Wednesday, May 3, 2017

If This Be the End for Jushin Thunder Liger...

The last time you'll ever see Liger in Best of the Super Juniors will be this year
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
New Japan Pro Wrestling's Best of the Super Juniors, basically its light heavyweight answer to the G1 Climax, begins on May 17, and the company announced its field. For the last time ever, it will include Jushin Thunder Liger. The masked icon announced recently that this year's tournament will be his final run. Out of the 28 Best of the Super Juniors and its predecessor, Top of the Super Juniors, Liger has only missed three of them, so his final tournament will truly be the end of an era.

For as long as modern junior heavyweight wrestling has been a thing, Liger has been a staple. Satoru Sayama and Dynamite Kid may have laid the groundwork, but few wrestlers have been as long-lasting, as influential, as goddamn excellent as Liger has been. In his heyday, with the [REDACTED]s and the Great Sasukes and Shinjiro Ohtanis, he stood out as an elite, and as those wrestlers bulked up, changed companies, retired, he kept chugging along as a standard bearer.

Wrestling is full of mythical figures, larger than life individuals with big frames, big personalities, impressive talents. Liger checks many boxes, and even now, he remains a spectacle, a draw to any event whose hype at the very least comes close to matching the results. He was a big enough deal that WWE even reached out to him to come wrestle Tyler Breeze on the first Takeover: Brooklyn show, and you know what? It was a fantastic match. He's a guaranteed hoot any time he comes to Ring of Honor as well.

So that's why the announcement of Liger bowing out of the BOSJ after this year feels like the inevitable close of his career is looming. Sure, New Japan round robin tourneys are grinds, and I can imagine a guy on the downslope side of 50 isn't going to want to work that kind of schedule even for the month or so that the tournament runs. He hasn't announced his retirement yet, but much like when The Undertaker stopped touring with Smackdown regularly and only showed up for marquee matches at WrestleMania and for prestige feuds with people like Brock Lesnar, the writing has finally appeared on the wall.

So now with his days as an active competitor seemingly numbered, all should make an honest attempt to see him live if they can. Thankfully, he's ingrained in American culture to the point where ROH is always a promising option. But once he's gone, another Liger isn't going to just pop right up. He, like any other iconic wrestler, is one of a kind, and all wrestling fans from the last 30 or so years will be lucky to have been able to at least have the chance to watch him.