What WWE Can Learn From Kishin Liger

TJR Wrestling


On Sunday, September 22nd, 2019, the wrestling world was given a rare treat: an appearance by Kishin Liger in New Japan Pro Wrestling. This marked only the fourth time since 1996 that Jushin Liger’s evil alter-ego appeared and it has already created a buzz about Liger’s immediate future. While it’s common knowledge that Liger will be having his retirement match at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in January, there are plenty of questions still unanswered about the road there.

An appearance by Kishin Liger only muddies those waters even more. Few people have ever angered Jushin Liger enough for him to bring out his evil side. This sudden and unexpected twist could mean a whole new direction for Liger for the next few months and has left NJPW fans all over the world holding their breaths wondering what will happen next.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this character’s backstory and success and see how NJPW’s biggest rival, WWE, can learn from it and apply some important lessons on its own wrestlers that happen to have alter-egos.

The wrestling character Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger is based on an anime of the same name. The name ‘Jushin’ in Japanese translates as ‘Beast God’, and ‘Thunder’ is his most powerful form. So his full name in English is ‘Beast God of Thunder Liger’. Keiichi Yamada donned the mask in 1989 and has portrayed the character ever since. The regular Jushin (Thunder) Liger character is pretty straightforward: he’s a good-hearted, honorable warrior that fights valiantly and follows the rules (and is also a technical wrestling machine).

But God help you if you do something disrespectful to Liger or try to remove his mask. That is exactly what fellow NJPW mainstay Minoru Suzuki (and a few other fools before him) did, which is why they felt the wrath of Kishin Liger.


You see, Jushin only summons ‘Kishin’ on the rarest of appearances, and when circumstance absolutely calls for it. The first time this evil alter-ego appeared was in 1996, when cruiserweight Liger fought heavyweight foe The Great Muta. At the time, the Muta character was known for underhanded and savage tactics, which included liberal weapon use and ripping off Liger’s mask. And both of those things made Liger mad. So much so, that he had to fight fire with fire and match Muta’s violence with his own. Midway through that match, Muta unmasked Liger, only to find that Jushin had painted his whole face white and spit mist like Muta himself. He stopped wrestling his trademark cruiserweight style and adopted an ultra-violent, savage style. While he did lose that match, it solidified Kishin Liger as another unexpected twist in the story of the Jushin Liger character.


Fast forward 23 years, and Jushin Liger is on his worldwide retirement tour. And on that tour, he keeps running afoul Minoru Suzuki, a former MMA star with an infamous reputation the world over for being an enormous d**k. Suzuki does underhanded stuff all the time, loves to taunt people, and gets under his opponents’ skin in any way he can.

Over the past few months, Suzuki has tried to prove the world that the legend of Jushin Liger is all a joke. This has led to several confrontations, challenges, brawls, insults and, of course, multi-man matches. It is also believed that they will face off in Jushin Liger’s final match at WK14.

suzuki liger

To help build anticipation for that match, Suzuki desecrated Liger’s sacred mask and has taunted him about it non-stop recently. Liger decided enough was enough at Destruction this past Sunday, and unmasked himself to reveal an angry and vengeful Kishin Liger waiting beneath.

As soon as Kishin’s blanched and painted face was shown, the audience voiced their shock. Gone was Jushin’s trademark anime-like demon mask and long hair. Instead, there was a ghastly white face, a blood-red, Joker-like painted smile, black markings, and black mist oozing out of his jet-black mouth.

kishin spike

Seconds later, Kishin Liger spat mist in both Suzuki’s and the referee’s faces, and like in his match with Muta in 1996, attempted to STAB Suzuki with a ring spike. Suzuki – a man notorious for mocking others and behaving like a smug d**k in situations in which others would be terrified – was afraid. Kishin Liger managed to scare Minoru freaking Suzuki. That is an accomplishment in and of itself.

suzuki scared

Now, there is a whole new dimension to Liger’s final months as an active wrestler. He has brought out a rare aspect of his character that could lead to a multitude of outcomes in the Liger-Suzuki war. Will we see Kishin again? How will Suzuki respond to the devilish sight of a beast-god so vicious it’s willing to attempt murder to get revenge? Will Liger be able to control this alter-ego of his, or will it be his downfall just as he approaches his final match as a wrestler? This story could play out in so many ways, making it for truly riveting storytelling the likes of which doesn’t happen that much in today’s wrestling landscape.

