Virus vs. Jushin Liger (NJPW – 01/24/2016)

Virus vs. Jushin Liger
January 24, 2016
Korakuen Hall
*** ¾

Sometimes a match is announced that seems just a little too perfect on paper.

New Japan booking Virus versus the inimitable Jushin Liger on the final night of the 2016 NJPW/CMLL FantasticaMania tour was one of those instances.  The match did not need much more promotion beyond simply being booked, but New Japan also billed the bout as a “lucha de maestros” which only added to the anticipation. Lucha libre fans likely saw that description as a veritable promise that the match would be worked on the mat in the lucha “maestro match” style, which just so happens to be the style best fitted for these two at the respective stages of their careers.  It was one of those dream matches that I did not know was a dream match for me until it was booked.  It does not necessarily take a cynic, however, to start wondering what might go wrong to turn a match that seems to perfect on paper into something less than ideal.  Liger and Virus could simply not mesh well together, the promotional tag line could not line up with how the match was actually worked, the match could be given very little time, or the fifty year old Liger might simply not be up for working a high quality mat-based match.  Matches rarely ever play out exactly as hoped.

This one was not one of those rare exceptions.  I do not have to squint very hard to envision a scenario where Liger and Virus have a better match than the one they had in front of the Korakuen hardcores.  It would also be doing this match a great disservice to label it as anything close to a disappointment.

Liger and Virus worked the exact style of match that most hoped they would.  The action was almost exclusively hold/counter hold based and must of it took place with the wrestlers down on the mat.  It is one thing to work the desired type of match it is another thing to execute.  Liger and Virus executed very, very well.  Liger exceeded my expectations with his performance.  Liger always was a proficient submission wrestler but in the New Japan junior heavyweight way he helped cultivate where mat work was largely an obligatory early match exercise.  In a match entirely built on submissions, counters and escapes, he looked right at home fluidly trading holds with Virus.  Liger pulled out more than his fair share of interesting submissions and counters.  He was good enough to immediately make my mind race with visions of Liger working similar matches with Negro Navarro, Dr. Cerebro, Trauma II, Caifan, Black Terry, and Solar in Mexico.

Speaking of Navarro, one of this match’s greatest strengths was that it avoided falling into a pattern or taking on the look and feel of an exhibition.  Some Navarro matches – particularly his most recent matches with Solar – have felt that way to me.  They wrestle around on the mat, do a standoff, quickly trade more holds, stand off again, and repeat that throughout the match.  Virus and Liger did stale mate spots but not ad nauseam and not in a robotic manner.  The teased striking spot was well placed and an example of a lighthearted moment being well weaved into a match without distracting from the overall tone.  This was a match that built and escalated, which is a trait that all great “maestro” matches all have in common.

If one of those pre-match anxieties became a reality, it was that Virus and Liger were given a short amount of time with which to work.  The match clocked in at a shade under eight minutes.  There is no doubt that Liger and Virus could have an even better match if afforded a lengthier slot.  There is little doubt that this match would have been better with a few additional minutes, so the match length was a restricting element.

At the same time, eight minutes is not an obscenely short run time for a match worked in this style.  The style is predicated on fluid attempts for and counters of submissions and pinning combinations. It is a style that succeeds by selling the idea that a match can end at any time with one quick move or one misstep.  By the time Liger caught Virus in a submission to earn the victory, the match had already progressed to the point where it felt natural that one of the two veteran wrestlers might be prone to getting caught in a move they could not escape.  It is a testament to the match Virus and Liger had that they could have added more time without diminishing the quality, but I am not sold on the idea that the match suffered because it was “too short.”  The run time might have kept the match from reaching its considerable ceiling but I do not think it actively detracted from the quality.

Relative to other recent matches wrestled in a similar style, I would have this below Virus and Dr. Cerebro’s match of the year candidate from last August but in the same realm as Virus/Avisman and Virus/Black Terry (there is a theme somewhere in there). My rating might be a tick high based on the fact that Liger was the opponent and the uniqueness of the match up added to the overall excitement, but this was a quality match by any standard.

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