The Great Nita – The Haunting Alter Ego of Atsushi Onita

The Great Nita. It can be difficult for wrestling fans who are only familiar with Atsushi Onita as the deathmatch king of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) to process his days as an athletic and often high-flying wrestler capable of exchanging technical wrestling holds, flips, and flying dropkicks with wrestlers as tactically brilliant as Ricky Steamboat without looking even remotely out of place.

Unfortunately, Onita’s career took a career-altering and ultimately industry-shifting turn in the most unlikely of fashions. After successfully defending his NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship against Hector Guerrero on April 20, 1983, Onita was in the midst of his post-match celebration when he dropped off the ring apron onto the arena floor and took a tumble.

The slip and subsequent crash to the floor resulted in Onita suffering a fractured patella in his left knee. When doctors evaluated him and diagnosed his condition as dire, Onita formally retired from professional wrestling on January 3, 1985. Just like that, it seemed like the wrestler who was poised to become All Japan’s junior heavyweight equivalent to Jumbo Tsuruta was finished as an active wrestler.

However, those who thought Onita’s window of opportunity to be influential in the world of wrestling had been permanently nailed shut were sorely mistaken. The man noted for his plain blue tights with “ONITA” printed on the back of them returned to active competition in 1989 with the addition of a white, wifebeater tank top, and reportedly founded Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling with the sum of only 50,000 yen.

The name of the organization represented the positioning of FMW as being on the frontier of martial arts and wrestling, and reflected the early devotion of the company toward blending legitimate martial arts and professional wrestling, along with their internal view that the shoot-style Universal Wrestling Federation would be its chief promotional rival. However, the limitations imposed by Onita’s traumatized knee caused him to very rapidly stretch the boundaries of FMW’s blood, guts, and danger within the main-event scene.

The Great Nita – The Summoned Alter Ego of Atsushi Onita

Almost immediately, FMW developed a reputation for being the deathmatch promotion, and Onita of all people — who had been among the deftest junior heavyweight wrestlers alive just six years prior — developed a rabid following as one of the toughest heavyweight wrestlers in the world as a result of his undeniable resiliency, along with his willingness to intentionally maim and disfigure himself for the sake of attracting a crowd and winning a wrestling match.

Although Onita was himself an ultra-violent performer in his standard persona, and a prolific spiller of blood, the most fearsome of Onita’s in-ring personalities began as the byproduct of a one-time experiment that took place thousands of miles from Japan.

During a brief excursion to the United States, Onita donned face paint akin to that worn by classical — if stereotype-inducing — Japanese wrestlers who played the role of heel in U.S. rings during the 1980s.

These wrestlers certainly included Kendo Nagasaki, Onita’s erstwhile nemesis Mr. Pogo, the Great Kabuki, and the super-athletic heir to Kabuki’s mist-spewing style, Keiji Mutoh AKA the Great Muta.

Following this match, a Japanese wrestling publication included a photo of the face-paint-wearing Onita along with the caption “Great Nita?,” in what was thought to be a creative liberty taken to encapsulate a one-off match.

Certainly, the magazine caption was never intended to inspire a gimmick modification, but Onita had demonstrated the capacity to seek innovation from the most unlikely sources, even if they stretched the boundary of good taste until it had been rent to shreds.

In 1990, Onita even went so far as to stage his own attempted murder by receiving a stabbing at the hands of confessed Bruiser Brody killer Jose “Invader 1” Gonzalez.

Fortunately, the official adoption of the Great Nita persona would prove to be far less inflammatory. In order to match the sadism of Mr. Pogo, Onita officially unveiled the demonically possessed Great Nita at the HIroshima Prefecture Sports Center on December 12, 1994. As the crowd chanted “Nita,” Atsushi Onita emerged from the dressing room and into public view sporting a colorful karate gi, with his head covered with a mask emulating the attire worn by Keiji Mutoh when dressed for his Great Muta role.

After Mr. Pogo entered the ring, the Great Nita yanked the mask from his own head revealing red-and-blue face paint displaying Chinese characters that spelled out the phrase “foolish vomiting,” in an open mockery of Muta’s Chinese characters that were translated as “foolish fighting.” Nita immediately sprayed his right hand with red “death mist” from his mouth, and slapped his own head before charging at Mr. Pogo and kicking off the lumberjack match.

