This match was from the 1994 Super J Cup, which is a tournament of some repute to say the least. In the first round of the tournament Liger overcame Hayabusa and Sasuke (representing Michinoku Pro) pinned El Samurai. Liger obviously came in as one of the favourites, wrestling in his home promotion in a tournament that he himself conceived. What could possibly go wrong for him?

Liger destroyed Sasuke early on, hitting all his big stuff before attempting to make him submit to various chokes and a kimura. The inital impression they gave was that Liger and Sasuke were not in the same league and Liger could have put Sasuke away if he really wanted to. Liger was the major league wrestler, Sasuke was bush league defined in his naff little ninja costume. Liger is an incredibly endearing babyface, particularly nowadays as the legendary figure he is, but he’s also one of the best dickhead villains you’ll ever see too, something he is still capable of (usually when he ventures to NOAH because that’ll put anyone in a sour mood). I’m always impressed by wrestlers who are able to convey so much about their character while wearing, in Liger’s case, a full face mask, but he communicates a lot of subtle stuff that most wrestlers struggle with, even without the same limitations. It’s the pro wrestling equivalent of silent movies; you don’t have your face to tell people what emotion you’re feeling at that moment, so you have to make your body language even more expressive to get the point across. Liger is the best at that.

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Sasuke’s eventual comeback was the perfect counterbalance to Liger. It was reckless and out of control. Whereas Liger was a man out to prove his dominance by pulverizing this random he’d been drawn against and making him submit, Sasuke wasn’t really bothered about that. He’s all about the W. He’s a man looking to make his name in his biggest match to date so he’s gonna take Liger out or die trying. There’s no half measures here as he busted out the wildest shit in his arsenal, including an Asai moonsault (flinging himself backwards into some tables in the process) followed by a swanton over the ring post to keep the momentum going. This was incredibly spotty but it worked because that’s what Sasuke had to resort to in order to get back into the match after being dominated for so long. Once Liger got back in control that was it. The gloves were off. He realised that he was up against a threat. Not a conventional threat who might outwrestle him in a magnificent athletic contest, but a threat who might be able to hurt him and pin him for three seconds. Liger’s game plan changed at this point; he started going for quick pins. He was dropping Sasuke on his head not to embarrass him (although that would be a cheeky bonus) but to win the match. And if he couldn’t pin him, he’d kill him with a suplex to the floor then wait for the corpse to get counted out.

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The finish of this match is probably the most notable thing and it’s one of the rarer beasts in wrestling as a whole: the botched move that is more effective than if it had been executed correctly. Great Sasuke springboards up to the top rope to, one would assume, hit a huracanrana. That doesn’t happen; he slips and falls flat on his face. Everyone laughs. Liger laughs. Liger sarcastically applauds and the arrogance is back. This shitty little independent wrestler has walked into the great Jushin Thunder Liger’s ring and dared to challenge him. Except when Liger goes to finish him that shitty little independent wrestler catches him with the huracanrana and pins him. This remains one of my favourite finishes to any wrestling match, one that I’ve never been entirely sure whether it was intentional or not. I’ve ultimately settled on “it doesn’t matter”. The dramatic effect is the same. If it wasn’t planned then Liger wins the prize for the best improvisation in wrestling history though.

This is up there with my favourite New Japan junior heavyweight matches of all time. The contrast between the two participants, with the whole New Japan elite vs. independent wrestling theme you’d also find in Liger’s match with Hayabusa, basically formed the structure of the entire match. Liger underestimated his opponent and it backfired in a big way, leading to the happy ending to this particular story. Liger’s character work cannot be understated here. The match without it would still have been fun because Sasuke was an incredibly exciting wrestler to watch for most of the 1990s but all the extra work on top of that took it to the next level. ****3/4

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