Keiji Mutoh (武藤 敬司 Mutō Keiji, born December 23, 1962) is a Japanese professional wrestler who first gained international fame in the National Wrestling Alliance. He is mostly known for his work as The Great Muta in New Japan Pro Wrestling during the 1990s, but he has also competed in United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Taiwan. He is a former President of All Japan Pro Wrestling, as well as being a full-time wrestler for the promotion since 2002. Mutoh is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, both in Japan and America.
Mutoh is credited as one of the first Japanese wrestlers to achieve a fan base outside of his native Japan in the United States. The Great Muta gimmick is one of the most influential gimmicks in puroresu, having been emulated by many wrestlers including Satoshi Kojima (The Great Koji), Kazushi Miyamoto(The Great Kazushi) and Atsushi Onita (The Great Nita). In addition, countless independent wrestlers have paid tribute to Muta through emulation and imitation.
Mutoh is one of two wrestlers to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the AJPW Triple Crown Championship and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (the other being Shinya Hashimoto). He is also famous for taking part in what is generally considered to be the bloodiest professional wrestling match of all time against Hiroshi Hase, leading to the creation of the “Muta Scale.”
Early years (1984–1989)
Mutoh was an amateur wrestler and competed in numerous Judo competitions prior to being trained by Hiro Matsuda in the New Japan Pro Wrestling Academy. He debuted on October 5, 1984 against Masahiro Chono. Mutoh’s initial NJPW run was largely uneventful, the only noteworthy event being a six day IWGP Tag Team Championship reign with Shiro Koshinaka. He also wrestled for a short time under the moniker “Space Lone Wolf”, a space-age type character that was briefly revived in 2005 by NOSAWA Rongai.
In the mid-1980s, Mutoh was sent on a learning excursion to the United States for seasoning. He wrestled briefly in World Class Championship Wrestlingunder his ring name at the time The Super Ninja, and had a very short lived feud with Kevin Von Erich before departing the organization.
In 1988, Mutoh went on another excursion, this time in Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico he formed The Three Musketeers with Chono and Shinya Hashimoto. He wrestled only one match in New Japan on July 29, before returning to Puerto Rico. But after runs in Puerto Rico and his return to the United States in Florida, Mutoh’s personality and ring skills earned him a high billing in the National Wrestling Alliance, where he was dubbed The Great Muta.
National Wrestling Alliance (1989-1990)
Muta first appeared in the NWA on the March 18, 1989 edition of World Championship Wrestling. His manager Gary Hart introduced him as the son of the Great Kabuki, whom Gary Hart also had managed years earlier. Muta would feud with stars like Lex Luger, Ric Flair, and especially Sting, from whom he would capture the NWA World Television Championship on September 3, 1989. He eventually lost the championship to Arn Anderson on January 2, 1990 (aired on the January 13, 1990 edition of NWA Power Hour), and some time after the Clash of the Champions on February 6, Mutoh eventually returned to New Japan, going between his real name and his Muta gimmick as he pleased.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (1990–2009, 2012)
Mutoh quickly rose in rank since returning to New Japan in March 1990, establishing his long-time friendship and rivalry with Masahiro Chono and winning his second IWGP Tag Team Title alongside him. He eventually lost it on November 1 to another long-time rival in his Great Muta gimmick, Hiroshi Hase, and his partner Kensuke Sasaki. In 1991, Mutoh and Chono, along with Shinya Hashimoto, cemented their status as the next generation of New Japan, surpassing Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Riki Chōshū, after the finals of the first G1 Climax tournament. In an epic thirty-minute match, Mutoh was bested by Chono and, together with Hashimoto, the three celebrated in the ring, then afterwards they were labeled the Three Musketeers of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
1992 saw Chono repeat his success in the G1 Climax (winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in the process); just four days later, Mutoh, donning his Muta persona, beat Japanese legend Riki Chōshū for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, marking his first reign. On December 14, Muta faced Hiroshi Hase in a famous match where Hase used a foreign object to beat at Muta’s forehead, payback for their previous encounters. Muta bladed and cut very deeply into his forehead. As a result of this, Muta bled profusely for the rest of the match, and to this day he still bears scars from where he sliced.
