The Professional 3 10.06.13: Jushin Ligerís Best WCW Matches (91-92)
Posted by Jon Harder on 10.06.2013
411ís Jon Harder goes back to the early 90s and breaks down some of Jushin Ligerís best matches in WCWÖ
Welcome everyone to another edition of the Professional 3 on 411mania.com! I'm Jon Harder and another exciting week in the books for the world of pro wrestling! With Battleground on the horizon, there are so many different directions mainstream wrestling can go. But one thing is for sure: this is the first time in a long time where you truly are rooting for the underdog on television. It is really inspiring.
Before we go any further, check out this week's Hardway Podcast on TheJonHarder.com with ECW's "Enforcer" CW Anderson! CW does not hold back, discussing the legacy of his ECW I Quit match against Tommy Dreamer, his story revolving around Vince McMahon ruining a match against Shannon Moore in the Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006, the Extreme Horsemen in MLW and SO MUCH MORE. It is truly a great lesson in the world of pro wrestling for fans and wrestlers alike. You can follow CW on Twitter at @ECWAnderson
Also, you can follow me on Twitter at @TheJonHarder. I love talking about obscure wrestling, the Mets, Cheers Season 3, and whatever feedback you can feed me.
Now, onto this week's piece. As I alluded to in the opening of the P3, with Battleground coming up tonight, it's the first time in recent memory where you feel yourself cheering for the underdog in a wrestling match setting. Daniel Bryan has proven you don't have to be 6'3, 240 lbs to make an impact in the world of mainstream wrestling within the main event scene. In this writer's opinion, it is the first time since Bret Hart where you have a wrestler with the never-say-die attitude combined with great in-ring capabilities making a major impact on the main event scene. Yet, combined with a certifiable catchphrase and a wealth of fans screaming it every chance they get, Daniel Bryan is one in a million case.
When you have smaller wrestlers in the top level of pro wrestling, in particular in the biggest wrestling company on the planet, it truly shows that the glass ceiling is officially shattered when it comes to the standard, stereotypical wrestler getting the big time rub to the next level. It's true. Rey Mysterio broke through somewhat in 2006 becoming the World Heavyweight champion, but wasn't treated realistically as much of a world beater instead of just being lucky. Many people can say AJ Styles had shattered the image of being just an "X-Division guy", but as late as 2012, he was still being touted as the "future" of TNA, ten years after the company started, being in the first match, and winning four World championships. Even Chris Jericho, who many people consider to be one of wrestling's great world championships, never truly shattered the image of being a junior heavyweight, despite multiple World championships. Daniel Bryan truly has molded into a special type of wrestler.
I honestly believe that with the momentum Bryan has, you will be able to see more Cruiserweight athletes finally get that long awaited respect as mainstream main event talent. Talent, charisma, and a character as a smaller athlete? It truly is the total package. Daniel Bryan truly has it all. It really makes me wonder why gimmicky smaller wrestlers haven't broken out sooner. Kind of like Jushin "Thunder" Liger.
Debuting for New Japan Pro Wrestling on April 24, 1989, Jushin "Thunder" Liger took the entire junior heavyweight scene by storm with his character. Based off an anime superhero created by Go Nagai, a manga artist, Liger took New Japan by storm as quite possibly the greatest IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion of all time. Winning his first Junior Heavyweight title in 1989 and his last in December of 1999 (JON HARDER DID YOU KNOW FACT: He won his last championship in WCW against Psychosis on an episode of Monday Nitro), Liger was unstoppable. His unique look manifested into worldwide popularity, with his demonic-style mask, full body suit, and colorful mannerisms.
In New Japan, despite his immense popularity and overall dominance of the junior heavyweight scene, Liger was never IWGP Heavyweight champion, nor allowed even remotely close towards the heavyweight division by New Japan booker Riki Choshu, due to his size. Although he was never allowed past junior heavyweight levels, Liger's worldwide fans never forgot how incredible he was in the ring. It's completely frustrating to see that although he was a legend, he was politicked down in Japan due to similar issues smaller wrestlers go through in America. Somehow though, Liger's American legacy will always be remembered through his early 1990s run in World Championship Wrestling. Being showcased on WCW's Japan Showdown/NJPW Starrcade 1991 PPV defeating the returning AKIDA on March 21, 1991 in the Tokyo Dome, Liger came over with the development of the WCW Light Heavyweight championship. After beating Flyin' Brian on Christmas Day in 1991 for the championship, Liger set out to have phenomenal matches against other smaller, yet technical WCW athletes. The Flyin' Brian vs. Jushin "Thunder" Liger match at Super Brawl 2 might very well be the greatest Light Heavyweight match ever graced on WCW pay-per-view (and that's from someone who absolutely loved Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio from Halloween Havoc 1997). Even more so than that, the kids watching WCW absolutely loved the look of "Thunder". Despite this and a few more excursions to WCW in the 1990s, that would be as far as Liger got in terms of up the ladder in American wrestling as well.
