Shinjiro Otani vs. Jushin Liger (NJPW, 2/7/98, IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title Match)

I’ve already covered a match where Jushin Liger was a real mean bastard and he was quite good at it, as I recall, so I thought it would be nice to check out an occasion where he took on the other role with similarly excellent results. This match from 1998 saw Shinjiro Otani usurping him as the king dickhead, and what a mighty dickhead he was. What’s always fun about Liger in general is that the man himself never really changes his schtick, he simply applies it in different situations that either make him come across as a loveable rogue or a throbbing bellend. There’s a fine line between banter and cruelty and, if you’ll allow me to get filthy for a second, Jushin Liger has always ridden that line magnificently. There was no sarcastic clapping in this one (there was clapping but it was strictly for encouragement and crowd participation purposes), although if he had done some it’d probably be easily written off as (a) charming and (b) Otani probably deserved it.

Otani is a very, very fun wrestler to watch if you go back to his junior heavyweight days. The man in general stands out among the elite juniors of the day, with names like Ultimo Dragon, Great Sasuke and, yes, Jushin Liger coming to mind. Otani was comparatively plain. Sure, he had a sparkly ring jacket, but you were getting no more pizzazz than that. When that bell rang, you were getting a man in black trunks, black knee pads and lovely, lovely little boots. Initially this seemed like a natural comparison to someone like Dean Malenko as a contrast to Rey Mysterio Jr. but Otani actually projected a lot of in ring charisma here. Instead of being a no nonsense wrestler who just wanted to go out there and have his match, he seemed no nonsense and very keen to eliminate any and all nonsense put before him. This included the legend put before him here, and that was the running theme throughout. Otani was very eager early on but Liger had seen this before. He wasn’t falling for those tricks. Goad the aggressive punk in then outwrestle him on the mat, then go for the kill shot when you get the chance.


Otani dominated throughout by focusing on Liger’s arm and being a real jerk about it, holding on when Liger made the ropes on numerous occasions and actually getting a lot of heat for it. The best example of this was definitely when Otani outright forearmed the referee to stop him from coming to Liger’s rescue, although the ref didn’t really sell it by dying for ten minutes so I think he was fairly lucky. Otani did bust out the springboard missile dropkick to the arm here, a move I always love because it always focuses on a weak point relevant to the match. This is a move more wrestlers need to steal, partly because a springboard dropkick to the knee to set up a kneebar looks really odd. This match also featured a fair amount of move-stealing, always a good way to build up the intensity, as Liger used Otani’s face wash boot scrapes in the corner only for Otani to return the favour with a Liger Bomb a short time later. I don’t think anyone ever truly buys these as finishes but it’s fun to see wrestlers have the gall to do such a thing. That’s intellectual property they’re infringing upon and look how little they care!


One of the weirder moments came when Liger attempted a superplex and whatever they attempted went horribly wrong, resulting in Otani basically flipping headfirst onto Liger’s midsection. This was a jarring (albeit fairly spectacular) moment but Otani saved it somewhat by excitedly pointing at Liger, gloating at the move he absolutely definitely certainly had meant to do. He actually looked more excited to be alive than anything. This was around the time that Otani’s super serious manner had begun to crack as Liger began rolling through the bigger moves in his arsenal. The kid gloves were off and this punk had to die. The super fisherman buster from Liger connected and Otani’s immediate reaction upon kicking out was to crawl over Liger and flop around the ring to try and regain his bearings. It sounds a bit silly (and it was) but it actually worked here because Otani, a very tactical fighter, had been completely shellshocked. He’d worked out a perfect gameplan to win this match. Unfortunately his brains had been scrambled so he was struggling to remember much of it. It was as if he was attempting to fire up and make a comeback but, like a shitty old car, the engine just wouldn’t get going.


This match took place around the time that Liger had completely adopted the Shotei (palm strike) as one of his signature moves. Having beaten a brain tumour a short time before this he’d decided to slow down his style a little. After all, if you’re Jushin Liger there’s no need to kill yourself every single night when you can get anything over. And boy, did he get the Shotei over. It was applied in several different ways here, each bringing something a little different to the table. The first came very early on, as Otani got struck with it out of nowhere and kicked out almost indignantly. How dare this man do such a big move so early. The second was a desperation charge in the corner, sending Otani flying. The third was a legitimate nearfall, aided by the fact that Otani took possibly the greatest Shotei bump of all time onto his head. Liger also later attempted a quick (albeit thwarted) Shotei flurry before finally putting Otani away with a strike to the face, one to the back of the head and finally a brainbuster off the top rope. This escalation of a single move from opening strike to finishing blow was great stuff.

This is kind of a hidden gem as the full version was only recently aired in Japan as part of a Jushin Liger special before just being uploaded to New Japan World this year, and it’s something everyone should certainly seek out. The closing stretch when they kicked into a higher gear is really, really gripping and even some of the rougher moments kinda worked within the story of the match, or at the very least they were compensated for by some nifty improvisation. ****1/2


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