At New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s 47th Anniversary Show on March 6, Jushin Thunder Liger challenged for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for the first time in three years. Though Liger held his own for a while, Taiji Ishimori defeated his legendary opponent by submission to retain his title. Backstage after the match, Liger cut a promo that suggested he might retire, including the statement, “In some ways, I’m not qualified to be a pro wrestler… I don’t always have the words, but I’ll talk about that later.”
That “later” turned out to be a press conference streamed on March 7 at which Liger announced that he will retire from wrestling in 2020 at the Tokyo Dome. He explained (as translated by Chris Carlton) that his most recent match “made me see I have nowhere else to grow. I can still do it, still get in there, but have no room for growth.” He said that he’s done everything in his career and he sees “the next ten months” not necessarily “a retirement tour” but he wants to “go all over Japan and the world and show myself to everyone one more time.”
Since his debut in 1985 and especially since debut as the Liger character on April 24, 1989, just under thirty years ago at the Tokyo Dome, he’s been one of the most influential junior heavyweight wrestlers of all time. Liger was the face of NJPW’s junior heavyweight division during its game-changing period in 1990s and holds the record for most IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship reigns, having held the title eleven times. He also played an important role in innovating cruiserweight wrestling in the United States with his groundbreaking series of matches with Brian Pillman in WCW and has been cited as an influence by countless wrestlers over the decades. The wrestling world won’t be the same without him.