I’m a huge mark for tag team wrestling. Always have. Always will.
Sure, I, like many kids across the world got caught up in the power of Hulkamania during the 1980’s, but it was important to enjoy all facets of the wrestling biz. Everyone on the card mattered, from Hogan to Tito Santana to the midgets. Not one thing was more important than the other. The WWF gave you a little bit of everything.
One thing that the WWF had big supply in was tag team wrestling. While the NWA/WCW had tremendous teams like The Road Warriors, Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson, The Midnight Express and the Rock and Roll Express, the WWF had an equally impressive roster of tag teams. Their roster included The Hart Foundation, The Rockers, The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, The Killer Bees, Demolition, Tito Santana & Rick Martel and The Islanders.
But quite possibly the best of the bunch had to be a duo from England who combined exciting aerial agility with solid power moves. They had made their bones working the icy Canadian prairies putting on one incredible match after another. Also the matches they had in Japan were epic, and are still talked about to this day.
That fine duo was the British Bulldogs.
As soon as they joined the WWF roster in 1985, the quality of matches in the federation picked up immediately. They made everyone look good. From the seasoned veterans to the most novice of wrestlers, no one could touch the cousins from the United Kingdom.
“As soon as we hit the territory, the pace of the territory picked up,” said Bret Hart in his 2006 3-disc DVD set. “Pretty soon, you had all these American wrestlers trying to keep up with us.”
Sad thing is, most wrestling fans have forgotten them.
It’s been almost 30 years since they ruled the tag team ranks, and unfortunately living in the fast lane caught up with them, but their contributions should not go unnoticed. Hopefully one day, it will land them in either the WWE or Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. Dynamite Kid is already in the WO Hall of Fame, but his cousin, Davey Boy Smith has yet to be inducted.
In the late 1970’s, Canadian promoter Stu Hart needed new faces to come into his wrestling company, Stampede Wrestling. Stampede covered most of Western Canada, from Calgary to Edmonton to Saskatoon to Northern U.S. areas like Montana. Problem was, the territory had seen the same guys for years and years. His son Bruce, knowing that the same roster of wrestlers were starting to get stale, looked out to other places for fresh talent.
The first guy he brought in was Tom Billington, a.k.a the Dynamite Kid. At 5’8” and under 200 pounds, Dynamite wasn’t your typical main event looking talent, but what he did in the ring was unbelievable. He brought up the game of everyone in the company, going 200 miles per hour in every one of his matches. He had a brought an impressive arsenal of moves to Western Canada, like German suplexes, flying headbutts, and flips in and out of the ring that most North American fans had never seen before.
Pretty soon, Stu’s son Bret was coming right along in the business, and both Bret and Dynamite had a series of epic matches that lit Stampede on fire. Light heavyweight wrestlers all over the world like Norman Frederick Charles from Australia, Hubert Gallant from New Brunswick, Canada, The Cobra from Japan, and Les Thornton from England all came in and challenged Dynamite for the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship. Outside of Japan, Stampede was quite possibly the best territory for high flyers in the world.
“Stampede Wrestling had low production value,” said Dave Meltzer in his interview for his book Tributes II. “But they had some of the hottest action outside of Japan for that time in the business.”
Dynamite quickly became one of the best heels (bad guys) in the business. His cocky swagger, mixed with the association with manager J.R. Foley only added to the vicious British wrestler’s package. Dynamite vs The Harts was a must see feud that set Stampede on fire from 1979 to 1983, when Dynamite decided to turn good. It was on par with the Freebirds vs. Von Erichs in terms of entertainment value.
In early 1981, Dynamite’s cousin, Davey Boy Smith, came to Canada from England, and he too, was another fantastic talent who was very versatile in the ring. He could flip, he could suplex and he could dropkick. He could also exhibit power moves that made him one of the best young competitors in pro wrestling.
In 1984, after years of running Western Canada, Stu Hart sold Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon, who was buying up all the small wrestling promotions in the United States and Canada. McMahon first bought the Los Angeles territory from Mike LeBell in 1982, which included Los Angeles, Bakersfield and San Diego. He then went into St. Louis in 1983, and bought the territory from Sam Muchnick, who had been running the the city and surrounding areas for decades. Much like Albertsons buying up many grocery store chains, McMahon had that same goal, to take the WWF worldwide.
Knowing that he couldn’t run the wrestling business forever, Hart sold his business to McMahon. He also brokered a deal that would allow his son Bret, his son-in law and former UCLA shot putter Jim Neidhart, and Dynamite and Davey Boy to work in the WWF.
At first, Bret and Dynamite came into the territory, working preliminary matches at WWF’s TV tapings and house shows in Canada against guys like Rene Goulet, Steve Lombardi and the Spoiler. Neidhart and Davey Boy would come in soon after, and the WWF wouldn’t be quite the same.
Dynamite and Davey Boy soon teamed up, and were having amazing matches with everybody. They could compliment anyone’s style, and no matter if the team was The Hart Foundation, The Moondogs or Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake, the Bulldogs would adapt to their style, and the action would be incredible.