In his attacks on Pogo, Nita spun, tiptoed and shrieked, often eliciting laughter from the audience who seemed to view the deathmatch king’s demonstration as one of parody, which in several respects it clearly was. However, the mood of the audience changed abruptly after Onita swiped the scythe from Mr. Pogo and began to jab it directly into the center of Pogo’s forehead. The shock of the crowd was already palpable, but Nita upped the ante by jamming the scythe into Pogo’s mouth as the audience gasped in horror.

From there, the match deteriorated as the combatants fled to the floor, and several members from the FMW roster inserted themselves into the in-ring action. Additional weapons, including wooden chairs, broken table segments and barbed-wire bats, were added to the fray. Almost every strike was punctuated by Nita’s spooky utterances.

Upon striking Pogo solidly in the midsection with the barbed-wire bat, and then disposing of “The Gladiator” Mike Awesome in a similar fashion, Nita pulled Pogo to the center of the ring and dispatched him with a Thunderfire Powerbomb. The match had not been even remotely artful, but it had been memorable, and in the Great Nita’s case, it had been victorious.

From there, the Great Nita engrossed himself almost exclusively in battles against the various incarnations of Mr. Pogo. While his next two forays into the ring saw Nita positioned on the team opposite Pogo’s in classic FMW six-man street fights, his next individual match would pit him against Pogo Daio, or King Pogo — an even more ultra-violent alter ego concocted by Pogo. Now donning a full face of black-and-white Kabuki-mask-inspired paint, Pogo Daio was presented as the ideal foil to the Great Nita, as his attire appeared to pay direct homage to the Great Kabuki.

The inaugural, sanguinary clash between the murderous parodies of the Great Muta and the Great Kabuki was anything but pretty. At the beginning of their March 15, 1995 contest, the pair spent an uncomfortable length of time slashing each with a scythe, dodging one another’s attempts at spewing blinding bursts of poisonous mist, bashing one another with tables, and gouging away at each other with a barbed-wire bat.

Pogo appeared to be on the brink of victory, having dropped Nita across a barbed-wire bat that he had managed to light on fire. However, Nita countered with a blinding blast of red mist to Pogo’s face, and then spewed a fireball that singed Pogo’s back. After unfurling several strikes with the flaming bat, a bulldog on top of the bat, another swing of the bat to Pogo’s belly, and then one final hammering strike with the bat to Pogo’s midsection, Nita managed to successfully cover Pogo Daio for the three count.

Pogo Daio managed to capture a memorable measure of revenge against the Great Nita two weeks later during a barbed-wire lumberjack deathmatch by wrapping Nita in barbed wire, spitting a fireball onto Nita’s punctured back, and then bashing him in the chest with a flaming barbed-wire bat. When not even this vicious act managed to keep Nita down, Pogo dug into a sack and produced a very menacing-looking blade with a heavily serrated edge. After using this dastardly weapon to hack into Nita’s unprotected chest, Pogo finally secured a victory over his arch-nemesis.

This set the stage for the rubber match between the two painted-up wrestlers, which took place on April 2nd of that year at the Bridge of Dreams event at the Tokyo Dome. This was an unusual setting for such a match, inasmuch as the two were booked in a deathmatch positioned third from the top of the card in an all-star puroresu event hosted by the Japanese pro wrestling magazine Weekly Pro Wrestling.

The show featured what would undoubtedly be a classic All Japan six-man tag match involving five-star-rating magnets like Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada, along with a main-event bout pitting two of New Japan’s fabled “Three Musketeers” —  Shinya Hashimoto and Masahiro Chono — against one another.

In another obvious homage to Keiji Mutoh and the Great Muta, the Great Nita entered the Tokyo Dome to the sounds of a Kabuki-esque remix of Onita’s usual “Wild Thing” ring music. The ring ropes had been conspicuously replaced with barbed wire for what was billed as a “No Ropes Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match.” Clad in a pink gi, the Great Nita stood out glaringly in contrast to the drab, black garb of Pogo Daio. In the early going, Nita battered Pogo with running headbutts before making the first errant lunge into the barbed wire and setting off the explosive fireworks behind it.

