The Great Muta is one of wrestling’s biggest legends, but sadly he has never wrestled in a WWE ring. Imagine what could’ve been if he did.
There’s a very good reason why you’ll find the Great Muta’s biography on WWE’s web page, even though Muta himself never wrestled in a single WWE match. For over thirty years, the man behind the gimmick, Keiji Mutoh, has been wrestling around the world, bouncing back and forth between wrestling under his real name and under his legendary gimmick.
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The Great Muta is a legendary character, one whose popularity in Japan can be considered akin to the Undertaker’s mythos in North America. He really is that popular.
So popular, in fact, that he continues to get huge reaction wherever he goes, even if he’s wrestling well into his 50s. Muta has become a legend in Japan, and is still revered by American fans. Most people know him from his work in WCW and NWA, but believe it or not, there was a time when Muta was considering signing with WWE.
After WCW misused him completely in the tail end of 1999 and much of 2000, Muta was contemplating a career change. He was interested in working for Vince McMahon, and actually, would have signed a contract if possible. However, his WCW contract included a strict no-complete clause, which legally prevented him from signing with Vince, even after he was released.
So instead of working for WWE, Mutoh went back to Japan and contemplated his future even more. But instead of calling it a career, he shaved his head, adopted a more technical wrestling style, and invented the Shining Wizard. Since then, he has become a bona fide puroresu legend, even as he struggles somewhat to enter the ring at his age.
But despite that overwhelming success, there are some who wonder what would’ve happened if Muta signed with WWE. Would he have been a success, or would he have followed in the footsteps of WWE’s earlier attempts with Japanese wrestlers?
There are many people that think Muta would’ve become another version of Tajiri or Yoshi Tatsu, an ethnic stereotype without much character. But that wouldn’t have happened with Muta. Had he signed with WWE, he’d be coming in with a gimmick he created and knew how to play. If anything, Muta would’ve been a great success, and WWE lost a huge chance at success by not giving him a second thought.
First and foremost, the Great Muta character is one of the most enduring gimmicks ever. Over the years, Keiji Mutoh has cultivated and transformed the Muta character, but a few core concepts have stayed the same.
Muta’s basically an unpredictable wild man, and in later years, a demon summoned from Hell (at least in storyline terms). He plays wicked mind games with his opponent, to a point where they’re afraid of even getting in the ring with him.
If Muta opens the ropes to let you into the ring, you enter as quickly as possible to avoid Muta doing anything to you when you’re vulnerable. When he shakes the ropes, you feel real anger or frustration emanating from him. Each time he looks out at the crowd, you can see the crazy look in his eye.
In this ‘post-kayfabe’ era of WWE where everything at least appears to be realistic, Muta would be a much-needed breath of fresh air. Mutoh’s highly committed to preserving the Muta character, going to great lengths to ensure that it remains as unsullied as possible.
These days, the closest things we have to ‘supernatural’ characters are the Undertaker, Kane, and the Wyatt Family, and all of them have some sort of flaw.
‘Taker’s slowly turning away from the supernatural element of his character, focusing more on his legendary status. ‘Demon Kane’ is nothing but an alter ego, but it’s one that has been booked so poorly that no one ever expects him to accomplish anything important.
As for Wyatt, he has been doing far more talking than destroying, to a point where few people can expect him to become the new Undertaker like he was pegged to be a few years ago.
This leaves WWE with a void, a need for an abnormal character that would make for entertaining wrestling programming. The Great Muta would’ve worked well in that role. Not just because his character is so unique, but also because…
Keiji Mutoh’s style of wrestling and booking aligns with Vince McMahon’s in many ways. Unlike most Japanese wrestlers, who are stiff, no-nonsense athletes without much of a discernible gimmick, Mutoh/Muta’s style is a hybrid of Japanese wrestling with heavy theatrics involved. Whether it was his work in New Japan, All Japan, WCW or HUSTLE, the Muta character has been an ideal example of wrestling mixed with theatrics.
Go watch some of Muta’s matches and storylines throughout the years. Sure, he has been in plenty of critically-acclaimed matches, but he has also cultivated an aura of entertainment and theatricality over the years. A prime example of this was a storyline in HUSTLE involving Muta, Tajiri, a woman named Yinling the Erotic Terrorist, and Akebono.
