Meltzer’s Classics: Jushin Thunder Liger vs Naoki Sano, 31/1/90

Liger takes flight!

I’m about to do something I have never done in a Meltzer’s Classic. In fact, it might be something I’ve never done before. I going to compare something favourably to a Taichi match. It is my favourite Taichi match, but it’s a Taichi match all the same.

The bout in question is from last year’s Best of the Super Juniors and would be Jushin Thunder Liger’s final ever appearance in the tournament. In it, Taichi beat the shit out of the old Thunder God, ripping at his mask and generally being a horrible little cunt. Then, just as hope seems lost, Jushin came back and got the win. Watching Liger vs Naoki Sano from 1990 it becomes clear where Jushin got the idea from.

Because this is a match built around Liger’s ability to take a beating and, perhaps more importantly, the way crowds rally behind him when he does. At the start of this, Liger slaps Sano, going right after him and diving onto him on the floor. That turns out to be a big mistake because a few seconds later Sano is piledriving Jushin on the cold ground. He follows that up with a Tombstone in the ring and then begins ripping off Liger’s mask.

For the next twenty minutes, Sano proceeds to kick the living shit out of poor wee Liger. By the end, he’s a bloody mess with his mask hanging around his neck. He gets punched, kicked, dropped on his head and stretched in all manner of ways.

And yet, the fans stick with the Thunder God every step of the way. When he fires up and has brief hope spots, the roars are deafening. Even in that full body suit, Liger garners sympathy like no-one else. His selling is exquisite, and you want to see him battle back to get the win.

Which is precisely what he does. Liger takes a beating, loses his mask and bleeds all over the place, yet he doesn’t give up. He keeps kicking out – much to Sano’s dismay – and coming back. Hitting dives to the outside or backbreakers in a desperate attempt to survive. Eventually, he doesn’t just survive, he wins. Hitting a shooting star press to get the three and the IWGP Junior Title.

If you’ve never got Jushin Thunder Liger or merely enjoy him as an elderly undercard act, then you need to watch this match. It’s a perfect example of how fantastic he is. However, I’ve raved about Liger enough, so I’m going to take a second to praise Naoki Sano too. It was my first time watching him, and he was great here, playing the prick to perfection. His increasing exasperation at Liger’s refusal to lose was wonderfully measured, and he sold me on making an effort to check out some of his other work.

Out of the five-star matches we’ve done recently, Liger vs Sano is easily my favourite. You could put it on a New Japan show today, and it would still get a favourable reaction. Partly because Liger is over as hell but also because it’s a damn good match.

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