When I saw that The Great Muta was going to be in the top 100 I knew I had to cover him simply because I’m the biggest Muta Mark you can find. Ever since I first saw Keiji Mutoh in the guise of the scary and evil Great Muta I knew I’d seen one of the coolest wrestlers I would ever see.
47. THE GREAT MUTA
Aliases Kokushi Muso; The Super Ninja; Super Black Ninja
Hometown Yamanhashi, Japan
Titles Held NWA Heavyweight Champion; NWA Television Champion; IWGP Heavyweight Champion; IWGP Tag Team Champion; AJPW Triple Crown; AJPW Tag Team Champion; WCW Tag Team Champion
Other Accomplishments 1995 G1 Climax Winner; 1992 Battle Bowl Winner; Champions Carnival Winner 2002, 2004 and 2007; PWI ranked him # 3 of the 500 best singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2002; PWI ranked him # 25 of the 500 best singles wrestlers of the “PWI Years” in 2003; PWI ranked him # 22 of the 100 best tag teams of the “PWI Years” with Hiro Hase in 2003; Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1999); Wrestling Observer Match of the Year award in 2001 – vs. Genichiro Tenryu; Wrestling Observer Most Improved Wrestler award in 2001; Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year 2001
When I saw that The Great Muta was going to be in the top 100 I knew I had to cover him simply because I’m the biggest Muta Mark you can find. Ever since I first saw Keiji Mutoh in the guise of the scary and evil Great Muta I knew I’d seen one of the coolest wrestlers I would ever see. I want to set some ground rules here for this piece, and they may be unpopular but I feel they’re necessary. First off, this will be a reflective of the Great Muta character and its exploits in the United States as opposed to being a huge article on Keiji Mutoh. The reasons for this are that we are planning to have a Japanese List of the top 100 at some point in the future and no doubt Mutoh will be very high on that list, he may even be in the top 10. Another reason is that to cover ALL of Keiji Mutoh’s career would simply take up too much space and really if I condensed it into one huge article it would be doing the man a great injustice. So, with the ground rules clear, let’s take a look at THE GREAT MUTA!
Keiji Mutoh hit the United States in the late 80’s, wrestling as The Super Ninja in WCCW. However, it wasn’t until he hit the NWA in 1988 as the evil and twisted Great Muta that he found worldwide fame. Muta wrestled a very fast paced and high flying style for the time period, which was highlighted by his coup de grace The Moonsault. Muta was a revolutionary wrestler and the NWA fans were put in a hard conundrum. These days fans just cheer who they think is cool and the wrestling companies react appropriately. Back then things were a little different. If you were a heel and the fans started cheering you, chances were you wouldn’t be turned but rather de-pushed. There are exceptions, such as Roddy Piper and Jake Roberts, but they were rare. So the NWA fans were faced with an awesomely cool character that they were forced to boo. Thankfully, Sting made it much easier for them
Sting, at the time the NWA TV Champion, was well on his way to being one of the biggest baby face sensations of the decade. Paired up against the equally cool Sting, Muta finally had an opponent that would allow him to show off his dastardly side. The two competed in a number of classic encounters of which one of the best was at the 1989 Great American Bash. Sting and Muta not only clicked in the ring but they both shared a high impact and fast paced style so their matches were always full of exciting spots and counters. Muta’s rejuvenated heel character was so over that he eventually went on to defeat Sting for the title. Muta was one of the top stars in the company and experiencing a level of popularity in the States that he had never experienced before. However, this being WCW/NWA, his popularity was soon squandered.
In the later half of 1989, Muta was inserted into the feud between Terry Funk and Ric Flair, which was the hottest rivalry in the whole company at the time. Along with Funk and Gary Hart he was a member of the J-Tex Corporation. The main event at Halloween Havoc that year was to be Funk and Muta Vs Sting and Flair in a Thunder Cage Match. as silly as this sounds, the match would be contested in a Hell in a Cell style cage, minus a roof, and the top of the cage would be electrified to prevent escape. What this led to was some of the goofiest brawling ever seen, complete with cheesy electrical sounds when the wrestlers ventured too close to the “electrified”Â cage. In the end, Flair and Sting won an average match, with Muta taking the fall for his team. This would all lead to Starrcade, entitled “Future Shock”, where Muta was essentially ruined as a main event commodity in the company.
The idea for Starrcade 89 was that four of WCW’s top stars would wrestle in a mini-league to decide who the top star really was. Nicknamed the “Iron Man Tournament”, the event featured Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger and Muta. I think Scott Keith put it best that the real Iron Men were the fans who sat through this whole cripplingly boring show. Sting would go on to win the tournament but the big loser was Muta. Not only did he fail to win even one of his matches, but he also lost an embarrassingly short match to Flair that made him look like an absolute loser. Even his match with Sting that night was a let down and Muta soon was on the end of another loss, this time to a returning Arn Anderson, that cost him his TV Title. Pretty much any chance of ever main eventing in WCW again eradicated, Muta went back to Japan where he went on to win the IWGP World Title and become perhaps the greatest wrestler in Puro History.
Muta wasn’t done with America though as he made many trips back to the U.S in the next 10 years. Unfortunately, Muta never really captured the same sort of popularity he used to have. He was still popular with the fans who remembered his past exploits but he was never at the level of 1989 prime. Worse still, Muta almost seemed to have contempt for the fans when he came to America as he entered a number of sloppy and lazy performances, most notably in his NWA Title defeat to Barry Windham at Super Brawl 93. He was part of some great angles though. His nWo turn in 1997 was an excellent piece of storytelling and he did have a good match with The Steiners at Bash at the Beach 97 along with Masahiro Chono. Sadly, injuries and terrible booking really ruined his last big chance in America in 2000. Amazingly, turning him into a lackey for Vampiro and losing to The Cat did not reinvigorate Muta’s stagnant career.
Muta finally had a career renaissance in 2001 as he cut his hair and changed his wrestling style to rebound in magnificent style and become wrestler of the year. However, that is for another day and another column. Muta now runs All Japan Pro Wrestling and was recently seen on a TNA Pay Per View earlier this year, although he has yet to wrestle for the company.
It is without question that Keiji Mutoh experienced his greatest career success while working in his homeland of Japan. However, he remains a long time favourite for many fans who witnessed the Great Muta’s evil ways in the 80’s and 90’s. Muta was one of the most original and exciting wrestlers of his generation and for that alone he highly deserves his place in the Inside Pulse Top 100!
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.