The Awesome Story of Jushin “Thunder” Liger


Jushin Liger WWE hall of Fame
Jushin Liger is a legend in wrestling (F4W online)

Keiichi Yamada – aka Jushin Liger – had a difficult childhood due to his short stature and severe shyness, until his turning point when he found a magazine that featured the multi-time NJPW, WWF, and NWA champion Tatsumi Fujinami on its cover.

Times have changed in wrestling since then. The rules of kayfabe were broken a long time ago and the illusion of “realness” has long been shattered, but the fanbase has embraced the new “reality” era and the show goes on. We’ve even reached a stage where you can place wagers on wrestling through the , but Liger emerged in a much tougher time.

From that moment on, impacted by Fujinami’s image, the young Yamada took it as his sole goal to become a professional wrestler. He then began to take amateur wrestling lessons, and despite his light weight and small stature, he managed to reach the finals of the national youth wrestling tournament, losing to Toshiaki Kawada, who, curiously enough, would also become a legend in Japanese wrestling.

After months of intense training that even made him consider giving up his dream, Liger, in 1984 – still under his birth name – finally made his debut as a professional wrestler for NJPW. And it didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself within the company. The following year he already became a finalist in the Young Lions Cup, although he would only become champion in the later edition.

Yamada has the opportunity to enter a legendary academy, in Canada: the “Hart Dungeon”. Here they trained the entire Hart dynasty, as well as names like Chris Jericho and Lance Storm. However, his training with the Harts was cut short when Liger received a call from NJPW to return to Japan, as the company had new plans for him.                

Japan’s plans were to give Yamada a new character, inspired by Go Nagai’s anime. Now he would be the masked Jushin “Thunder” Liger and in a little over a month, with the new nickname, he would win his first title for NJPW: the IWGP Junior Heavyweight.

It was then that he began a long journey of titles for the company. It was also during this period that he had one of his greatest rivalries against the also masked Pegasus Kid, a rivalry consummated in a mask betting match. The result gave Liger the victory, revealing that the man behind Pegasus Kid’s mask was the young Chris Benoit. 

Later that season “Thunder” would again make forays across America, fighting again in Canada, as well as Mexico and the USA. It was in this third year that he would gain prominence in WCW fights, especially against fellow “Hart Dungeon” student Brian Pillman. The two engaged in several epic bouts, including a fight on the premiere of “WCW Monday Nitro”.

While he was making a name for himself in the West, in Japan he was already establishing himself as a star and was receiving enormous public affection for his heroic role.

In 1996, Liger would go through a very delicate moment in his life, when a tumor was discovered in his brain. Fortunately, it was quickly removed after surgery, but the tumor would leave limitations in his body, which was not enough to prevent his return to the ring, but brought changes in his move set and left the Flyer style a little aside. Now the focus was on a more technical move set. 

With the turn of the millennium, the NJPW bookers decided it was time for Liger to move up to the “Heavyweight” division, but his time was very brief, with him soon returning to the “Juniors”. It was also during this time that Liger became a recurring figure in the American independent scene, having classic confrontations against Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), El Generico (Sami Zayn), Samoa Joe, among others.

His journey continues down this path until March 7, 2019, when he announces that he will retire after the next Wrestle Kingdom. Then, during his farewell tour, we are graced with several great fights that prove that despite his age and all physical limitations, Liger is still a phenomenon in the ring.

And finally, with the arrival of Wrestle Kingdom, we get the much-deserved farewell to the world’s biggest name in Junior style, leaving a huge legacy in and out of the ring.