|Ring name(s)||Keiichi Yamada
"Flying" Fuji Yamada
Jushin "Thunder" Liger
|Billed height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Billed weight||213 lb (97 kg; 15.2 st)|
|Born||November 30, 1964 
Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture
|Trained by||Kotetsu Yamamoto
|Debut||March 3, 1984|
Keiichi Yamada (山田恵一 Yamada Keiichi , born November 30, 1964), better known as Jushin Liger (獣神ライガー Jūshin Raigā ) and later, Jushin "Thunder" Liger (獣神サンダー・ライガー Jūshin Sandā Raigā ) is a Japanese professional wrestler who works primarily for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Keiichi Yamada was an amateur wrestler while studying in high school, where in his senior year, he lost to Toshiaki Kawada in the finals of a national championship. After high school, he applied to the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo to become a professional wrestler in the early 1980s. He was not accepted because he did not meet the height requirements they had at that time. Yamada was determined not to give up his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, so he left for Mexico and began his training there. By his own account, he was almost starving while studying there, so NJPW officials who were visiting took pity on him and asked him to come back to Japan to train in their dojo, where he was trained alongside the likes of Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto.
While continuing his studies, he had his debut match in March 1984 at the age of 19, wrestling against Shunji Kosugi. He began studying various martial arts styles because he wanted to add something new and different to his wrestling style, which is how he learned his Rolling Koppu Kick.
After winning the Young Lion Cup in March 1986, he went on an excursion of Europe, where he wrestled for All-Star Promotions in England, under the name "Flying" Fuji Yamada. He won the World Heavy Middleweight Championship twice, once in September 1986 and once in March 1987, both times defeating "Rollerball" Mark Rocco and both times losing it back to him, the last of these title changes being televised on ITV.. Yamada would later visit All Star again in the early 1990s as Jushin Liger with tag partner Flying Funaki.
After returning to Japan in August 1987, Yamada debuted his Shooting Star Press in a match against Masakatsu Funaki, for which he had gotten the idea from reading the manga Fist of the North Star. Throughout 1987 and 1988, Yamada improved with each match, occasionally getting shots at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, most notably against Owen Hart on June 10, 1988, and against Shiro Koshinaka on December 9, 1988.
Yamada went on another excursion, this time in Canada, around January 1989, where he wrestled in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling in Calgary under his real name. He also trained under Hart in the legendary "Dungeon". His experiences there led him to refer to Hart as a "very, very tough man."
Within months, NJPW called him back, as they needed him for a gimmick based on an extremely popular anime superhero, Jushin Liger, created by celebrated mangaka Go Nagai. NJPW had done this previously with Tiger Mask, which had become a huge success. Yamada was given a superhero-like full body costume & demonic looking mask, resembling the superhero type featured in tokusatsu and anime programs.
Jushin Liger debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling on April 24, 1989, at the Tokyo Dome. In his debut match, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi. He has also had the honor of wrestling all the Black Tigers to date (from Mark Rocco in 1989 to Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 2009). After using the Jushin Liger gimmick the anime progressed, and as the Go Nagai anime progressed, the hero powered up and changed three times. As the hero changed so did Liger. First to Fire Liger, then to the character gimmick he goes by today, Jushin Thunder Liger. He quickly became one of NJPW's top Junior Heavyweights, eventually capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship eleven times, between May 25, 1989 and December 6, 1999, among numerous other titles and accolades while wrestling around the world. When appearing without his mask on, Yamada blocks his appearance by covering his face with one hand.
Early in his career, Yamada's style mostly consisted of high flying. Years later, he started adapting more power moves and started focusing more on grappling and telling a story in the ring; part of this change was due to the fact that Liger had to reduce the stress he was putting on his body after undergoing brain tumor surgery in August 1996.
During 2000, as booker Riki Chōshū decided to de-emphasize the junior heavyweight division (a costly decision that diminished its credibility), Liger wrestled heavyweights without wearing the upper part of his bodysuit or his mask horns (the first time he wore that attire was on February 24, 1994, against Shinya Hashimoto in a non-title match between the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and the IWGP Heavyweight Champion).
From 2001-2007, Liger was the leader of the NJPW heel stable Control Terrorism Unit (CTU) along with Hirooki Goto, Minoru Tanaka, Black Tiger IV, Gedo, Jado, Prince Devitt and briefly James Gibson. CTU was disbanded in August 2007, when Liger decided CTU would disband while at the top of NJPW, Liger would then join Masahiro Chono's Legend stable. The Legend stable would disband in February 2010, after Chono and AKIRA's departures.
On October 20, 1996, The Great Muta faced off in a match with Liger. As the match progressed, Muta resorted to his underhand tactics that had become his style over the years. He tore at Liger's mask and eventually ripped it off, but Liger kept his face down on the mat. After grabbing a chair outside the ring, Muta entered the ring but before he could hit Liger with it, Liger stood up and revealed his face to be painted pale white with red writings and spit mist into Muta's face (another Muta trademark). He tore off his bodysuit and revealed a painted chest, then proceeded to fight more aggressively the rest of the match, despite losing the match to Muta.