Both Pogo and the referee hit the deck in order to sell the effects of the blast. Seizing upon his advantage, Pogo drew his scythe and plunged it into Nita’s back. Fans of the other seven wrestling promotions represented at the event that night who were unaccustomed to FMW-style matches screamed audibly at the sight of Atsushi Onita, decorated in facepaint, with a scythe protruding from his back.

Pogo took his time slicing Nita’s back and head before turning his attention to his opponent’s throat. Fans grew increasingly more uneasy as it appeared the Great Nita was about to have his throat slit publicly in front of an audience of more than 50,000 wrestling fans. While Pogo stopped short of committing a murder, he elicited similar gasps from the crowd when he shoved the scythe into Nita’s mouth.

Nita eventually regained the advantage, and began to jab away at Pogo with the same scythe before raking his enemy’s face against the barbed wire that lined the ring. To counter this, Pogo produced a barbed-wire bat and smacked Nita in the chest, causing him to fall into another set of barbed wire and producing a second explosion. Somehow, the Great Nita still managed to kick out after a count of two.

An errant bat swing into the barbed wire by Pogo set off the third set of explosives, and also dropped Pogo to his knees. Nita seized the bat, swung it into Pogo, and held Pogo’s back against the ropes to discharge another burst of explosives. Pogo Daio would never claim another clear advantage in the match again, as Nita battered him with a bulldog and running headbutts, and then forcefully flung Pogo into the barbed wire to set off one final blast of explosives. Nita covered Pogo for the three count, and earned the ultimate victory over his most bitter foe.

Onita’s style of wrestling certainly did not appeal to everyone, and at a wrestling event featuring several companies that offered far purer forms of wrestling, the FMW-themed spectacle showcasing Onita and Pogo elicited boos from many in attendance. As opposed to the styles of All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, which were referred to as “King’s Road” and “Strong Style” respectively, the deathmatch-heavy, violence-laden methods of FMW were often pejoratively regarded as “Evil Road” or “Evil Ways” in the Japanese media.

Several people cited FMW as the harbinger for the proliferation of far too many independent wrestling promotions, many of which mirrored and implemented the “garbage style” of FMW. It was a criticism that Onita would eventually embrace in a very memorable fashion.

In the meantime, the persona of the Great Nita was retired following a six-man tag team bout, fittingly pitting Nita and Pogo in opposition to each other one final time. After roughly five and a half minutes of match time, Nita secured the head of Hideki Hosaka, tucked it between his legs, elevated him, and dropped him with a crushing Thunder Fire Powerbomb to send the Great Nita into retirement as a victor. From there, the Great Nita wandered into Osaka Bay and would never be heard from again.

Or so we thought.

In 1999, Atsuhi Onita made a shocking foray into New Japan Pro Wrestling as a villainous figure who openly reveled in walking the “Evil Road” and promoting “Evil Ways” inside of the squared circle. To many fans of puroresu, Onita’s in-ring barbarity had made an absolute mockery of wrestling, and the fans were eager to vocalize their displeasure and lay it plainly at Onita’s feet. This led to one of the most legendary ring entrance moments of all time, when Onita confidently strode out onto the NJPW walkway, took a seat on a folding chair, and confidently lit up a smoke while the New Japan fans pelted him with garbage.

As Onita was riding on the wave of infamy and hatred that he had elicited from the puroresu purists, his presence in New Japan had raised the possibility of the most unlikely of dream matches. Now that Onita had invaded his space, Keiji Mutoh publicly expressed his displeasure that the Great Nita had ever existed, prompting Onita to bring the Great Nita out of retirement. While cameras rolled, Onita stood near the same Osaka Bay location where the Great Nita was last seen, worked himself into a trance, and magically conjured the Great Nita forth.

Four years after he was last seen, the Great Nita emerged from the waters of Osaka Bay, pulled himself through a gap in the fence, withdrew his mask, spat blood-red mist into his right hand, and then smeared it all over his face. The challenge had been accepted, and the dream match was on.

Of course, not all wrestling dream matches are of a quality that is favorably measured by star ratings. While Keiji Mutoh’s Great Muta persona has often been regarded as lazy as a result of his antics during several of his New Japan bouts, specifically due to his tendency to lie around or move slowly inside of the ring, with very occasional bursts of energy used to deliver his ground elbow strikes, cartwheel elbows and moonsaults, Atsuhi Onita was horribly limited even under the best of circumstances.

When Onita’s injuries had robbed him of his high-flying capabilities, he masked his limitations through his unfathomable pain threshold, the use of weapons, and the repetitive use of four moves: running headbutts, leaping bulldogs, jumping DDTs, and the Thunder Fire Powerbomb. The Great Muta vs. The Great Nita would be a spectacle, but it certainly wasn’t going to win any awards for its pristine execution.

Once the ring entrances had been completed by Muta’s slide beneath the barbed wire, the Great Nita immediately began to stab at his head with a scythe. After jabbing away at Muta’s head and back, Nita then flung Muta — who was suspiciously well protected by his heavy costume — into the barbed wire and triggered an explosion. Nita then connected with a jumping DDT that seemed to have nearly no effect on Muta, before stabbing away at Muta some more, and then unsuccessfully attempting to fling him into the barbed-wire boards that decorated the floor outside of the ring.

Nita tried to resume his attack with the scythe, but his attack was countered by a mouthful of Muta’s green mist. Muta then choked Nita with his chain, but this attack was countered by green mist that emanated from Nita’s throat. A second leaping DDT did slightly more damage than the first, but Muta eventually sidestepped a Nita charge and sent his personal parody into the explosive barbed wire. Then Muta pummeled Nita and knocked him ever closer to the point where he would fall onto the barbed wire boards, but Nita shocked everyone in the building by throwing a fireball into the Great Muta’s unprepared face.

From there, Nita wandered over to the explosive barbed wire and slid up the panels of both posts, setting off an air-raid alarm, and triggering the countdown to the ultimate explosion of the boards outside of the wrestling ring. Then Nita grasped the Great Muta and planted him to the mat with a Thunder Fire Powerbomb, but only managed to secure a count of two.

While the alarm continued to sound, Nita poked at Muta’s belly with the scythe, but was surprisingly met with another spray of mist to the eyes. As the ring announcer counted down the final 10 seconds until the explosion, Muta dropkicked Nita down onto the boards. When the timer struck zero, the boards exploded all around the ring, including the board positioned directly beneath the Great Nita’s body.

The smoke slowly cleared, and Nita could be seen rolling around in agony outside of the ring. Somehow, he managed to scrape himself off the ground and reenter the ring, but his desperation lunge toward Muta was met with a strike from the blunt end of the scythe. Red mist from Nita’s mouth flew harmlessly  into the air, symbolically signaling that Nita had squandered his last-gasp effort of achieving victory.

Muta attempted to fling a fireball at Nita, but missed the mark. Muta quickly recovered, and flung Nita into the barbed wire once more, setting off one final explosion. Nita collapsed onto his face from the barbed wire, and Muta covered him, but could still only manage to secure a two count.

Finally, as Nita gamely rose to his feet for one last time, Muta measured him, and dropped him to the mat by swinging the sharp end of the scythe into Nita’s forehead. With that, Muta was able to successfully cover Nita for three, proving that he was better than his parody at his parody’s own specialty match.

The Great Nita had lost his highest-profile match, and following one final loss in a New Japan ring — this time against the legendary Riki Choshu one year later — Atsushi Onita would never again grace a New Japan ring. However, the Great Nita has made several appearances at independent puroresu events in the last 10 years, and wrestling fans never know precisely when the demon will emerge from Osaka Bay to once again wreak havoc inside of a wrestling ring.

The journalism career of Ian Douglass began with a stint as an internet news producer for ABC News (WXYZ) in Detroit, and continued with a role as an on-air reporter for NBC News (WEYI) in Flint, Michigan. Ian is a multi-time coauthor of professional wrestling books, having contributed to the autobiographies of Dan “The Beast” Severn, Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl, Michael Davis (AKA “The Brute” and “Buggsy McGraw”) and “Killer Bee” B. Brian Blair. In addition to writing books, Ian serves as a columnist for Splice Today and is the former editor of Fixed Ops magazine. He also holds degrees from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and the Quantic School of Business and Technology in Washington, D.C.