The Many
Faces of Mutoh
1984 - 1990: The Beginning

Keiji Mutoh was born on December 23rd, 1962 in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan. A star athlete throughout school, Mutoh practiced in Judo and Amateur wrestling starting in middle school. During his training he achieved the level of Black Belt in only three years. After graduating from high school, instead of going to University he enrolled in the Tohoku Judo School. Soon he was introduced to New Japan Pro Wrestling through Satoru Sayama and he joined their dojo in 1984 at the age of 21. Mutoh was in good company, as other trainees at the time included Masahiro Chono, Shinya Hashimoto, and Jushin Thunder Liger. After training for the year, Mutoh made his debut on October 5th, 1984 against his dojo mate Masahiro Chono, with Mutoh picking up the win.

Mutoh showed so much promise that he did not linger opening matches for long. In fact, by 1986 he was already teaming with and battling the likes of Tatsumi Fujinami and Antonio Inoki towards the top of the card while leaving his dojo mates temporarily behind. Mutoh made a quick excursion to Florida in 1986, wrestling as the White Ninja and briefly winning the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. He soon returned to Japan and when the UWF invaded New Japan, Mutoh took a front line position in the war, battling the likes of Takada and Akira Maeda. During this period Mutoh also began wrestling as "Space Lone Wolf," but the gimmick didn't last long as he became fully engaged in battling the UWF. This would lead to Mutoh winning his first championship in Japan, as he and Shiro Koshinaka defeated Takada and Maeda for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship in April of 1987. Their reign didn't last long, but it showed just how quickly he had grown in New Japan as he won his first major title almost exactly two years after his debut match.

As 1988 rolled in, his dojo mates Chono and Hashimoto had caught up with Mutoh's success, and even though the crowd was slow to react strongly to the young stars it didn't stop New Japan from giving them as much exposure as possible. As Chono returned from his excursion, Mutoh left for another one as this time he left for WWC in Puerto Rico. Wrestling as the Super Black Ninja, Mutoh quickly found success as in February of 1988 he defeated Super Invader I for the WWC Television Champion. Three years after debuting, Mutoh had already won a major title in three different countries. Later that year he would win the WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight Championship, holding it until August. After dipping his toe in WCCW and making a quick trip back to New Japan, Mutoh would change the direction of his career when he debuted as The Great Muta in WCW on March 18th, 1989.

Billed as the son of the Great Kabuki and with Gary Hart as his manager, the Great Muta took WCW by storm and quickly became one of the most popular and hated wrestlers in the promotion. His methods were shocking, as he was the first wrestler on national television to use the Asian Mist in his matches. With his quickness and judo background, the crowd had never seen a wrestler like Muta and over the year Keiji Mutoh was able to craft the Great Muta character into what it would be for the next 20 years. In the summer of 1989, the Great Muta began a feud with fan favorite Sting, and the two would put on a number of classic matches including a memorable match at the Great American Bash. Muta would win the WCW Television Championship from Sting in September of that year and held it until he departed the promotion in the beginning of 1990. Of all the wrestlers that have gone to excursions to America, none had the amount of success as Mutoh did, and his success in America carried over to New Japan as the fans there were excited to see the new Great Muta character. There was no holding back Mutoh now, as he had finally gained the charisma and popularity to match his wrestling skills.

At the start of 1990, Mutoh teamed with his old friend Chono and won the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship for the 2nd time. This would be a much more successful run, as they held the titles from April 27th, 1990to November 1st, 1990. In September of that year, wrestling as the Great Muta, Mutoh picked up a big pinfall over Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. As the year ended, Mutoh (as Great Muta) picked up a win over New Japan legend Tiger Jeet Singh, which is a feat even Antonio Inoki had trouble doing in Singh's heyday in New Japan. While the crowd was slow to root on Mutoh as they frequently are with new wrestlers, his combination of eye-catching moves along with his new character caught on with the crowd and as 1990 came to a close Mutoh was one of the most popular wrestlers in New Japan. But he still had a ways to go to reach the top, as Inoki, Fujinami, Choshu, and the new gaijin Vader stood in his way of winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. And besides battling the old guard, he had his fellow generation to worry about, with Chono and Hashimoto also on his level. It wouldn't be easy for Mutoh to reach the top of New Japan, but he was poised to do so, all he needed was a break out match to put him on top.

Go to 1991-1996: The Glory Years

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