Full Book Review: Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom.


Polarizing. Its a term that is bandied about frequently everytime you see John Cena wrestle on Monday nights. Its a term used abundantly by Michael Cole (or, more specifically, by Vince McMahon through his quasi human vessel Michael Cole) as an excuse for why so many members of the “WWE Twaterverse” boo the man who is supposedly the numero uno face in the company. John Cena is not polarizing at all. He is just a poorly booked babyface.

You want polarizing? Let’s discuss Tom Billington, better known worldwide as The Dynamite Kid.

Dynamite is the very definition of polarizing. Ask most knowledgeable wrestling fans about Dynamite, and you will likely get two responses: Either he is the greatest pound for pound talent to ever grace the squared circle, or he is the biggest prick the industry has ever seen outside of it. In fact, most fans will frequently cite both. What no one can discount, though, is the totality of his work, his influence, for better or worse, in the annals of pro wrestling.

Pure Dynamite, Billington’s autobiography, was the second wrestling book I ever bought (not including those old George Napatilano picture books from the late 80’s-early 90’s that seemingly were the only books devoted to wrestling). Have a Nice Day was the first, obviously, seeing as it was a WWF publication released when the WWF was at its zenith. Pure Dynamite was much harder to find. This was early 2001 I am talking here, so online orders were dubious at best, and bookstores were not yet quite as flooded with pro wrestling books as they would be in just a year or so. I just happened to walk into a college (!) bookstore in Cambridge, MA one afternoon and saw the book staring at me. It remains one of the best $15 I have ever spent. (BTW, that college bookstore…in Cambridge, MA…can anyone guess which college? Harvard. Of all fucking places.)

Pure Dynamite is a relatively easy read, as it clocks in at a mere 201 pages. But those 201 pages pack a lot of punch. For starters, I will say this: Wrestling Observer edited and ghostwrote the book, but took a more hands off approach to it. As Dynamite is not the most educated person in the world, the book is not what you would call the most grammatically sound. And a bunch of the words are spelled out in the foreign language of English…British English, that is, words such as manouevere. That should not take away from the litres of great stories this book offers.

Let’s quickly start with this: this is far from a flattering tale. Dynamite, while he does sugarcoat and completely bullshit some aspects of his career, is remarkably candid about some of the seedier shortcomings of his own character. He relates a story (also told in Bret Hart’s bio) about running out of his normal supply of steroids, and resorting to calling a vet and shooting up HORSE steroids. This is the level of discourse we are talking about with Pure Dynamite.

Tom Billington grew up in a rough part of Britain, just miles outside of Wigan. Those familiar with wrestling history understand the significance of that. Wigan was home to some of the greatest shoot and catch-as-catch-can wrestlers the world stage has ever seen. And the majority of them came from Riley’s Gym, the Snake Pit, run, initially by Billy Riley, and then a revolving door of trainers including Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson, both nefarious shooters. Dynamite only did a few sessions there, having the mat mopped with his face, before settling into training with another great trainer named Ted Betley. Dynamite debuted on the English wrestling circuit at an exceedingly young age, 15, wrestling for the Crabtree’s promotion. It was there that the skinny, sinewy teenager was discovered by Bruce Hart, and recruited to Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling. Dynamite left England for Calgary April 27, 1978, with only 20 pounds in his pocket. But wrestling history was forever about to be altered.

Dynamite was a revelation to Stu Hart’s struggling wrestling troupe in 1978. The promotion at the time consisted of the Hart brothers…and not much else. (Quick aside: If anyone knows a place where I can find a cheap or free copy of Pain and Passion, Stampede Wrestling, e-mail me, amarone007@verizon.net) Dynamite was a pure madman, taking ridiculous bumps his 175 pund body had no business taking nightly on loops through suck wrestling hotbeds as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Dynamite’s greatest matches in Stampede probably were with a very young, very green pre-Hitman Bret Hart, including a sensational Ladder Match. While in North America, Dynamite discovered two things that changed his life. The first was his bride, Michelle, who was the sister of Bret Hart’s wife Julie. The second was drugs: steroids, painkillers, uppers and downers. And lots of them. He relates a story that Junkyard Dog (of all fucking people) introduced him to Dianbol Steroid pills, and Jake Roberts (of course) introduced him to speed. Dynamite bulked up and numbed down. It was during this period that Japan came calling.

Dynamite was a total sensation upon landing in the Land of the Rising Sun. And for good reason. Dynamite was Chris Benoit before Chris Benoit, and he was Benoit in 1982. Think about that assessment for a second. He had some great matches with Tatsumi Fujinami, Black Tiger (Mark Rocco) and others, but there was a series of matches that in the coming future would come to define The Dynamite Kid. An adversary for the ages.

That man was Sammy Lee. Real name Satoru Sayama, Tiger Mask. Many more current fans enjoy the light heavyweight high flying style, guys like Rey Mysterio and the like (this argument would be much easier in 1998). Well, the style simply did not exist until these two revolutionary figures essentially created it on the fly in the early 1980’s. And make no mistake, these matches stand the test of time, especially with that great, orgasmic Japanese announcing surrounding it. Dynamite and Sayama invented the style, and that alone makes Dynamite a truly historical wrestling figure.

