AS I SEE IT 11/1: Some Jushin Liger history and congratulations to the Nation...

Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

Even sooner than nearly anyone would have dared hope...for all the people up in what is called "Red Sox Nation"...for generations that lived and died without seeing their favorite team win...through the end of one World War and another World War, through the the better part of a century...and into 11:40 pm EDT, October 27, 2004, in St, Louis, Missouri, the Boston Red Sox finally won their World Series.

As a Boston newspaper said the next morning: "pigs do fly, hell has frozen over and the glass slipper finally fits".

As I finish up writing this column on Saturday, October 30...there are literally millions of people spread over the streets of Boston and along the bank of the Charles River despite rain and cold to celebrate the teams win.

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox and all the folks up in Red Sox Nation. It's nice in life to see the good guys win once in a while.

Now...some more on this weekend's Ring of Honor events featuring the American return of Jushin Liger in Boston on Friday, November 5th and in Elizabeth, NJ on November 6th.

A little history on Liger for those who who may not know...

Liger, born Keiichi Yamada, was the star of his Japanese high school wrestling team. He first attempted to join New Japan after graduation and was turned down.. Yamada then went to Mexico to better his skills and was "discovered" in June 1983 by NJPW while still in Mexico.

Yamada made his wrestling debut under his own name against Shunji Kosugi at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo on March 3, 1984.

Yamada also won the 1986 Young Lions Cup, the NJPW rookies tournament for rookies in the NJPW. Yamada's popularity grew, so... as has happens in other cases with young stars that New Japan sees as potential stars... Yamada was sent on tours of other countries, so that he could be a star and re-packaged in Japan when he returned.

Among these tours were included trips to England and to Stu Hart's Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling, as "Flying Fuji" Yamada. On these tours. Liger twice defeated "Rollerball" Mark Rocco, first on September 26, 1986 for the UK World Heavy-Middleweight title, and again on March 3, 1987 in Croyden, Britain. Yamada returned briefly to Japan in August 1987 and stunned wrestling fans with his debut of the shooting star press at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall) on August 20, 1987.

In the fall of 1988, a Jushin "Riger" cartoon debuted from Japanese comic artist Go Nagai, which became popular. Patterning after the success of Tiger Mask, New Japan decided to repackage Yamada under the character.

So after wrestling 5 years, Yamada debuted the Jushin Liger character on April 24th, 1989, against Kuniaki Kobayashi at the New Japan's "Super Powers Clash" Tokyo Dome show.

Yamada came up with the full name by which he is known today , Jushin "Thunder" Liger in January 1990. "Jushin" means "God of the Beast" and "Liger" (pronounced "laigar") means a son of a lion and a tiger.

Shortly after debuting in 1989, Liger began his first major rival, Naoki Sano, with the pair working a celebrated program for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title. Shortly afterwards, Liger was put in charge of the NJPW Junior Heavyweight division. Liger instituted an open door policy allowing the promotion's juniors to work other promotions; as well as inviting in talented juniors from around the world into the promotion including Hiroshi Hase, Great Sasuke, Yoshihiro "Ultimo Dragon" Asai, Dean Malenko, Eddie (Black Tiger) Guerrero, and Chris (Pegasus Kid/Wild Pegasus) Benoit. Tapes of Liger's matches with Benoit under his various characters turned this writer into a lifetime Benoit mark.

On one of the first professional shows held in the then-Communist state, Liger defeated Eddie (Black Tiger) Guerrero on December 31, 1989 in Moscow, USSR. Liger also defeated Osamu Matsuda on September 1, 1990 in Halpin, China.

In the early 1990s, for many wrestling fans who were looking for something besides the cartoon show being offered all too often in WCW and the WWF, bootleg tapes of these matches were a breath of fresh air and kept alive our love for the artform of professional wrestling.

