The final countdown is on for Jyushin Thunder Liger’s legendary career. NJPW1972 analyses Liger’s top moments in the coming days on the leadup to his retirement.
While we know him today with the middle name Thunder, the bodysuited individual making his entrance on April 24 1989 was simply Jyushin Liger. It was the TV anime of the same name that inspired Liger’s unique appearance; while the likes of Tiger Mask had made a hugely successful transition from the animated and illustrated to the combative, Liger’s animated exploits were very different in tone to the pro-wrestling oriented Tiger. How a real life animated hero would fare in the ring was the source of much conjecture, but Liger would surpass even the wildest of expectations.
The scene for his debut was Battle Satellite in the Tokyo Dome, the very first time the ‘Big Egg’ had hosted a professional wrestling event. Liger’s opponent was someone the aforementioned Tiger Mask had much experience with: Kuniaki Kobayashi. When Kobayashi returned from Mexican excursion in 1982, he had done so with a new mission in mind; to expose the man behind the original Tiger Mask as the ‘tiger hunter’. A similar desire to take the hood of Jyushin Liger burned inside Kobayashi, and he had the chance to do it before the masked man’s career even got underway.
Kobyashi would be frustrated at the outset however, as Liger mounted a high paced offense of strikes and a dive to the floor. When Kobayashi was able to take charge, he would attempt to stop Liger’s momentum, and undo the laces on his mask. That only served to fire Liger up, and a torpedo headbutt and suplex followed for the win.
Kobayashi would still try and seize Liger’s mask after the bout, becoming the future legend’s first true rival. Yet Kobayashi would never get the best of Liger, who would go on to win his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship later in the year from Hiroshi Hase, and have a series of memorable encounters with Naoki Sano, which we’ll look into in our next installment.
Kuniaki Kobayashi’s significance to Liger’s career will be remembered during his first retirement match on January 4 in the Tokyo Dome, as he accompanies the team of Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Shinjiro Otani, Naoki Sano and Ryusuke Taguchi to face Liger, tatsumi Fujinami, Great Sasuke and Tiger Mask.