After winning the Young Lion Cup in March 1986, he went on an excursion of Europe, where he wrestled for All Star Wrestling in England, under the name "Flying" Fuji Yamada. He won the World Heavy Middleweight Championship twice, once in September 1986 and once in March 1987, both times defeating "Rollerball" Mark Rocco and both times losing it back to him, the last of these title changes being televised on ITV. Yamada would later visit All Star again in 1989, with tag partner Flying Funaki. He returned to Britain in 2014 to work once again for All Star Wrestling, this time under his masked Jushin Liger identity.
Yamada went on an excursion in Canada, around May 1987, where he wrestled in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling in Calgary under his real name. He also trained under Hart in the legendary "Dungeon". His experiences there led him to refer to Hart as a "very, very tough man." He would return to Calgary in January 1989.
After returning to Japan in August 1987, Yamada debuted his Shooting Star Press in a match against Masakatsu Funaki, for which he had gotten the idea from reading the manga Fist of the North Star. Throughout 1987 and 1988, Yamada improved with each match, occasionally getting shots at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, most notably against Owen Hart on June 10, 1988, and against Shiro Koshinaka on December 9, 1988. He would also take part in the first ever Top of the Super Juniors where he earned 31 points, not enough to progress to the final. Within months of his second Canadian excursion, NJPW called him back, as they needed him for a gimmick based on an extremely popular anime superhero, Jushin Liger, created by manga Artist 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 and a demonic looking mask, resembling the superhero type featured in tokusatsu and anime programs.
Yamada as "Jushin Liger" returned to NJPW on April 24, 1989, at the Tokyo Dome. In the character's debut match, he defeated Kuniaki Kobayashi. He has also wrestled all the Black Tigers to date (from Mark Rocco in 1989 to Tatsuhito Takaiwa in 2009). The Liger character underwent changes in conjunction with the Go Nagai anime progressing and its hero powering up. In January 1990, Liger was renamed "Jushin Thunder Liger", a name he continues to use to this day. He quickly became one of NJPW's top junior heavyweights, eventually capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship eleven times, between May 25, 1989 and December 6, 1999, 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.
Liger made appearances with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) during the 1990s. He made his debut in December 1991. He feuded with Brian Pillman over the WCW World Light Heavyweight Championship. He defeated Pillman on December 25 for the title at a house show in Atlanta, Georgia. He would hold onto the title for over two months, before losing it back to Pillman at SuperBrawl II. Liger left WCW in December 1992 after Starrcade, teaming with Erik Watts in a losing effort to "Dr. Death" Steve Williams and Sting in a Lethal Lottery match.
During 2000, as booker Riki Choshu decided to de-emphasize the junior heavyweight division (a costly decision that diminished its credibility), Liger wrestled heavyweights without wearing the upper part of his bodysuit or his mask horns (the first time he wore that attire was on February 24, 1994, against Shinya Hashimoto in a non-title match between the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and the IWGP Heavyweight Champion).
Upon his return to WCW in 1995, Liger had the distinction of appearing in the first ever match on the inaugural WCW Monday Nitro held at the Mall of America on September 4 where he lost to Brian Pillman. He returned to WCW in September 1995; he would go on to face many other opponents such as Chris Benoit, Pillman, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio Jr., and Juventud Guerrera, as well as unsuccessfully challenging Konnan for the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship at Slamboree '96.
On October 20, 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 with red writings 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 to Muta.
The win and reign are not recognized by WWE. No reign with the championship is recognized by the company prior to December 1997.
Liger was met with controversy around late-November/early-December 1999 while wrestling a short tour in WCW as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion when he lost the championship on an episode of Monday Nitro to Juventud Guerrera via a blow to the head from a tequila bottle. Liger regained his title the following week from Psicosis, who was substituting for Guerrera because he broke his arm. However, the scripting of these title changes was viewed as embarrassing for NJPW and the company chose not to acknowledge or release any information about the title changes. In turn, none of the Japanese Sports media outlets reported the two title changes as well. New Japan didn't recognize Guerrera's reign until 2007. Liger was also referred to as a 10-time champion until this time.