For a short time in 1993, after beating Chono in a title versus title match at Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome (known in North America as WCW/New Japan Supershow III), Mutoh held both the NWA and IWGP championships at the same time (being one of only two men ever to do so along with Tatsumi Fujinami); the unification was short-lived, as Barry Windham beat him a month later for the NWA World title at SuperBrawl III. As IWGP champion, Mutoh had a variety of challengers in title matches and exhibitions, including Hulk Hogan, Sting, The Great Kabuki, and his fellow members of the Three Musketeers, Chono and Hashimoto, before finally losing the title on September 20, 1993 to Hashimoto. Following this title loss and a match with Hogan against the Hellraisers (the team of Hawk Warrior and Kensuke Sasaki as Power Warrior), Mutoh returned to fighting primarily under his real name, reviving the Muta name for certain matches, such as a special match with Antonio Inoki during his retirement countdown. During this time, Mutoh created a team with Hiroshi Hase, working their way up the ranks against the likes of the Steiner Brothers to challenge the Hellraisers in November 1994 and capturing the IWGP Tag Team championship—his third tag title.
While having the Tag Team title around his waist was fine, Mutoh had further ambitions: beating the man who took his title, Shinya Hashimoto; by now the IWGP champion for nearly a year. His second title reign came on May 3, 1995—a year and two days after Hashimoto won the championship from Tatsumi Fujinami. After winning the IWGP title, Mutoh and Hase vacated the Tag Team titles so Mutoh could focus on his Heavyweight title. Afterwards, Mutoh went on to win the 1995 G1 Climax, beating Hashimoto in the finals. Mutoh held the IWGP title throughout the rest of the year, leading New Japan in the opening battles of the feud with Nobuhiko Takada and the UWF-i army before losing his title to Takada on January 4, 1996 at the Tokyo Dome. The latter half of 1996 had Mutoh pitted against Chono’s Ookami Gundan—or Wolf Army, which eventually blossomed into a war with the Chono-led nWo Japan. In the process, Mutoh began teasing at a possible turn to the side of the nWo, proclaiming himself to be the true successor to Antonio Inoki’s legacy, and “accidentally” attacking his own partners in the middle of a match.
During this period, Mutoh underwent a long slump in big matches, losing not only to members of the nWo, but fellow New Japan wrestlers such as Hashimoto; and many times the turn was teased. Mutoh even going so far as to wear an nWo shirt and then proclaim days later that he refuses to join Chono’s army. Mutoh further raised confusion by playing both sides of the feud; fighting as a member of New Japan under his real name, and using the Great Muta name as a member of nWo Japan, before turning to his Muta gimmick full-time for several months in 1997. The full turn came in September 1997, when Mutoh, after teasing a turn on his nWo teammates, double-crossed Sasaki and Kazuo Yamazaki, sealing away the Muta name and formally joining nWo Japan as himself. Almost immediately following this, he and Chono dominated the tag team scene in NJPW, defeating Yamazaki and Sasaki for their second IWGP tag title reign as a duo, and spray-painting the plates of the belts black as a show of disrespect for the championship’s legacy.
They eventually would be forced to vacate the title in May 1998, when Mutoh injured his knees, as his years of using the moonsault press were finally catching up to him. During this time, he took a hiatus from action, returning just before the 1998 G1 Climax (from which he was eliminated by Genichiro Tenryu in the first round). Despite his return, Mutoh was plagued by this nagging injury, fighting through his pain throughout the rest of 1998 and much of 1999; even winning his third IWGP Heavyweight title from one of Chono’s right-hand men, Scott Norton. Towards the end of 1998, Mutoh took the leadership of nWo Japan, after Chono suffered a neck injury and was out of action, turning the nWo into a face stable, which Chono didn’t like. Mutoh feuded with Chono for the name of the nWo, which evolved into a war between the nWo, led by Mutoh, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Satoshi Kojima and Chono’s new Team 2000 unit, with himself, Don Frye, Super J, and others from the old generation of the nWo. By the end of 1999, Mutoh lost the IWGP Championship to Tenryu. The war between Chono and Mutoh was lost by Mutoh by January 2000, brought about by his decisive loss to Chono on January 4. Mutoh took an extended hiatus to rehabilitate his damaged knees after that, focusing instead on one last run in America for World Championship Wrestling alongside Vampiro. Due to the bad booking and the decline of WCW in its last years, however, Mutoh could not recapture the previous popularity he had in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After leaving WCW, a no-compete clause in his WCW contract prevented him competing in the World Wrestling Federation.
