By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Kendo Kashin © vs Jushin Liger 10/11/99
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
Jushin Liger is easily one of the best wrestlers that has existed on this planet, let alone just in my lifetime. One of the pioneers of Junior Heavyweight wrestling in Japan, taking it from what felt like an add-on to the card to something that could sell cards all by itself, Liger has travelled the world and wowed crowds across the globe for over thirty years. With career longevity like that and a skillset like his, it isn’t surprising that he has picked up a few belts in his time.
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title was first won by Liger in 1989 – ten years later, he was looking at a tenth potential title reign. These weren’t short title runs either: his sixth went over six hundred days; his ninth, four hundred. The belt was pretty much synonymous with Liger throughout the nineties as it was rarely out of his sight.
Standing in Liger’s way from a tenth run atop the Junior Heavyweight world was Kendo Kashin, enjoying his highest profile run since returning from excursion in 1997. Not only had Kashin won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title, he had earned the title shot by winning the Best of the Super Juniors. In the promotion, there was no-one in the division with a hotter streak than Kashin. A wrestler who could throw down legitimately when it came to mixed martial arts and shoot fighting, he represented the other brand of New Japan Junior, the one who employed submissions above and beyond aerial artistry.
A wrestler who could charitably be described as enigmatic in later years, this was at least during a time when Kashin felt engaged by his position in the promotion. His legitimate shootfighting credentials gave him kudos amongst the native puro fans and he would spend the early moments of the fight trading holds on the mat with Liger, both men jockeying to gain the advantage. A hair-assisted clutch made it clear that Kashin was happy to bend the rules to supplement his submission skills, employing a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to tackling the legend.
Unsurprisingly, it was Kashin who bossed the ground game, using a leglock and grounded abdominal stretch to work the challenger, although Liger was no slouch on the mat either, rolling Kashin up into a bow and arrow before locking on a camel clutch. Sensing a need to take any opportunity that presented itself against such a dangerous opponent, Liger hit a Koppou kick after a rope break, following this with a series of shotei palm strikes that drove Kashin down into the corner. As if to highlight how quickly things could turn around with someone like Kashin as your opponent, the champion would suddenly land a jumping armbar and force Liger to scramble for the ropes.
A running powerbomb on the mat outside threatened to give Liger the victory by countout, only for him to break the count and drag Kashin back into the squared circle after a quick introduction of Kashin’s arm into the ringpost. This played into the champion’s hands however, as a drop toe hold into the turnbuckle led to a leg grapevine hold that had Liger screaming in agony. A possibly inadvertent low blow – at least that would have been his argument – allowed Kashin to continue to target the leg, before a Shattered Dreams-esque kick to the balls definitely wasn’t a mistake.
Reversing a Liger frog splash into an armbar and landing a super armbar takedown showcased the versatility of Kashin’s counters, but weren’t enough to take Liger down. Instead, a brainbuster would barely get Liger a two count; a super brainbuster followed and you could have counted to ten. Liger had regained his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title in a perfectly acceptable match with an abrupt, yet brutal, finish, bursting through into double figure runs with the gold.
If it wasn’t for a brief Vince Russo booked loss to Juventud Guerrera on Nitro, this could have been Liger’s last title reign and another sizeable one at that. Instead, after winning the IWGP belt back seven days later against Psychosis as Guerrera was injured, Liger at time of writing will end his career on eleven title wins: a testament to a great career and a record that will probably never be surpassed.