Classic Match: Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Brian Pillman, WCW SuperBrawl II

Kimberly Schueler
Jushin Thunder Liger (source: WWE)
Jushin Thunder Liger (source: WWE)’s Classic Match series takes a closer look at significant and super cool matches from wrestling history.

On Sunday, January 5, 2020, Jushin Thunder Liger wrestled the final match of his over-30 year career in the Tokyo Dome, at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) Wrestle Kingdom 14. This particular edition of’s Classic Match series looks back at one of the (many) defining matches of that illustrious career.

On February 29, 1992, WCW’s SuperBrawl II was headlined by Lex Luger vs. Sting, but it was opened by a match that would be much more influential. In a bout for the Light Heavyweight Championship, Brian Pillman and Jushin Thunder Liger showed the Wisconsin audience and pay-per-view viewers at home a high-flying style of professional wrestling much more prominent in Mexico and Japan, but just as exciting to American fans.

Cruiserweight wrestling in WCW would become a bigger deal in the late 1990s, when the under-220 pound division showcased wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Jericho early in their careers, but its groundwork was laid by the company’s Light Heavyweight Championship scene earlier in the decade, whose biggest star and only multiple-time champion was Brian Pillman.

In 1991, Flyin’ Brian Pillman won the tournament to become WCW’s inaugural Light Heavyweight Champion. Pillman is best remembered today for his groundbreaking role in bringing the edgy style of programming that would define the Attitude Era to the WWF, but he was also key in introducing cruiserweight-style wrestling to the United States. The super-athletic former football player had worked internationally before signing with WCW and was one of the first American wrestlers to perform lucha libre moves. He would turn heel and change his in-ring style later in 1992, but at SuperBrawl II he was still a clean-cut, fired up babyface challenger.

Pillman had held the Light Heavyweight Championship for two months before he lost it to a masked superstar from Japan, Jushin Thunder Liger. Liger started working for WCW due to the promotion’s relationship with NJPW, where he was the undisputed ace of their junior heavyweight division. 30 years into his career, Liger’s aerodynamic style has wowed fans—including those at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015 when he defeated Tyler Breeze—and influenced other wrestlers around the world. But he was almost completely unknown in the United States in 1992.

Jushin Thunder Liger (source: WWE)
Jushin Thunder Liger (source: WWE)
Brian Pillman (source: WWE)
Brian Pillman (source: WWE)

Liger’s character and costume were (and still are) based on an anime superhero, which made him a huge hit with children in Japan. However, to American audiences, he wasn’t a popular cartoon character at first glance, but a mysterious, even menacing figure with his wild hair and demonic mask. On commentary at SuperBrawl, Jesse Ventura shows respect to the future legend and tells viewers about his popularity in Japan, but also says Liger’s headwear reminds him “of the Predator.” For Liger to win over this crowd, he would have to prove himself a fantastic wrestler and showman, and spoiler alert, he did.

Pillman and Liger had introduced their aerial maneuvers in earlier matches and knew what to expect from each other in this match. Understandably, Pillman’s early strategy is to ground his opponent and try to weaken him on the mat. Both wrestlers manage to counters the other’s submissions, but a beautiful moonsault from Liger earns the match’s first nearfall and gets the crowd on his side.

Pillman locks on a modified abdominal stretch for a moment, but Liger escapes and attempts his signature Romero Special. He dominates with a variety of offensive maneuvers, but Pillman gets his own nearfall with a crucifix roll-up. It looks like it’s anyone’s match for a while, but Liger manages to get back on top, locking Pillman in a Figure Four so painful that Pillman is nearly pinned because he can barely lift his shoulders off the mat.

As Pillman endures and the two wrestlers strike each other, the crowd heats up in favor of their Midwestern brother, supporting him and showing a nationalistic streak as they start to chant “U.S.A.” Pillman finds the strength to reverse the Figure Four and the men roll to the ropes, but neither is willing to break the hold until the referee forces it.

Liger is again able to capitalize on his opponent once out of the submission, continuing to target the legs already weakened by the lengthy stretch in the Figure Four. As the crowd splits in their support, some chanting “Jushin” and some “U.S.A.,” Pillman escapes his opponent with an enzuigiri (so unique at this time that Jim Ross calls it a “spinning martial arts kick”), but can’t follow up due to the pain in his leg.

After eating a moonsault outside the ring, Pillman, while on the apron, manages to gain control of a disputed suplex and reverse the momentum of the match in his favor by sending Liger over the top rope. The men exchange high impact moves, Pillman hitting Liger with a splash from the top turnbuckle, Liger countering a missile dropkick with his own dropkick, Pillman scoring nearfalls after a powerslam and a crossbody, and Liger his own after a bridging suplex and a powerbomb. It looks like either man’s match at this point, but “the kid from Cincinatti,” in the words of Ventura, is “able to capitalize on one fatal mistake that Liger made.” He dodges a splash from the top rope, cleverly rolls Liger over, and bends back into a bridge just long enough to get the three-count for the win.

The crowd is very happy about their new champion and the match they just saw, and Pillman and Liger look satisfied with what they just did. In a display of sportsmanship, Pillman hugs Liger, each man raises the other’s hand, and they shake hands. In a sport full of blood feuds, it’s cool to see some mutual respect like this once in a while, especially after such an important match.

WCW Superbrawl II (source: WWE)
WCW Superbrawl II (source: WWE)

Despite creating a place for cool matches like this one, the Light Heavyweight Championship was deactivated later in 1992, and the light heavyweight style of wrestling was nerfed for years after WCW management banned moves off the top rope. But when these types of matches were reintroduced, though rarely given the same prominence as heavyweight wrestling, they continued to influence future generations of wrestlers around the world.

You can watch this match in its entirety, along with the rest of WCW SuperBrawl II, on the WWE Network.

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