I’ve been a wrestling fan for nearly my entire life, but I didn't always love wrestling. That all changed in 1992 when I saw a match that not only changed my world when it came to wrestling, but also planted the seeds for the Cruiserweight Division that would become the home of the workhorses of WCW. On February 29, 1992, at SuperBrawl II PPV, "Flyin" Brian Pillman wrestled WCW Light Heavyweight Champion and Japanese phenom Jushin "Thunder" Liger in a match that was ahead of its time then, and some say still ahead of its time today. It was the first match of the night and it stole the show.
In 1992, WCW was way behind the WWF in the race for wrestling dominance. The WWF was still riding high on the tail end of Hulkamania combined with the shocking defection of NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair from WCW. While WCW was still producing top quality wrestling matches the majority of casual fans were indifferent to the product.
In order to breathe some life into the product again, the WCW began a working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling in which they would send talent from Japan to wrestle against WCW's best. One of the wrestlers New Japan sent over was Junior Heavyweight Jushin Liger. Liger had stunning, cartoonish attire which caught people’s attention, and a charisma that stood out. His style of wrestling was high flying, quick, and based on the Lucha Libre style of Mexico. He is credited as the innovator who developed the legendary Shooting Star Press, a very dangerous move that can perhaps be considered one of the greatest maneuvers in the history of wrestling.
For an opponent the WCW needed to come up with a wrestler that could not only hold his own, but be seen as equal to Liger in the ring.
The WCW had Brian Pillman. Pillman was a wrestler who was on his way in establishing himself as a star, the potential series of matches with Liger would provide Pillman with a big push in his career. Pillman also had an arsenal of high-flying, Lucha Libre-influenced offense- rare for a North American wrestler at that time. These two also had more in common than their wrestling style. They both competed in Stampede Wrestling and were trained by the legendary Stu Hart in his infamous "Dungeon." Junior Heavyweights were an integral part of wrestling in Japan, but not in America. The majority of American wrestling at this time was based around large muscular wrestlers performing power moves.
It was a savvy business decision to put these two wrestlers together in a feud over the newly established WCW Light Heavyweight Championship (a title many say was created specifically for this program). Since the title was only a few months old this match needed to be something special to get it over and establish the title as a valuable prize. That night Liger and Pillman were determined to do just that. Already a major wrestling fan by this point, I was looking forward to this Pay Per View. I was eager to see Larry Zbyszko in a tag team match, Rick Rude vs Ricky Steamboat, and Sting vs Lex Luger. Little did I know it was the first match on the card that would change my world.
From the opening bell both grapplers went all out with everything they had for the entire match. I stared wide eyed at moves I'd never seen before-moves foreign to the North American wrestling scene such as sentons, superplexes, suplexes from inside the ring to the floor, and diving planchas. The flow of this match coupled with the moves weaved a beautiful narrative that had the crowd (and me, watching at home) hooked. The beautifully paced 17 minute match ended with Pillman winning via a roll-up taking the title and making this 7 year old fan fall head over heels in love with wrestling. While the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship was quietly retired along with the division after it was vacated from the final champion, Brad Armstrong a mere 7 months after Pillman's SuperBrawl II victory, the story doesn't end there.
Besides this wrestling fan, a ring announcer by the name of Eric Bischoff also took note of this amazing match. In 1995, Bischoff became the President of WCW. WCW was about to launch its Monday night show; Monday Nitro, to run head-to-head with WWF juggernaut Monday Night RAW. Bischoff needed a match that could deliver and set the tone for this new show. The match he chose to open up the inaugural Nitro, live from the Mall of America, was none other than Brian Pillman vs. Jushin Liger. This opening match was brilliant, and while it wasn’t as quite as magical as their Superbrawl II match, the fans reaction convinced Eric Bischoff that a Light Heavyweight Division could succeed. Less than a year later he brought the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship out of retirement renaming it the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. This title and the revived division would become the backbone of WCW until its demise, producing many of the most exciting matches and wrestlers in WCW history. This all started with one match, Pillman vs Liger, a match that changed two worlds.
By John Volino
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