Written by: Arnold Furious
I have no idea what to expect here. Liger can speak a little English but how fluent he’ll be is another thing. Plus the Japanese are traditionally very respectful so I don’t expect any stories of how Shinya Hashimoto got really drunk and tried to have sex with him (or if he does, he’s not sharing). Or any bitching at all. I like bitching in my shoots if I’m really honest. That’s why Jim Cornette’s shoot is the greatest, ever. Be interesting to see what Liger has to say about his career though. So, let’s hit it.
We’re in Santa Monica, California. November 1st 2004. Gabe Sapolsky is the interviewer and the interview will be conducted via an interpreter. Makes sense. Liger wears his mask throughout.
He remembers watching Tatsumi Fujinami and wanting to become a pro-wrestler. He liked Mr Fuji and Andre The Giant and went to see the show just to see how big Andre was.
He wasn’t tall enough to work for New Japan so he went over to Mexico and eventually he ended up back with New Japan when they knew he was good. He wanted to work for New Japan because that’s where he saw Fujinami. Once he’d started in Mexico he knew he’d always be a pro-wrestler but his goal was NJPW. He talks about how he had no money when he went to Mexico. He ate two sandwiches and nothing else a day for months. He never even considered giving up though. He talks about learning lucha technique in Mexico but also he learned that he needed to make his matches look realistic. NJPW came in for him, which he says is a good thing or he might have died of starvation. He thinks New Japan felt pity for Liger, which is why they brought him back. It’s weird hearing Liger laugh all the time. He didn’t have any matches in Mexico, he just trained there. He then went to the New Japan Dojo. His trainers were Fujiwara and a few others, which I can’t clearly hear. He says he even had some training from Tiger Mask. He goes off on a tangent to say he cheered for Dynamite Kid over Tiger Mask and he’s never said that on TV before. Gary Michael Cappetta must be going nuts – SCOOP! TM’s advice was that wrestlers are strong. If he became strong then it wouldn’t matter if he was small. Liger says he hated Fujiwara during training because he hurt him so badly he made him cry several times. Liger talks about not having to prove himself at the Dojo but everyone was constantly prepared for a challenge. Muta, Chono, Naoki Sano, Takada were all in his class. Liger says his first impression of Muta was that he was a little strange and off in his own world. Everyone laughs at that. Liger didn’t think he’d become a really good wrestler or spit out mist.
1984 Liger debuted under his real name Keiichi Yamada. His debut match was watched by Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch because he told them he was making his first appearance. They wanted to have a look. Liger says he didn’t feel he was ready to debut but Fujiwara just told him to do his best. He thinks NJPW saw nothing in him back then. Liger says watching it he’d think there was nothing special about this wrestler. Mr Yamamoto thought he was going to quit any day and didn’t expect him to make it into the ring at all. Mr Fuji gave him tips on how to behave in order for the rest of the guys to accept him. Liger got sent on a lot of errands by the other guys especially to get beer AFTER all the stores had closed. Liger considered this to be just part of the business and he never thought about quitting.
Liger got a chance to work in England with Marc Rocco and that’s where he got hired to work for Stampede. Just heard Liger say “fish and chips”, that was REALLY weird. He talks about the round system in England and how he had a hard time adapting to that style. He remembers eating fish and chips and it was really good. It’s all about food to him! Awesome. He talks about Steven Regal and Marc Rocco and how he was impressed with them as workers. He picked up a fair few moves in Europe that aren’t done elsewhere so it helped him. Liger says in England he was the only Japanese but in Canada there were eight. He says the lifestyle was more like it was in Japan. There weren’t any fish and chips but he liked it anyway. Awesome. Loving that. He calls Stu Hart a “tough old bastard”. He says he got along with Owen really well because they were the same sort of age. He talks about how Stu used sign language to explain the training and how much it hurt in the Dungeon with Stu’s “hard bones”. Liger talks about always staring at Cuban Assassin because he was so hairy. HAHAHAHA. He talks about how good Owen was. He’d get any move after only being shown it once. Liger took a lot longer to learn anything. He tried to take everything he could as an influence and adapt it to his size. Road story – Liger peed in a coke cup and he tried to throw it out of the window but it blew back in and hit the other passenger. HAHAHA. Those wacky Japanese. Anyway, NJPW wanted him to come back so that cut his Stampede run short.