What does all of this have to do with WWE? Right now they have two upper-tier wrestlers that have known alter-egos: Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt. Balor’s alter-ego, ‘The Demon’ is his painted, beast-like persona that he saves for only his biggest matches. We have seen the best of The Demon in NXT, and he has only made a handful of notable appearances on the main roster where he has yet to lose a match.

In truth, Balor’s ‘Demon’ and Kishin Liger have a lot in common. They are only seen on rare occasions, only when the story truly demands their appearance. But while NJPW has remained consistent in presenting Kishin Liger as something special, unique, terrifying and antithetical to Jushin Liger, WWE almost butchered the Demon in its presentation. While Triple H protected Balor’s Demon in NXT, bringing it out only for his biggest matches, WWE tried to make ridiculous storylines out of the mere existence of that character.

First, there was Balor’s brief feud with Seth Rollins, which revealed that the name ‘Finn Balor’ means ‘Demon King’. Somehow, WWE decided that the Demon King is a completely different person, which led to, among other things, some cheesy promos featuring Seth running around backstage while shouting ‘Demon King!’ like he was looking for his lost dog.

Worse, WWE almost booked a match between Balor’s Demon alter-ego and Bray Wyatt’s then-alter-ego, Sister Abigail. In one of the dumbest promos of 2017 (of which there were many), Wyatt’s face and voice were altered to create a new persona called Sister Abigail. But instead of looking terrifying and exciting fans like Kishin Liger does, this whole feud fell flat, and its very existence was widely panned. Thankfully, by some miracle, that match was nixed because Wyatt got sick, and Balor faced AJ Styles in a great match instead (without the need of alter-egos and bad editing).

But that fiasco isn’t the only reason Wyatt should pay attention to Kishin Liger. Wyatt’s newest alter-ego, ‘The Fiend’, is an almost perfect parallel to Jushin’s Kishin. Jushin Liger is positive and uplifting. Bray Wyatt is positive and uplifting on the “Firefly Fun House” kids show. Kishin Liger is vicious and unpredictable. The Fiend is vicious and unpredictable. Jushin Liger is the default character, and we see that particular character more often than not. Bray Wyatt is his normal self (well, about as normal as Bray can be) when he does his Firefly Funhouse shtick. Kishin Liger’s hardcore style and savagery is the perfect contrast to Jushin’s technical and ‘pure’ style. The Fiend is the violent mirror image to Bray’s warm, inviting cheerfulness.

In other words, both The Demon and The Fiend need to be presented like Kishin Liger. Whether these WWE characters are seen on a weekly basis or once in a blue moon, there needs to be consistency in how they’re booked and how their stories are told. Each time they appear, it needs to mean something and serve a purpose in the greater narrative. They cannot be thrown out just for the sake of ‘swerving’ the fans; there needs to be a perfect reason for their appearance to tell a complete story.

Just like Kishin Liger, neither The Demon nor The Fiend can be made to look weak. If someone starts laughing at them or doesn’t sell the significance of the character’s appearance, then that alter-ego’s entire purpose is gone.

Finn Balor has not lost once as The Demon, which is perhaps the best sign of booking consistency for that persona. Jushin Liger has only lost once as Kishin Liger, but that was because he tried to out-Muta Muta, which no one can do. Bray Wyatt’s Sister Abigail alter-ego bombed spectacularly, no matter how much WWE tried to make us take it seriously. Luckily, they’ve almost completely salvaged Wyatt thanks to The Fiend’s existence. Though it remains to be seen how successful the character will be once he/it challenges current WWE golden boy Seth Rollins at Hell in a Cell on October 6th.

The ultimate question here is whether WWE’s creative team can create alter-egos for their characters that are as consistent and meaningful as Kishin Liger. WWE’s approach has always been for their superstars to ‘become’ a personality they create, and that hasn’t always worked. Kishin Liger is a creation of Keiichi Yamada’s, the man behind Jushin Liger the wrestler. He created an extension of his wrestling character that not only surprised the fans but also made sense at the time (how else could he take on a threat like Muta?).

New Japan has managed to make Liger’s final months as an active wrestler much more exciting by bringing back a long-lost alter-ego. That has brought a creative edge to an already great feud between Jushin Liger and Minoru Suzuki. With WWE determined to showcase their creativity as much as possible in the coming months with AEW’s new show Dynamite debuting, perhaps they should look to the booking of Kishin Liger as a template for their own wacky characters.