I guess it’s time to throw a token man into my Wrestler Mixtape series. If you’re going to watch one of those menfolk do a wrestle, Jushin Thunder Liger is probably not a bad choice. The Thunder God is one of my favourites and an absolute legend. However, rather than seek out some of the matches that earned him that status, I’ve decided to focus on times where he’s taken a wee trip over to America. Why? Honestly, they’re all on the first page when you put his name into YouTube… sorry, that’s not a very good reason, is it?
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Rey Mysterio, WCW (29/12/96)
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Rey Mysterio is a dream match, the kind of pairing that kids would dream up in their heads. Two high-flying masked geniuses, both of whom have influenced generations of junior heavyweights. Put it into my veins.
And yet, this happened at a bit of a weird time. December ’96 was mere months after Liger had surgery to remove a brain tumour and he’s not the sleek, flyer from years earlier. He’s bulked up and spends this match bullying Rey (who looks tiny). It might be two iconic junior heavyweights facing off, but it feels like a heavyweight dishing out a beating. Liger even goes as far as suplexing Rey from the ring to the floor (a moment that the atrocious four-man commentary team doesn’t even break conversation to acknowledge).
That doesn’t make it a bad match. In fact, I’d say it’s still a very good one. Liger is out there to make Mysterio look incredible, throwing him around and basing for his high-flying. By slowing down himself and playing a bruiser, Rey’s flawless lucha looks all the more extraordinary, even if he does eventually fall victim to a Liger Bomb. It’s a match with a goal, and I’m pretty sure it accomplishes that goal.
But, you still can’t help feeling disappointed. Mysterio and Liger would never again face-off in singles competition, and it would have been thrilling to watch them go all out. Throw in a commentary team that was so bad it was genuinely distracting, and I don’t think you can peg this is a classic. Instead, it’s more of a curio of the time these two shared a ring, two legends from different sides of the world pulled together by the marvel that is the WCW Cruiserweight division. For that alone, it’s worth a watch.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Jeff Hardy, Northeast Wrestling (27/8/16)
Well, Jeff Hardy might not be the icon that Rey Mysterio is, but I think this one also has to go down as a dream match, at least for those of us who grew up a bit emo in the early 2000s. I had no idea it had happened, have never heard of Northeast Wrestling and despite my younger self’s love of Jeff Hardy, came into it, em, reticent to say the least. It took place in a baseball stadium in the period where Jeff had morphed into Brother Nero, so who the fuck knew what was going to go down.
And in a bizarre move, Liger ends up working as a heel, aggressively attacking Jeff’s leg and crotching him on the barricade. Perhaps they were expecting a casual crowd who would favour Jeff, but the fans seem relatively split between the two, cheering them both on. Maybe it’s my bias (if he kicked a puppy I’d still struggle to boo him), but it feels a lot like they’re strangling Liger’s genius to give Jeff the spotlight. Then again, this same company teamed the Thunder God up with Mandy Leon the day before, so I’m not sure they were using him particularly well.
Even if it’s not what I would do, you can’t for a second say Liger is bad here. The guy can play heel and has always emoted brilliantly from under that mask. He looks like a prick, bullying this American wrestler and acting like he was going to coast to victory. If he’d been generic villain number one for Hardy to overcome, I’d have praised it, but he’s Jushin Thunder Liger! To see him go from dominating to being put to bed relatively easily (Hardy ducks a Shotei before hitting the Twist of Fate, Swanton combo) felt wrong.
Again, I suspect that Liger was out there doing what he’d been asked to do, and in that sense, he was great. Unfortunately, the man across from him was 2016 Jeff Hardy, not 1996 Rey Mysterio. So, if you’re going to watch one match where Liger plays a dominant prick, make it the last one I talked about.
Jushin Thunder Liger vs Samoa Joe, TNA (23/10/20)
Well, let’s go three and three for those dream matches. In 2005 Samoa Joe was the fucking man for those invested in independent wrestling. He had put together a legendary ROH run before signing for TNA, where coming into Bound For Glory he was still undefeated. Putting him up against Liger must have looked like a stroke of genius.
Which, in many ways, it was. Once again, Liger is out there to do a job, but this time it’s to make Joe look like a monster. It’s the only one of these matches where we do get that more dynamic, high-flying Thunder God, sprinkled with some veteran genius. He charges around the ring, trying to keep Joe down and showing off those years of experience when he stamps on his foot to stop him blocking a suplex.
However, Joe, at this point, was a killer, and it takes just one second for this match to turn. He plucks Liger off the top rope for the Muscle Buster, before choking the legend out, picking up a win in less than eight minutes. It’s a statement victory, the kind that instantly builds credibility and, at the time, most have had TNA feeling very excited about the relationship they were fostering with New Japan.
However, as a fan watching in 2020 knowing that this was the only meeting between Joe and Liger, it’s hard not to feel a bit let down. You have a legend of the US indies against one of THE Japanese wrestlers, and they get less than eight minutes in the opener? This same show featured three matches involving Rhino, and they couldn’t carve an extra five minutes out for Liger vs Joe? I mean, come on!
Still, by complete coincidence, these three matches all show us one thing. Jushin Thunder Liger is a man who will do what he has to do. He did pick-up one win, but in every performance, it felt like he was more interested in getting his opponent over than himself. It’s the mark of the wrestler, and even if these are not the Liger matches I’m about to start recommending to people, they’re all interesting in their own way.