Jushin Liger

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Jushin Liger
Jushin Thunder Liger 2009.jpg
Liger in 2009.
Birth name Keiichi Yamada[1][2]
Ring name(s) Keiichi Yamada[3]
"Flying" Fuji Yamada[3]
Jushin "Thunder" Liger[3]
Kishin Liger[3]
Jushin Liger[3]
Fire Liger
Masked CTU-G[3]
Billed height 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)[4][5]
Billed weight 95 kg (209 lb)[5]
Born (1964-11-30) November 30, 1964 (age 49)[1]
Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture[1]
Trained by Kotetsu Yamamoto[1]
Tatsumi Fujinami[3]
Yoshiaki Fujiwara[3]
Stu Hart[2]
Debut March 3, 1984[3]

Keiichi Yamada (山田恵一 Yamada Keiichi?, born November 30, 1964),[1][2] better known as Jushin Liger (獣神ライガー Jūshin Raigā?) and later, Jushin "Thunder" Liger (獣神サンダー・ライガー Jūshin Sandā Raigā?) is a Japanese professional wrestler who primarily works for New Japan Pro Wrestling. He has wrestled and beaten many of the top smaller wrestlers in both Japan and the United States, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most revolutionary junior heavyweights during the 1990s.

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Training[edit]

Keiichi Yamada was an amateur wrestler while studying in high school,[2] where in his senior year, he lost to Toshiaki Kawada in the finals of a national championship. After high school, he applied to the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo to become a professional wrestler in the early 1980s.[2] He was not accepted because he did not meet the height requirements they had at that time.[2] Yamada was determined not to give up his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, so he left for Mexico and began his training there.[2] By his own account, he was almost starving while studying there, so NJPW officials who were visiting took pity on him and asked him to come back to Japan to train in their dojo, where he was trained alongside the likes of Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto.[2]

All-Star Wrestling (1986–1987, 1989)[edit]

After winning the Young Lion Cup in March 1986,[2] he went on an excursion of Europe, where he wrestled for All Star Wrestling in England, under the name "Flying" Fuji Yamada.[2] He won the World Heavy Middleweight Championship twice, once in September 1986 and once in March 1987, both times defeating "Rollerball" Mark Rocco and both times losing it back to him, the last of these title changes being televised on ITV.[1] Yamada would later visit All Star again in 1989, with tag partner Flying Funaki.[6]

Stampede Wrestling (1987, 1989)[edit]

Yamada went on an excursion in Canada, around May 1987, where he wrestled in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling in Calgary under his real name.[2] He also trained under Hart in the legendary "Dungeon".[2] His experiences there led him to refer to Hart as a "very, very tough man." He would return to Calgary in January 1989.

Within months of his second Canadian excursion, NJPW called him back, as they needed him for a gimmick based on an extremely popular anime superhero, Jushin Liger, created by manga artist Go Nagai.[2] NJPW had done this previously with Tiger Mask, which had become a huge success. Yamada was given a superhero-like full body costume and a demonic looking mask, resembling the superhero type featured in tokusatsu and anime programs.

New Japan Pro Wrestling[edit]

Early career (1984–1988)[edit]

While continuing his studies, he had his debut match in March 1984 at the age of 19, wrestling against Shunji Kosugi.[1][2] He began studying various martial arts styles because he wanted to add something new and different to his wrestling style, which is how he learned his Rolling Koppu Kick. In 1985, Yamada participated in the Young Lion Cup and got to the final of the tournament before being defeated by Shunji Kosugi. In the beginning of 1986, Yamada participated in IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship League and lost to Black Tiger. On July 19, 1986, Yamada took on Nobuhiko Takada in his first of many IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match and lost.

After returning to Japan in August 1987, Yamada debuted his Shooting Star Press in a match against Masakatsu Funaki, for which he had gotten the idea from reading the manga Fist of the North Star. Throughout 1987 and 1988, Yamada improved with each match, occasionally getting shots at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, most notably against Owen Hart on June 10, 1988, and against Shiro Koshinaka on December 9, 1988. He would also take part in the first ever Top of the Super Juniors where he earned 31 points, not enough to progress to the final.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion (1989–2000)[edit]

Liger in 2007.

Jushin Liger returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling on April 24, 1989, at the Tokyo Dome.[1] In his debut match, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi.[2] He has also had the honor of wrestling all the Black Tigers to date (from Mark Rocco in 1989 to Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 2009). After using the Jushin Liger gimmick the anime progressed, and as the Go Nagai anime progressed, the hero powered up and changed three times. As the hero changed so did Liger. First to Fire Liger, then to the character gimmick he goes by today, Jushin Thunder Liger. He quickly became one of NJPW's top Junior Heavyweights, eventually capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship eleven times, between May 25, 1989 and December 6, 1999, among numerous other titles and accolades while wrestling around the world. When appearing without his mask on, Yamada blocks his appearance by covering his face with one hand.

Early in his career, Yamada's style mostly consisted of high flying. Years later, he started adapting more power moves and started focusing more on grappling and telling a story in the ring; part of this change was due to the fact that Liger had to reduce the stress he was putting on his body after undergoing brain tumor surgery in August 1996, which explained why he lost his match to Último Dragón in the first round of the J-Crown tournament.[2] He also had the opportunity to wrestle "Macho Man" Randy Savage on July 17, in which he lost.

Liger has won two Super J Cup tournaments in 1995 and 2000.[1]

Heavyweight Division (2000)[edit]

During 2000, as booker Riki Chōshū decided to de-emphasize the junior heavyweight division (a costly decision that diminished its credibility), Liger wrestled heavyweights without wearing the upper part of his bodysuit or his mask horns (the first time he wore that attire was on February 24, 1994, against Shinya Hashimoto in a non-title match between the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and the IWGP Heavyweight Champion).[7]

Control Terrorism Unit (2001–2007)[edit]

From 2001–2007, Liger was the leader of the NJPW heel stable Control Terrorism Unit (CTU) along with Hirooki Goto, Minoru Tanaka, Black Tiger IV, Gedo, Jado, Prince Devitt and briefly James Gibson.[8]

Legend (2007–2010)[edit]

CTU was disbanded in August 2007, when Liger decided CTU would disband while at the top of NJPW, Liger would then join Masahiro Chono's Legend stable.[1] The Legend stable would disband in February 2010, after Chono, Chōshū and AKIRA's departures.

Kishin Liger[edit]

On October 20, 1996, The Great Muta faced off in a match with Liger. As the match progressed, Muta resorted to his underhand tactics that had become his style over the years. He tore at Liger's mask and eventually ripped it off, but Liger kept his face down on the mat. After grabbing a chair outside the ring, Muta entered the ring but before he could hit Liger with it, Liger stood up and revealed his face to be painted pale white with red writings and spit mist into Muta's face (another Muta trademark). He tore off his bodysuit and revealed a painted chest, then proceeded to fight more aggressively the rest of the match, despite losing the match to Muta.

On July 30, 2006, Liger revived the "Kishin" gimmick and faced off with rival Bad Boy Hido in New Japan Pro Wrestling.[8] The story was that Hido had cut a piece of Liger's hair and Liger vowed revenge, so he transformed into Kishin Liger. Liger won the match with a brainbuster onto a steel chair.

The gimmick is a variation of The Great Muta gimmick which relies on bloody and evil tactics in a match, using mannerisms and imagery that differ from the person's normal ways. This gimmick also uses many wrestling moves that are regulars in The Great Muta's move set, such as the Asian mist.

On June 16, 2012, at Dominion 6.16, Liger made a rare appearance as Kishin Liger, when he and Tiger Mask IV defeated Suzukigun (Taichi and Taka Michinoku) to win the vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, Liger's first New Japan title in four years.[9] The change was brought on by Taichi tearing Liger's mask to pieces.[10] They lost the title to Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov and Rocky Romero) on July 22.[11]

World Championship Wrestling (1991–1999)[edit]

Jushin Liger made appearances with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) during the 1990s. He made his debut in December 1991. He feuded with Brian Pillman over the WCW World Light Heavyweight Championship. He defeated Pillman on December 25 for the title at a house show in Atlanta, Georgia.[1] He would hold onto the title for over two months, before losing it back to Pillman at SuperBrawl II.[12] Liger left WCW in December 1992 after Starrcade, teaming with Erik Watts in a losing effort to "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and Sting in a Lethal Lottery match. He returned to WCW in September 1995; he would go on to face many other opponents such as Chris Benoit, Pillman, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Jr., and Juventud Guerrera, as well as unsuccessfully challenging Konnan for the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship at Slamboree '96.[1]

He met with controversy around late-November/early-December 1999 while wrestling a short tour in WCW as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion when he lost the title on WCW Monday Nitro to Juventud Guerrera via a blow to the head from a tequila bottle.[2] Liger regained his title the following week from Psicosis, who was substituting for Guerrera because he broke his arm. However, the scripting of these title changes was very embarrassing for New Japan Pro Wrestling, so embarrassing that they moved on like it never happened and chose not to release any information, in turn none of the Japanese sports media outlets reported the two title changes.[4] New Japan didn't recognize Guerrera's reign until 2007.[13] Liger was also referred to as a 10 time champion until this time.[14]

Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2005–2006)[edit]

Liger debuted in the American Total Nonstop Action Wrestling promotion on October 23, 2005 as part of their Bound for Glory pay-per-view, losing to Samoa Joe.[15]

He was scheduled to face off against Christopher Daniels at TNA Lockdown 2006 on April 23, 2006. He had been unaware that the match was to be held in a Steel Cage, something in which he had never participated before. When he heard of this he cancelled the match. One of TNA's bookers Scott D'Amore has speculated that he didn't want to participate in the match due to it being in a new environment, fearing it would have hampered his performance. According to D'Amore, Liger had been unhappy with his previous TNA match against Joe which was cut short due to communication problems, and wanted his next TNA match to be better. D'Amore has also denied the rumor that communication issues between TNA and NJPW had caused the match to be cancelled. Liger was not double booked to two events at the same time, as had been publicly speculated.

Liger was the captain of the New Japan team in the TNA 2006 World X Cup Tournament and defeated Team Canada's Captain Petey Williams at TNA Sacrifice on May 14, 2006 using a Crash Thunder Buster after Williams was distracted by the rest of Team Japan, who draped the flag over Williams after Liger's victory. Liger was eliminated in the X-Cup Gauntlet later that night and Team Japan was unable to gain any points in the match as it was won by Team Canada with Team Mexico as runners up.[16]

Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre[edit]

Early appearances (2007–2010)[edit]

Liger tearing at Último Guerrero's mask during a CMLL match

In 2007 Liger made a short visit to Mexico, working for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, NJPW's Mexican associate. He took part in the 2007 CMLL International Gran Prix as the captain of a team of non-Mexican wrestlers. Liger was the last man eliminated from the match by winner Último Guerrero.[17] Liger returned to CMLL in September 2009 for a longer tour, teaming with Okumura, Naito and Yujiro as La Ola Amarilla ("The Yellow Wave" in Spanish). At the CMLL 76th Anniversary Show La Ola Amarilla defeated Team Mexico (Último Guerrero, Atlantis, Black Warrior and Héctor Garza) in one of the featured matches on the show.[18] The following week, at the 2009 Gran Alternativa show Liger unsuccessfully challenged for Último Guerrero's CMLL World Heavyweight Championship.[19] He also failed to regain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Místico before returning to Japan in October, 2009.[20] On May 3, 2010, Liger defeated Negro Casas at a New Japan show in Fukuoka, Japan, to win the CMLL World Middleweight Championship.[21]

2010–2011[edit]

Liger returned to CMLL in June 2010 for a long tour of the company. As the CMLL World Middleweight Championship he earned entry into the 2010 Universal Championship. On the August 6, 2010 Super Viernes show Liger won Block B by defeating Negro Casas, Héctor Garza and La Máscara to earn a spot in the finals.[22] On the August 13, 2010 Super Viernes Liger defeated La Sombra to win the 2010 Universal Championship.[23] On August 16, 2010 it was announced that Liger was one of 14 men putting their mask on the line in a Luchas de Apuestas steel cage match, the main event of the CMLL 77th Anniversary Show.[24] Liger was the seventh man to leave the steel cage, keeping his mask safe. The match came down to La Sombra pinning Olímpico to unmask him.[25] During the same tour, Liger also made his first successful defense of the CMLL World Middleweight Championship, defeating La Sombra on September 27.[26] On January 4, 2011, at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo Dome event, Liger wrestled in a CMLL showcase match, where he and Héctor Garza were defeated by La Sombra and Máscara Dorada, when Sombra pinned Liger, setting up a CMLL World Middleweight Championship match for CMLL's Fantasticamania 2011 show on January 22 in Tokyo, Japan.[27][28][29] At Fantasticamania Liger defeated La Sombra to retain the CMLL World Middleweight Championship.[30] On May 3, Liger made his third successful defense of the title, defeating Máscara Dorada at New Japan's Wrestling Dontaku 2011 show.[31] Liger returned to Mexico on September 15, 2011, announcing his intention of working as a technico for the first time during his run with CMLL.[32] On September 30 at CMLL's 78th Anniversary Show, Liger defeated eleven other men in a torneo cibernetico to advance to the finals of the 2011 Leyenda de Plata.[33] On October 7, Liger was defeated in the finals of the tournament by Volador Jr.[34] On October 24, Liger made his fourth successful defense of the CMLL World Middleweight Championship, defeating El Texano, Jr.[35] On November 18, Liger lost the title to Dragón Rojo, Jr., ending his reign at 564 days.[36] Liger's three month stint in CMLL ended on December 9, with a loss against Último Guerrero.[37]

2013[edit]

On July 5, 2013, during a New Japan event, Liger teamed with Hiroshi Tanahashi to defeat Tama Tonga and El Terrible for the CMLL World Tag Team Championship.[38] They lost the title to Tonga and Rey Bucanero on September 14.[39]

North American independent promotions[edit]

Liger in February 2014.