On July 30, 2006, Liger revived the "Kishin" gimmick and faced off with rival Bad Boy Hido in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The story was that Hido had cut a piece of Liger's hair and Liger vowed revenge, so he transformed into Kishin Liger. Liger won the match with a brainbuster onto a steel chair.
The gimmick is a variation of The Great Muta gimmick which relies on bloody and evil tactics in a match, using mannerisms and imagery that differ from the person's normal ways. This gimmick also uses many wrestling moves that are regulars in The Great Muta's move set, such as the Asian mist.
Jushin Liger also made appearances with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) during the 1990s. He made his debut in December 1991. He feuded with Brian Pillman over the WCW World Light Heavyweight Championship. He defeated Pillman on December 25 for the title at a house show in Atlanta, Georgia. He would hold onto the title for over two months, before losing it back to Pillman at SuperBrawl II. Liger left WCW in December 1992 after Starrcade, teaming with Erik Watts in a losing effort to "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and Sting in a Lethal Lottery match. He returned to WCW in September 1995; he would go on to face many other opponents such as Chris Benoit, Pillman, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Jr., and Juventud Guerrera, as well as challenging Konnan for the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship at Slamboree '96, which he lost the match.
He met with controversy around late-November/early-December 1999 while wrestling a short tour in WCW as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion when he lost the title on WCW Monday Nitro to Juventud Guerrera via a blow to the head from a tequila bottle. Liger regained his title the following week from Psicosis, who was substituting for Guerrera because he broke his arm. However, the scripting of these title changes was very embarrassing for New Japan Pro Wrestling, so embarrassing that they moved on like it never happened and chose not to release any information, in turn none of the Japanese sports media outlets reported the two title changes. New Japan didn't recognize Guerrera's reign until 2007. Liger was also referred to as a 10 time champion until this time.
On November 30, 2002, Liger was booked as a replacement for a mixed martial arts match in the Pancrase organization against Minoru Suzuki due to his planned opponent being forced to pull out. In what would be Liger's only Mixed Martial Arts match, (and Suzuki's last non-worked match) he was easily beaten by Suzuki via rear naked choke only 1:48 into the first round. After a failed attempt at a Rolling Koppu Kick, Liger was quickly mounted and hit with Suzuki's ground and pound until the choke was applied, forcing Liger to tap out. Liger wore a modified version of his mask during the bout.
On November 5 2004, Liger debuted in ROH, headlining their back-to-back "Weekend of Thunder" shows to huge acclaim. ROH selected Bryan Danielson as Liger's special opponent for that weekend. For Night 1, the two faced each other in a singles match, with Liger winning the highly competitive bout after a super brainbuster.
On November 6, 2004 Night 2 would see a "dream tag-team" match in the main event. Liger chose then-ROH Champion Samoa Joe as his partner out of respect for Joe's accomplishments as ROH World Champion, and Danielson selected Low Ki to negate Joe. Liger again came out on top, pinning Danielson with a Liger Bomb to win the match.
On January 29, 2010 at ROH's debut show in Los Angeles, CA as part of WrestleReunion 4, Liger lost a non-title match to ROH World Champion Austin Aries via pinfall after a brainbuster. It was Liger's first ROH match in over 5 years.
He was scheduled to face off against Christopher Daniels at TNA Lockdown 2006 on April 23, 2006. He had been unaware that the match was to be held in a Steel Cage, something in which he had never participated before. When he heard of this he cancelled the match. One of TNA's bookers Scott D'Amore has speculated that he didn't want to participate in the match due to it being in a new environment, fearing it would have hampered his performance. According to D'Amore, Liger had been unhappy with his previous TNA match against Joe which was cut short due to communication problems, and wanted his next TNA match to be better. D'Amore has also disproved the rumor that communication issues between TNA and NJPW had caused the match to be cancelled. Liger was not double booked to two events at the same time, like had been publicly speculated.
Liger was the captain of the New Japan team in the TNA 2006 World X Cup Tournament and defeated Team Canada's Captain Petey Williams at TNA Sacrifice on May 14, 2006 using a Crash Thunder Buster after Williams was distracted by the rest of Team Japan who draped the flag over Williams after Liger's victory. Liger was eliminated in the X-Cup Gauntlet later that night and Team Japan was unable to gain any points in the match as it was won by Team Canada with Team Mexico as runners up.
Liger made his Canadian return after 18 years on May 25 and May 26, 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario and competed in UWA Hardcore Wrestling. On night one he teamed with PUMA and defeated the team of Último Dragón and Kazuchika Okada, after Liger hit the Liger Bomb on Okada. On night two, Liger teamed with Último Dragón and defeated The Murder City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) after a Liger Bomb / Dragon Sleeper combo.
Since February 1991, Liger has been happily married.
|Mask||Jushin Liger||Pegasus Kid||Fukuoka, Japan||July 4, 1991|||
|Mask||Jushin Liger||Tiger Mask III||Tokyo, Japan||January 4, 1994|||
|Professional record breakdown|
|1 match||0 wins||1 loss|
|Loss||0-1||Minoru Suzuki||Submission (Rear Naked Choke)||Pancrase - Spirit 8||November 30, 2002||1||1:48||Yokohama, Kanagawa|||