We continue our countdown to Jyushin Thunder Liger’s retirement.
Some of Liger’s biggest achievements in 1991 came internationally, as he went on extended excursions to Mexico with UWA in the autumn, and in winter, WCW for the first time. This trip saw the beginning of what would become a famous international rivalry with Brian Pillman, as he won the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship at Christmas, and years later would wrestle Pillman on the very first match of their Monday Nitro program.
Domestically, one of Liger’s biggest matches was at the start of a junior heavyweight revolution, as the division began a golden age with the masked legend leading the way. That April saw Top of the Super Juniors return, a league based tournament that resurfaced after an original 1988 outing.
Seven wrestlers participated in a single block league, and while a diminutive field compared to the modern Best of the Super Juniors’ 20 strong, it was an impressive one. Owen Hart, Negro Casas, Pegasus Kid, Dave Finlay and Flying (later Too Cold) Scorpio made a strong batch of non Japanese contenders, with Norio Honaga and Jyushin Thunder Liger being domestic participants.
Liger and Honaga would make the finals of a tournament that not only would decide who was at the top of the division for the duration of the tour, but going forward. After setting the wrestling world on fire following his debut two years earlier, Liger sought to bring further attention to the junior heavyweight division, and when the Top of the Super Juniors was announced as coming back after a three year hiatus, Liger willingly vacated his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to be contested in the tournament.
12 year veteran Honaga was by no means a fan favourite. Aligning himself with the likes of Hiro Saito and Super Strong Machine, he was a prominent member of the despised Blond Outlaws faction, and was embroiled in a rivalry with Liger almost as soon as the masked man debuted. Here though, he was intent on out-wrestling the future legend on his own, and climbing to the top of his division.
As questionable as Honaga’s attitude may have been, he was every bit the match of Liger on the mat, as both exchanged holds, and traded big hits, Honaga snapping the neck of Liger and taking over with a Camel Clutch, only to see Liger stand and deliver an Electric Chair drop. Liger would gain momentum with corner strikes and a Swanton to Honaga, but the Blond Outlaw sidestepped a follow up plancha, and asserted himself on the match.
The brash Honaga ripping at Liger’s mask proved to be a mistake, as the legend would fire back with a backbreaker and superplex, but the canny Honaga was able to meet a flying Liger with a dropkick of his own out of midair. To Honaga’s immense credit, without any assistance from his corner, he was able to withstand dynamic dives and strikes from Liger, ultimately landing a Straightjacket German suplex to win Top of the Super Juniors and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
While Liger would get revenge, and his fourth IWGP title in June in Osaka from Honaga, the second Top of the Super Junior winner had cemented himself in the list of Liger’s greatest opponents. For Liger’s first of two retirement matches on January 4 2020, he will be the special guest referee!
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