If there is one wrestler who can be credited with making puroresu popular worldwide outside of Japan, it may be another of the legends of the sport-Keiji Muto. The veteran, who in summer 2009 celebrated his 25th anniversary in the sport, is credited as one of the first Japanese wrestlers to achieve a fan base outside of his native Japan in the United States. He did so while creating one of the most popular and influential gimmicks ever, becoming the face-painted wrestler known as The Great Muta, a gimmick he still uses today on special occasions. Muto is also part of the legendary “3 Musketeers” class who, along with Masa Chono and the late Shinya Hashimoto, are considered the greatest class to ever come out of the New Japan Dojo.
After training by Hiro Matsuda, Muto made his debut in October 1984 against Chono. After a rather unnotable initial run outside of a 6-day IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reign, he was sent to the US for seasoning and appeared as The Super Ninja in World Class Championship Wrestling, but things started going up when he made indy appearances as The Great Muta and sould subsequently receive high billing in the NWA. In 1989 Muto had a 4-month run as NWA TV Champion before dropping the title and returning to Japan.
Upon his return he formed a partnership and rivalry with Chono they won the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship together, and after losing the titles they had a 30-minute classic in the 1991 G1 Climax final won by Chono. It was here that they earned “The 3 Musketeers” moniker and cemented their place as the next generation of New Japan. One year later Muto would win his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship by beating Riki Choshu, but a match just a few months later would become a legend…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 was sliced. Over the next few years Muto would team and feud with Chono and Hashimoto and also briefly hold both the IWGP and NWA Heavyweight Championships. In 1997 he would turn heel as The Great Muta and join the Chono-formed Japanese version of the nWo, the dominant heel faction in WCW at the time. The full turn came in September 1997, when Muto, after teasing a turn on his nWo teammates, double-crossed Kensuke 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.
Muto began to slow down in 1998 as years of his style was taking a toll on his knees. Although he would win another IWGP Heavyweight Title before 2000 rolled around, bad booking and the fall of WCW kept him from regaining popularity he enjoyed before and he was soon at a crossroads. It was time for a change.
In 2001 Muto returned with the look he continues to sport today, bald-headed with a goatee, and to reduce wear and tear on his knees while also hopefully prolonging his career, he abandoned his signature moonsault in favor of a new move he invented-a variation of the enziguri called “Shining Wizard”, a move he continues to use to this day as his signature and finishing move, but on special occasions he will still use the moonsault. The Shining Wizard has been used and imitated by many other wrestlers worldwide since its creation. Muto also began a crossover from All-Japan to New Japan by winning the All-Japan Triple Crown in 2001 as well as both All-Japan’s Tag Team Titles and the IWGP Tag Team Titles with Taiyo Kea, giving him an incredible 6 championship belts. Simultaneously. In January 2002 Muto jumped from New Japan to All-Japan, taking Satoshi Kojima and Kendo Ka Shin with him. On September 30 of that year, Muto officially became president of All-Japan, a role he still continues to hold to this date while continuing to compete full-time. Soon after, Muto made a much-anticipated return to the USA in an appearance for the Ring Of Honor promotion as part of an interpromotional card with All-Japan. The next crossover was to movies in 2004, when he appeared in the Japanese film Rikidozan, a film based on the real-life story of a wrestler who would eventually be known as the “Father of Puroresu”; Muto played Harold Sakata, who took Rikidozan under his wing and introduced him into the world of professional wrestling.
After a quiet 2005 & 2006, he returned to the top in 2007, travelling to Europe for the first time and defeating ROW (England) Heavyweight Champion Martin Stone in a non-title match, and in his return to Japan he won the annual Champion’s Carnival. 2008 saw even loftier heights again as a brief return to New Japan saw him capture the IWGP Heavyweight Title once again and he soon won another Triple Crown, making him only the second wrestler ever to hold both titles at the same time (Satoshi Kojima is the other). In early 2009 he dropped the IWGP Title to Hiroshi Tanahashi when he became the 50th IWGP Heavyweight Champion, which according to Muto could be his final appearance in New Japan after perhaps “passing the sash” to Tanahashi and allowing the young ace to lead his old home forward. He soon would drop the Triple Crown to respected veteran Yoshihiro Takayama, and now splits time between remaining active in & out of the ring, sometimes defending the unrecognized F-1 Tag Team Titles with partner Kannazaki, training new up-and-coming talents especially his current protege, the former sumo Ryota Hama, and every now & then still breaks out the face paint and appears as The Great Muta. Muto also makes an occasional and usually one-off appearance as the tattooed “Kokushi Muso”.
According to Masa Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, and himself, Muto, as a wrestler, grew up in the United States. He describes the United States as his soul-homeland. He often praises American wrestling-fans, as like “they are not just onlookers, but also match-producers”. Muto himself is worthy of much praise as a wrestler, not only is he among the greatest ever but he was one of the first Japanese wrestlers to really make inroads in the US and bring American and Japanese fans & wrestlers together. In August 2009 he celebrated his 25th year in puroresu, becoming the latest legend to mark a quarter-century in the ring. In October 2009 he made his first appearance ever in NOAH, participating in the promotion’s Mitsuharu Misawa Memorial events. In November 2009 he led All-Japan on a special trip to Taiwan, during which time he brought back The Great Muta for one show. And then in December 2009 he won the 2009 Real World Tag League with fellow old-timer Masakatsu Funaki, showing the youngsters and everyone else that he’s still got some gas left in the tank.
Muto suffered another knee injury in March 2010 and had surgery, but returned in September 2010 well ahead of schedule-he was expected to be out until sometime in 2011. He actually returned sooner than that, reviving The Great Muta for a special match in August 2010.
Muto resigned as President of All-Japan on June 7, 2011, taking responsibility for a backstage incident in which wrestler TARU assault fellow wrestler Nobukazu Hirai (Super Hate), causing Hirai to later suffer a stroke and also leading to the disbanding of the Voodoo Murders faction and the indefinite suspension of 4 wrestlers including (at the time) 2 titleholders. He had held the position for more than a decade.
Stats & Info:
Weight: 242 pounds/110 kg
Experience: 26 years
Finishing Move: Shining Wizard, Moonsault Press (special occasions only)
Current affiliation: All-Japan
Ring entrance theme: “Symbol”
Alternate gimmicks: The Great Muta (still used on special occasions), Kokushi Muso (used once in a while)
4-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion
6-time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion
3-time All-Japan Triple Crown Champion
4-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
1-time NWA Florida Heavyweight Champion
1-time NWA World TV Champion
1-time WCW World Tag Team Champion
1-time WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight Champion
1-time WWC TV Champion
1995 G1 Climax
1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999 G1 Tag League
2002, 2004, 2007 Champions Carnival
2001, 2007 World’s Strongest Tag League
2009 Real World Tag League
2005 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Tag Team Award (with Akebono)
2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Wrestling Maneuver
2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match Of The Year
2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Improved Wrestler
2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler Of The Year
Inducted into Wrestling Observer Hall Of Fame in 1999
Ranked #7 In The 1999 PWI 500
Ranked #4 In The 2001 PWI 500
Ranked #3 In The 2002 PWI 500
Ranked #4 In The 2003 PWI 500
Ring entrance music: