Yamada was an amateur wrestler while studying in high school. He applied to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) to become a wrestler in the early 1980s. He was not accepted because he did not meet the height requirements they had at that time. Yamada was determined not to give up his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, so he left for Mexico and began his training there. By his own account, he was almost starving while studying there, so NJPW officials who were visiting took pity on him and asked him to come back to Japan. While continuing his studies, he had his debut match in December 1984 at the age of 20. He began studying various martial arts styles because he wanted to add something new and different to his wrestling style, which is how he learned his Rolling Koppou Kick.
He left for England in 1986 where he wrestled for All-Star Promotions as "Flying" Fuji Yamada. After returning to Japan, he debuted his Shooting Star Press in 1987, for which he had gotten the idea from reading the manga Fist of the North Star. He left for Canada early 1989, where he wrestled in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling under his real name. He also trained under Hart in Hart's legendary "Dungeon." His experiences there led him to refer to Hart as a "very, very tough man." NJPW called him back to Japan, as they needed him for a gimmick based on an extremely popular anime superhero, Jushin Liger, created by celebrated mangaka Go Nagai. NJPW had done this previously with Tiger Mask, which had become a huge success. Yamada was given a superhero-like full body costume & demonic looking mask, resembling the superhero type featured in tokusatsu and anime programs.
Jushin Liger debuted in April 24, 1989 in NJPW. In his debut match, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi. Afer using the Jushin Liger gimmick the anime progressed, and as the Go Nagai Anime progress the hero powered up and changed 3 times. as the hero changed so did Liger. First to Fire Liger then to the character gimmick he goes by today, Jushin Thunder Liger. He quickly became one of NJPW's top Junior Heavyweights, eventually capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title eleven times among numerous other titles and accolades while wrestling around the world. When appearing without his mask on, Yamada blocks his appearance by covering his face with one hand. Early on, Yamada's style mostly consisted of high flying. Later on, he started adapting more power moves and started focusing more on grappling and telling a story in the ring, part this change was due to fact that Liger had to reduce the stress he was putting on his body after brain tumor surgery.
Liger has won two Super J Cup tournaments - the 1995 and 2000 events.
From 2001-2007, Liger was the leader of the NJPW heel stable Control Terrorism Unit (CTU) along with Hirooki Goto, Minoru Tanaka, Black Tiger IV, Gedo, Jado, Prince Devitt and briefly James Gibson. CTU was disbanded in August 2007, when Liger decided CTU would disband while at the top of NJPW, Liger would then join Masahiro Chono's Legend stable.
On June 28, 2006, Liger was announced as a participant in the 2006 G-1 Climax, the third time he has appeared in the tournament.
Jushin Liger also made appearances with WCW during the '90s. He made his debut in late 1991. He feuded with Brian Pillman, whom he would go on to face at SuperBrawl '92, where Pillman defeated him. Liger left WCW in '93 for NJPW, but he returned in '95. He would later face many other opponents such as Chris Benoit, Brian Pillman, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Jr., and Juventud Guerrera.
On November 30, 2002, Liger was booked as a replacement for a mixed martial arts match in the Pancrase organization against Minoru Suzuki due to his planned opponent being forced to pull out. In what would be Liger's only MMA match, (and Suzuki's last non-worked match) he was easily beaten by Suzuki via rear naked choke only 1:48 into the first round. After a failed attempt at a Rolling Koppu Kick, Liger was quickly mounted and hit with Suzuki's ground and pound until the choke was applied, forcing Liger to tap out.
Ring of Honor
On November 5, 2004, Liger debuted in Ring of Honor (ROH), headlining their back-to-back "Weekend of Thunder" shows to huge acclaim. ROH selected Bryan Danielson as Liger's special opponent for that weekend. For Night 1, the two faced each other in a singles match, with Liger winning the highly competitive bout after a super brainbuster.
