Keiichi Yamada (山田恵一 Yamada Keiichi, born November 30, 1964), better known as Jushin Liger (獣神ライガー Jūshin Raigā) and later Jushin Thunder Liger (獣神サンダー・ライガー Jūshin Sandā Raigā) is a Japanese retired professional wrestler and former mixed martial artist who is best known for his work in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), where he was the longest-tenured member of the roster, having remained with the company since his debut in 1984 until his retirement in January 2020. Throughout his career, which spanned three-and-a-half decades, he wrestled over 4,000 matches and performed in major events for various promotions across the globe.
Debuting under his real name for NJPW in 1984, he was given the gimmick of Jushin Liger in 1989, based on the anime television series of the same name. Becoming Jushin "Thunder" Liger the following year, he saw unprecedented success in the junior heavyweight division, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship a record eleven times, as well as setting the record for longest reign with the title during his second reign at 628 days. Liger has a record-tying of three Best of the Super Juniors wins,[note 1] while also being a former six-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, two-time winner of the Super J Cup (in 1995 and 2000), and was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1999. Liger also wrestled the opening match for the first January 4 Tokyo Dome Show in 1992. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest junior heavyweight wrestlers of all time.
He has wrestled and beaten many of the top smaller wrestlers in both Japan and the United States, and is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most revolutionary junior heavyweights during the 1990s. After thirty-five years, Liger retired on January 5, 2020 at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in Tokyo Dome.
- 1 Professional wrestling career
- 1.1 Training
- 1.2 All-Star Wrestling (1986–1987, 1989)
- 1.3 Stampede Wrestling (1987, 1989)
- 1.4 New Japan Pro Wrestling
- 2 In wrestling
- 3 Championships and accomplishments
- 4 Notes
Professional wrestling career
Keiichi Yamada was an amateur wrestler while studying in high school, where in his senior year, he lost to Toshiaki Kawada in the finals of a national championship. After high school, he applied to New Japan Pro Wrestling's (NJPW) dojo to become a professional wrestler in the early 1980s. He was not accepted because he did not meet the height requirements they had at that time. Yamada was determined not to give up his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, so he left for Mexico and began his training there. By his own account, he was almost starving while studying there, so NJPW officials who were visiting took pity on him and asked him to come back to Japan to train in their dojo, where he was trained alongside the likes of Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto.
All-Star Wrestling (1986–1987, 1989)
After winning the Young Lion Cup in March 1986, he went on an excursion of Europe, where he wrestled for All Star Wrestling in England, under the name "Flying" Fuji Yamada. He won the World Heavy Middleweight Championship twice, once in September 1986 and once in March 1987, both times defeating "Rollerball" Mark Rocco and both times losing it back to him, the last of these title changes being televised on ITV. Yamada would later visit All Star again in 1989, with tag partner Flying Funaki.
Stampede Wrestling (1987, 1989)
Yamada went on an excursion in Canada, around May 1987, where he wrestled in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling in Calgary under his real name. He also trained under Hart in the legendary "Dungeon". His experiences there led him to refer to Hart as a "very, very tough man." He would return to Calgary in January 1989.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Early career (1984–1988)
While continuing his studies, he had his debut match in March 1984 at the age of 19, wrestling against Shunji Kosugi. He began studying various martial arts styles because he wanted to add something new and different to his wrestling style, which is how he learned his Abisegeri kick. In 1985, Yamada participated in the Young Lion Cup and got to the final of the tournament before being defeated by Shunji Kosugi. In the beginning of 1986, Yamada participated in IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship League and lost to Black Tiger. On July 19, 1986, Yamada took on Nobuhiko Takada in his first of many IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match and lost.
After returning to Japan in August 1987, Yamada debuted his Shooting Star Press in a match against Masakatsu Funaki, for which he had gotten the idea from reading the manga Fist of the North Star. Throughout 1987 and 1988, Yamada improved with each match, occasionally getting shots at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, most notably against Owen Hart on June 10, 1988, and against Shiro Koshinaka on December 9, 1988. He would also take part in the first ever Top of the Super Juniors where he earned 31 points, not enough to progress to the final. Within months of his second Canadian excursion, NJPW called him back, as they needed him for a gimmick based on an extremely popular anime superhero, Jushin Liger, created by manga artist Go Nagai. NJPW had done this previously with Tiger Mask, which had become a huge success. Yamada was given a superhero-like full body costume and a demonic looking mask, resembling the superhero type featured in tokusatsu and anime programs.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion (1989–2000)
Yamada as "Jushin Liger" returned to NJPW on April 24, 1989, at the Tokyo Dome. In the character's debut match, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi. He has also wrestled all the Black Tigers to date (from Mark Rocco in 1989 to Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 2009). The Liger character underwent changes in conjunction with the Go Nagai anime progressing and its hero powering up. In January 1990, Liger was renamed "Jushin Thunder Liger", a name he continued until the end of his career. He quickly became one of NJPW's top junior heavyweights, eventually capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship eleven times, between May 25, 1989 and December 6, 1999, among numerous other titles and accolades while wrestling around the world. When appearing without his mask on, Yamada blocked his appearance by covering his face with one hand.