The storyline started off with what very well might be the greatest wrestling entrance ever:
Muta defeated Tajiri and Yinling, and ended the match by spitting his Asian Mist into her crotch. Apparently, somehow this got Yinling pregnant, and she then revealed an enormous egg from which hatched their lovechild, the Great Bono (played by sumo wrestler Akebono). I am not making any of this up.
The storyline then evolved into a loving father-son relationship that, oddly enough, endeared many fans to the HUSTLE product. This storyline was unbelievably wacky, even by wrestling standards, but Muta managed to make it work.
With WWE’s penchant for outlandish storylines, there’s a good chance Muta would’ve fit right in on the WWE roster. They could’ve incorporated many of his signature gimmick elements into a storyline and it could’ve worked wonders.
For example, in later years, Muta became this sort of demon that could be summoned to do evil in this world. He could only be summoned by anyone who possessed his magic genie lamp. But the Muta demon was unpredictable, and could turn on even those who held his lamp. Does this remind you of someone with a supernatural past and an unyielding fanbase?
This was a ready-made gimmick that would’ve worked in any story. WWE could’ve made him into another devious monster that terrorized the roster. They could’ve made him into a devious evil demon that serves a weaker wrestler, only to turn on them later for putting too much trust in the Muta monster, in a sort of twisted morality play.
Sometimes, wrestling stories just write themselves, and any WWE storylines with the Great Muta involved could fit easily into that category.
Muta could’ve worked in any division. He was an established, world-champion-caliber athlete by the dawn of the new millennium. As a result, he could’ve faced any top guy in WWE and it would’ve been an easy sell. Pick any guy who was a top wrestler in WWE in the early 2000s: Austin, Rock, Undertaker, HHH, Jericho, Angle. Any of them could’ve had an excellent match with Muta.
2001 was Muta’s greatest year for in-ring performance which. Given his stellar career, says a lot. He had excellent matches with everyone from young rookies to aging legends. His more technical in-ring style allowed him to do much more in the ring without causing him so much pain. He also created the Shining Wizard, which has been emulated by wrestlers the world over.
Now imagine the kinds of matches you could’ve seen had WWE signed Keiji Mutoh and had him perform either as himself or as his Muta character.
Want a wacky, supernatural element-infused brawl? Great Muta vs. The Undertaker or Kane.
Interested in technical chain wrestling? Keiji Mutoh vs. Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho or Kurt Angle.
Want to see two wrestlers beat each other bloody? Rob Van Dam vs. The Great Muta.
All of these matches could’ve happened if only WCW didn’t have a no-compete clause in their contracts.
Muta is one of the greatest masters of ring psychology of an entire generation of wrestlers. To this day, he has this uncanny ability to get a wrestler behind him or his opponent with great ease. As a prime example, consider the match he had against Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger from 1996.
Muta played the heel in that match, and got the fans behind him by doing the unthinkable: he ripped Liger’s mask off. Doing this could’ve had the same impact on Liger as it did for Mysterio. Unmasking is a major shame in lucha libre wrestling, and to be unmasked could spell the end of one’s career. But Muta not only ripped Liger’s mask off, he attacked Liger over and over again until his face was exposed (well, sort of):
Muta was able to rally a crowd behind him with tremendous ease, but was even more capable of putting his opponents over. This would’ve made him an excellent veteran for WWE to use to elevate younger stars. It would’ve been very easy for WWE to create simple yet effective storylines with the following premise:
‘Wrestler X has dreams of becoming WWE Champion. But before he can, he must overcome the wily, dangerous and unpredictable Great Muta in singles competition. Can Wrestler X achieve his dream, or will he succumb to Muta’s experience and veteran instinct?’
Simply replace the words ‘wrestler X’ with names like John Cena, Randy Orton, Edge, etc., and you have ready-made storylines that would’ve yielded two great results. First, you’d have a rising star that could become even bigger after facing off against a fantastic wrestling legend that knew how to have a great match with a broom. Second, you’d have matches filled with incredible and detailed wrestling psychology, which are, sadly, lacking significantly in modern WWE.