Q&A: Jushin "Thunder" Liger on his career, Monday Night Wars and Chris Jericho's genius
Jushin "Thunder" Liger wrestled in his final Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan Pro Wrestling this past June. Liger has stated that he wants to keep spots in the Best of the Super Juniors open to the younger talent who can better benefit from being included in the prestigious tournament. Now in the final chapter of his historic career, the 52-year-old Liger looked back on his career with Sports Illustrated.
SI.com: Like William Shakespeare, your work is timeless. Father Time has seemingly not been able to catch up to you, even at the age of 52. How do you assess your recent work?
Liger: I love pro wrestling. I’ve had good training and I keep eating right, so that has allowed me to wrestle a long time. I always remember that pro wrestling is a fight. There is no fakeness involved. I have been fighting my whole wrestling career. When I was young, New Japan tested me. I went to Mexico to prove I could be a pro wrestler, and eventually I came back to Japan and proved myself in New Japan. Also, it wasn’t just me. Tiger Mask was a real legend. I have had success because I learned a great deal from the people around me. I learned so much from Mr. Hito and Antonio Inoki. I also learned from Stu Hart and his son Owen Hart. I trained with Owen in Canada, and we wrestled together in Japan. Owen was a very funny guy, and he was a talented wrestler, too. Working in WCW with Brian Pillman in 1991 helped teach me how to work the American style.
SI.com: You have spoken in the past about learning the American presentation of pro wrestling from your time in WCW during the late 90’s. Who did you particularly enjoy working with during the “Monday Night Wars”?
Liger: I already knew some of the wrestlers from WCW. Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero worked in New Japan Pro Wrestling, so they knew the style very well. I wasn’t great in WCW, but my opponents were. Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero were three of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
I really fell in love with wrestling when I wrestled with Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko. We were young, hungry, and created so many memories. When I look back on those memories, I still feel my heart beat faster. Those were my happiest days in wrestling.
SI.com: You recently wrestled for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Do you prepare differently for a match in the United States than you would for the Best of the Super Juniors in Japan? What makes the experience of wrestling in front of the crowd at PWG so special? And, finally, who is the best “super junior” in the world?
Liger: It is true that wrestling in Japan is very different than wrestling in New York or Chicago or Los Angles. But one part is the same: I feel the crowd in the ring. That is how I start every match, by feeling out the crowd. I respect the PWG company. I’ve wrestled in many different countries and for many different companies, and PWG is special. It’s the wrestlers and the crowd. The crowd makes the event so exciting. It’s those fans that I think of when I train to continue to wrestle.
And the answer to your last question is Kushida. He is great in the ring and conducts himself outside the ring like a champion.
SI.com: You wrestled Tyler Breeze at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in August of 2015. Why didn’t you continue to work with NXT or even WWE? Do you watch WWE? And whose work in the WWE do you admire?
Liger: I was too old to stay with WWE. I wanted my spot to go to a younger wrestler. I watch a little of WWE. I wrestled Chris Jericho in Japan. He is very, very good. That is no joke. He is a very good wrestler and I respect him. I watch Chris Jericho to learn for my own matches. He has great conditioning, he can wrestle every day. Jericho is great and everyone is so professional in WWE. Any wrestler should wrestle there if they have the chance.
SI.com: You are 52 now. Could you wrestle until you are 60?
Liger: I have no comment. I love to train, eat, and wrestle. That’s really what I do best, and that is all I want.