Early in his career, Yamada's style mostly consisted of high flying. Years later, he started adapting more power moves and started focusing more on grappling and telling a story in the ring; part of this change was due to the fact that Liger had to reduce the stress he was putting on his body after undergoing brain tumor surgery in August 1996, which explained why he lost his match to Último Dragón in the first round of the J-Crown tournament. He also had the opportunity to wrestle "Macho Man" Randy Savage on July 17, in which he lost.
Heavyweight Division (2000)
During 2000, as booker Riki Choshu decided to de-emphasize the junior heavyweight division (a costly decision that diminished its credibility), Liger wrestled heavyweights without wearing the upper part of his bodysuit or his mask horns (the first time he wore that attire was on February 24, 1994, against Shinya Hashimoto in a non-title match between the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and the IWGP Heavyweight Champion).
Kishin Liger (1996, 2006, 2012, 2019)
On October 20, 1996, The Great Muta faced off in a match with Liger. As the match progressed, Muta resorted to his underhand tactics that had become his style over the years. He tore at Liger's mask and eventually ripped it off, but Liger kept his face down on the mat. After grabbing a chair outside the ring, Muta entered the ring but before he could hit Liger with it, Liger stood up and revealed his face to be painted pale white with red writings and spit mist into Muta's face (another Muta trademark). He tore off his bodysuit and revealed a painted chest, then proceeded to fight more aggressively the rest of the match, despite losing the match to Muta.
On July 30, 2006, Liger revived the "Kishin" gimmick and faced off with rival BADBOY Hido in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The story was that Hido had cut a piece of Liger's hair and Liger vowed revenge, so he transformed into Kishin Liger. Liger won the match with a brainbuster onto a steel chair.
The gimmick is a variation of The Great Muta gimmick which relies on bloody and evil tactics in a match, using mannerisms and imagery that differ from the person's normal ways. This gimmick also uses many wrestling moves that are regulars in The Great Muta's move set, such as the Asian mist.
On June 16, 2012, at Dominion 6.16, Liger made a rare appearance as Kishin Liger, when he and Tiger Mask defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi and Taka Michinoku) to win the vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, Liger's first New Japan title in four years. The change was brought on by Taichi tearing Liger's mask to pieces. They lost the title to Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov and Rocky Romero) on July 22.
In April 2019, Liger began being attacked by Minoru Suzuki after their matches, with Suzuki remembering Liger of their MMA match at Pancrase in 2002, leading Liger to challenge Suzuki to a match under professional wrestling rules, rather than a fight which Suzuki demanded. In September, during the Road to Destruction tour, Suzuki reignited his issues with Liger and began attacking him again, leading Liger to grow further incensed with Suzuki and declaring that he had "no place in a NJPW ring". During the tour, Suzuki tried to forcibly remove his Liger's mask, declaring it represented the long since departed soul of Liger, but Liger warned Suzuki to stop. On September 22 at Destruction in Kobe, during a six man tag team match, Liger voluntarily unmasked himself to reveal his alter ego "Kishin Liger" and afterwards started to attack Suzuki, leading him to retreat, in which Liger pursue him in to the back, which led to man officials and young lions try to separate him. On October 14 at King of Pro-Wrestling, Liger was defeated by Liger. Afterwards, Suzuki would bowed down to Liger, showing him respect. Liger would later thank Suzuki for their match.
Junior heavyweight veteran (2001–2020)
CTU was disbanded in August 2007, when Liger decided CTU would disband while at the top of NJPW, Liger would then join Masahiro Chono's Legend stable. The Legend stable would disband in February 2010, after Chono, Choshu and Akira's departures.
