By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Jushin Liger © vs Juventud Guerrera 11/29/99
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Many of these articles begin with a lament about the booking that WCW served up to its fans in the last two years or so of its existence. I was always more of a WWF fan growing up, but I was in a position where I could watch both Raw and Nitro at their peaks, so like any wrestling hungry fan, I did just that. WWF/E has made more than its fair share of mistakes along the way, yet it is the consistency and ultimately tragic end of the company that makes a lot of what WCW stand out above the parapet. Things that might otherwise be downplayed take on much greater significance when the promotion closed two years down the line.
That isn’t to suggest Jushin Liger losing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title on Nitro to Juventud Guerrera in any way led to the death of WCW. It was just indicative of a malaise in booking that saw poorly thought through angles compounded by often shoddy in ring work. There were many issues with this, most importantly the potentially damaging effect this booking had on the WCW/New Japan relationship, one that had often been relied on for talent shares and events of a very high calibre.
When focusing on the mistreatment of a puroresu star in WCW, it isn’t that hard of a stretch to work out that it was done under the booking of Vince Russo. WCW as a promotion would suffer through legal battles over its treatment of minority employees, whilst Russo himself also admitted to caring little for Japanese or Mexican wrestling as a whole around the time. With that being said, it is probably little wonder that they chose to go against New Japan’s wishes just for the sake of it, or so it seems.
Liger had cache in WCW from years working with the company, including epic matches with Brian Pillman. Having him show up on Nitro with no real explanation (and no entrance either) was the first of a bunch of poor decisions. People might tune in to see Liger on American wrestling television, especially if the IWGP gold was on the line, but without any real heads up for the fans, it meant nothing – just another throwaway match on a three hour show.
Worse was to come.
With no announcement to the television audience that this was a title match, the opening moments saw the focus shift instantly to Buzzkill, the latest attempt to get Brad Armstrong over. As Guerrera and Liger traded reversals in the ring, the camera watched Buzzkill join the commentary team, distracting from the action. Even as we saw Guerrera land a plancha to the outside, Buzzkill continued to jabber away about Big Brother; only at this point did Tony Schiavone find it apropos to mention the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
Liger grabbed a two count off of a frogsplash after blocking a superplex attempt. Guerrera was clearly favouring his arm following the dive to the outside, but even with a legitimate limb injury, Guerrera went up briefly in the surfboard. Liger’s dominance continued as he hit a belly to belly suplex for another nearfall. Guerrera and Liger then traded flash pin combinations before Guerrera took over after landing a legdrop off of the ropes onto the back of Liger’s head.
The finish was egregiously bad. Some argument has been had as to whether NJPW didn’t sanction the title change or just didn’t agree with the manner in which it happened, but as Buzzkill left the booth to distract the referee, Guerrera hit Liger with a bottle of Tequila, showering everyone (including the referee) with alcohol and glass. Not questioning that one bit, the referee turned and counted the pinfall that gave Guerrera a one week run with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
Poor booking aside, even any potential plans to offset this with a return Liger victory were dashed by injury. It turned out that Guerrera had legitimately fractured his arm in the contest, a diagnosis that made some of those moves he took frankly nauseating. Liger instead defeated Psychosis the following week to take his belt back; the last run he’d have with the gold he’d helped make famous. A perfect storm of awful build-up, shoddy booking and shambolic finishing, coupled with a sprinkle of legitimate injuries, and this is a cocktail of many of the things WCW were struggling to get right during this era.
Unsurprisingly, that was the last time Liger wrestled under the WCW banner.