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wrestling / Columns

Destiny 6.03.07: Keiji Mutoh and the Triple Crown

June 3, 2007 | Posted by Matt Adamson

Well, I hope some of you were able to catch Rumble Radio (WXAV 88.3 Chicago. WXAV.com) last week. The 25 minute SHIMMER documentary that I took part in came off really well. If you didn’t get a chance to catch it, I’ll plug it one last time as they seem to have archived the show in MP3 Format at rumbleradio.net. I really appreciate their having me and also appreciate their mentioning of 411 numerous times on the show. Either way it was a good representation of SHIMMER as myself and fellow 411 writer Ryan Byers of The Impact! Crater were a part of a lineup that also included Dave Prazak, Gabe Sapolsky, Lacey, Allison Danger, Sara Del Rey and Nigel McGuinness. Great lineup, and it was a great opportunity, but I encourage you all to check it out and also check out SHIMMER: Women Athletes if you want to see some real good wrestling, regardless of gender.

I get a lot of emails with one questions, “which promotion in Japan is the biggest?” I’ve answered many times that I believe NOAH just recently can lay claim to that spot, but not without controversy. As I’ve made that claim, some readers have responded saying that New Japan is #1. Well, Matt Short and I agree on NOAH while some readers agree on New Japan. So, to hopefully end this debate once and for all (at least until the climate of puro changes again, I’m going to be writing a column discussing which promotion in Japan is currently number one. I’ve done a lot of research including a lot of mathematics and statistics, but I am missing one important ingredient and like Steve Cook often does for Ask 411 Wrestling, I‘m opening up the following to you, the readers. If you have any information on wrestling TV ratings in Japan, please shoot them my way and provide a resource credit and a link if it’s on the internet. If I don’t get this information, I’ve been informed by my puro colleague Matt Short that it really doesn’t matter and that I should be able to make my argument without TV ratings, but of course, every little bit of information is helpful and that’s the one piece I’m missing.

A Very Brief Mutoh History

Known by many American wrestling fans as The Great Muta, but in Japan he is the character equivalent of Mick Foley. He is a wrestler possessing multiple personalities, the most well known being Muta, but also including his true identity Keiji Mutoh. Having been trained at the New Japan dojo, it was only a matter of time before he was sent to America for some additional training. He spent time in Championship Wrestling from Florida in 1986 as White Ninja. One he returned to Japan he wrestled with The Great Kabuki as The Rising Suns tag team. He would later go to WWC in Puerto Rico, World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas and later WCW all before the end of the 1980’s. He would spend a majority of the 1990’s in Japan where he won multiple titles. He would make the occasional appearance in WCW. In the late 1990’s he spent some time part of the NWO in Japan after having feuded with them.

The next seven years would mean a great deal of change for Keiji Mutoh. He would spend some time in WCW being buried by the bookers. By the end of 2000 he would shed The Great Muta persona for most of the time, wrestling as Keiji Mutoh, something he had done many times before, but as more of an exception to the rule than the rule itself once the Muta character took shape early in his career. As Keiji Mutoh he really began to take control or his career. In 2001, New Japan and All Japan started cross promoting and Mutoh would be one of the key players in that feud, becoming the first ever New Japan wrestler to hold All Japan’s Triple Crown. The following year he would jump ship and join All Japan who was struggling from the NOAH split 2 years prior. Later in 2002 he would be transferred majority stock in All Japan and made president of the company. He has continued to wrestle for All Japan as president, most recently winning the 2007 Champion Carnival which earned him a shot at the Triple Crown. While this has been a rather brief history of Mutoh, I’d rather not focus on his past. Instead I’d like to focus on his future and if he really is the guy to take the Triple Crown from All Japan’s arch-nemesis, Minoru Suzuki.

Mutoh and the Triple Crown

There is little doubt that Mutoh has the credibility to be Triple Crown champ. In fact, considering the current roster of All Japan (not including freelancers) he is the wrestler with the most championships under his belt. The caliber of his title reigns is even more impressive than the actual number. Having held 19 titles in major wrestling promotions around the world, Mutoh is one of the globes most decorated professional wrestlers. His list of titles looks something like this:

AJPW Triple Crown
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
WCW World Television Championship
NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship
WWC Puerto Rico Heavyweight Championship
WWC World Television Championship
AJPW World Tag Team Championship
IWGP Tag Team Championship
WCW World Tag Team Championship

That’s quite the impressive list. Having won three major World Championships on two sides of the globe is something very few wrestlers have managed to do. It puts him in a rather small league with the likes of Jumbo Tsuruta, Stan Hansen, and Giant Baba. While his championship caliber career is good evidence of him being a perfect fit for a third Triple Crown reign, does it mean that he is the guy for the job at this point in his career? That’s a question that requires a lot more than evidence of many title reigns to answer.

