#5: vs. Shinya Hashimoto – NJPW Thanks Wrestling Day Brush Up 1994
While it wasn’t rated highly by Wrestling Observer, fan ratings and others who have reviewed it often praise it as a classic between the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions of the time. Although there’s nothing on the line other than pride, Hashimoto and Liger tear it up on this fan appreciation day. I found a really sweet (& recent) review on gansobomb.com which is a highly recommended read: Random Rewind
The video provided has cut out parts of the match to give us highlights, but the image and sound quality is better than others I looked at. This is a true David vs. Goliath matchup which holds up pretty well, although I can’t get over Liger’s choice of attire. Hashimoto went on to become the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion with an impressive 1,052 days over three reigns; til he was eventually usurped by The Great Muta in 2008, and of course the more recent champions Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada.
#6: vs. The Great Sasuke – NJPW Super J-Cup ’94
This is up there as one of the highest rated matches of Jushin Liger’s career. While some may say it doesn’t hold up to modern standards, I think it’s unfair to judge a match based on what wrestling has become. Compare this to any other match in 1994, and you’ll find it difficult to say anything was better. This was a semi-final bout in the first-ever Super J-Cup tournament to decide who would face Wild Pegasus (Benoit) in the final. There’s much anticipation as two of the most exciting junior heavyweights bulls looked set to lock horns.
While watching this, I particularly enjoyed Liger dominating much of it. This is in stark contrast to some of his earlier matches where he’d sell half the time before making an epic comeback. He works the arm hard like he did against El Samurai. It really speaks to the overall package that is Jushin Liger, as he’s able to switch from being a brawler, to a submission specialist, to a high-flyer when it suits the situation. Sasuke is the quicker of the two, so Liger tries to ground him but he won’t be contained forever. We take much of this offense for granted nowadays, as so many have copied others.. who copied others.. who copied guys like Jushin Liger and Great Sasuke. How many near falls! This is crazy.
Some might rate this down slightly for the botch at the end, but I think it made the result more shocking. How Sasuke pulled that off I do not know… and Liger’s understandably irate. This is why he’s such a legend though, he wasn’t one for playing politics and understood that his star power could get guys over if done the right way.
#7: vs. Ultimo Dragon – WAR Super J-Cup ’95
I remember seeing Ultimo Dragon in WWE and always looked forward to seeing him wrestle. It was bitterly disappointing when WWE let him go, because I felt he was a bigger star than they thought. So as I write this, Jushin Liger makes his way to the ring… but I’m more looking forward to seeing Ultimo. Much like the last match, this is a semi-final in the Super J-Cup. For those who don’t know, Ultimo Dragon is the innovator of the Asai Moonsault.
The opening exchanges see them working on the mat, and it’s rare you see anything like it these days. Liger ups the pace and nails his vintage tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, before going back to working Ultimo over on the mat with submissions. He’s definitely controlling the pace, and Ultimo’s having a tough time getting in any offense. I feel like the crowd isn’t as excitable because it’s in the WAR promotion and not New Japan; where they perhaps would’ve been more vocal. Oh my god the arm drag exchange… awe-inspiring. Liger dropkicks his knee and Ultimo screams in agony. This is a master class by Liger, who came in to this with a very clear game plan.
Ultimo finally musters something with a single leg crab into a bridging double chickenwing. For two of the best high-flyers in the world they sure are working the mat a lot, which I like! Ultimo picks up the pace after seeing Liger selling the work on his leg with some dives. The urgency picks up considerably in the latter minutes. Liger is in disbelief as he struggles to put Ultimo away. I’ll let you enjoy the final few minutes of this stunning encounter between two greats.
#8: vs. The Great Muta – NJPW Kobe Show (Oct ’96)
Some describe this as an anomaly for good reason, there’s so much going on here that it transcends the traditional wrestling match. Not only are these two of the biggest characters in Japanese wrestling history, but they meet for what seems to be a dream match thrown together for the sake of it. The result? Complete carnage. Muta appears to threaten Liger early by showing he can do the mist anytime he wants; and proceeds to taunt the crowd menacingly after they chant for Liger. There’s an unpredictable feel with a slow pace, but it makes sense given the occasion. The crowd respectfully watches in silence in the opening exchange, at least til Liger gets the better of Muta; who shows his frustration on the outside.
I don’t want to detail this too much as I know there’s gonna’ be so many big events to point out. There’s a pretty brutal piledriver spot through a table ten minutes in. Muta decides to take that broken table and throw it at Liger’s head… wow, he’s totally unhinged. And yeah, Muta completely no-sells one of Liger’s piledrivers. If there’s anyone crazy enough to take Liger off his game? It’s Muta. He’s clearly stronger and no one knows what he’s going to do. Liger finds an opening and uses his high-flying to take the advantage… yet Muta disappears under the ring! A cameraman and Liger go under the ring to find him, but Muta comes out the other side with a broom. He rips Liger’s mask clean off, then grabs a steel chair.
Kishin Liger Is Born
Kishin Liger is revealed and Muta hesitates! Liger spits the mist at him! He rips his attire off and lets out a battle cry. The crowd doesn’t know what to make of him stabbing Muta in the head. Wow, stiff chair shot. This got really nasty quickly after Muta took off the mask. Despite the onslaught, Muta manages to hit the red mist on Kishin. He goes in to overdriver and finishes Liger off with the moonsault. 1-2-3. What a crazy, brutal match. Muta doesn’t hang around long to celebrate.