The Great Muta | Japan’s Macabre Monster

Few wrestlers inspire as much awe and unease as the Great Muta. He’s the most famous face-painted wrestler in Japanese history. He has spent decades dazzling audiences with his incredible athleticism and unusual antics. And he has mastered the art of creating something inhuman out of the human sport of pro wrestling. The Great Muta is the latest in our Seven Nights of Frights series.

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Who, or what is The Great Muta?

Muta is the alter-ego of Keiji Mutoh, who is one of the most iconic Japanese wrestlers of all time. From 1989 to the present, Mutoh has alternated between wrestling under his own name and under this alternate Muta character. Simply put, Muta is Mutoh’s evil alter-ego, much like Finn Balor’s Demon. But unlike Balor, who saves the Demon for special occasions, Muta made regular appearances around the world. And in some cases, Mutoh and Muta wrestled on the same night.

Imagine Keiji Mutoh having a split personality, with two diametrically-opposed personae inhabiting the same body. They contrast with each other so deeply. Mutoh is a cheerful, brave righteous man that plays to the crowd and loves being the hero. Muta is his polar opposite: he doesn’t speak at all, he’s unpredictable, and is more of a villain than anything else. And while there have been countless wrestlers to play the role that MUTOH did, there has only been one wrestler to be so successful at conveying the stories told by MUTA.

Keiji Mutoh and Great Muta Central
Photo / Keiji Mutoh Central

MUTA wrestles in a way that’s so different compared to everyone else around him. While he shares the same big moves and finishers as Mutoh, Muta’s actions and mannerisms are different as well. He doesn’t mind cutting corners by cheating and using weapons. He’s more than happy attacking an opponent’s limbs and taking full advantage of real-life injuries. He has no qualms using various weapons and wrestling hardcore (one of his matches against Hiroshi Hase was so bloody that it created the ‘Muta scale’, an informal scale used to measure the bloodiness of a match). And of course, he made famous the poison mist, a clever spray of liquid from his mouth into his opponent’s eyes.

Muta’s Horrifying Visage

Muta isn’t a person; according to New Japan, he’s a demon born in Hell that uses Keiji Mutoh’s body as his physical manifestation on the mortal plane. This video from the 1990s describes how Muta came to be.

To help distinguish between the Mutoh and Muta personae, Muta covered his face in different ways. During the 1980s and 1990s, this was seen in the form of various face paint color schemes and patterns. Muta would enter an arena dressed in elaborate costumes (not at all unlike The Undertaker), which usually featured a cloak or a veil that covered his entire head except for his eyes. Then he’d remove all of those garbs and reveal his painted face.

As the years progressed and Keiji Mutoh began losing his hair, this face painting scheme was replaced with something new. Mutoh began wearing various sorts of organic-looking masks that distorted the shape of his head and made him look even less human. This mask concealed everything except for his eyes and his mouth, which was necessary for him to spit his trademark mist (and then lick it off his opponent’s head for future use).

The Great Muta
Strange Movements

This macabre beast would terrify his opponents through sheer presence, and while he didn’t intimidate through sheer stature like Kane or the Undertaker, he made up for this with unusual mannerism. Muta would crawl about and gaze at his opponent like a stalking animal. In preparation for the mist, he’d ‘touch his neck’, which was explained as him ticking the organ that produced the mist that he spat at his enemies. He’d even lash out at people that tried to ‘summon’ him if they didn’t respect him or if they somehow got in his way.

The Great Muta
Psychological Effects

New Japan World Gems #1: The Great Muta and Toru Yano vs. Minoru Suzuki and Shelton Benjamin X
Photo / NJPW

Over the decades, the Great Muta, with his bizarre movements, horrifying appearance, and general supernatural aura, has managed to play incredible psychological games with his opponents. Wrestlers would stare, awestruck and worried, as Muta made his way to the ring, walking unnaturally. They would recoil in horror as he removed his entrance garb and spat his mist into the air. He was foreshadowing what hidden tricks he possessed. And once his matches began, they were stuck dealing with a monster in a human body. Muta would choke his opponents with electric cords. He would pull out ring spikes and attempt to stab them. Muta would also exploit any weakness he could find, be it physical or psychological. Those wrestlers would then realize that they were fighting a true monster. After all, no ordinary man would move how he moved, dressed as he dressed, or fought as he fought.

The Great Muta
Legacy

Even to this very day, Muta is regarded as one of the most fearsome wrestlers of all time. He was incredibly athletic while also being menacing. People were awestruck by his strange look and unusual mannerisms. And he backed all of that up with an uncanny storytelling ability and mastery of ring psychology. His ability to tell a story and portray a supernatural character has been so successful that he has been copied and emulated many times over. Several wrestlers have straight up copied his gimmick. They have used his signature moves, and taken elements of his persona, and made it their own. And while many of them have succeeded in making themselves stand out, none of them will ever to the original macabre monster of professional wrestling.