Match of the Year – Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Naoki Sano
Naoki Sano was one of Liger’s greatest rivals. Their matches from the late 80s and early 90s helped make Liger into the sensation he became. On January 31, 1990, Jushin Thunder Liger and Naoki Sano had their best match.
I could go through this match move for move but it would not do justice to the drama and the selling. Sano was a fantastic heel and Liger was equally fantastic as the babyface in peril. Sano ripping Liger’s mask and leaving him bloody added a new visual layer to the match. Liger ended up winning the match and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title with his Shooting Star Press, putting down his vicious rival.
This is one of Liger’s most classic matches. Easily accessible on NJPW World, this one still holds up and is worth tracking down. It was voted the Match of the Year for 1990 in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards, further demonstrating its impact.
Top of the Super Juniors – Jushin Thunder Liger vs. El Samurai
It seems like most of Liger’s top matches include his mask getting ripped off. Just adds to the drama, I guess. This match was no exception, as Liger’s mask with El Samurai is the highest rated of his career by Dave Meltzer, earning the coveted 5 star rating.
The match was the final of the Top of the Super Juniors tournament (the predecessor to the Best of the Super Juniors). It was still early in his career and in his second attempt, Liger captured the tournament crown.
The match itself was fantastic with Samurai working as the heel. While many of Liger’s matches were high-flying spectacles, this was a brawl. Both men’s masks were torn and they eventually started throwing haymakers. Liger was able to hit a Frankensteiner for the win, securing his spot as the Top of the Super Juniors.
This is a must-see for Liger fans. It is hard to say what his best match is after so many years but you could make the argument for this one.
Junior Heavyweight vs. Heavyweight
There were times throughout his career that Jushin Thunder Liger found his way into the heavyweight division. It happened more often in the early 2000s when the junior heavyweight division was deemphasized. The best instance, however, came years earlier when he faced Shinya Hashimoto in 1994.
In these matches, Liger wore his Battle Liger outfit, which saw him without the top half of his bodysuit and an altered mask.
Great matches between weight classes often succeed because of the clash of styles. Liger was still utilizing his more aerial moves while Hashimoto relied on his size and strength advantage. Still regarded as one of Liger’s best matches ever, this battle is one of the most different on this list.
Undefeated Best of the Super Juniors
Jushin Thunder Liger stands as one of the most dominant competitors in the history of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. He is one of only two men to have won the tournament or its predecessor three times alongside Koji Kanemoto. The 2001 tournament was his most dominant performance of them all.
It doesn’t get much more dominant than going undefeated. Liger became the first man to go undefeated in the tournament, finishing with a perfect ten points and defeating Minoru Tanaka in the final.
Liger was the focal point of the junior division for a large chunk of his career but this tournament put the biggest stamp on his dominance. The only other man since to go undefeated and win the tournament was Prince Devitt in 2013.
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