After 33 Years of Terror, The Great Muta Returns to the Mist

Keiji Muto's prolonged retirement tour includes a possible sendoff for a character who is arguably more famous than the man who portrayed him.

On Saturday, September 3, 2022, one of the final matches that Keiji Muto will wrestle in his career will take place at Pro Wrestling NOAH’s N1 Victory 2022 Grand Final show in Osaka EDION Arena. Here, Muto will wrestle his final match in Osaka as The Great Muta, teaming with NOSAWA Rongai and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Great O-Khan against three members of the Kongo stable, Kenoh, Manabu Soya & Tadasuke.

Whilst this is merely the second match of Muto’s Final Five matches as a pro wrestler, and maybe not even the final Great Muta match, FanFyte won’t be around to celebrate when both Muta, and Muto, hang up the boots, masks and green mist for good, so I’m getting this in whilst I still can. Outside of that admittedly flippant reason, this is a significant match, as the venue was the scene of the Japanese debut of The Great Muta gimmick on September 7, 1990, against Shiro Koshinaka, back before rampant corporate sponsorship rechristened the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

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The Great Muta, of course, was developed during Muto’s second excursion to the United States in 1989, after Muto already had runs in Florida, Puerto Rico and World Class from 1986-1988, under such monikers as White Ninja and Super Black Ninja. He debuted as The Great Muta on the March 18, 1989 episode of NWA World Championship Wrestling (on the Superstation!), squashing Cougar Jay in under a minute-thirty.

Billed as the son of the Great Kabuki, the original face-painted mist-spitter, Muta was even managed by Gary Hart, Kabuki’s manager through many territories. Mind you, Keiji Muto is Akihisa Mera’s junior by only 14 years, which, whilst not scientifically impossible, seems a little improbable that he’d be the son of Kabuki.

That just scratched the surface. Muta in the company that would become WCW was a revelation, both as a heel and, later, babyface as there’d been nobody quite like him before in the territory, or in America. Muta would go on to have a legendary feud with The Man They Call Sting, as well as Ric Flair, the latter of whom got Muta to team with the legendary Terry Funk for a time.

The Shadow Warrior’s Impact

Muto returned to NJPW in April 1990, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Masahiro Chono on his return. His debut as Great Muta in Osaka on September 7, 1990 was a shot across the bow, and his matcha against old rival Hiroshi Hase on September 14, 1990 in Hiroshima was a bloody spectacle that would be a sign of things to come.

I could go on all day, honestly. In fact, I have; my debut piece for this very site was going on about Keiji Muto’s 2001 in great detail. So instead, let’s do a bit of a listicle, going over the legacy and impact that just The Great Muta, not necessarily Keiji Muto as a whole, has left on wrestling. Examining Muto’s impact in toto will have to be for another venue closer to his retirement in Spring 2023.

Expanding What Was Possible In American Wrestling

Leaving out the facepaint and the ubiquitous spitting of green mist, Muto’s Flashing Elbow and moonsaults in a time when the flying elbow drop was the peak of top rope acrobatics left a real lasting impression on a generation of viewers, including, well, myself. Muta was never the flippiest of Flippy Boys, but you can see his influence on the high fliers of today … to say nothing of a man who would follow Muta from NJPW into WCW to great acclaim, Jushin Thunder Liger.

Inspired Others To Copy Him

Muta’s impact in Japan was such that eventually, we got other versions of The Great Muta, from different wrestlers. One of the most famous ones happened on September 20, 1996, when Muta got under Jushin Thunder Liger’s skin so bad, to the point of a mask rip, that the Muta-like Kishin Liger persona emerged for the first time, with mist of his own and all. The match devolved into a hardcore brawl that ECW would have been proud of.

