The two cards held in Toronto (10/05/14) and New York (17/05/14) both saw the ROH faithful react to Jushin Liger as the biggest star on the ROH vs. NJPW cards. That to me is pretty amazing when you consider that also appearing on the shows were Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura.
All three have those wrestlers have dominated recent NJPW events and are either at their peak or in the case Okada rapidly approaching it. They also have a charisma that transcends across any language barriers and most importantly they are great at what they do and have excellent and exciting matches.
Jushin Liger on the other hand as been firmly placed in legend role on NJPW events and when he appears it’s usually early on in the card in 6 or 8 man tag matches. That’s not to say that the promotion or its fans don’t want to see him appearing on their PPV events in any capacity. They do otherwise he wouldn’t be booked at all they just don’t want him as a central and key figure.
As a massive fan of Jushin Liger, I’d still mark out if he had another run as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion but I know that’s very unlikely as he last held the title nearly 14 years ago. He was the standout star in that division for over a decade and was one of NJPW’s biggest and most popular stars but time and sentiment doesn’t often wait around. For whatever reason he wasn’t able to make the move like wrestlers Tatsumi Fujinami or Hiroshi Hase who moved seamlessly into the Heavyweight division and remained key players.
So it is a little surprising that Liger’s reaction was clearly the biggest of the NJPW stars, he had made appearances in ROH before but that was back in November 2004 and although he was one of the first Japanese superstar to wrestle in front of a ROH crowd can that really be the reason?
I wouldn’t have thought so, all though both of his matches were good they weren’t legendary matches like the Dragon Gate six-man tags or Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi from 2005. NOAH guys like KENTA and Marufuji also had far more memorable matches for ROH.
I do think that the primary reason for the reaction to Liger was the period he became a major worldwide wrestling star. Following wrestling today is easier than it’s ever been, matches and shows from all over the world appear on sites like YouTube or Daily Motion virtually overnight. For fans this is great news especially if you don’t mind watching it on a computer, but the fact that it is so simple to do also means to a certain point that it isn’t special.
As someone who started to follow Japanese wrestling in the early 1990’s the only way to do so was to contact a tape trader and buy tapes. The cost back was far higher than it is today and the quality varied considerably. But if you wanted to see wrestlers like Liger, Muto, Misawa, Kobashi etc. then that’s what you had to do. Wrestling stars pre-2000 I think will always seem at least in some small way to be more important than the stars of today and that’s simply down to the fact that it took more effort and time to find their matches, the shows they appeared on and so forth.
If I had been lucky enough to be in attendance I would have reacted bigger to Okada, Nakamura and Tanahashi than I would to Liger. But that’s because I follow the NJPW product fairly closely and I know that they are enjoying their best days and putting on the best matches, while Liger’s best days are definitely in the past and remembered fondly on DVD.
But I do understand that for a whole number of reasons that the name of Jushin Liger is more memorable to fans who may only have a cursory interest in Japanese wrestling. Rather that is mainly down to the must-see status he had in the 1990’s, the exposure he had by appearing on WCW events or the fact that NJPW is still seen as a niche product to the majority of US wrestling fans no matter how great the matches is up for debate. But it must have given him a nice feeling to see how the fans remembered him and how big a star they still see him as. In return he gave them another two really good matches that put his age and injuries behind him. The fans chanted for him to come back and you wouldn’t bet against it.