Mask vs Mask Match (New Japan) 4th January 1994
Jushin Liger vs Tiger Mask III
Tiger Mask was in his third incarnation by this point, a very popular gimmick in Japan based on a very popular comic. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger was based on a comic character too. He had been n top of the New Japan junior heavyweight scene since debuting years eariler. With both wrestlers putting their iconic masks on the line this one looked like it would be a hard fought contest.
‘Tiger Mask’ appears on the top of a crane: he then jumps off it onto a giant crash mat. Pointless. ‘Liger’ then appears at the top of the dome and starts doing some karate. He disappears then reappears on the stage in a split second – clearly it wasn’t the real Liger 150 feet in the air. Again, pointless. Big explosion of glitter for ‘Thunder’.
The bout starts after TM slaps Liger in the face instead of shaking his hand. They lock up and exchange blows till Liger gets a single leg takedown and puts TM in a modified Mexican Surfboard. Tiger gets to his feet and boots Jushin to the canvas. He applies a side headlock which is turned into a head scissors by Liger. Tiger struggles to escape his opponents grip. TM escapes and kicks Liger repeatedly. He lands a Back Suplex for a two count. He then applies a head scissors of his own that Liger quickly escapes and locks on a Camel Clutch. He breaks the hold and whips TM into the ropes catching him with a Tilt-a-Whirl before locking on a standard Mexican Surfboard. Tiger gets out by raking Liger’s eyes. The pair exchange stiff kicks. Liger floors his foe with a cartwheel kick and climbs the ropes. He jumps off them with a Missile dropkick that TM counters with a dropkick of his own and slaps on a cross arm breaker. He mounts Jushin and beats him. Back on their feet they exchange slaps until Liger gets a snapmere and puts a head scissors back on. A rope break brings them back to their feet but Tiger trips ‘Thunder’ and starts to work over him. He traps Liger in the corner similar to a ‘Shattered Dreams’ and drop kicks Liger. He drops him to the mat and attempts a Moonsault. Jushin moves but TM lands on his feet only to be blasted with a cartwheel kick.
Tiger ends up outside and jump back in the ring as Jushin attempts a dive. But Liger puts the brakes on with a handspring off the ropes as TM dropkicks him out of the ring. Tiger runs the ropes and delivers a Suicide Dive. Back inside he hits a slam and a Moonsault. He covers Liger but cockily pulls him up on a two. He tries for the Tiger Driver but Jushin escapes with a dropkick. Liger-Bomb is followed up with a top rope Hurricanrana for a near fall. Another Liger-Bomb merits a two count. On a third Liger-Bomb, Tiger swings so high up that Liger falls backwards and TM lands on top for a near fall. On the top turnbuckle TM dropkicks Jushin to the ramp outside. Taking a run up he hits a beautiful handspring into a cross bodyblock. He quickly gets to the top rope and dives at Liger: he moves. The fans mutter as it was clear TM slipped as he jumped and would have missed anyway. Throws ‘Thunder’ back into the ring and lands a Missile dropkick. German Suplex for a two count. A slam is followed up with a twisting Senton but he misses on a top rope splash. Liger jumps to the top and executes a brilliant Shooting Star Press for the pin. Tiger Mask III wastes no time in un-masking revealing himself to be a young Koji Kanemoto. He angrily throws his mask at Jushin who consoles him with a hug and a handshake.
Koji would still use the mask for a short while after this bout when he worked in Mexico (if they, the fans, knew he wasnt meant to have the mask anymore they would have been livid). Koji would go on to hold the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship 5 times and the tag version 4 times (once with Liger, of all people). Until a few weeks ago he was one half of the All Asia Tag champs in AJPW.
Jushin would go on to win countless titles in countless promotions. He is the undoubted star of New Japans crusier’ division and a ture legend. In the last couple of years he has slowed down due to age. In 2012 he held the Junior tag title for 6 weeks with Tiger Mask IV (who is yet to unmask after a decade as TM). It has just been announced that he will return to the UK for one night only (he wrestled without a mask in England during the 80’s) – as this could very well be the only match he has there as Liger, fans are getting worked up over this. This writer, hi there, is happy to say he will be travelling 8 hours via bus to go to London to see the match on 15th June promoted by Revolution Pro Wrestling (info here: http://revolutionprowrestling.com/news/2013/02/08/when-thunder-strikes-saturday-june-15th-london )
James Simpson (@KnowYourPuro)