Great Muta WCW

Muta even got to wrestle against a parody of himself, when he faced off against the founder of the exploding ring deathmatch, Atsushi Onita, in his mocking Great Nita alter ego. The two met on August 28, 1999 at an outdoor NJPW show in Tokyo Jingu Stadium, in a No Rope Explosive Barbed Wire Barricade Explosive Land Mine Double Hell Deathmatch (did you get all that?), to date the only exploding ring match NJPW has ever run. Muta would come out on top in that match, as well as, later, in All Japan, the imposter GREAT MUTA, played by none other than the former Johnny The Bull / Johnny Stamboli. And hey, where would either Yoshihiro Tajiri, or BUSHI, be without adopting the misting gimmick?

The Muta Scale

For those unaware, there is a means by which to measure how much a wrestler bleeds out in a match, by whatever means taken to get there. This is colloquially known as The Muta Scale, after a particularly extremely bloody match between Muta v. Hiroshi Hase, on December 14, 1992 from the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (there again!).

That match is the 1.0 of the scale, with every increment below it judged against this. Your average lighttube swinging deathmatch would rate .4 – .6 on the Muta Scale. Mind you, this was nearly usurped not that long ago, when a gory match between Jon Moxley v. Wheeler Yuta in AEW threatened to rechristen the scale as the Yuta Scale.

Took Alter Egos To A New Level

The kayfabed-ness of The Great Muta versus Keiji Muto, while very much acknowledged they are one and the same person, is such that New Japan Pro Wrestling considers Muta’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign from August 16, 1992 to September 20, 1993 to be separate from Muto’s three other reigns, with a different entry in the roll call video and everything.

Indeed, Muta is listed as having two different All Japan Pro Wrestling Triple Crown reigns, separate from Muto’s reign from his stellar 2001. To top it all off, in the late-1990s, when the new World order was running rampant in NJPW as well as WCW, The Great Muta had joined the nWo… whilst Keiji Muto remained part of the NJPW hontai! (Until he didn’t, and fully joined as both himself AND Muta.)

Wasn’t Afraid To Do Comedy in the Ring

Really, it should be a requirement that every wrestler pokes fun at themselves every once in a while. Even Stone Cold Steve Austin had his comedic side. Muta was no stranger to this. In the justly remembered Thunderdome Cage Match that pit Muta and Terry Funk against Ric Flair and Sting at Halloween Havoc 1989, a Halloween decoration on the “electrified” cage caught fire after a special effect before the match began. Muta climbed the top rope and sacrificed some of his mist to put it out successfully.

Then there was the goofiness of his match teaming with Toru Yano against Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X. Benjamin at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 8 on January 4, 2014. And then there was the time in HUSTLE when Muta spit his green mist into the crotch of Yinling The Erotic Terrorist, which would somehow lead to the birthing of former sumo yokozuna turned pro wrestler Akebono. From an egg. (It was HUSTLE; if you know, you know.) Clearly, Muta wasn’t averse to getting himself into weird, wacky situations.

Inspired a Whole Lot of Westerners to Look at Japanese Pro Wrestling

I daresay out of all the items I have, and could have, listed, this is the biggest one. I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that The Great Muta terrorizing WCW and Jushin Thunder Liger wowing WCW audiences with his acrobatics were the gateway drugs for fans of a certain age to go from casually hearing about wrestling in Japan to experiencing it full stop via tape trading. Maybe they weren’t why everyone stayed (Lord knows when I discovered 90s All Japan, I was hooked for life), but for a great many people, Muta got folks in the door.

Sure, there had been Japanese wrestlers in American companies before Muta, but none had the sort of impact Muta did, especially moving away from the Dastardly Foreigner Heel trope that so many of those before Muta, and the man himself, were saddled with. You don’t get the NJPW boom in America without the roots laid down by Muta, Liger, and others before the modern stars.

With all this said, who knows if this retirement is even for real. Wrestling retirements are worth the paper they are printed on. But certainly, Muto and NOAH believe this is the case, with the #byebyeMUTA hashtag and everything. To be able to do so in an arena so crucial to Muta’s foothold in the Japanese wrestling consciousness is worth celebrating in of itself. Hats off to the Great Muta, one of the reasons I am a fan of Japanese wrestling to this very day, and my all time favorite.