He wasn’t sure why they wanted him back but he wanted to work there especially with a junior tournament coming up, which he thought he might do well in. He lost in the first round and thought “what am I doing here?” He thought he’d get stuck at the bottom of the juniors forever. Liger started learning martial arts to make himself more distinctive. He talks about Inoki and how he got nervous around him. Inoki had a presence about him. Gabe asks him how it feels to now be in a position like Inoki was then. “God like”. Liger shakes his head. He’s so modest. This is why the IWC just loves him. He compares himself to a monkey God rather than Inoki. “He’s already nervous about this ROH match. Don’t expect too much out of him” – Interpreter while Liger nods in agreement and Gabe laughs. Nice. He explains about how Inoki did everything in his career and how he was the first to cross boundaries. Everything since is just repeats. He compares Inoki to the Beatles in the music business. He talks about how there wasn’t a big star in the junior division. TM had gone and Cobra had moved up to heavyweight.
Or Jyushin Lyger. Remember – the more Y’s you use, the smarkier you come off. He talks about the famous cartoon series in Japan called Jushin Liger and they’d done that with Tiger Mask so New Japan decided to do Liger as well. He says he liked masked wrestlers so agreed to do it. When he got back to Japan he was shown the costume and realised it was head to toe. He knew he wouldn’t be able to breathe in it. He didn’t think he’d be able to wrestle in it. The Liger figure in the cartoon was tall so he thought it’d get laughed at as well. He got cheered in his first appearance and he felt after that the gimmick would work. He was given the IWGP Junior title and he thought he could do well with all his MMA and foreign styles but he still thought that NJPW didn’t think much of him. He talks about the rivalry with Naoki Sano and how well their feud went because they were both so determined to win and show their fighting spirit. He talks about Chris Benoit as well and how those two feuds made him. He puts Benoit over and talks about how well Benoit has done especially in the USA against “giants”.
He used to team with Brian Pillman in Canada and suspected that was how he got the spot wrestling Pillman. He thinks Pillman may have requested to face him. Shockingly Liger actually liked WCW. He probably just didn’t understand what was going on. He couldn’t believe he was being asked to work in WCW because he knew that the USA was the land of the big man. He was told by Japanese management to not to do acrobatic moves throughout the match but start with actual wrestling. He didn’t like it at the time but thinks, in retrospect, that it was the right approach. He said he was very happy to work with Pillman and get good reactions. Liger talks about wanting to stay for 6 months or a year but New Japan wanted him back. He wanted to wrestle more in America where professional wrestling was born. He felt that if he put effort in anything was possible. He wanted the American Dream. He talks about how the crowd supported the little guy and he thought he could do well.
Super J Cup
He felt that if he could bring together people from different companies it’d be very popular. He says it was actually very easy to get people together for it because everyone was keen to do it. He talks about it being a special event so you couldn’t do it every year or you’d see the same faces. J Cup ’94 exceeded Liger’s expectations quite easily. He talks about watching the tape of the event and how emotional it was. The idea was that anything was possible in the J Cup, hence him losing to Great Sasuke. He talks about struggling to keep up with Sasuke because he was so fast.
Shooting Star Press
How’d he come up with that then? He says it was from a Manga cartoon Fist of the North Star. He saw a character doing that in the cartoon and tried to emulate it. He did it onto a safety mat while he was learning the mechanics of how to do it. After one day of practicing he’d got the move down. He tries to correct himself but then decides he should have just told us it was extremely hard to do. Heh. I like Liger. He’s funny. He talks about the fans reaction to the first SSP being one of surprise and it got a loud roar.
He talks about Eddie Guerrero being a great wrestler and he feels he was lucky to come along at the same time as so many great wrestlers like Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. He felt honoured to work at the same time as them all. Liger talks about being powerbombed off the top rope by Chris Benoit and how he “saw light at the end of the tunnel” when he landed. Oh boy. It’s his favourite memory of the Super Juniors tournament. He talks about how much El Samurai smokes and bets. His wife has been telling him to stop. HAHAHAHA. Brilliant. He can’t tell us anything about Great Sasuke on camera because now he’s in the Japanese senate but he’d be quite happy to tell Gabe some stories after the camera is off. AWWWW. He talks about Ultimo Dragon training really hard and putting a lot of effort in, which made him a big success. Dragon has a habit of only telling stories only from his point of view apparently. Liger smiles at that. He says he gets along fine with Hayabusa and doesn’t know where the rumour of them not liking each other has come from. He thinks it’d be great for wrestling if he could one day return.
