We’re back at it again with another Random Rewind courtesy the Random NJPW World Match Generator! This week brings us the February 1994 match between Shinya Hashimoto and Jushin Thunder Liger.
On February 24, 1994, New Japan presented Thanks Wrestling Day Brush Up main evented by the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hashimoto, taking on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Liger. This has become a bit of a tradition at the annual anniversary shows at this point, though Bullet Club avoided a Jay White/Taiji Ishimori match at this year’s 47th Anniversary Show.
Let me be upfront right from the start – I’m not super familiar with Shinya Hashimoto. I’ve seen a handful of his matches, but in 1994 I was 11 years old so wasn’t really into tape trading just yet. In high school, I’d rack up some FMW and deathmatch treasures (what’s up, fellow deathmatch ghouls?) but by that time I was able to find what I wanted by scouring the internet.
Nonetheless, when I had this match come up on the generator I was immediately stoked. I know enough of Hashimoto to look forward to watching his matches when they pop up and the pairing with Liger was enough to push me to the boundaries of my excitement.
If you’re unfamiliar with one of the most decorated IWGP Heavyweight Champions of all time (he’s the fourth-longest reigning champion when combining reigns and has a grand total of 20 successful defenses behind only Okada and Tanahashi), check out the highlight video below and get pumped!
Before the match even begins, it looks like these two are ready to murder one another. Despite there being no true stakes with no titles on the line and this not being the cap to a blood feud, both Hashimoto and Liger are staring each other down with the burning hatred of a thousand suns.
After the stone-faced introductions, the two do shake hands in the center of the ring in a show of respect before the opening bell.
Liger is looking absolutely yolked here. We’ve seen him shirtless a couple of times in the past year in New Japan and the dude still looks like an absolute beast who could wreck anybody in his path. 25 years after this match, Liger is somehow looking even more svelte and ripped. Plus, he’s got a tan that just won’t quit.
Without the familiar bodysuit and mask combo we’re all familiar with now, Liger is giving me strong vibes of Rey Fenix crossed with Shingo Takagi. He looks like he has no right being the Junior Heavyweight Champion because he doesn’t look like a Junior Heavyweight at all. In the ring across from Hashimoto, Liger looks more than comfortable and right at home.
According to Puroresu System, this was the first appearance of Liger in this gear.
The size and strength advantage on display by Hashimoto kept Liger in place throughout a solid portion of this match. Despite Liger using his speed and agility to work around the larger IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hashimoto was still able to catch him every now and then to slow things down.
Early on, the crowd let out a surprised gasp as Liger shrugged off a series of kicks to the chest from Hashimoto before hitting the ropes and rebounding with a running Shotei. The crowd was delighted even more when Liger followed up with a rolling Koppu Kick. Hashimoto was stopped briefly but turned things back around on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Utilizing submissions and kicks, Liger was kept at bay on the mat looking for an out from Hashimoto’s control.
It wasn’t just control by way of offense, though – Hashimoto also squashed Liger’s momentum by way of a solid defensive game. As Hashimoto was flat on the mat, Liger looked to lock him in his patented surfboard which, again, sent the crowd into a mad panic. Despite the fans cheering him on, Hashimoto’s sheer size put the kibosh on Liger’s attempt.
Further on, Liger looked for the Liger Bomb to the delight of the Budokan crowd but, again, was stifled by the larger Hashimoto using his weight to block the move.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Hashimoto nails Liger with an awesome snap belly-to-belly suplex early on in the match. It happens so quickly and with such force that it could easily be sold as a finisher.
Never let it be said that Jushin Liger is a quitter. Despite working against a larger and more physically domineering opponent, he persevered and looked to command the match at every turn.
Not being able to use some of his familiar moves and holds against Hashimoto, Liger goes back to the drawing board and begins to work over the legs of his larger opponent. Without legs, after all, the kicking game of the IWGP Heavyweight Champion would be severely limited.
