We continue our countdown to Jyushin Thunder Liger’s retirement.
As was the case in 2001, Jyushin Thunder Liger’s 2002 saw him defend NJPW honour against rebellious cells within the promotion, and those outside of it. Away from NJPW, he and Minoru Tanaka would find success outside of NJPW as they invaded Pro Wrestling NOAH and would compete in the green ring throughout the year.
Within, he would fight valiantly against the Masahiro Chono led Team2000. When clad in black, Liger had his own harsh messages for the establishment in NJPW, but they came from a place of loyalty. Chono’s message was very different, and not one Liger could accept, especially when great rival Koji Kanemoto turned his back on partner Tanaka to join T2000.
In February in Sapporo, Liger would lead a team to eight man success against Team2000, while singles competition still saw Liger in strong form. He would not grab IWGP Junior Heavyweight gold in 2002, but his Best of the Super Juniors campaign saw him in a tie for strong second in his block. Liger was still in his element in an NJPW ring, but was willing to take the ultimate challenge outside it.
November 2002 saw Minoru Suzuki retire from mixed martial arts and contest his last fight in MMA promotion Pancrase. Suzuki wanted to challenge a professional wrestler for the bout, and Kensuke Sasaki was suggested, but injuries precluded him from taking part. On short notice, but with characteristic fighting spirit, Liger accepted. He would lose the fight quickly via rear naked choke, but made a prophetic post-match suggestion. One day, years down the road, the two would meet again.