The countdown to Jyushin Thunder Liger’s retirement continues
1990 started with a change in name and image for Jyushin Liger. On January 5, Thunder was added to Liger’s ring name, and Jyushin Thunder Liger has been a household name ever since, his bodysuit and mask taking on its more familiar appearance as he headed into the new decade.
1990 would see Liger join a faction for the first time in his career, becoming part of Tatsumi Fujinami’s Dragon Bombers stable, aligning Liger with fellow junior heavyweight pioneer Shiro Koshinaka and Mexican ambassador Black Cat, the stable would also include a young Takayuki Iizuka, long before his transformation into the deranged Takashi Iizuka.
While he made allies though, Liger had his fair share of famous enemies in 1990. He would win and lose the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to Pegasus Kid, and had a memorable martial arts clash with karateka Masashi Aoyagi. Liger would have his mask partially torn in the rounds based bout, and his home crowd in Fukuoka reacted with amazement when Liger tore off the rest of his mask and flew into Aoyagi with tremendous, bloody fury, hinting at the beast that lay underneath the famous mask.
The biggest headline for Liger’s 1990, though, was taken by one of his most significant rivals. Much like Liger himself, Naoki Sano had strong personal ties to the Tokyo Dome; on the same day that Liger debuted in the Big Egg, Sano was the first to wrestle, the Young Tokyo Dome Cup final seeing him defeat Hiro Saito. Sano was not about to let Liger steal all the headlines as the 1980s came to a close, and when Liger won his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Shiro Koshinaka, Sano stepped up to challenge.
The resulting intense confrontation in Ryogoku in July would end when Sano suplexed Liger off the top rope, and both men were knocked unconscious, the result being a draw. Sano won a rematch, taking the junior title from Liger, who was intent on winning the belt back, but remained unsuccessful until the calendar turned to 1990.
After Liger was unable to rest the title back from Sano through 1989, there was an air of finality in this bout with Sano; a feeling that this might be Liger’s last chance at the Sano. He certainly started the bout as if it was, charging in with palm strikes and a dive to the floor, but Sano would take control with a devastating piledriver outside and a Tombstone within the ring before trying to rip at Liger’s mask.
As Sano maintained the offense, Liger would be badly cut open, and struggled, seemingly vainly to gain some kind of opening. Time and again, as blood coursed down his exposed face, Liger would kick out of devastating blows. As he popped his hips on a pair of Sano suplexes, Liger was able to garner near falls, but not sustained offense, until finally, some hard hits came the challenger’s way.
Sano resisted a German suplex and Liger Bomb, but not the Shooting Star Press as Jyushin Thunder Liger became IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion for a second time. Sano and Liger’s paths would diverge in the aftermatch of this match, and the two would not meet again until October 1995. They will however meet on January 4, as part of a huge eight man tag match for Liger’s Retirement Match 1!
30 Years of Liger in 30 days: 1991–>