It's bothersome to me that in some respects that Liger could never be considered as one of the all-time greats in overall wrestling, instead of a junior heavyweight icon. Picky? Yes, but the iconic legacy Liger has should have resulted in at least one Heavyweight championship run. That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, but I still love Jushin "Thunder" Liger's run regardless. Hell, his 1991 run was more fun for me, simply as a 6 year old wrestling fan. And that's what this P3 will be about: his top three WCW matches from his 1991-1992 stint. Are you ready? I know I am.
Without further hesitation...
THE PROFESSIONAL 3: Jushin "Thunder" Liger's Top 3 Matches from his WCW stint in 1991-1992
The match I discussed earlier in the column. Before there were Cruiserweights, there were the Light Heavyweights. In the winter of 1992, there were none brighter on American soil than Brian Pillman and Jushin Liger. And at Super Brawl II, in a return match from the Omni on Christmas Day 1991, Liger and Pillman went out and absolutely stole the show in the opening contest. Back and forth, reversals and counters, this match was the battle to end all battles. Innovative wrestling not seen before on this side of the hemisphere, both men threw down and delivered a phenomenal fight.
Also considering that this match had the debut of Jesse Ventura on WCW commentary and the great Jim Ross on play-by-play, you have the dealings of a great fight. This was 5 stars, and still holds up among the best junior heavyweight matches of all time.
2) CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS WITH FLYIN' BRIAN VS CHRIS BENOIT AND BEEF WELLINGTON - JUNE 1992
After reading Matthew Randazzo's Ring of Hell book from 2008 based on the life and times of Chris Benoit's life prior to murdering his wife and young son, I had legitimately no idea this match existed until this book. The Clash of the Champions held a phenomenal tag team battle between two great light heavyweight tandems. After the great Super Brawl II battle between Pillman and Liger, the respect was completely mutual. They decided to team up to face the Stampede duo of Chris Benoit and Beef Wellington, who were strong-style before the usage of strong style was considered cool.
This matchup single-handedly showcased the talents of Liger and Pillman in front of a live television audience. The Clash was always one of my favorite televised wrestling showcase shows, and this match holds a great little place in my heart. Benoit's style inside of this match actually earned him a job in WCW. Bottom line, Liger and Pillman might have been great opponents, but on this night, they made better partners.
3) STARRCADE: THE LETHAL LOTTERY WITH BILL KAZMAIER VS DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE AND MIKE GRAHAM
I HAD to throw this in there for humility purposes. As a kid growing up, my father frequently purchased WCW pay-per-views due to his love of pro wrestling. After telling me how much he loved the concept of the Lethal Lottery (and how crappy half the competitors were inside of it), I sat down and watched this tape in my living room. Looking back, I now realize how much of a gem this is, as four men in this match are considered or related to icons.
Jushin Liger was an icon for his junior heavyweight legacy, while Bill Kazmaier was at one time "the World's Strongest Man". DDP was WCW's People's Champion and Mike Graham was the son of Eddie Graham, arguably the greatest booker in wrestling history due to his outstanding work in Florida during the 1970s. This match, which I so tried to find on YouTube, might not be the greatest match in Liger's arsenal, but the fact that Liger teamed with the big stiff Kazmaier always made me smile. It's Professional 3 at its finest.
Folks, I might not be the greatest critic when it comes to pro wrestling, but I will say this: Jushin "Thunder" Liger might be the greatest junior heavyweight of all time. His title reigns and matches will stand the test of time. However, he deserved to be the greatest of all time. His gimmick was incredible, his look was unbelievable, and his matches and moves were so innovative. The next time you look at Daniel Bryan, think of Jushin "Thunder" Liger and see what could have been.