Since then, Liger has mainly teamed with fellow veteran Tiger Mask, remaining outside of championship contention for the most part. Liger and Tiger won the vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on June 16, 2012, at Dominion 6.16, losing it to Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov and Rocky Romero) on July 22. Liger's most recent shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship took place on May 3, 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged KUSHIDA for the title at Wrestling Dontaku 2016. In May 2017, Liger announced that the 2017 Best of the Super Juniors would be his last BOSJ tournament. He finished the tournament with a record of six losses and one win, which came in his last match against Taichi.
On March 7, 2019 Liger announced that would retire from professional wrestling at Wrestle Kingdom 14 on January 4, 2020. On January 4, 2020 in the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 14 in Tokyo Dome, Liger took part of his first retirement match teaming with Tatsumi Fujinami, The Great Sasuke and Tiger Mask in a losing effort against Naoki Sano, Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and Ryusuke Taguchi with Norio Honaga being the special guest referee. The following day in the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14, Liger took part of his second retirement match teaming with Naoki Sano in a losing effort against Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee.
- Finishing moves
- CTB – Crash Thunder Buster (Belly-to-back wheelbarrow facebuster)
- Elevated DDT – Late 1980s–Early 1990s; used rarely thereafter
- Kuchu Dojime Otoshi (Lou Thesz press pin) – 2009–2020
- Liger Bomb (Standing or a running high-angle sitout powerbomb)
- Liger Suplex (Bridging wrist-clutch leg hook belly-to-back suplex)
- Shooting star press
- Signature moves
- Abisegeri (Rolling koppu kick)
- Fisherman buster, sometimes from the top rope
- Frankensteiner, sometimes from the top rope
- Frog splash
- Kneeling reverse piledriver
- Shotei (Palm thrust)
- "Shooting Star"
- "Sekai no Shishigami"
- "Symbol of Junior"
- Sonny Onoo
- Entrance themes
- "Ikari no Jushin" by Yumi Hiroki
Championships and accomplishments
- All-Star Promotions
- World Heavy Middleweight Championship (2 times)
- Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre
- CMLL Universal Championship (2010)
- CMLL World Middleweight Championship (1 time)
- CMLL World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Dragon Gate
- Jersey All Pro Wrestling
- JAPW Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Michinoku Pro Wrestling
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (11 times)
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (6 times) – with The Great Sasuke (1), El Samurai (1), Minoru Tanaka, (1), Koji Kanemoto (1), AKIRA (1), and Tiger Mask (1)
- J-Crown (1 time)
- NWA World Welterweight Championship (1 time)
- UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)[note 2]
- WWF Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- WAR International Junior Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Top/Best of the Super Juniors (1992, 1994, 2001)
- G1 Climax Junior Heavyweight Tag League (2001) – with El Samurai
- Naeba Prince Hotel Cup Tag Tournament (2001) – with Yuji Nagata
- Young Lion Cup (1986)
- Outstanding Performance Award (2000)
- Tag Team Best Bout (2003) with Koji Kanemoto vs. Kotaro Suzuki and Naomichi Marufuji on June 10
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership Tournament (1990)
- Osaka Pro Wrestling
- Osaka Pro Wrestling Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Takehiro Murahama
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Ranked #8 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2000
- Ranked #12 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Ranked #47 of the top 100 tag teams of the "PWI Years" with El Samurai in 2003
- Ranked #261 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2016
- Ranked #263 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2017
- Pro Wrestling Noah
- Revolution Pro Wrestling
- British J Cup (2017)
- Tokyo Sports
- Vendetta Pro Wrestling
- Vendetty Award: Special Guest Star of the Year (2015)
- World Championship Wrestling
- WCW Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Wrestle Association R
- WAR International Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with El Samurai
- Super J-Cup (1995)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- 5 Star Match (1994) vs. The Great Sasuke on July 8
- Best Gimmick (1989)
- Best Flying Wrestler (1989–1993)
- Best Technical Wrestler (1989–1992)
- Best Wrestling Maneuver (1987, 1988) Shooting star press
- Match of the Year (1990) vs. Naoki Sano on January 31 in Osaka, Japan
- Most Outstanding Wrestler (1990–1992)
- Rookie of the Year (1984) tied with Tom Zenk
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1999)
Luchas de Apuestas record
|Winner (wager)||Loser (wager)||Location||Event||Date|
|Jushin Thunder Liger (mask)||Pegasus Kid (mask)||Fukuoka, Japan||Summer Struggle 1991||July 4, 1991|
|Jushin Thunder Liger (mask)||Tiger Mask III (mask)||Tokyo, Japan||Battlefield||January 4, 1994|
- Tied with Koji Kanemoto.
- Despite winning the championship, the win and reign aren't recognized by WWE. No reign with the championship is recognized by the company prior to December 1997.