After the knee injury he did a lot of weight training to use more power moves so he didn’t have to fly as much and risk the knee. He talks about Benoit being much the same. He wanted to add more power in so that it’d help define him as one of the top cruiserweight guys. Not only would he be good, he’d be strong. He didn’t intend to change his style, it just happened naturally as he got into weight work due to his reduced mobility. He gets asked about the match with Juvi with the tequila bottle over the head. He says it hurt. He doesn’t want to call it stupid but it hurt. Gabe asks about the New Japan shoot style that’s being used increasingly. He wasn’t opposed to it because of how well Inoki had done with a mixed style. He feels wrestlers should know how to do wrestling so it didn’t bother him.
He wished Ohtani good luck when he went to Zero-One and wished him luck with his new heavyweight style too. Liger says all Ohtani needed was power. He wanted him to gain some weight to make him look more believable. He says NOAH is all great wrestlers and they all know wrestling. He says there’s room for all of them. New Japan, Zero-One and NOAH. They’re all different. He’d like to wrestle in the USA again but he’d need to try very hard. He’d like to work for a year or two years stateside. He’s never spoken to the WWE about going there.
He says he was really scared and the doctor didn’t help. He was told he’d never wrestle again, he was going to have his head cut open and there was little hope. Then he saw another doctor who said they could treat it with lasers and he’d be fine. So he went from hell to heaven.
He doesn’t think there’s any one clear path to the top. It’s all opinions and they always change but wrestlers should always learn to wrestle first. Gabe segues off to mentioning the match with Muta where he ripped his mask. I saw that. Horrible match. Liger says he didn’t like it especially when he has such an ugly face. He also points out how expensive masks are. HAHAHA. Fantastic. He talks about drinking sake with Muta and a few others. Muta and Takada couldn’t work the next day because they spent the entire night punching each other in the face full force. HAHAHA. He says Muta is a little strange. Yeah. Just a bit. Liger gets asked about Hashimoto and covers his face up straight away. He says you couldn’t air anything he has to say about Hashimoto. That’s how bad he is when it comes to partying and raising hell. He puts over Hase for being smart and athletic. He says when he worked against him that Hase has a really big “nose-hole” and he was worried he might get sucked into it. HAHAHAHA. He talks about the ‘Black’ Liger and how he wanted to get away from himself for a while. He talks about there being a lot of organisations so it’s easier to become to a wrestler now, which is good. But then he’s concerned that anyone can do it, but they may not be that good. He’s hoping to show the American fans the best of Jushin Liger against American Dragon.
We get some bonus footage from the Liger training seminar at the LA New Japan Dojo. Mostly just him overseeing pointless drills. Well, they’re not pointless because they’re learning some important bumping but it’s not particularly interesting to watch even if you’ve never seen it before, which I have. I like when Liger decides to correct the one student and show him the line of where he should be landing. He watches some exhibition matches as well. He can’t help himself and has to jump into the ring and give tips as well as being the referee. Liger just loves wrestling. Great to watch him do anything. When they’re doing the matches Punk can’t help but get into the ring. This leads to Punk arguing with Liger as to whether biting is legal or not.
ROH CRIBS with Samoa Joe. It’s the LA Dojo tour with Joe. The building looks like a warehouse from the outside. He gives us a tour with the New Japan ring. He talks about pro-wrestlers coming through there as do a lot of MMA guys, boxers and kickboxers. There are heavy bags and bo staffs. He shows us the large mat area where they’ve done a lot of training. Antonio Inoki’s “The Road” is on the wall. He also shows us the Inoki wall of fame, which has Inoki’s most famous moments. “It’s is joint, he gets to do what he wants”. Joe shows us the offices and the boardroom. American Dragon and Rocky Romero came through here. Joe takes us into the locker room. The wall is signed by any famous wrestlers that go through here (El Samurai, Masa Chono and Josh Barnett are on there). He shows us the showers, the ice tub and the steam room. Into the toilet. He’s impressed. The seat is permanently warm and it’s a bidet too. “There’s two things you should know about a guy from NJ Dojo. One, he’s a badass motherfucker. Two, his ass is always immaculately clean” – Samoa Joe. Comedy. The weight room is Olympic quality and has a tape library of New Japan.
Overall tape thoughts –
Liger is rather surprisingly witty. Not only that but it’s a dry wit, which isn’t the easiest comedy to achieve through an interpreter. He comes off as a jovial and likeable person. His stance on wrestling is that it should be as believable as possible. He doesn’t say that in so many words but he conveys ‘fighting spirit’ a lot. Somehow I don’t think the shoot interview has really caught on in Japan yet. It’s quite interesting but Liger doesn’t reveal an awful lot and the delays on the questions as they go through the interpreter get annoying. Gabe also misses out a load of questions like the J Crown, for example. I’m guessing they had limited time. I wouldn’t overly recommend getting this but hearing Liger say “fish and chips” is priceless.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.