Jushin Thunder Liger, one of the legendary performers in the industry’s history, has announced that he will be retiring in January 2020.
Liger, real name Keiichi Yamada, made the announcement at a press conference and stated he will retire next January when New Japan Pro Wrestling runs the Tokyo Dome. Prior to his retirement, he is planning to travel and wrestle around the world and hopes to be part of the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden next month.
Yamada was initially turned down by the New Japan Dojo because of his size and went to Mexico to learn. He eventually made his way back and trained at the Dojo. He would debut for New Japan Pro Wrestling in March 1984 when he was 19.
He traveled on excursions to Europe and Canada, working with Stampede Wrestling when the company was loaded with several junior heavyweight stars. He debuted the character of Jushin Liger on New Japan’s first card at the Tokyo Dome on April 24, 1989, against Kuniaki Kobayashi.
Liger became one of the most influential wrestlers ever as his rise coincided with tape trading and exposed him to the next generation of wrestlers that came up as fans. His costume, hair, and music have become iconic and was the junior heavyweight star of the 1990s and would be installed as the booker of the division during that era, as well.
In total, he won 11 IWGP junior heavyweight titles with the first in May 1989 when he defeated Hiroshi Hase one month after the debut of the Liger character. His final title win took place in Milwaukee of all places, defeating Psychosis (who was subbing for champion Juventud Guerrera) on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro in December 1999.
Liger also won the IWGP junior heavyweight title six times, NOAH’s GHC junior heavyweight title, the WCW light heavyweight title, the J-Crown, Dragon Gate’s Open the Dream Gate title, the CMLL world middleweight and tag titles, and winner of the Super J Cup in 2005, a three-time Best of the Super Juniors winner, the Young Lion Cup among his many championships and tournament victories.
Milwaukee was also the site of one of Liger’s most famous North American matches against Brian Pillman at SuperBrawl II in February 1992. The two also had the distinction of being the first match in the history of Monday Nitro when they opened the show on September 4, 1995, from the Mall of America on TNT.
Liger had an operation to remove a brain tumor in 1996.
Over the past 15 years, he has worked in the United States for Ring of Honor, TNA, and wrestled against Tyler Breeze at NXT TakeOver in August 2015 in Brooklyn.
He has received countless accolades throughout his career, including being voted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1999. He will be turning 55 this November.