After failing at connecting with the Liger Bomb, Liger wraps Hashimoto in a leglock before a rope break forcing the hold to be relinquished. Not content with the brief show of control, Liger immediately hits the top rope and connects with a missile dropkick to the knee bringing the crowd to their feet.
Liger locks on a figure four leg lock at this point and what’s suddenly clear is one thing Liger has that sets him apart from everybody else – he wrestles with an extreme sense of urgency.
When Hashimoto gets to the rope to break the initial hold, Liger wastes no time in getting to the top rope and connecting with a dropkick to continue the damage. As if racing against time itself, Liger is on his feet and wrapping Hashimoto in the figure four before you know it. The attention to detail of trying to put the larger man away as quickly and as swiftly as possible is such a fine point throughout the entire match.
25 Years Later, An Edge-Of-Your-Seat Finish
The last few minutes of this match are essentially perfect. When the IWGP Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Champions meet, you kind of assume the Heavyweight Champion is always going to come out on top. Not being familiar with this match, though, and buying into everything both guys were selling, I found myself leaning forward and shouting at my TV at every near fall.
Pulling Hashimoto close to the corner, Liger finally connects with a Liger Bomb and the place goes wild. So did I! I couldn’t believe he picked him up for the move, and the failure to use both the surfboard and Liger Bomb earlier in the match just made it so much more important when he was able to follow through.
Once again, Liger works intensely quick. He lifts Hashimoto to the top rope with a suplex once again bringing the crowd to life. Shaky on the top rope, it looks like Liger may be stopped but he centers himself enough to pull Hashimoto down in a sickening super brainbuster. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a full-on suplex or a brainbuster, but it was ugly and a little terrifying.
Unfortunately, some shoddy production work meant we missed a near fall but Liger was ready to deliver another to us without much downtime.
Lifting Hashimoto to the top rope again, Liger drags his opponent to the mat with a Frankensteiner for another close call. Showcasing his strength, Liger wraps Hashimoto up with a bridging German suplex for another two count.
Looking to rock Hashimoto to his core once again, Liger ascends the top rope and connects with a missile dropkick to the back of the head. The way Hashimoto stumbles on the impact here makes it look like he was shot, but it turns out the move just woke him up.
As Liger hits the ropes to continue the onslaught, Hashimoto jerks him over with a judo throw completely deflating the crowd’s enthusiasm. These people were 100% behind Liger and as soon as Hashimoto stopped the momentum you could feel their collective heartbreak.
With the crowd chanting for Liger, Hashimoto peppers Liger with a series of kicks before sweeping his legs out from underneath him. He pulls Liger back to his feet and locks him in a front face lock, Liger struggling all the way. Despite the physical protest of the Junior Heavyweight Champion, Hashimoto spikes Liger with the brainbuster for the three count and victory.
A Perfect Clash Of Styles
I knew this was going to be a fun match going into it. The names on paper alone let you know it’s going to be something worthwhile and they didn’t disappoint.
You don’t always see a great match between a heavyweight and a junior heavyweight. It can often be presented as more of a spectacle, like a Kevin Nash/Rey Mysterio match, than an actual competitive battle. And that’s fine, too! Nash/Rey in WCW was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it match because if it had gone any longer, it would have lost its charm.
For Hashimoto/Liger, though, the two built one another as true threats which made the finish all the more exciting. I started watching this match leaned back on my couch while scribbling down notes and ended up literally on the edge of my seat, eyes wide, mouth agape as I bit on every single one of Liger’s near falls in the final stretch.
This is the magic that can happen in pro wrestling.
This is Liger’s last year in the sport as he’ll retire at Wrestle Kingdom 14 this January. Hashimoto passed away in 2005 but will always be regarded as one of the most pivotal figures in New Japan history as part of the Three Musketeers alongside Masahiro Chono and Keiji Mutoh.
To wrap up, enjoy the following video highlighting the Three Musketeers from purowave. Meanwhile, I’ll start compiling a list of more Hashimoto matches to watch in my free time.