hence Tiger Mask matches featured elements of realism which are pretty much lost in cruiserwight wrestling nowadays: flying attacks which failed by the opponent walking out of the way, convoluted moves which were reverted whenever a real opponent should be able to revert them, stumbles and unspectacular falls out of the ring, wrestlers getting knocked out from simple kicks... It were late wrestlers who turned the high-flying scene into a world of infallible dives and magic physics.
Odd Friendship: Sayama was friends with sumo legend Taiho Koki, whose son Yukio is currently training in RJPW.
Old Master: Founded the Super Tiger Gym, where has taught countless fighters and wrestlers.
While he has directly trained few of the most known (i.e. modern) Shooto fighters, he was the one who taught the instructors who trained them, which makes him an old master to old masters. Yuki Nakai, Noboru Asahi and Yorinaga Nakamura are his best known Shooto era apprentices. Also, combat wrestling founder Noriaki Kiguchi worked in his gym, and shootboxing pioneer Caesar Takeshi learned grappling from Sayama as well.
Sayama is currently the only red belt in seikendo, the martial art he founded.
Overshadowed by Awesome: After the UWF split, the greatest shoot-style exponents to Japanese eyes were Nobuhiko Takada from UWF International, Akira Maeda from RINGS and Masakatsu Funaki from Pancrase. Sayama was never counted as another one, due to Shooto being far less known and to him not having an active career.
Passing the Torch: Currently, there are three wrestlers who carry Sayama's torch: Tiger Mask IV (Yoshihiro Yamazaki), Tiger Mask V (Ikuhisa Minowa) and Super Tiger II (Yuji Sakuragi). The latter's Evil Counterpart, Tiger Shark (Kozo Urita) can be considered another torchbearer, as well as the recently debuted Great Tiger (probably Takatoriki Tadashige).
Pet the Dog: During the infamous 1.4 Incident, Sayama was the only UFO member who tended the referee Tiger Hattori (who got legitimately low blowed by Naoya Ogawa) and virtually the only man in the arena who tried to calm down the consecuent brawl.
Sadist Teacher: Is considered a cruel and harsh trainer even to Japanese standards, to the extent that there are clips of him beating students with a shinai cane. In fact, it's said that Sayama trainees literally get hit harder in training than in the ring. Karl Gotch, who used to spoke of Sayama as his greatest student ever, supposedly remarked that Satoru was a glorified gym bully.
Sayama publicitly supports corporal punishment to children.
Self-Referential Humor: Sayama likes to joke about his weigh gain. For a time, the RJPW announcers used to introduce him as a superheavyweight to make the crowd laugh.
Start My Own: Shooto, Seiken Shinkage-Ryu and Real Japan Pro Wrestling.
Writing Around Trademarks: The Tiger Mask character was bought by All Japan Pro Wrestling after his retire, so he renamed himself as "The Tiger", "Super Tiger", "Tiger King" and the like. He retained his name variations after adquiring the Tiger Mask trademark, as he passed it to his apprentice Yoshihiro Yamazaki.