#9: vs. Shinjiro Otani – NJPW Fighting Spirit 1997 – Tag 11
This is a technical master class which may take some getting into, but when you do you’re rewarded with an astounding last quarter. This is one of the longest matches to be featured here (27 minutes), so I’m not going to blame anyone for passing it up if they’ve already watched the other eight. You can imagine a few of the current generation of wrestlers studying this for pointers to improve their own work. Some fans compare Liger vs. Otani to All Japan’s style; especially in the matches between Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi (which is huge praise).
As Liger’s style wasn’t fresh anymore, they had to work in a way which played to Otani’s strengths. Many say that the finishing sequence is one of the greatest of Liger’s career, but you’re not going to understand the entire picture without getting through the ground work set earlier on. Nevertheless, Otani will go down as one of Liger’s biggest rivals. I was originally planning to include a different Otani match, but settled on this in the end.
#10: vs. Koji Kanemoto – NJPW Fighting Spirit 1997 – Tag 16
You can say this was a meeting of two of the greatest IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions in their primes. In terms of rivalry though, it was always one-sided in Liger’s favor. This is probably the best match they ever had together, and while not much can be said about it, the wrestling observer did give it 4 3/4 stars. With Otani at ringside, it feels like a continuation of the previous match but with a different challenger. Kanemoto giving Liger a middle finger salute while in a submission was a nice touch; and is telling of his popularity compared to the other junior heavyweights.
After twelve minutes of dominance from Kanemoto, the crowd pops as Liger springs to life with some explosive offense. The match really comes to life after this, but Kanemoto isn’t going down easy and always looks a threat. The urgency doesn’t let up for a second, and after a bunch of suplex and sitdown powerbombs, Liger finally finishes things with his trademark brainbuster from the top. It wouldn’t be the last time they would meet, but it likely never got as competitive as this again.
It took a while to watch all these and appreciate them individually, but I feel better for doing so. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger is a unique talent with a moveset which innovated the junior heavyweight/cruiserweight style we’ve all come to know and enjoy. Incredibly professional and unselfish, Liger’s popularity gave him the ability to work all over the world with a plethora of talent all the way up to his retirement. He’s respected enough to cross boundaries and be included on any wrestling card. I won’t lie and say I’m the biggest Liger fan in the world, but I do remember hearing about him sixteen years ago. In the UK we used to have something called The Wrestling Channel, which was a short-lived, yet awesome(!) channel which had short promos of guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Meiko Satomura and Jushin Liger.
His look and moves intrigued me, so after finally acquiring a computer with the internet (in my college days), he was the first Japanese wrestler I had the pleasure of googling. And I’m still doing it today… sixteen years later I’m paying tribute to a man who broadened my horizons beyond what was happening in America. At the very least, I hope I’ve done this justice and you’ve managed to enjoy a few of the matches. Congratulations to Jushin Liger on a legendary career! And a big thanks to you for being here. Peace.