Dynamite brought his cousin, Davey Boy Smith, both to Stampede and Japan. Now, here is the touchy part of the book. Dynamite claims that he lead the brainless Davey around, and there is some truth to that. Bret Hart, in his book, said Dynamite was nothing but contemptuous of Davey, and shoo-flied him at any point he could. (Shoo-flied is spiking someones drink with laxative). One point of contention Dynamite does not dispute, and, in fact, writes about was that Davey, matchstick thin upon his arrival from England, came to Dynamite for steroids. So Dynamite draws up some thick white liquid into a syringe and shoots in into Davey’s ass cheek. Days later, on a Stampede road trip, some wrestlers start taunting Davey, “MOOOOO!” Dynamite, virtuous cousin, had injected Davey with 100% pure milk. No word on if it was whole or low fat or 2%.

After a good run in Japan, and with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart floundering in WWF, The British Bulldogs decided to give WWF a try. Going away from the book now, as a fan, they were AMAZING. The crisp suplexes and double team moves they performed were unheard of in New York at that time. They should have had the tag straps placed on them IMMEDIATELY but that didn’t happen. They basically made teams like the nascent Hart Foundation their playthings for months until it was decided at WrestleMania 2 that the Bulldogs should be the standard bearers of the tag division.

That WrestleMania night, they beat the Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine) with Ozzy Osbourne drugged into oblivion in their corner. They defended those belts for the better part of a year until disaster struck:

Dynamite had been having back problems for years, but his steroid use and painkiller abuse at essentially put those problems into traction. Until that match above from Hamilton, Ontario. Dynamite was, in a word, fucked. He was laid up in a hospital bed, and the Bulldogs were slated to lose the titles to Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik. That much is indisputable. Dynamite had a severe dislike of the Sheik (as many seem to have…but his twitter feed is magic) so he refused to lose the titles to any team but the Hart Foundation. The Harts probably never would have gotten there themselves on merit alone, so I guess you could say Dynamite made Bret Hart with this decision. Although Dynamite’s recollection of the events leading up to this do not match up to Bret’s recollections in his book. We’ll split the difference. Anyway, Dynamite had to crawl out of his bed, hitch piggyback to Davey, and drop the belts to the Harts in January 1987.

An epic title change, to be sure. But Dynamite was never the same after that. He hurried back from the injury to be a part of WrestleMania III, but if you watch the six man Dyno is involved in, he is obviously in a ton of pain and has no reason to be out there besides the almighty dollar.

Basically from that point, the Bulldogs were never the same. Davey got sick and tired of Dynamite barking orders at him and became resentful. Dynamite despised this insolence from his younger cousin and never truly forgave him. The last straw came in 1988, when Mr. Perfect pulled a rib on the Rougeaus. Read about it RIGHT HERE (https://marianosaves.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/ten-years-later-the-death-of-perfection/).

Basically, The Rougeau Brothers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn701jXWtkE) blamed Dynamite for a rib he actually was completely innocent of. Which is a shock because reading Pure Dynamite, the Bulldogs were amongst the worst ribbers in wrestling. Dynamite caught wind of the allegations, and approached Jacques Rougeau as he was playing cards with the boys, and open hand slapped him across the ear. It did not escalate too much further THAT night, as Dynamite was being his usual prickish self taunting both well connected brothers, but it came back to bite him in the ass. HARD. You see, Dynamite was coming back from the canteen during one taping, cigarette in one hand, coffee in the other (HELL YES!). Pat Patterson was present, but Dyno should have realized that Patterson was French-Canadian as well, and as he walked through the backstage area, I don’t care how badass you are, a pair of brass knucks will knock you on your ass. And that is what happened. There are a bunch of accounts of the incident, some involve knucks, some don’t. In my opinion, though, Dynamite was double tough, to quote a certain Stetson wearing announcer. A punch would not floor Dynamite and loosen his bicuspids. Jacques Rougeau knocked Dynamites lights out with an International Object. Dynamite never wavered, did not fall on his ass, but the damage was done to his rep. He and Davey soon left the WWF.

Davey developed a set of balls during this point and fractured from Dynamite. Davey’s career was just getting started, so was Bret’s. Dynamite was in traction. Its sad because Dyno was easily the most talented of the group. He eventually retired and gave his ring boots to one Chris Benoit. That is even more tragic. Dynamite fiddled around for a few years after he retired, and then was faced with the worst truth a man can face: He was paralyzed from the waist down. And there was nothing he could do about it. It was a sad coda to a fantastic career.

“Pure Dynamite” is probably one of the greatest wrestling biographies ever written. But much like the man behind the pen it is underrated and forgotten. One of my favorite moments in watching wrestling was WrestleMania X-7. During the Benoit-Angle match, Jim Ross calls a Benoit move as “Pure Dynamite.” Benoit and Billington are two people beyond redemption. But both were amazing professional wrestlers. If you can still find it somewhere, “Pure Dynamite” is one of the greatest wrestling bios ever written, by a wrestler who takes no quarter.


2 thoughts on “Full Book Review: Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom.

  1. Really enjoying your reviews, sir. I’ve read most of the books you’re writing about, but I’ve missed this one. I’ll have to pick it up and give it a read.

    I loved the Bulldogs growing up – and I couldn’t understand then as a kid why they weren’t the champs. Now it makes much more sense.

  2. Dude, your book reviews are awesome. I read a lot and I enjoy reading your reviews better than most of the books I read. I kinda gather from your VCR tape story on the Henning post (I think it was that post) we’re about the same age. Before the Internet made everything easy to find, the Ivy League college bookstores were by far the best places to find stuff. Harvard and Yale were my two favorites. They were even really cool about me calling and asking for special orders even though I didn’t go to either school. There was something else in this post I wanted to comment on, but I forgot what it was. Oh well…just know you’re killing it and I can’t wait to read more!

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