Bruno Sammartino in Tiger Mask: A Brief Cameo

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 marked the passing of a legend. One of the most influential pro wrestlers of all time and longest-running WWE champion Bruno Sammartino died at age 82. Before WrestleMania, before the national expansion of the WWF, Bruno was the flagship wrestler for that company.

It just so happens that the same day as Sammartino’s passing, I was reading the original Tiger Mask manga, and who would show up in Volume 6 but the Italian Strongman himself.

The Tiger Mask manga, published beginning in the 1960s, was known for showcasing real professional wrestlers, such as Classy Freddie Blassie and Angelo Poffo, alongside fictional ones.

In the above scene, Giant Baba (a Japanese wrestling legend in his own right) is describing the best American wrestlers to another character. He ranks the top three as 1) “Human Power Plant” Bruno Sammartino 2) “Iron Claw” Fritz von Erich 3) “Great King Thunder” Gene Kiniski. (4 is the fictional Mr. Question. You may have seen him in Tiger Mask W!)

The nicknames are directly translated from the Japanese; I have no idea where “Human Power Plant” comes from. Amusingly, “Great King Thunder” seems to be a creative interpretation of Gene Kiniski’s actual nickname “Big Thunder”—the Japanese word for “great king” is daioh; literally “big king.”

Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino. You’ve been immortalized in more ways than one.

Tiger Mask W and the Significance of Global Wrestling Monopoly

In Tiger Mask W, a young wrestler dons the mask of the legendary Tiger Mask in order to fight against the villainous wrestlers of the Tiger’s Den. Most frequently, this involves taking on a wrestling company that exists as the outward-facing image of the Tiger’s Den, a thinly veiled World Wrestling Entertainment parody called “Global Wrestling Monopoly,” or GWM for short. The GWM is actually a brand-new creation for Tiger Mask W, something I personally found curious given how much having the most evil force in wrestling also be the largest and most popular. Why didn’t something like the GWM exist in the original Tiger Mask?

Upon reading the original Tiger Mask manga, I realized something: it would have been impossible to reference anything like the WWE. Tiger Mask first began in 1969 and ended in 1971, a time when there was no such thing as an international wrestling organization on the scale of what would become World Wrestling Entertainment.

In 1969, the promotion that would eventually become the World Wrestling Federation and later World Wrestling Entertainment was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At the head was Vincent James McMahon, father of current owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who ran the WWWF as just one of many territorial wrestling promotions in the US; in the WWWF’s case, it covered the Northeast, especially the New York area. During this time, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest WWE champions of all time (if not the greatest), was in the middle of his historic nine-year reign as WWWF champion.

Tiger Mask vs. “Classy” Freddie Blassie

Tiger Mask came from a time long before what many people today think of as wrestling. This was the era before Wrestlemania took the WWF national with Hulkamania, before Ric Flair’s battles with Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes. Naturally, it’s long before the eras of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. In addition to the Tiger’s Den wrestlers, Tiger Mask encounters real-world wrestlers of the time like all-time Japanese greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. He wrestles against big names such as “Classy” Freddie Blassie (who would go on to train Triple H) and Angelo Poffo (father of “Macho Man” Randy Savage).

This is why the strategy used by the Tiger’s Den makes more sense for the period Tiger Mask came from. Unlike in Tiger Mask W, where they’re presented as employees of Global Wrestling Monopoly, the villainous secret organization would train heel wrestlers and send them around the world to various countries and territories in order to traumatize local wrestlers and take their money. Of course, in the world of Tiger Mask and Tiger Mask W, wrestling is 100% legitimate, so there’s no such thing as pre-planned matches or notions like kayfabe.