For thirty years now, the Jushin Thunder Liger character has been putting on classics inside the ring, so to celebrate his historic career, I’ve ranked my personal favourite bouts featuring this junior heavyweight icon. As with all of my top matches list, only one clash with an opponent can be eligible for consideration, so although he had multiple greats with some of the wrestlers that appear on this list, only the best of each series will be eligible. With that being said, here are my Top 10 Jushin Thunder Liger Matches.
10. Vs. Taiji Ishimori – NJPW 47th Anniversary 2019
Starting off with the latest entry on the list, perhaps my judgement is bias just because of how recent this one happened, but you can’t deny that even at the age of 54, Jushin Liger can still put on a great match. Ishimori didn’t adopt the typical disrespectful Bullet Club attitude in this one, instead he showed great respect to Liger throughout, especially with how he sold Liger’s moves beautifully. To see Liger get one last shot at the title knowing the end is on the horizon, that made for a great moment.
9. Vs. Naoki Sano – NJPW New Spring Gold Series 1990
Rather than try to start off with technicality as he normally would, Liger begins this match by bombarding his opponent with strikes. This rush of attacks doesn’t last long though as Sano quickly begins to dominate, and responds to Liger’s initial barrage by ripping at the iconic mask with much disrespect. The physical brawl is an entertaining display that ends with the legendary Shooting Star Press.
8. Vs. Shinjiro Otani – NJPW Fighting Spirit 1997
If you like technical wrestling, I highly recommend you check this one out. If not, the first fifteen minutes may be a bit of a struggle for you, yet those final ten minutes are powered by a passionate audience that bring the excitement out of this great bout. The crowd hangs on every single move throughout this sequence, with a particularly great reaction coming when Jushin hits his signature Shotei, and ending with Liger picking up a hard-fought win.
7. Vs. Koji Kanemoto – NJPW Fighting Spirit 1997
As with most of Liger’s legendary matches from the 90’s, this is a technical exhibition that evolves into an excitement-driven exchange of big moves. The majority of this bout sees Liger on the mat trying to overcome his opponent, which he manages to do as he hits one hell of a Super Brainbuster to finish off a great match.
6. Vs. Tyler Breeze – NXT TakeOver Brooklyn 2015
It’s still kind of surreal that this ever happened, on an NXT TakeOver no less. Of course, the preceding matches are probably heralded more by critics and purists alike, yet for me, this is just pure fun that I will never get tired of watching. At the time, it felt like something special. A TakeOver inside an arena worthy of hosting Raw, that was something we had never seen before, opening with a one-off appearance from a true icon of pro wrestling, and a New Japan contracted performer.
Along with having a special feeling to it, it’s got to be said that this was just a damn good match. A solid opener featuring two great wrestlers that know how to entertain a crowd. Also, it gifted us with the GIF of Liger using a selfie stick. We have William Regal to thank for that one.
5. Vs. El Samurai – NJPW TOSJ III 1992
Throughout his career, Liger has only ever been in one famed five-star match, and it took place during the Top of the Super Juniors tournament back in 1992. This classic starts with Liger trying to be friendly and show sportsmanship to his opponent, but El Samurai takes advantage of this display of respect by ambushing his opponent. Insulted by this underhanded move, Liger begins to get more and more vicious throughout the match.
Admittedly, this one does have a bit of a slow build, but once it gets going, it’s easy to see why it’s received so much acclaim over the years. The way the crowd gets so invested in these two brawling away instantly hooks you in. You owe it to yourself to watch this one.
4. Vs. The Great Sasuke – NJPW Super J Cup 1994
The 1994 Super J Cup is arguably the most famous junior heavyweight tournament of all time. It was a favourite among tape traders, featuring a semi-finals bout which remains probably the most heralded match of Liger’s career. Dominated by technical holds for the initial two thirds of the match, it ends with a fantastic five minutes that has the crowd exploding with excitement. It’s worth watching this match for the final minute or so alone, with a surprise finish that elicits a major reaction from the audience.
