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Satoru Sayama
Sayama, as Tiger Mask, with the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, 1982
Born (1957-11-27) November 27, 1957 (age 66)
Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, Japan
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Satoru Sayama
Tiger Mask
Super Tiger
Tiger King
Sammy Lee
The Mask of Tiger
The Tiger
Billed height5 ft 8 in (173 cm)[1]
Billed weight198 lb (90 kg)[1]
Trained byKarl Gotch
Antonio Inoki
Yoshiaki Fujiwara
Kotetsu Yamamoto
DebutMay 28, 1976

Satoru Sayama (佐山 聡, Sayama Satoru) (born November 27, 1957) is a Japanese professional wrestler, mixed martial artist, writer, and mixed martial arts (MMA) and wrestling promoter, best known as the original Tiger Mask. He has wrestled under his real name as well as the names Sammy Lee, and masked Super Tiger, Tiger King, 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.[2][3] Sayama has the distinction of being a competitor (along with "Dynamite Kid" Thomas Billington) in the first 5 Star Rating awarded for a Match by Dave Meltzer, for their NJPW Sumo Hall Show 1983 match. This is thought of very highly in the industry.

He is also recognized as a pioneer in mixed martial arts, founding Shooto in 1985, one of the first MMA organizations in the world. Sayama also pioneered mixed martial arts training and developed his own Shooto syllabus for learning what could be considered the first put together MMA training of its kind, with a focus on striking from arts like Boxing, Muay Thai and Karate, and grappling from Wrestling, Judo, and Sambo. The curriculum would help produce the first well rounded fighters of MMA several years before the first UFC event.[4] He is also the founder of the martial art Seikendo and professional wrestling promotion Real Japan Pro Wrestling.

Professional wrestling and martial arts career

Early career; New Japan Pro-Wrestling and excursion (1976–1981)

Sayama debuted in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, against Shoji Kai (Kanji Kitazawa), 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 wrestling as Sammy Lee he took on opponents such as Mark Rocco and Mick McManus as well as teaming with Big Daddy. He also had a stint in 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 Championship in EMLL.

Return to NJPW (1981–1983)

Becoming Tiger Mask

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 Championship 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 old UK rival Mark Rocco, wrestling in the guise of 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.

Around this time, Sayama trained in sambo under Victor Koga and kickboxing under Toshio Fujiwara.[5]

World Wrestling Federation tours

In late 1982, while still a member of the New Japan roster, Sayama made at least two tours of the United States as part of the NJPW-WWF working relationship. 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 complementary 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 NJPW

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. His last match occurred on August 4, facing Isamu Teranishi. 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, which 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 claimed that he was kicked in the groin, resulting in Maeda being disqualified. Shortly after this, Sayama left UWF, amid recriminations 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 (1985–1996)

Sayama then left professional wrestling altogether.

In 1985 he founded Shooto, one of the world's first mixed martial arts (MMA) promotions, 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 succeeded by Taro Wakayabayshi.

Return to wrestling 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.

In 1999, attempting to return to the world of martial arts and to create something similar to Shooto, he created a martial art named Seikendo. It was a hybrid martial art similar to Shooto and MMA, but more akin to a traditional martial art—with focus on etiquette and ceremonials based on traditional Japanese imagery and ideals and spiritual and mental development—and focused on self-defense: Seikendokas would wear keikogis to simulate clothing, had rules that based on the principle it had a concrete floor, with groundfighting that focused on ground-and-pound, with no submissions allowed, and fighting was in an octagonal ring without ropes.[6][7] Sayama also created a professional promotion by the same name to promote his martial art (as he had done to Shooto), which ran for three years and had five events before closing down in 2003.[8]

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.

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.[9] Following the surgery, Sayama began suffering from angina, which forced him to pull out of Real Japan's 10th anniversary event on June 11.[10] 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.[11] Sayama returned to the ring on June 23, 2016, battling Minowa-man to a draw,[12] but has not been back since then.

Other media

In 1995, Sayama starred along Itsumi Osawa in the Toshihiro Sato movie Roppongi Soldier as Ken Washizu, a former kickboxer turned private detective. His partner Yoshiaki Fujiwara appears as well, portraying a fellow fighter.

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.


Championships and accomplishments

  • PWI ranked him #274 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2006[14]
  • TWA Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Yoji Anjo
  • UWF Tournament winner (1984)[16]
  • Kakuto Nettai Road "A" League Tournament (1985)

Luchas de Apuestas record

See also: Luchas de Apuestas

Winner (wager) Loser (wager) Location Event Date Notes
Satoru Sayama (hair) Alfonso Dantés (hair) México City Live event June 15, 1979
Tiger Mask (mask) Masked Hurricane (mask) Tokyo, Japan Live event October 8, 1981

Kickboxing record

Kickboxing record
0 wins, 1 loss
Date Result Opponent Event Location Method Round Time Record
November 14, 1977 Loss Marc Costello Kakutōgi Daisensō Tokyo, Japan Decision (unanimous) 6 2:00 0-1
Legend:   Win   Loss   Draw/No contest

Mixed martial arts exhibition record

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (April 2024) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
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 VTJ 1994 - Vale Tudo Japan 1994 July 29, 1994 2 3:00 Tokyo, Japan


Year Title Role
1995 Roppongi Soldier Ken Washizu
2004 Shinsetsu Tiger Mask Tiger Mask's trainer
2006 Waru
2006 Waru: kanketsu-hen

See also


  1. ^ a b "Tiger Mask". WWE. Retrieved June 21, 2021.
  2. ^ "Satoru Sayama profile". Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  3. ^ "Profile at Puroresu Central". Puroresu Central. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  4. ^ Gould, KJ (July 24, 2012). "Satoru Sayama, Shooto And The Style Of Japanese Catch Wrestling". Bloody Elbow. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  5. ^ MMA History Part III: Proto MMA Evolves Out of Worked Pro Wrestling in Japan
  6. ^ "Japanese MMA fan pays attention to SEIKAN-DO". Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  7. ^ "SRC y 2 nuevos conceptos de artes marciales mixtas en Japón. — Diarios del versus". November 18, 2011. Archived from the original on November 18, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  8. ^ "Seikendo Fights, Fight Cards, Videos, Pictures, Events and more". Sherdog. Retrieved February 1, 2022.
  9. ^ 選手生命の危機!初代タイガーマスクが心臓緊急手術. Tokyo Sports (in Japanese). May 23, 2015. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  10. ^ 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. Battle News (in Japanese). May 28, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  11. ^ 手術の初代タイガー “遺言”伝えてた. Daily Sports Online (in Japanese). Kobe Shimbun. June 5, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  12. ^ 初代タイガーが狭心症から実戦復帰. Daily Sports Online (in Japanese). Kobe Shimbun. June 23, 2016. Retrieved June 23, 2016.
  13. ^ "Induction Weekend 2021 | Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame".
  14. ^ "Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) 500 for 2006". The Internet Wrestling Database. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  15. ^ a b c 東京スポーツ プロレス大賞. Tokyo Sports (in Japanese). Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  16. ^ "Original UWF Tournaments".