In 1991, Liger came to the United States for the first time with WCW and worked a memorable series of matches with the late Brian Pillman. I remember their match at the Meadowlands in North Jersey...not just for the match, but for a awestruck mother sitting next to me who looked like a stereotypical soccer mom (before the phrase actually existed) who made her son watch Liger, telling him he was watching the greatest wrestler in the world. Liger took in WCW talent for tours to New Japan.

When Liger ended his time in WCW, Scott Levy (aka Raven) then wrestling as Scotty Flamingo defeated Liger to keep what was by then known as the WCW Light Heavyweight title on July 4, 1992 in Baltimore, MD, basically rendering the title irrelevant. I've never heard a crowd go so quiet as they did after the finish of that match. Even those fans who weren't necessarily "smart" knew that there was something seriously wrong with this finish.

Back in Japan, Liger revived the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament which provided puro marks and those who wanted to see something truly different. Over the years such great talents as Jushin Liger, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Sean (X Pac/Lightning Kid) Waltman, 2 Cold Scorpio, Masao Orihara, 2 Cold Scorpio, El Samurai, TAKA Michinoku, Super Delfin, Brian Pillman, Shinjiro Ohtani, Koji Kanemoto, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Tajiri, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Shinya Makabe, Minoru Tanaka, Minoru Fujita, Kendo Ka Shin have participated in this yearly tournament.

Then, in 1996, when the title picture in Japan's junior heavyweight scene got muddled with various promotional champions, Liger decided to run a one night J-Crown tournament with 8 junior champions, to decide an undisputed Japanese junior champion. The tournament involved:

  • Michinoku Pro's The Great Sasuke - IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion
  • Wrestle Dream Factory's Masayoshi Motegi - NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion
  • WAR's Ultimo Dragon (Wrestle Association "R") International Junior Heavyweight Champion
  • New Japan's Jushin Thunder Liger- British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Champion
  • New Japan's El Samurai - WWF World Light Heavyweight Champion
  • New Japan's Shinjiro Ohtani - billed as the UWA World Light Heavyweight title in New Japan
  • Michinoku Pro's Gran Hamada - WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Champion
  • Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre's Negro Casas - NWA World Welterweight Champion

    The tournament was a great success and made Great Sasuke, Ultimo Dragon, Otani and once again... Liger himself known again as the great talents that they truly had become.

    Since 2000, and his final Junior championship run, Liger has moved on to working the NJPW heavyweight division through the G1 2000 tournament with mixed success, as well as starting the Junior Heavyweight Tag division.

    Liger also invaded Michinoku Pro's 2000 J-Cup which included CIMA, Ricky Marvin, Naoki Sano, Mens Teioh, Curry Man (Christopher Daniels), Gran Hamada, Great Sasuke, and Kaz Hayashi.

    He has worked matches as part of a storyline war with the Pro Wrestling NOAH Junior division since 2001, holding the Global Honored Crown Junior Title which he won from Takashi Sugiura at the Tokyo Dome on January 4, 2004.

    Recently Liger turned heel for the first time in New Japan. It's a pretty safe bet to say that not one person in Boston or Elizabeth will treat him as a heel, even if Liger or Gabe Sapolsky were misguided enough to book his matches along current NJPW storylines.

    For people such as myself to watch the worker who kept our love of wrestling alive at a time when the twin cartoon shows that often masqueraded as wrestling in the early 1990s could have easily have turned us'll be a moment to mark out bigtime.

    For those wishing to see Liger's return to the United States, fourth row reserved ($25) and general admission tickets ($20) are still available at this link for the November 5th show in Revere, MA. Tickets are also available in sixth row reserved ($25) and and general admission tickets ($20) at this link for the November 6th show in Elizabeth, NJ.

    Until next time...

    (Thanks to Masa Horie's "View from The Rising Sun" column archives... which can be read here... for various data on Jushin Liger.)

    If you have comments/questions, or if you'd like to add the AS I SEE IT column to your website, I can be reached by e-mail at