The tiger and the mask.
"Seeing Tiger Mask for the first time as a kid had an amazing impact on my heart. Jumping and flying, all his movements were so beautiful... I was completely blown away."
(b. 1957) is a Japanese Professional 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, and also trained with the legendary Karl Gotch
. Later he moved to Britain, where he learned other 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 breaking up with Shooto due intern problems, 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
"Go, Go, Trope List"
- Acrofatic: Gained a lot of weight after his retire in 1985, but he moves almost exactly like his former self.
- Animal Motifs: Tigers.
- 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 Satoru only trained with him to get his knowledge and connections. He ended appointing Fujiwara as his official heir and stated he and not Sayama was his best student. Ironically, Sayama and Fujiwara have been close friends for years and are frequent coworkers nowadays.
- Arch-Enemy: Dynamite Kid, Kuniaki Kobayashi and Black Tiger. More recently, Minoru Suzuki and Atsushi Onita.
- In real life, Akira Maeda. Their hostility 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, but with sincerity) each other's accomplishments. Currently, they seem to have regained respect for each other.
- 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 Brother Mentor: Was one to Akira Maeda.
- 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.
- Bruce Lee Clone: His Sammy Lee gimmick was Bruce Lee's storyline cousin, even wearing the yellow suit made famous by Bruce in the film Game of Death. This turned him a fan favourite, being one of the first subversions of the Foreign Wrestling Heel in England.
- Cane Fu: During his stint as Sammy Lee, he used to bring a shinai with him to hit his opponents.
- Captain Ersatz: He and most of the other "official" Tiger Masks regularly get Fire Pro Wrestling representation. He also appeared in the videogame Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko as the final boss under the name of "Tiger Neo".
- 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.
- Combination Attack: He and Tatsumi Fujinami had a tag finishing move in which Tatsumi lifted the opponent by the legs spinebuster-like and Tiger performed a diving crossbody on him.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Purple as Super Tiger, golden as Tiger King, and black under his real name.
- Cool Mask: Not any mask, but the Tiger Mask.
- Dancing Is Serious Business: During the Seikendo shows, Sayama used to dance in the ring while wearing his mask and along with Russian female dancers.
- 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.
- Evil Counterpart: Black Tiger, also a character from the anime. Though not opposed him personally (but rather to his apprentice Tiger Mask IV), Masked Tiger in Michinoku Pro Wrestling.
- Face: One of the greatest ever. During his Tiger Mask tenure, the New Japan TV show had the rating higher than 25% when Sayama was on, and every card with him sold out the arenas.
- Finishing Move: Bridging German suplex, Tiger Suplex and Tiger Driver (a predecessor to the DDT).
- As Super Tiger, he used the crossface chickenwing and other shoot-style submissions like armbars and keylocks.
- During his beginnings as Tiger Mask, before he debuted the Tiger Suplex, he finished opponents with tilt-a-whirl backbreakers and octopus holds.
- Freudian Trio: The Superego to Nobuhiko Takada's Ego to Akira Maeda's Id.
- 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.
- Golden Super Mode: His Tiger King gimmick.
- Hardboiled Detective: He played this kind of character in the 1995 film Roppongi Soldier.
- Hurricane Kick: Uses it mainly as a feint. He famously broke in spinning kicks during a MMA exhibition against Yoshinori Nishi.
- Instant Expert: Downplayed in his kickboxing debut against Marc Costello. Sayama only had a kickboxing crash course in the Mejiro Gym some days before, while Costello was a national champion; the result was naturally Costello's victory, but Sayama managed to fend him off during the fight and actually wasn't KO'ed, just losing by decision (he also used illegal takedowns to halt the course of the bout, but that is another thing).
- Invincible Hero: Aside than DQ or count out losses, Tiger Mask was never pinned, singles or tag team match, during his New Japan days.
- Japanese Spirit: Has a preference for traditional Japanese imagery and ideals, as evidenced for his seikendo style and the ceremonials used in RJPW.
- Jerkass: According to some.
- Kid-Appeal Character: Started as one, as the junior heavyweight star was Tatsumi Fujinami. Then Fujinami ascended to heavyweight and Tiger Mask got the spotlight.
- Legacy Character: Probably the most known in pro wrestling ever.
- Leitmotif: "Boys Be A Tiger".
- 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 sufficiently 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 was the later wrestling generation who turned the high-flying scene into a world of infallible dives and magic physics.
- Masked Luchador: The first Japanese one along with Mach Hayato.
- Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Sayama believes there might be great fighters waiting to be discovered in Russia, and it is said he held several kumites and tryouts there during his seikendo starting.
- Multidisciplinary Scientist: Is trained in judo, amateur wrestling, sambo, kickboxing, muay thai and many a style of catch wrestling. He is not simply nicknamed "Genius" for nothing.
- Odd Friendship: Sayama was friends with sumo legend Taiho Koki, whose son Yukio is currently training in RJPW, and another sumo, Akebono Taro, who he taught kickboxing for his K-1 career.
- 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
- Sayama's team with Kung Fu and Kato Kung Lee is not well remembered due to the two finding much more success with Sayama's replacement, Black Man. As in the three became the biggest draws in Mexico.
- 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 on it.
- Panthera Awesome: Yeah.
- 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 (his actual identity is not known, but it is probably Yukio Naya and/or Takatoriki).
- Pet the Dog: During the infamous 1.4 Incident, Sayama was the only UFO member who tended the referee Tiger Hattori after he got legitimately low blowed by Naoya Ogawa, and virtually the only man in the arena who tried to calm down the subsequent brawl.
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: At least in his beginnings. He is not pint-sized anymore.
- Power Trio: El Triangulo Oriental in EMLL with Kung Fu and Kato Kung Lee. Despite the name, it was a multinational team as Fu was Mexican and Lee was from Panama (when Sayama was replaced with Black Man in LLI they became Los Tres Fantasticos)
- Red Baron: "Yon Jigen Yaho" ("The Four-Dimensional Assassin"), "Densetsu no Tora" ("The Legendary Tiger") and "Tensai" ("Genius").
- Roundhouse Kick: One of his trademark moves.
- 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.
- Shout-Out: His moniker The Mask of Tiger was one to The Mask of Zorro.
- Signature Move: Various shoot kicking combinations, among them the Tiger Wall Flip. He also used the Tombstone Piledriver and the Diving Headbutt.
- Start My Own: Shooto, Seiken Shinkage-Ryu and Real Japan Pro Wrestling.
- Tag Team: With fellow U-spirit shooter Yoji Anjo. This was his only team, as Sayama has went predominantly solo.
- The Rival: Dynamite Kid and Kuniaki Kobayashi.
- Training from Hell: He passed some under Karl Gotch, Toshio Fujiwara and Victor Koga, and himself dispensed some to his many students (see Sadist Teacher above).
- Unnecessary Combat Roll: Sometimes done to make effect.
- Weak, but Skilled: Mainly due to his lack of size, Sayama never was very much of a fighter in comparison with other shooters, but his striking and submission acumen was deceptive.
- The Worf Effect: He was thrashed by one of his Real Japan students, The Great Tiger, to show how dangerous he is.
- Wrestling Psychology: His has been praised for decades.
- 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.