As the January 4th and 5th Wrestle Kingdom 14 in the Tokyo Dome shows approach, the countdown continues to the end of the career of one of the greatest of all time, Jushin Thunder Liger.
Greatest of all time, a phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days in all sports and entertainment, but perhaps that phrase is no more appropriate than to describe the career of Jushin Thunder Liger in professional wrestling. In a career that’s spanned over 35 years, Jushin Thunder Liger has done it all and seen it all, but it hasn’t been a career without adversity. From the beginning, a young Keiichi Yamada was told he was too small to be a professional wrestler, but that didn’t deter him from his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. He left for Mexico to begin his training, and eventually through perseverance and literally starving to achieve his dream, he was finally invited to train in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling dojo. He debuted as Jushin Thunder Liger on April 24th, 1989 in the first professional wrestling show ever in the Tokyo Dome, but then in 1996, at the top of his game in his prime, he was faced with more adversity, this time in the form of a brain tumour. Thought to be career ending at the time, it was fortunately benign and able to be removed, but nonetheless this perseverance was once again on full display. And not only was he able to return, but he was able to adapt upon his return. Once a wrester that primarily relied on a high-flying style, he was basically forced to adapt his style in order to not put as much stress on his body, and became a wrestler that focused more on grappling, storytelling, and becoming essentially a more well-rounded performer, this ability to adapt another reason Jushin Thunder Liger has been able to have the career he’s had through all the ups and down of the past 35 years.
Arguably considered to be one of if not the greatest junior heavyweight wrestler of all time, perhaps no one has been more influential on the current generation of wrestlers of the last 10 – 20 years and the junior heavyweight style of wrestling that dominates the scene today than Jushin Thunder Liger. A record 11-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and first ballot Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Famer (1999) with a list of classic matches against a who’s who of the past 35 years that feels endless. If the original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama opened everyone’s eyes to junior heavyweight wrestling, then Jushin Thunder Liger has kept them open since 1989. However, a career like his is one that should not be categorized and limited as just a junior heavyweight, but so much more. Through all the adversity, Keiichi Yamada was able to preserver, and Jushin Thunder Liger has been able to preserver and adapt these past 35 years. His influence goes without saying, the list of wrestlers he’s influenced reads almost as long as his list of classic matches. And this influence, and ability to transcend generations these past 35 years, will be his long-lasting legacy.
The character of a man that debuted in the same building 31 years prior, it will all come full circle when the bell rings for the final time on the career of Jushin Thunder Liger on January 5th 2020 in the Tokyo Dome. Whatever the result, win or lose, ultimately the real winner is anyone and everyone that has been able to bear witness to the incomparable career of one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Jushin Thunder Liger.