Just one year into their stint in the WWF, the Bulldogs, led by manager Captain Lou Albano and rock star Ozzy Osbourne, beat Beefcake and Valentine for the Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania 2 in Chicago. The match was very, very good, mixing the tough rough house style of Valentine, the scientific wrestling of the Bulldogs, and even a young Brutus Beefcake showed some promise in the match. It was one of the highlights on a packed card that featured a 20 man over the top rope battle royal with WWF and NFL stars, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper against Mr. T in a boxing match, and Hulk Hogan defending the WWF Championship against King Kong Bundy in a steel cage.
For the next couple of months, the Bulldogs would rule the WWF tag team ranks, toppling opponents like Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, The Hart Foundation, and Don Muraco and Bob Orton for the Tag Team Championship.
Then, injury struck.
During a Tag Title match against Muraco & Orton in Hamilton, Ontario in late-1986, Dynamite hurt his back in the match. The fans, who were skeptical of the legitimacy of wrestling to begin with, called Dynamite a “faker” and chanted to “get up.” The sad thing was, Dynamite’s injury was legitimate. His doctors warned him to never wrestle again. However, being the competitor and professional that he was, Dynamite didn’t want to quit.
Knowing that they had to drop the Tag Team Championship to someone, the Bulldogs suggested that the Hart Foundation win the belts, because they were having the best matches on the card at the time with the Bulldogs and the Killer Bees. At a WWF TV taping in February 1987 in Tampa, the Bulldogs lost the belts to the Foundation, with Dynamite getting injured early in the match. Despite losing the belts, the Bulldogs spent the next year challenging the Harts for the titles, winning most of the matches on a disqualification. Even though the fans still loved the Bulldogs, they as a unit would never win the WWF Tag Team Championship again.
For the next year and a half, the Bulldogs would feud with teams like the Islanders (which included the infamous angle that involved Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and the Isles stealing the Bulldogs’ mascot Matilda), and Demolition, for which they were unsuccessful to wrest the tag titles from. But quite possibly their biggest feud in the WWF occurred in real life against French-Canadian team The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers.
For most of 1988, Dynamite would torture Jacques Rougeau with numerous ribs and countless moments of humiliation in front of the other wrestlers. Knowing that he needed to defend himself, Rougeau decided he needed to get back and teach Dynamite a lesson.
During a lunch break at a TV taping in mid-1988, Rougeau went up to Dynamite and said, “How are you doing?”
Rougeau took a roll of quarters and proceeded to punch Dynamite in the face repeatedly. Blood spilled everywhere. Teeth were knocked out. In the end, Dynamite looked like an old dog that had been put out of his misery.
In his autobiography “Hitman”, Bret Hart gave his opinion on the incident.
“At first I was upset, and contemplated getting involved. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized Tom (Dynamite) had been asking for this for years and that everyone who had been bullied by him would rejoice at the news. I decided that this wasn’t my fight.”
After being bloodied by Jacques Rougeau, Vince McMahon made the two teams shake hands and agree to work in a professional manor. If not, Dynamite would not receive checks for shows he had worked on. He agreed to shake hands, but the next move was equally shocking.
The Bulldogs quit the WWF.
At one of their last shows, at Survivor Series 1988, the Bulldogs were involved a team elimination match, then were gone from the Federation. All of a sudden, one of the greatest tag teams in pro wrestling were gone from the biggest stage.
Even though they were gone from the WWF, the Bulldogs weren’t done wrestling. They soon re-appeared in Stampede Wrestling, which was in its dying days. At first, the team came back to much fanfare. However, that was short lived. Dynamite would soon turn heel, and set up a feud with his cousin and longtime tag team partner.
Despite the potential box office gold, the feud was marred by many factors. In the book Pain and Passion by Heath McCoy, it was admitted that Stampede announcer Ed Whalen had major objection to the team breaking up. The wrestling play by play guy had a lot of clout in Calgary, as a respected member of the community, and as the NHL’s Calgary Flames announcer. He liked the group as a team, and didn’t want them feuding. Davey Boy Smith was also involved in major car accident in Jasper, Alberta in July 1989 with Chris Benoit, Karl Moffat and Ross Hart. It didn’t look like Davey Boy would live, much less compete in a wrestling ring again. It also didn’t help that Dynamite was battling substance abuse problems, and even though he was the territory’s booker (head writer), he was noticeably burned out, and when the territory died in late 1989, both he and Davey went back to Japan.
However, the return to Japan did not cure Dynamite’s ills, and pretty soon he was out of the wrestling business, returning to Manchester, England, destitute and crippled from years of wrestling injuries. Davey Boy, looking more spectacular than ever, went back to the WWF in 1991, and became a big star, winning the Intercontinental Championship from Bret Hart at Wembley Stadium in London in 1992. After going back and forth between WWF and WCW, Smith battled his own demons before passing away of a heart attack in May of 2002.
Dynamite continues to live his days in England, hobbled by the pain that he endured while competing at full blast for 15 years. It’s sad that an athlete so good would end up in a wheelchair. Despite this, he is generally considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and was the inspiration of a generation of wrestlers who tried to become big stars based on their actual wrestling ability.
Three noticeable omissions from the WWE Hall of Fame are Owen Hart, Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith. Hopefully soon, these three will be immortalized in the annals of WWE history. In the meantime, go on WWE Network, and watch the Bulldogs in some of their best moments ever.
You won’t be disappointed.