Going back on hiatus, it seemed as if Mutoh reached a confusing crossroads in his career; however, he chose to completely change his image, shaving his head bald (he had a pronounced receding hairline throughout much of 2000), growing out a goatee, and aligning himself with a fellow NJPW wrestler who had gone overseas for an extended period of time, Shinjiro Otani. The two returned to New Japan on January 4, 2001 at Wrestling World 2001, making short work of Manabu Nakanishi and Jushin Liger. In his first singles match after returning to New Japan on March 18, 2001, Mutoh debuted his new trademark move, the Shining Wizard. Since its creation, it has become an extremely popular move on both sides of the Pacific, used by Mutoh’s allies, rivals, and fans of his work. Together with Don Frye, Otani and Mutoh created a new stable which later came to be known as BATT (Bad Ass Translate Trading). Added to their ranks were Taiyō Kea of All Japan Pro Wrestling and Jinsei Shinzaki of Michinoku Pro; later added was Hiroshi Hase, now a member of All Japan with Kea. 2001 proved to be Mutoh’s year of renewal besides the formation of a new unit, as he challenged, and defeated, Tenryu for All Japan’s coveted Triple Crown. In addition, Mutoh captured more gold in the form of All Japan’s Double Cup tag titles and IWGP Tag Team Championship in the summer and fall of 2001, both with Taiyō Kea—giving Mutoh a total of six belts at one time.
On January 4, 2008, at Wrestle Kingdom II in Tokyo Dome, under the Muta persona, he defeated Hirooki Goto. On April 27, 2008, Mutoh beat Shinsuke Nakamura to win his fourth IWGP Heavyweight Championship, this was his second appearance in 2008 for NJPW and hadn’t held the title for eight years and four months prior to the win. Mutoh went on to defend the IWGP championship against Manabu Nakanishi, Togi Makabe and Goto and at New Japan’s Destruction show on October 13, he defended the title against Shinsuke Nakamura in a rematch and retained following a Frankensteiner.
On January 4, 2009, Mutoh put the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on the line at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom III in Tokyo Dome against his former student Hiroshi Tanahashi. Mutoh lost the match, when Tanahashi used his signature High Fly Low twice to get the pin. After the match, Mutoh said backstage that he had passed Tanahashi his sash after doing his best for over half a year to raise the worth of the title, and suggested that he will withdraw and leave New Japan to move their company forward.
On January 4, 2012, Mutoh made a return to New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom VI in Tokyo Dome, where he defeated Tetsuya Naitō in a singles match.
All Japan Pro Wrestling (2002–present)
On January 11, 2002, following the end of a year long cross-promotional angle with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Keiji Mutoh shocked the Japanese wrestling world by defecting to All-Japan as a full-time competitor, taking Satoshi Kojima and Kendo Kashin with him. At the Nippon Budokan on July 20, Mutoh wrestled as three different characters on the card: Kokushi Muso defeating Kaz Hayashi on the second match, himself in the mid-card, and in the second-to-last match, he defeated Kojima, under his “Great Koji” persona, as The Great Muta. On September 30, during an All Japan 30th Anniversary party at the famed Tokyo City Hotel, Mokoto Baba officially announced Mutoh’s appointment as the new president of All Japan, transferring all of the Baba family stock to him. Despite this position, however, Mutoh has not stopped wrestling full-time for All Japan, and lead his supporters in feuds with the Voodoo Murders. On December 27, 2003, Mutoh made a return to the United States, wrestling for the Ring of Honor promotion as part of an interpromotional All Japan vs. ROHcard, which hosted a series of “dream” matches. In the main event, Mutoh reverted to his Great Muta persona and teamed with Arashi to defeat Prophecymembers Christopher Daniels and Dan Maff.
He made his European debut on January 12, 2007, wrestling for Real Quality Wrestling at the York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, England, where he defeated RQW Heavyweight Champion Martin Stone in a non-title match. Mutoh recently won the 2007 Champion’s Carnival, competing in Block A and finishing with 6 points total; Mutoh defeated Toshiaki Kawada in the finals on March 30, 2007.
In March 2007, while Mutoh was in Orlando, Florida in order to establish a working agreement between All Japan and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), he made an appearance for the company, under his Great Muta gimmick, at the Destination X pay-per-view, in a segment with Christian Cage. In February 2009 Mutoh was featured in multiple interview segments, taped in Japan, where he spoke of his student Akira Raijin, who had just began working for TNA.
On September 29, 2008, wrestling as The Great Muta, he defeated Suwama to capture the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. He is only the second wrestler, after Satoshi Kojima, to hold the Triple Crown Championship and the IWGP Championship at the same time.
On March 14, 2009, Mutoh defended his AJPW Triple Crown Championship against Yoshihiro Takayama. He bloodied him severely, as is his trademark, and even used the shining wizard to his opponent on the barricade. During the course of the match, however, his mask was ripped off, and he was bleeding profusely. Towards the end of the match, Takayama dominated Muta, but Muta reversed a kick into a Dragon Screw, and attempted to use the Asian Mist against him, but Takayama blocked it, and performed an Everest Suplex Pin on Muta, and won the match. Muta subsequently walked away in shock of what had happened.
