We continue our countdown to Jyushin Thunder Liger’s retirement.
Jyushin Thunder Liger’s 1994 left ankle and ACL injury was a severe one, taking him out of action not only for the remainder of one year but the bulk of the next. After spearheading a junior heavyweight golden age, Liger was on the sidelines, as Ultimo Dragon and Great Sasuke from outside of NJPW and newcomers like Shinjiro Otani and Koji Kanemoto from within it were beginning to make their own names and dominate the conversation.
Liger would finally return to action on August 11, and instantly proved that he wasn’t going to take it easy after his injury. Tagging with one rival in El Samurai to take on the younger guns of Shinjiro Otani and Tatsuhito Takaiwa in his return match, Liger quickly turned his attentions internationally and flew to the US, where he wrestled Brian Pillman on the first ever broadcast episode of WCW’s Monday Nitro TV show.
When he came back to Japan, he was again wrestling somebody from another organization, but someone he knew well. Naoki Sano hadn’t been seen in NJPW since his bloody defeat to Liger in January 1990. With his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship taken from him, Sano would leave New Japan for the SWS organization, and in its wake, UWFI. When UWFI’s ace Nobuhiko Takada began to make waves by proclaiming himself the tougher than any pro wrestler on the planet, it was only a matter of time before his organization clashed with the king of Sports. At NJPW vs UWFI All Out War, a sold out Tokyo Dome saw the best of both groups go up against one another, and Liger and Sano wrestled for the first time in over five years.
With a partisan crowd cheering their approval for Liger, Sano showed his submission and striking mastery, but Liger, well trained himself by years in the NJPW Dojo was just as effective on the mat. Sano wrestled with a canniness Liger lacked though, swatting aside a plancha to the floor, and a top rope headbutt in ring before landing Liger high and tight with a Tiger Suplex for the victory.
Ligter would recover from his loss to win the second Super J-Cup, this time hosted by the WAR promotion, in December by defeating Gedo, but his loss to an old rival was a sting that he bore with him into 1996.
Liger’s last ever professional wrestling match on January 5 sees him team with his classic rival Sano against two men whose rivalry is shaping the future of junior heavyweight wrestling: Hiromu Takahashi & Ryu Lee!