Welcome back everyone for another edition of The Lion’s Vault, your weekly destination for visiting the NJPW World Archives. I am still your friendly, neighborhood archivist and for the first time, this week both our matches will be from the same calendar year. We will start things off by continuing our countdown to Liger’s retirement matches as he takes on El Samurai, and then follow it up with a true 1990s New Japan hoss fight.

For those interested in such things, remember that you can check the Guide to the Lion’s Vault to see all of the matches that we have reviewed.

Alright, enough with the introduction, let’s get to the ring!

Jushin Thunder Liger © vs. El Samurai (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)

May 17, 1992
Crush The Super Heavy III – Over Heat Night [Match 3 of 10]
Osaka – Osaka Jo Hall

Spoiler Free Teaser: Liger and Samurai continue their 1992 feud with a very good match that contains some wonderful individual pieces, but ends up feeling less than the sum of its parts. Still worth a watch for some of those brilliant moments, but falls short of being a top tier Liger/Samurai encounter. ***¾

Watch – https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00321_01_06

As a quick aside before diving into the match, I want to mention that I was really hoping to watch the El Samurai vs. Jushin Thunder Liger match that occurred a couple of weeks prior to this one during the finals of the Top of the Super Juniors III, but unfortunately that match is still not available on NJPW World (DAMN YOU NJPW WORLD GODS!!) This development is particularly irritating as they have uploaded a Kuniaki Kobayashi vs. Akitoshi Sato match from the same show as the finals, but for whatever reason have not done the same for Liger/Samuari. Oh well, such is life…

As for the match that we are actually watching, Liger enters as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion (for the fifth time) and is sporting a very sharp near-all white variant of his normal outfit. El Samurai is looking to avenge his TOSJ finals loss to Liger, and to capture the junior heavyweight championship for the first time. We start off with a handshake…which is interesting based on how heated/hate-filled their previous match was…and then start with work that helps establish them as equals in grappling ability and quickness. Or at least it seemed to be going that direction, but then Samurai gains control with some extensive leg work. This turns into the story for the first half of the match, as Samurai works on the leg for a while, Liger attempts a comeback, and then Samurai escapes any potential trouble by immediately going back to the injured limb.

Eventually, Samurai looks for the kill by stringing together a number of bigger moves that culminates in a Dragon Suplex for two, followed by an armbar/neck crank submission attempt that Liger survives.  Finally, Liger is able to put together his own combination of big moves…but a missed dive leads to more leg work from Samurai. Despite the success that Samurai has had with this limb strategy, after a figure four leg lock Samurai just stops working over the leg and instead both wrestlers start to exchange big moves. And then Liger loses his mind for a second and hits a top rope moonsault to the outside, and moments later follows it up with a somersault senton from the top rope to the floor. You would think that sequence would reduce Samurai to a piece of human goo, but somehow he regains control shortly after. Both men keep exchanging big moves now, and the crowd is now really into the action leading to a nice finishing sequence when Liger counters a Samurai dive with the Shotei, and then sets him up for the Shooting Star Press and the victory.

Match Rating ***¾ – Well this was a really good match and both wrestlers meshed well, but ultimately my main take away is that this left me wishing that I could watch the 4/30/1992 match on NJPW World instead. As for the match itself, both men had some great offense, and I really enjoyed the leg work from Samurai in the early going…but some of the transitions felt cheap (especially after Liger’s big dives to the outside), and it felt odd that Samurai completely abandoned his attempt to destroy Liger’s leg when that proved to be such an effective strategy for the first two thirds of the match. Finally, and this is admittedly more on me than anything else, but I was really expecting Samurai to work with a strong heel edge in this match…and it just never happened. Still a really good match, but man it just screams that these two could do so much more together (and had!).

Big Van Vader & Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow © vs. Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner (IWGP Tag Team Championship)

June 26, 1992
Masters of Wrestling [Semi-main event]
Tokyo – Nippon Budokan

Spoiler Free Teaser – Look, its Vader, Bigelow, and the Steiner Brothers squaring off, so if you are reading this you probably have a good idea of what to expect going in. Essentially, this is a wrestling equivalent of a really fun popcorn flick where it is best enjoyed if you can turn off your brain, and then just sit back and enjoy the action and the larger than life characters. ****

Watch – https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00107_1_1

Oh man, this should be fun for obvious reasons. Vader and Bigelow are the champs entering the match, and the Steiners held the same titles during the previous year. Prior to the start of the match, Bigelow and Vader pump themselves up by running criss-cross from each other off the ropes a few times, and then give each other a double high five…which entertains the live crowd and myself a good deal more than it probably should. 

Once the bell rings the match starts fast (as it should with these guys), and I hope this doesn’t come as a spoiler but the match pretty much consists of fifteen minutes of big guys throwing other big guys around the ring, stiff shots, and wrestlers playing to the crowd. Man, everything about this match is loud…the crowd is loud, the wrestlers grunting and yelling is loud, the moves sound loud, and three of the four wrestlers have pretty damn loud outfits on. And just as I type that Rick hits a crazy German on Vader for a very loud reaction. Soon after Scott makes his way to the top rope, but loses his footing and crashes to the mat. Luckily Vader covers by immediately going on the attack, and then things slow down a little bit as Scott plays the face in peril for a while. Fast forward a couple of minutes and Scott finally gets back into the swing of things by dumping Vader on his with a Frankensteiner!!  More bombs follow, including one of the best stun guns I have ever seen when Bigelow catches Rick coming off the top rope, and then quickly pivots to drop him throat first across the ropes. 

Unfortunately, the match ends on a down note as the ref (Tiger Hattori) is accidentally taken out right before Bigelow hits Rick with a somersault senton for a visible three count. Bigelow gets in Tiger’s face for missing the pin attempt, but when he turns around Rick catches him with a surprise belly-to-belly for the pin and the titles.

Match Rating **** – Okay, I think there are two ways to view this match. One is a pure spectacle where four huge and charismatic guys perform moves against each other that they should not be able to do to the delight of the crowd. On the other hand, it would be just as valid to view this a fun match that unfortunately contained a couple of blown spots, had a pretty terrible ending and didn’t have much of a story to it. I happen to fall into the former camp as I absolutely loved this match despite its obvious flaws…and I think this is a pretty damn good representation of peak Bigelow, who is a personal favorite of mine. Weirdly enough, generally speaking, I believe that I am a little lower than the consensus for Steiners matches in Japan, but at least in this one case I am pretty sure that I have ended up on the high end of the ratings that I have seen…which probably has a lot to do for my appreciation of Vader and Bigelow. 

Well for two matches that fell a short six weeks apart from each other, I think we ended up with two very different, but enjoyable showcases. On a quick side note, Liger and Samurai happened to wrestle again on the same card as the Vader & Bigelow/Steiners match, with Samurai coming out on top to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (unfortunately another match currently unavailable on NJPW World). As for next week, we will look back at what might be the most famous ending to any Liger match ever, as well as watch Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time as he battles Katsuyori Shibata in the Tokyo Dome.