On January 30, 2010, Mutoh, under his Great Muta gimmick, made a special appearance for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in Los Angeles, California, during the WrestleReunion 4 weekend, teaming up with KAI in a match, where they defeated the team of Joey Ryan and Scott Lost.
In April 2010 Mutoh went through a reconstructive knee surgery that would keep him out of the ring for the rest of the year. Mutoh made his return on September 10, 2010, when he faced Masakatsu Funaki in a special return match.
On June 7, 2011, Mutoh announced his resignation as the president of All Japan Pro Wrestling. He will remain in the promotion as an active wrestler and a member of the Supervisory Board. Mutoh’s decision stemmed from a real-life incident where Yoshikazu Taru assaulted Nobukazu Hirai backstage at an All Japan Pro Wrestling show, which led to Hirai suffering a stroke after competing in a match. Mutoh took the blame for the incident, which led to All Japan suspending not only Taru, but also Kazuhiko Masada, Masayuki Kono and Minoru Tanaka who were present when the attack took place.
On April 6, 2012 it was announced that Mutoh will be coming to The United States to wrestle for Pro Wrestling Syndicate on June 1 in Rahway, New Jersey.
- Great Muta, which he has wrestled as often throughout his career, switching back and forth between this character and his real name. Great Muta is a mysterious gimmick where he spits green or red mist and plays mind games to distract his opponents. Muta was originally billed as the son of Japanese wrestler Great Kabuki who used a similar gimmick. The two are not related in real life. Originally he wore face paint, which was later exchanged for a mask after he shaved his head. The Great Muta gimmick is the gimmick most fans of the United States know Mutoh for, as he wrestled as The Great Muta throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s for the NWA, and in his later stints in WCW with it.
- Kokushi-Muso, a gimmick used only for a few shows. It is a play off of Jinsei Shinzaki’s monk character known as Hakushi. Hakushi means “White Angel” while “Kokushi” means “Black Angel”.
- White Ninja, was used early in his career in New Japan Pro Wrestling and in Florida Championship Wrestling.
- Super Black Ninja, was used in World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas and also was used in the World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico.
- Space Lone Wolf, was used briefly in New Japan and the UWF.
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship (5 times) – with Taiyō Kea (1), Arashi (1), Joe Doering (1), Masakatsu Funaki (1) and KENSO (1)
- F–1 Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Kannazaki
- Champion’s Carnival (2002, 2004, 2007)
- Giant Baba Six Man Cup (2002) – with George Hines and Kaz Hayashi
- January 2 Korakuen Hall Heavyweight Battle Royal Winner (2011)
- January 3 Korakuen Hall Junior Heavyweight Battle Royal Winner (2011)
- World’s Strongest Tag Team League – with Taiyō Kea (2001), Joe Doering (2007) and Masakatsu Funaki (2009)
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Jim Crockett Promotions / World Championship Wrestling
- NWA World Television Championship (1 time)
- WCW World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Vampiro
- BattleBowl (1992)
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
- IWGP Tag Team Championship (6 times) – with Hiroshi Hase (2), Masahiro Chono (2), Shiro Koshinaka (1) and Taiyō Kea (1)
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Greatest 18 Championship (1 time)
- G1 Climax (1995)
- Super Grade Tag League/G1 Climax Tag League – with Hiroshi Hase (1993, 1994), Masahiro Chono (1997), Satoshi Kojima (1998) and Scott Norton (1999)
- MVP Award (2001)
- Singles Best Bout (2001) vs. Yuji Nagata on August 12
- Tag Team Best Bout (2001) with Hiroshi Hase vs. Jun Akiyama and Yuji Nagata on October 8
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #3 of the 500 best singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2002
- PWI ranked him #25 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the “PWI Years” in 2003
- Tokyo Sports Grand Prix
- Match of the Year (1999) with Genichiro Tenryu on May 3, 1999
- Match of the Year (2011) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Takashi Iizuka and Toru Yano, All Together, August 27
- Performance Award (1998)
- Rookie of the Year (1986)
- Special Award (1989)
- Tag Team of the Year (1990) with Masahiro Chono
- Tag Team of the Year (2005) with Akebono
- Wrestler of the Year (1995, 1999, 2001, 2008)
- World Wrestling Council
- WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- WWC World Television Championship (1 time)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
- Best Wrestling Maneuver (2001) Shining Wizard
- Match of the Year (2001) vs. Genichiro Tenryu on June 8, Tokyo, Japan
- Most Improved Wrestler (2001)
- Wrestler of the Year (2001)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1999)