Welcome to Liger Beat, Voices of Wrestling’s tribute to the life and career of the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger.
Each week from now until January 4, we will post a column about a singular year in the career of Jushin Thunder Liger. This will culminate in a final column on January 4 when Liger will step into the ring for the final time as a full-time competitor. Each column is designed to look at a single year or a single match in Liger’s career but writers were given complete freedom to take the column in whatever direction they desired. Some columns will act as straight match reviews, others like the one you’ll read below delve into Liger’s overall impact on a writer’s pro wrestling fandom. I fully expect readers to get something unique from each of the Liger Beat columns.
A huge thanks to all the VOW writers for helpiong me with this massive undertaking and thank you readers for joining along on the journey with us. Wrestlers like Liger don’t retire often. There aren’t many Liger-type figures. Transcendent figures. All-time legends. On January 4, when Liger calls it a career, wrestling will never be the same again. Liger deserves a once-in-a-lifetime send-off and we are going to try and do that for the next few months.
Join us as we celebrate the life and career of Jushin Thunder Liger. -Rich Kraetsch (Editor, Voices of Wrestling)
Though I had owned wrestling figures seemingly since I was a toddler, my first legitimate memories of becoming a wrestling fan involve watching television with my Dad. We didn’t have access to Sky, so couldn’t watch WWE, but there were a couple of other ways grappling on television was available to us. WCW, for a time, aired a show on a national terrestrial channel called ITV, which I watched though never truly cared for. Around two years later, Eurosport, available via our cable package, began to air a show called ‘World Superstars of Wrestling’. Effectively, it was dubbed New Japan, and I loved every second of it.
Outside of an irrational enjoyment of Tony Halme (later Ludvig Borga), whose European roots probably meant he was showcased as significantly more important in the grand scheme of things than he ever was, Jushin Liger became my favorite wrestler — a position that he has never vacated.
The colorful costume, the high-flying moves, the catchy theme music: what wasn’t to like? As an eight-year-old, I was unknowingly exposing myself to Liger arguably in his prime, whilst definitely facing off against a who’s who of some of the greatest junior heavyweight talent to ever exist. My personal top five changed over time as my tastes changed, except for number one – Liger.
As I became an adult, the idea of wrestling as a live event to go to and enjoy never crossed my mind. Just under two decades later, my only experience of live wrestling was the ill-fated Wrestlexpress show (which admittedly did see Steve Corino versus The Sandman in the main event) and a Monday Nitro filmed in London that resurrected the Lethal Lottery concept for one show. Both of these occurred when I was a teenager, and whilst I enjoyed them in their own way, neither inspired me to seek out more live events during a time when the UK scene was on its arse. After seeing Goldberg, Scott Steiner and Sting at Nitro, I went for over ten years without stepping foot into a wrestling arena and there was no sight of that changing…
…until a little promotion in the south of the UK announced Jushin Thunder Liger for one of their cards.
Saturday June 15th: JUSHIN LIGER VS PRINCE DEVITT with ROLLERBALL ROCCO as special guest. Tickets on Sale Monday 6pm! pic.twitter.com/uBZ26MFzsN
— Revolution Pro (@RevProUK) February 23, 2013
With the UK scene having some boom years recently, it is worth remembering that the era of UK talents making international waves and huge stars from around the world wrestling on our little island wasn’t a constant thing at that time. It also was a signing, even for one show, that Revolution Pro Wrestling aimed to utilize to springboard from shows in Sittingbourne and Bognor Regis to running York Hall in Bethnal Green, a truly great arena with a rich history when it came to combat sports. This was a gamble, but Andy Quildan—RPW promoter—had his selling point: this was Liger’s first match in the United Kingdom since 1987, before Keichi Yamada donned the red and white costume of Jushin Thunder Liger.
In 2019, the Revolution Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling working relationship is well established; Liger was the catalyst that sparked a seechange in what Rev Pro was about to offer its fans. From Colt Cabana as the main import of note, the company brought in Liger, followed by Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, developing the foundations of a relationship that is still going strong today.
That is not to say that his opponent wasn’t an interesting draw for many. The British Cruiserweight Champion at the time—the belt Liger was due to challenge for in the main event of the show—was Prince Devitt, fresh from running the table at the last Best of Super Junior tournament. He became only the second man to win every match en route to winning it. The first man? Liger himself. Indeed, it has been as part of Liger’s CTU stable that Devitt had begun to make his name in Japan, lending this tussle some added sizzle. Rev Pro had held up their end up inviting Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco to be a special guest for the contest; another man with a rich history alongside Liger.
At a point when Liger was two years away from his fiftieth birthday, this was only ever going to be a ‘greatest hits’ match, but when your hits are as fun as Liger’s, that didn’t matter one bit to the fans in attendance.
Liger held his own with the young upstart in the opening exchanges, before an early shohtei, dive feint and Hogan muscle pose had the crowd on their feet. Unsurprisingly, it was on Devitt to play the subtle heel, following up a Liger surfboard by teasing one of his own, whilst several looks and gestures as he implemented some legwork earned him the ire of those in attendance.
The somewhat perfunctory nature of some of the earlier exchanges perhaps didn’t quite foreshadow some very epic near falls as the match rolled on towards its conclusion. Liger still had time to nail a trademark running cannonball senton off of the apron before the finishing stretch, one that saw Devitt kick out of a Liger bomb and almost fall to a brainbuster. There was life in the old dog still, however, as the veteran kicked out of a double foot stomp from the top rope, only to fall to the Bloody Sunday modified vertical suplex. The match was as competitive as it needed to be for a title contest and the main event, whilst the result was truly never in doubt.
Not only did this appearance by Liger in the UK spark a flurry of activity when it came to Rev Pro and New Japan’s relationship, but it also felt like it broke a dam for Liger. Never one to be concerned with wrestling for different promotions in Japan (and Mexico when the time called), Liger perhaps sensed that this was a time that he could go experience the wider wrestling world as his career began to wind down. Little did we know that over the next few years this included him wrestling for companies such as Pro Wrestling Guerilla and even NXT.
As for me, I got to see my favorite wrestler in action, as well as talk to him briefly at a pre-show meet and greet.
Not every day do you get to meet your heroes and it speaks volumes to the work Liger has done throughout his career that he managed to inspire an eight-year-old child from the UK in a way that never gave me any cause for my opinions to waver over the next twenty-five years. Liger will go down as a legend for a reason.