With April turning into May, the spring holidays of Golden Week have brought about some phenomenal pro-wrestling moments in history, including these highlights from the NJPW archives:
April 24, 1989: Liger born from the Big Egg
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.
April 26, 2019: Gold stays in Roppongi
Returning from excursion at King of Pro-Wrestling in 2017, SHO and YOH instantly made a tag team mark. Defeating Ryusuke Taguchi and Ricochet in Ryogoku, Roppongi 3K won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in their debut, and went on to win the Super Junior Tag Tournament, a feat they repeated in 2018 and 2019. More tag gold followed, but the team would learn that winning title belts and keeping them are two entirely different matters.
Roppongi 3K would fall at the first defense hurdle in their initial reigns, leading to a lot of criticism being directed at the ‘gold and silver standard’. Their record ate at SHO and YOH, who sought not only to get a first defence under their belts, but to do so against the toughest competition possible.
BUSHI and Shingo Takagi represented that competition on the Road to Dontaku in 2019. Back in March, a pinfall victory over BUSHI saw Roppongi 3K to their third junior tag reign, but it was more than a matter of pushing Roppongi advantage over the Los Ingobernables De Japon team. Ever since Shingo Takagi came into NJPW the prior October, he threatened SHO’s status as the most feared power based junior heavyweight in the game; SHO’s obsession with the as yet undefeated Dragon was explosive as it was dangerous.
April 27 2008: Greatly Bashed Hiroyoshi
Hiroyoshi Tenzan was never a stranger to rule breaking controversy. He was, more often than not, an instigator through the 1990s and 2000s as part of groups like nWo Japan and Team 2000. His experience in those units made him the perfect fit to lead Great Bash Heel in the early part of their disruptive life, but when Tenzan suffered an injury, he would be the victim of a coup d’etat in the early part of 2008, expelled from a group he helped create, while Togi Makabe rose to the fore.
Tenzan would form an unlikely alliance with Takashi Iizuka though, and the two gelled well to bring the fight specifically to the Most Violent Players team of Makabe and Toru Yano. A win for Iizuka and Tenzan over the then IWGP Tag Team Champions in Korakuen Hall, and a blossoming companionship took them to Osaka, and a match with the titles at stake.
There was no questioning Tenzan’s loyalty to his partner, as he sacrificed his own body to save Iizuka from a Makabe chairshot. Yet when a bloodied Tenzan reached out to take Iizuka late in the match, he received no response, and later, a devastating choke hold.
In the coming days, Iizuka would entomb the spirit of his former self in a Tokyo shrine, and underwent a radical transformation from loyal fighter to deranged madman.
April 30, 1991: The Top of the Super Juniors
In recent years, this period has become the season of junior heavyweights; all that started in April 1991, when Top of the Super Juniors returned, a league based tournament that resurfaced after an original 1988 outing.
Seven wrestlers participated in a single block league, and while a diminutive field compared to the modern Best of the Super Juniors’ 20 strong, it was an impressive one. Owen Hart, Negro Casas, Pegasus Kid, Dave Finlay and Flying (later Too Cold) Scorpio made a strong batch of non Japanese contenders, with Norio Honaga and Jyushin Thunder Liger being domestic participants.
Liger and Honaga would make the finals of a tournament that not only would decide who was at the top of the division for the duration of the tour, but going forward. After setting the wrestling world on fire following his debut two years earlier, Liger sought to bring further attention to the junior heavyweight division, and when the Top of the Super Juniors was announced as coming back after a three year hiatus, Liger willingly vacated his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to be contested in the tournament.
It all came down to Liger and Norio Honaga. 12 year veteran Honaga was by no means a fan favourite. Aligning himself with the likes of Hiro Saito and Super Strong Machine, he was a prominent member of the despised Blond Outlaws faction, and was embroiled in a rivalry with Liger almost as soon as the masked man debuted. Here though, he was intent on out-wrestling the future legend on his own, and climbing to the top of his division.
As questionable as Honaga’s attitude may have been, he was every bit the match of Liger in the ring, as we found out in this hotly contested final.