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.
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, Kensuke Sasaki, being forced to pull out due to injury. In what would be Liger's only MMA match, he was beaten by Suzuki via rear naked choke at 1:48 into the first round. After a failed attempt at an Abisegeri, Liger was quickly mounted and hit with Suzuki's ground and pound until the choke was applied, forcing Liger to tap out. Liger wore a modified version of his mask during the bout.
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. On January 29, 2010 at ROH's debut show in Los Angeles, California as part of WrestleReunion 4, Liger lost a non-title match to ROH World Champion Austin Aries via pinfall after a brainbuster. It was Liger's first ROH match in over five years.
Liger debuted in the American Total Nonstop Action Wrestling promotion on October 23, 2005 as part of their Bound for Glory pay-per-view, losing to Samoa Joe.
Liger was the captain of the New Japan team in the TNA 2006 World X Cup Tournament and defeated Team Canada's Captain Petey Williams at 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.
Liger made his Canadian return after 18 years on May 25 and 26, 2007, in Mississauga, Ontario and competed in UWA Hardcore Wrestling. On night one he teamed with Puma and defeated the team of Último Dragón and Kazuchika Okada, after Liger hit the Liger Bomb on Okada. On night two, Liger teamed with Último Dragón and defeated The Murder City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) after a Liger Bomb / Dragon Sleeper combo.
On May 22, 2010, Liger made his debut for American promotion Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW), losing to Homicide in the main event of the evening. He would return to the promotion seven months later on December 10, when he defeated Azrieal, Bandido Jr., B-Boy, El Generico and Kenny Omega in a six–way elimination match to win the JAPW Light Heavyweight Championship. The following day he would successfully defend the title against Mike Quackenbush. Liger would lose the title to Kenny Omega in his second defense on May 15, 2011, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Invasion Tour 2011, New Japan's first ever tour of the United States.
Since then, Liger has mainly teamed with fellow veteran Tiger Mask, remaining outside of championship contention for the most part. Liger and Tiger won the vacant IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on June 16, 2012, at Dominion 6.16, losing it to Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov and Rocky Romero) on July 22. Liger's most recent shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship took place on May 3, 2016, when he unsuccessfully challenged Kushida for the title at Wrestling Dontaku 2016. In May 2017, Liger announced that the 2017 Best of the Super Juniors would be his last BOSJ tournament. He finished the tournament with a record of six losses and one win, which came in his last match against Taichi.
On March 24, 2013, it was announced that Liger would return to the United States the following month, making his debut for Extreme Rising on April 4, Pro Wrestling Syndicate (PWS) on April 5 and Chikara on April 6, all during the WrestleCon weekend in New Jersey. After the cancellation of the Extreme Rising event, Liger ended up taking part in another PWS event on April 4, during which he defeated Davey Richards and Tony Nese in a three-way match. The following day, Liger was defeated by former WWE Wrestler John Morrison in what was billed as an "International Dream Match". Liger finished his American tour by teaming with Mike Quackenbush to defeat Jigsaw and The Shard in the main event of the Chikara show.
In May 2014, Liger returned to ROH as part of a tour co-produced by NJPW and ROH. On May 17 at War of the Worlds, Liger unsuccessfully challenged Adam Cole for the ROH World Championship. On March 27, 2015, Liger returned to ROH at the Supercard of Honor IX event, unsuccessfully challenging Jay Lethal for the ROH World Television Championship. Liger returned to ROH the following May to take part in the ROH/NJPW co-produced War of the Worlds '15 and Global Wars '15 events.
On July 9, 2016, PWG announced that Liger would be returning to the promotion on September 2 to take part in the 2016 Battle of Los Angeles. He was eliminated from the tournament in the first round by Chris Hero.
Liger returned to ROH on August 18, 2017, during their UK tour stop in London, which was co-promoted with NJPW, CMLL and the UK's Revolution Pro Wrestling (RPW). Liger teamed with Delirious and Místico to unsuccessfully challenge Dalton Castle and The Boys for the ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship.