The Rudo Reels hit parade continues! Once again broadcasting from back in time at the ’95 Super J Cup, it’s time for Liger vs. Dragon!
Jushin “Thunder” Liger is my favorite Japanese wrestler of all time, and perhaps my favorite wrestler, period. He’s had such versatility throughout his long career that, even though he’s older and can’t do several of the high-flying moves he innovated, he can still get the crowds behind him and put on a worthwhile match. He’s got a definitive look that’s still been open to variation, and he radiates charisma despite his mask essentially giving him only one stoic facial expression. And to top it all off, he’s not selfish, often putting over younger wrestlers in obscure promotions around the world.
Ultimo Dragon has some similar qualities to Liger, but the fact that he’s been known to be rather self-centered when it comes to putting his matches together gives him a negative stigma with me. Still, he’s trained a lot of good wrestlers and had a lot of entertaining matches, so I’ve got to give him some leeway.
I’ve heard this match referred to as the “real” main event of the ’95 J Cup, and considering that the less-interesting Gedo was in the actual tournament finals, I can understand why.
Like a two-act play where the first half doesn’t matter, this match can be split into two parts: Mat wrestling and highspots. The matwork in the first half is good, though if I’m being honest, it wasn’t what I was interested in seeing when I watched it. I would’ve been fine with it if it actually led to something in the second half, but it really doesn’t. Once they start hitting the spots, it’s like they just started over. Sure, there are some submission attempts during the second half, but I didn’t see any selling or callbacks to holds from the earlier portions.
The spots are cool. They don’t do everything they’re known for; there’s no traditional Asai moonsault (thought there is a Quebrada) or dragon sleeper. Unless I missed it, there’s Shotei no palm thrust, nor is there a shooting star press. There is a Liger bomb, though, and a brainbuster that gets a big reaction. Other neat spots include Dragon clobbering Liger with a somersault from the top to the floor and Liger using a tombstone to set up a diving headbutt.
(As an aside, the tombstone piledriver never ceases to confuse me when I see it in Japan. When I got into wrestling, it was protected as a finishing move that always…well, finished guys. You never saw anyone kick out after the Undertaker, Kane, or Fit Finlay spiked them onto their heads with a tombstone (Wrestlemania 14 being the lone exception to the rule). Meanwhile, in Mexican Lucha Libre, the dreaded Martinete has long been sold like death, and most Mexican promotions ban its use. However, for whatever reason, it’s often been used only as a set-up maneuver in Japan. It’s jarring.)
I can see this match blowing others away, but I think I like it better as a highlight reel music video. There are some nice exchanges and spots, but it takes a while to get to them. Maybe you should start watching the match from around the 8:25 mark of the first video.
Oh, and the finish comes when Liger counters a La Magistral cradle into a pin, which is decent storytelling because Dragon had tried a La Magistral earlier, too.
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