While Keiji Mutoh is certainly not the oldest professional wrestler currently wrestling full-time, he is still the elder of the All Japan main event roster. With current champ Minoru Suzuki being only five years younger, Kawada (free lance) being only one year younger, and Kensuke Sasaki (Kensuke Office) being only 4 years younger, Mutoh really doesn’t seem that old when compared with other main eventers. Of course comparing him with the younger main eventers for the company or any of their upper mid-card guys seems to point to Mutoh being up there in age. As old as Mutoh may be, if he were to win the Triple Crown title today, he would only be the second oldest top champion of the the big three in Japan. NOAH’s GHC champion, Mitsuharu Misawa is six months older than Mutoh. Clearly, Mutoh’s time is not up. So, is that enough to convince us fans that Mutoh is a good fit to take down Suzuki? Not in my mind it isn’t. There needs to be at least one more ingredient, whether or not the fans will believe in him when and if he wins.

You don’t have to go far back in history to see how a veteran taking down somebody to regain the title for his company is a huge thing to the Japanese fans. A little over a month ago in New Japan, Yugi Nagata dethroned Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. When he did so, the crowd went into a frenzy of celebration, saying Yugi Nagata had brought the title back to the tradition of New Japan. If anybody on the roster of All Japan could put All Japan in that same position, where the fans believe he is their savior, it is Keiji Mutoh. Not only is he one of the most recognizable faces of the company, but he is also one of the only wrestlers working for All Japan that was on top of the business during Japan’s peak in the 1990’s. If there is anybody that will restore faith in All Japan in the eyes of the fans it is Keiji Mutoh, but that enough to make him the right guy?

Now I know I haven’t exactly answered my questions that I’ve posed thus far in this column, but for a good reason, because if I had I wouldn’t have put everything together. While there are plenty of other pieces to the puzzle, the three I have tackled I believe are the most important. Credibility, age, and having the fans believe in the wrestling are incredibly important components that much be considered when choosing who a promotions next champion is to be. While Ric Flair has the credibility to be the next WWE Champ and the respect to get the fans to believe in him, he is just too old to make it really work and make sense. While CM Punk is young and the fans really believe in him, he doesn’t quite have the credibility to become the next World Heavyweight Champ, if he weren’t wrestling on ECW. Keiji Mutoh on the other hand has loads of credibility, he’s of a decent age and the fans adore him and look to him to bring the Triple Crown back to All Japan. However, I do not think he is the right guy.

Are you disappointed after all that? I hope not, because I really believe that All Japan has the opportunity to make a star and I’d hate for them to blow it for a guy who is already huge and respected. Mutoh is the obvious choice as he is the number one contender and next in line for a serious title shot, but he’s not the best choice in my opinion. It’s the return of that ever so present “Puro Plague” where the old veteran always is at the top at the expense of younger guys. All Japan has been good about trying to push younger guys for the last couple years and I’d hope they continue that with this situation. While it seems that there is nobody young that could take it and be believable, I’m about to look outside the lines.

The first thing I thought when going over this in my head was Kojima, Sasaki and Kea are obviously the best choices beyond Mutoh, and I’ll still hold that if it were to come between those 3 or Mutoh that as much as I love Kea, I’d still pick Mutoh. What I really think needs to happen is for Suzuki to continue to dominate for at least another year. What does he need another year for you ask? Well, something is going to have to dramatically change in All Japan for my choice to be anywhere near being a good choice to dethrone Suzuki. So, for the next year starting this summer, we begin to see the death of Voodoo Murders. Eventually Kojima joins and makes them nearly unbeatable, putting the fear in the fans of a real VM take over in All Japan. What nobody realizes early on is that there is dissention in the ranks of Voodoo Murders. As time goes on and nobody is dethroning Suzuki, the bigger story in on how Voodoo Murders are beginning to fall apart, but nobody knows why. Eventually it becomes apparent that it’s Kohei Suwama, who turns on Voodoo Murders. I think the opportune time to have the turn go full force is at the Champion Carnival which I would love to see Suwama win. I was pulling for him to win this year, and he came extraordinarily close. One by one he take all of Voodoo Murders down finishing with Kojima. Come next August at their big annual Sumo/Budokan Hall show Suwama finally gets his shot at the Triple Crown by defeating Suzuki and bringing the Triple Crown back to All Japan and while it probably won‘t receive the celebration Nagata received when he won the IWGP title, it would take Suwama to a place in his career that something like the Nagata celebration could happen to him down the road.