On November 6, 2004 Night 2 would see a "dream tag-team" match in the main event. Liger chose then-ROH Champion Samoa Joe as his partner out of respect for Joe's accomplishments as ROH World Champion, and Danielson selected Low Ki to negate Joe. Liger again came out on top, pinning Danielson with a Liger Bomb to win the match.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
He was scheduled to face off against Christopher Daniels at Lockdown on April 23, 2006. He had been unaware that the match was to be held in a Steel Cage, something in which he had never participated before. When he heard of this he cancelled the match. One of TNA's bookers Scott D'Amore has speculated that he didn't want to participate in the match due to it being in a new environment, fearing it would have hampered his performance. According to D'Amore, Liger had been unhappy with his previous TNA match against Joe which was cut short due to communication problems, and wanted his next TNA match to be better. D'Amore has also disproved the rumor that communication issues between TNA and NJPW had caused the match to be cancelled. Liger was not double booked to two events at the same time, like had been publicly speculated.
Liger was the captain of the New Japan team in the World X Cup 2006 Tournament and defeated Team Canada's Captain Petey Williams at TNA Sacrifice on May 14, 2006 using a Crash Thunder Buster after Williams was distracted by the rest of Team Japan who draped the flag over Williams after Liger's victory. Liger was eliminated in the X-Cup Gauntlet later that night and Team Japan was unable to gain any points in the match as it was won by Team Canada with Team Mexico as runners up.
UWA Hardcore Wrestling
Liger made his Canadian return on May 25 and May 26, 2007 in Mississauga, Ontario and competed in UWA Hardcore Wrestling. On night one he teamed with PUMA and defeated the team of Ultimo Dragon and Kazuchika Okada after Liger hit the Liger bomb on Okada. On night two, Liger teamed with Ultimo Dragon and defeated the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin) after a Liger bomb Dragon Sleeper combo.
On October 10, 1996, The Great Muta faced off in a match with Liger. As the match progressed, Muta resorted to his underhand tactics that had become his style over the years. He tore at Liger's mask and eventually ripped it off, but Liger kept his face down on the mat. After grabbing a chair outside the ring, Muta entered the ring but before he could hit Liger with it, Liger stood up and revealed his face to be painted pale white and spit mist into Muta's face (another Muta trademark). He tore off his bodysuit and revealed a painted chest, then proceeded to fight more aggressively the rest of the match. Despite losing, the match remains a personal favorite of many Liger and Muta fans.
On July 30, 2006, Liger once again pulled out the "Kishin" gimmick and faced off with rival BAD BOY Hido in New Japan Pro Wrestling. The story was that Hido had cut a piece of Liger's hair and Liger vowed revenge, so he transformed into Kishin Liger. Liger won the match with a brainbuster onto a steel chair.
The gimmick is a variation of The Great Muta gimmick which relies on bloody and evil tactics in a match, using mannerisms and imagery that differ from the person's normal ways. This gimmick also uses many wrestling moves that are regulars in The Great Muta's move set, such as the Asian mist.
Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre
- Finishing and signature moves
- Brainbuster, sometimes performed from the top rope
- Lou Thesz press
- Shooting Star Press - Innovated; 1989-1997
- High-Angle Liger Bomb / Thunder Liger Bomb (running Sitout Powerbomb)
- CTB / Crash Thunder Buster (belly-to-back lifting facebuster)
- Liger Suplex (bridging leg lift belly-to-back suplex)
- Fisherman's Buster, sometimes performed from the top rope
- Top rope Frankensteiner
- Frog splash
- Romero Special, sometimes transitioned into a Dragon sleeper
- Koppou-jutsu Abise-geri (Rolling koppo Kick)
- Oni-Koroshi (reverse double arm bar)
- Tag teams and stables
- "Shooting Star"
- Wrestlers trained
- Theme music
Championships and accomplishments
- All Star Wrestling
- World Mid-Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre
- National Wrestling Alliance
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Osaka Pro Wrestling
- OPW Tag Team Championship (1 time) with Takehiro Murahama
- Pro Wrestling NOAH
- World Wrestling Association
- WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Wrestle Association-R
- WAR International Junior Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- WAR International Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1 time) with El Samurai