On November 5, 2004, Liger debuted in Ring of Honor (ROH), headlining their back-to-back "Weekend of Thunder" shows to huge acclaim. ROH selected Bryan Danielson as Liger's special opponent for that weekend. For Night 1, the two faced each other in a singles match, with Liger winning the highly competitive bout after a super brainbuster.[40] On November 6, 2004 Night 2 would see a "dream tag-team" match in the main event. Liger chose then-ROH Champion Samoa Joe as his partner out of respect for Joe's accomplishments as ROH World Champion, and Danielson selected Low Ki to negate Joe. Liger again came out on top, pinning Danielson with a Liger Bomb to win the match.[41] On January 29, 2010 at ROH's debut show in Los Angeles, California as part of WrestleReunion 4, Liger lost a non-title match to ROH World Champion Austin Aries via pinfall after a brainbuster.[42] It was Liger's first ROH match in over five years.

Liger made his Canadian return after 18 years on May 25 and May 26, 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario and competed in UWA Hardcore Wrestling. On night one he teamed with PUMA and defeated the team of Último Dragón and Kazuchika Okada, after Liger hit the Liger Bomb on Okada.[1] On night two, Liger teamed with Último Dragón and defeated The Murder City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) after a Liger Bomb / Dragon Sleeper combo.[1]

Liger made his Pro Wrestling Guerrilla debut in Los Angeles, CA on January 30, 2010 as part of WrestleReunion 4. He defeated El Generico via pinfall after a brainbuster.[43]

On May 22, 2010, Liger made his debut for American promotion Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW), losing to Homicide in the main event of the evening.[44] He would return to the promotion seven months later on December 10, when he defeated Azrieal, Bandido, Jr., B-Boy, El Generico and Kenny Omega in a six–way elimination match to win the JAPW Light Heavyweight Championship.[45] The following day he would successfully defend the title against Mike Quackenbush.[45] Liger would lose the title to Kenny Omega in his second defense on May 15, 2011, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Invasion Tour 2011, New Japan's first ever tour of the United States.[46]

On March 24, 2013, it was announced that Liger would return to the United States the following month, making his debut for Extreme Rising on April 4, Pro Wrestling Syndicate (PWS) on April 5 and Chikara on April 6, all during the WrestleCon weekend in New Jersey.[47] After the cancellation of the Extreme Rising event,[48] Liger ended up taking part in another PWS event on April 4, during which he defeated Davey Richards and Tony Nese in a three-way match.[49][50][51] The following day, Liger was defeated by former WWE wrestler John Morrison in what was billed as an "International Dream Match".[51] Liger finished his American tour by teaming with Mike Quackenbush to defeat Jigsaw and The Shard in the main event of the Chikara show.[51][52][53]

Mixed martial arts career (2002)[edit]

On November 30, 2002, Liger was booked as a replacement for a mixed martial arts match in the Pancrase organization against Minoru Suzuki due to his planned opponent being forced to pull out. In what would be Liger's only Mixed Martial Arts match, (and Suzuki's last non-worked match) he was easily beaten by Suzuki via rear naked choke only 1:48 into the first round. After a failed attempt at a Rolling Koppu Kick, Liger was quickly mounted and hit with Suzuki's ground and pound until the choke was applied, forcing Liger to tap out. Liger wore a modified version of his mask during the bout.

In wrestling[edit]

Liger preparing to perform a frankensteiner on Minoru.
  • Entrance themes
    • "Moodido (The Match)" by Toto (NJPW; 1984–1986)
    • "Gotta Fly Now" by DeEtta Little (NJPW; 1987–1988)
    • "Ikari no Jushin" by Yumi Hiroki (NJPW; 1989–present)
    • "Kiseki no Jushin" by Yumi Hiroki (NJPW; 1989)
    • "War Lords" (WCW; 1991–1992)
    • "Rock Machine" (WCW; Used while teaming with Brian Pillman)
    • "Way Of The Dragon" (WCW; 1995–1996)
    • "Pacific Zone" (WCW; 1999)

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

1Despite winning the championship, the win and reign aren't recognized by World Wrestling Entertainment. No reign with the championship is recognized by the company prior to December 1997.[73]

Lucha de Apuesta record[edit]

Wager Winner Loser Location Date Notes
Mask Jushin Liger Pegasus Kid Fukuoka, Japan July 4, 1991 [74]
Mask Jushin Liger Tiger Mask III Tokyo, Japan January 4, 1994 [75]

Mixed martial arts record[edit]

Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
Loss 0–1 Minoru Suzuki Submission (rear naked choke) Pancrase: Spirit 8 November 30, 2002 1 1:48 Yokohama, Kanagawa [76]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External sources[edit]