I know, it’s a little out there, but I like the idea for several reasons. Firstly it ends the Voodoo Murders angle that by that time will have run it’s course. It’ll need Kojima to keep it from hitting that point before next year, but the Kojima turn would get people talking and revive interest. Once Suwama turns he is an instant hero, which is my second reason to like the idea, as he will become the first to turn on VM. The reason I pick him is because when he first was signed to All Japan he was billed to be the next savior of All Japan. That all changed when he joined Voodoo Murders and it would be sweet justice if he ended up being the one to take them down in the end. The last reason I really like the idea is that some day, All Japan isn’t going to be able to rely on Kawada, Sasake and Mutoh to be holding the top together. Eventually somebody is going to have to be the hero, and at this point, I hope Kohei Suwama is that guy. He has a ways to go and a lot to learn, but in my timeline they have about 15 months to groom him and I think that’s long enough.

Well, again I’ve made a bold statement, this time it’s much less a prediction that a little bit of fantasy booking. I just really want to see puro move on a little bit. They are trying and while Nagata was the right guy for New Japan, Mutoh will only be a temporary solution, while I think the longevity of Suwama is there and he can do so much with his career if given the chance.

Catching up with Puro!

This is the part of the column where I will recommend a relatively recent puro show (within the last couple years). I realize that this is nothing new, and that I’ll be recommending quite a few shows that people have already recommended numerous times throughout the recent history of the beloved/despised IWC. I hope you take my recommendation seriously and hunt down these shows and expose yourself to puro (of course not in the naked way, unless that’s your bag) and find out what you’re missing. You can typically find most of these shows from anywhere between $3 and $8 USD at a variety of places online. So, here is my recommendation.

Dragon Gate 03/25/2007

A big show by Dragon Gate features 3 title matches including one with one of those moments that you know you just want to see. Jushin Thunder Liger gets one more shot at gold in a match for the Open the Dream Gate title, which is the top title in Dragon Gate against champ Don Fujii. If that isn’t enough, Matt Sydal defends his Open the Brave Gate title against Genki Horiguchi in a very good match. The Open the Triangle Gate title is on the line also as champs Naruki Doi, Gamma & Masato Yoshino defend against CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka & Ryo Saito in a very good match. If you want to check out Dragon Gate and make it current, there really isn’t a better show to do that with than this one.

Here’s the card:

1. Dragon Kid, Anthony W. Mori, BxB Hulk & Atsushi Aoki vs. Akira Tozawa, Kenichiro Arai, Taku Iwasa & Yuki Ono
2. Kintaro Kanemura & Yasushi Kanda vs. Magnitude Kishiwada & Kengo Takai
3. Open the Brave Gate: Matt Sydal vs. Genki Horiguchi
4. Jun Akiyama vs. Stalker Ichikawa
5. Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Cyber Kong
6. Open the Triangle Gate: Naruki Doi, Gamma & Masato Yoshino vs. CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka & Ryo Saito
7. Open the Dream Gate: Don Fujii vs. Jushin Thunder Liger

Reader Recommendations!

This week I got an email from Joe Gutierrez who did as I asked and recommended some recent Joshi. It’s much appreciated. I’ll be checking out the recommendations he makes that I don’t already have, and so should all of you. Joe wrote,

Hi, I enjoyed your two part column on the subject of what joshi puro matches to look out for.
I’ll be honest that I haven’t seen too much joshi from the last year, but I will recommend three of the best matches that I have seen as of late. All from 2006.
From the Nanae Takahashi 10th Anniversary Show (7/23/06)
Amazing Kong vs Nanae Takahashi
From Sendai Girls (Puroresu King #72)
Aja Kong vs Meiko Satomura
and Manami Toyota vs Azumi Hyuga

Thanks Joe, I’m excited to check out Toyota vs. Azumi Hyuga for sure and I’ll easily recommend the other two shows as they are both about the best joshi shows from 2006 that I have seen.

Be a Follower!

Do as Joe did and write me, it boosts my ego and gives you a little chance to exercise free speech. Do it today, you might not have tomorrow. Until next time.

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