New Japan Pro Wrestling
July 8, 1994
It's a status that in many ways he still holds today. Jushin Liger is simply The Man. He's been The Man for the better part of thirty years in New Japan Pro Wrestling, setting up worthwhile opponents to knock them down. In terms of longevity and match quality, Liger has as strong a case as any wrestler for being the greatest of all time.
That reputation was already well established on April 16, 1994, when New Japan Pro Wrestling ran the first Super J Cup. It wasn't the very first tournament of its kind, but it was the most high-profile one, and it was certainly a groundbreaking event. More than even the final match of the evening, a match rated ***** in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and an all-time classic in its own right, the most memorable match on the card was probably the Jushin Liger vs Great Sasuke semi-final. In an iconic moment near the end of the match, Sasuke springboarded to the top rope, only to fall off on his own and collapse at Liger's feet. It was a sequence intended to set up the finish. Thinking on his feet, Liger casually applauded and worked toward an improvised finish a few moments later, and Sasuke won, which advanced him to the finals where he faced "Wild Pegasus" Chris Benoit.
If Sasuke won the first match, why would he wrestle as the underdog and aggressor the second time around? Funny you ask.
Because of the fluke nature of Sasuke's win, Liger's sterling reputation, and Sasuke's impressive but limited standing as the ace of a small independent group based in Northeastern Japan, it was Sasuke who came into this match with more to prove. That was evident in how the match was worked, with Sasuke charging at Liger immediately. The match, despite its end result with Liger reigning victorious, was also clearly a project designed to get Sasuke over. He wrestled the match on even footing with the top junior heavyweight in the country. They also wrestled this more like a Sasuke match than a Liger match. Contrary to popular belief, high flying was never really a critical part of what made Liger great. Sure, he was great at it, but he didn't need to fly to be great. 1994 might have been the last year Liger did a notable amount of flying anyway, as he retooled his game after his brain tumor removal in 1996 to move even more toward a mat-based style. This match had more high flying than Liger matches typically did at this point, which got over the idea that Sasuke was forcing him to wrestle his own type of match.
This match acted as the inverse of the J-Cup. In that outing, Liger dominated most of the match, only for Sasuke to hit a few key big moves at just the right time and bring it all home. This time around, it was Sasuke controlled most of the match and Liger who got lucky by hitting one big move -- a super fisherman's buster -- at the end. The end result is that despite trading wins, Sasuke was put over strong in both matches by an opponent who was always hungry for new rivals who could go on his level. It's debatable whether Sasuke ever truly became that opponent in the way Shinjiro Otani did, for example, but they did produce matches that were not only the best of Sasuke's career, but were near the top of Liger's extensive highlight list too.