Earlier today, it was announced that Jushin “Thunder” Liger would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Jushin “Thunder” Liger, if you’re not aware, is one of the greatest junior heavyweights in the history of professional wrestling, who spent most of his career in Japan (though you may remember him from 90s WCW) competing against rivals such as The Great Muta, Hayabusa, The Great Sasuke, Shinjiro Otani, Último Dragón, Juventud Guerrera, and Brian Pillman - revolutionizing the business in the process.
Liger's influence on the current generation of professional wrestlers cannot be overstated, and neither can his cultural icon status and popularity in Japan. Dude is fucking MAAAAASSIVE over there, and is an instantly recognizable household name!
After a phenomenal 35-year career spanning FIVE DECADES, though, Jushin "Thunder" Liger decided to hang up his boots "for good" earlier this year at NJPW's 'WrestleKingdom 14', and now even the WWE is paying tribute to this legend of our industry with an induction into their Hall of Fame.
I've told it before on Twitter, and probably on a podcast somewhere, but I figured now would be a pretty good time to share my own Jushin "Thunder" Liger story.
It ain't the craziest story you'll ever hear, but it always makes me laugh personally...
It's Friday, December 2nd, 2016.
After a day of interning at Barstool Sports - getting Riggs coffee/lunch and cutting Fore Play - I walked a few blocks over to the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, dressed to the nines. Why, you ask? Well, at that point, I was balancing an internship at Barstool Sports with what you could probably describe as an internship with Cody Rhodes! Sounds crazy, I know, but it's true!
Let's go back a bit...
Cody and I linked up via social media in January of 2016 when he was still with the WWE, performing as 'Stardust' - a gimmick he badly wanted out of - and he needed someone to help design concept art/gear for a pitch to "higher ups" to prove that going back to being "Cody" would work - kinda ironic now, huh?
I was very regularly designing gear for wrestlers all over the world at that point, including Kevin Owens, The Young Bucks, Colt Cabana, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, etc., so some mutuals put us in touch, and I designed what I still think was some cool shit for him!
Obviously that pitch didn't go the way he would've liked, but once he left the WWE, our relationship only furthered developed more. I'd be designing shirts/gear for him, helping out with some social media stuff, and attending all of the shows he was booked on in the area with him. It was a dream come true for a kid like me. Going on long drives with Cody and getting to pick his brain about the business and hear stories was such a cool experience that it still doesn't feel real.
Seeing him win the ROH World Championship and immediately taking him to the Emergency Room for stitches comes to mind immediately as one of the most surreal/memorable experiences of my life...
BACK TO LIGER, THOUGH, AND FINAL BATTLE 2016...
I was attending the show as part of "Team Rhodes" with Cody, his wife Brandi, and his agent Brian Wittenstein, and it felt like a REALLY big deal. Cody was the hottest free agent in the business, and this was his Ring of Honor debut at their biggest show of the year in New York City.
I shouldn't say this "felt" like a big deal - plain and simple - this was a HUGE DEAL.
Everyone was keeping pretty silent about the finish of the match all day, which I thought was a little peculiar, having been around locker rooms for a bit, but once we were out in the crowd and everything played out as it did, I understood why. Cody turned heel that night. Frustrated by his inability to put Jay Lethal down for a three-count, he kicked the ROH vet right in the balls before hitting his finisher: the Cross Rhodes. You couldn't write a better debut for him - the crowd ate it up, it popped all of the boys in the back - and he had real HEAT!
Here's where we get to my Jushin "Thunder" Liger story…
At the end of the night, Cary Silkin (former owner of ROH) made a toast to all of the boys and girls backstage. Again, Final Battle is the company's 'WrestleMania' - so this was probably tradition.
Everyone packed into this room no bigger than the SiriusXM studio at HQ for the toast, quickly making me realize there wouldn't be nearly enough space for everyone to get in there, so I stepped out for anyone who might've deserved to be there more.
As the toast is wrapping up, the boys are passing around little clear cups with champagne in em, as well as some cups with Diet Pepsi for the non-drinkers in the room, and I feel a tap on my shoulder.
I turn around, and standing there in his full gimmick (sans mask) is Jushin "Thunder" Liger.
Picture that! Liger had the full leotard on, it's CLEARLY Liger, but he's unmasked! It was like seeing my parents put the presents under the tree instead of Santa! He asked for a cup of Diet Pepsi, and I obliged.
Being the wrestling nerd I am, I'm as rattled as I've ever been in my life (you woulda thought Eva Longoria had just asked me on a date), and handed him a cup before whispering "Great match tonight!" to him. I didn't actually see his match that night, but I was being nice.
It then came time for the end of the speech, and due to where we were standing, Liger and I just toasted each other - JUST EACH OTHER - and drank our Diet Pepsi alone, together! Never have I been more out-of-place, but somehow right where I wanted to be, in my entire life. I mean - I just wrote a thousand words to tell ya I clinked cups with a wrestler once. That should tell ya what it needs to about where my passion lies.
Congratulations to Jushin "Thunder' Liger on the WWE Hall of Fame induction!