3. Vs. Brian Pillman – WCW Superbrawl II 1992
Put this match on anywhere in 2019 and it would still get a great reaction. I can’t even imagine how much this must of have blown people’s minds back in 1992. The constant reversals, exhibitions of skill and ground-breaking moves turned this into an influential classic that every fan should be required to watch at least once.
2. Vs. Chris Hero – PWG Battle of Los Angeles 2016
Chris Hero’s indie run in 2016 was a gift, and one of the many presents it produced was a fantastic match against this legend.
To see Liger inside a PWG ring is quite a strange sight, but do not let it distract you from this fantastic match. The match starts with Hero making light of the notable size differences between himself and the far smaller Liger, mocking one of the most iconic pro wrestlers of all time in the process. Distracted by his own cockiness, Liger manages to ground Hero in quick fashion thanks to his world-class technical ability.
Angering his towering foe, Hero begins to use his size to viciously beat Liger, whilst still mocking Liger’s height. Not willing to go down easy, Hero’s disrespectful attitude brings out a ferocious side of Liger rarely seen in the later years of his career. It makes for a violent bout with some fantastic moments that will have you gripped throughout.
Vs. Owen Hart – NJPW Explosion Tour 1991
Vs. AKIRA – NJPW Starrcade 1991
Vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW BOSJ 2017
Vs. Makoto Hashi – NOAH Navigate For Evolution 2004
Vs. Taichi – NJPW BOSJ 2017
W/ Koji Kanemoto vs. Tsuyoshi Kikuchi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru – NOAH The First Navigation 2003
Vs. KUSHIDA – NJPW Dominion 2016
w/ Wild Pegasus, El Samurai and Gran Hamada vs. Shinjiro Otani, Koji Kanemoto, TAKA Michinoku and Tokimitzu Ishizawa – NJPW Hyper Battle 1996
Vs. Ultimo Dragon – WAR Super J Cup 1995
Vs. Yohei Komatsu – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2015
Vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru – NOAH Departure 2004
Vs. Pegasus Kid – NJPW G1 Climax 1992
- Vs. The Great Muta, Super Grade Tag League VI 1996
Liger vs. Muta is a surreal experience. It has a different feel to it, even watching it over two decades later. Seeing Muta acting erratically and viciously with that awesome face paint on, and then Liger in an all-white alteration of his classic suit, before the bell even rings you know it’s going to be awesome. The most iconic NJPW heavyweight of the 90’s going one-on-one with the most iconic junior heavyweight wrestler of all time: this was a truly special encounter that still has a special aura to it.
Liger tries to stick to what he does best with his typical style throughout this match, while Muta fully commits to that character, and goes all out with the brawling, unpredictable style. It’s a fantastic match as it is, but then, it reaches a whole different level of awesome with the badass reveal of Liger’s hidden alter ego.
At one point in the match, Muta begins to claw at Liger’s mask, attempting to rip it off, which in pro wrestling is the ultimate sign of disrespect. What Muta didn’t realise though was that when he dared to fully tear off Liger’s iconic mask, he would unleash a demon. When that hood came off, it unveiled to the world for the first time ever Liger’s alter ego, Kishin Liger.
Kishin is the far more violent, uncaged side of a Liger, sporting white, black and red face paint like the singer of a heavy metal band. Kishin spits mist in Muta’s face, and unleashes a rush of aggression onto Muta in a way we have never seen from Jushin. When you don’t know it’s coming, and nobody did because it was not revealed in advance, Kishin comes out of nowhere and completely changes an already brilliant bout.
For the legend this match has surrounding it purely because of who is involved, along with the reveal of Kishin Liger and the great in-ring action, this is definitely my favourite ever Jushin Thunder Liger match, and the fact I got to see these two face-off once more for the final time inside Madison Square Garden is a memory I will never forget.
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