Jushin “Thunder” Liger, one of the most recognizable names in Japanese wrestling, has made a name for himself in numerous wrestling organizations across the world and it was on Christmas Day in 1991 that he defeated “Flyin’” Brian Pillman at a World Championship Wrestling house show for the coveted WCW World Light Heavyweight Championship that put him into the spotlight of American wrestling for the first time.
Liger would hold onto the title for two months before Pillman would challenge the Japanese legend at Superbrawl II in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Superbrawl II included matches such as Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton versus the Steiner Brothers for the WCW World Tag Team Championship, “Ravishing” Rick Rude versus Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat for the WCW US Championship and was headlined by Sting versus Lex Luger for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
Even with the high stakes of these three matches it would be the bout between Pillman and Liger that would stand out in many minds once the show was over. With Pillman and Liger being two of my all-time favourites this match was a memorable one for me simply because of the names of the wrestlers participating, but the gem of a bout put on by these two combatants is what has given it the title of a “classic” bout in my mind.
Legendary commentator Jim Ross worked the announcer’s table for this bout solo and showed why he was and still is one of the best in the business. His added excitement and charisma from the announcer’s position added to the overall dynamic of this match and made it even more enjoyable.
The two competitors worked the crowd well. Liger did not even have to use moves such as his legendary rolling koppu kick or a shooting star press and Pillman did not have to use his missile drop kick, but neither wrestler needed these maneuvers. The back and forth contest featured numerous exciting moments. An all out aerial display was expected by most coming into the match and yes, the two wrestlers gave the fans some high flying spots which included dives by both wrestlers to the outside of the ring, as well as a flying body press attempt by Pillman and flying head butt attempt by Liger, but the under-rated technical side of the match was a stand-out for me.
A beautiful scene in the bout featured Liger strapping Pillman into a figure four leg lock and in the midst of the hold the two fighters began a slap contest which got the crowd roaring. Combine events such as this one along with Pillman’s ability to counter Liger’s surfboard submission attempt not once, but twice and these little moments of magical wrestling would not even be praised in this day and age of wrestling entertainment, which includes too many gimmick matches or microphone time which just ends with overdeveloped storylines.
Pillman would regain his Light Heavyweight title from Liger in a quick, but exciting finish using a bridged pinning combination. It was an outstanding and simple close to the technically sound match.
The match between Liger and Pillman at Superbrawl II was memorable for the fans in Milwaukee that night and it left an impression on me as well. This is why I have given it the honour of being the introductory article in my “Reliving the Classics” wrestling series. Thanks Brian and Jushin for the memories!