Pro Wrestling NOAH announced on Sunday that WWE’s Shinsuke Nakamura will face The Great Muta at their Budokan Hall show on New Year’s Day.
Keiji Mutoh, otherwise known as The Great Muta, is in the process of setting up his retirement tour, with his final match scheduled for February 23, 2023, at the Tokyo Dome.
Most American fans were first introduced to Muta during his days in the NWA/WCW, where he debuted in 1989. Muta had a memorable feud with Sting, where he won the Television Title before dropping it to Arn Anderson on his way out of the promotion.
Muta returned to WCW in 1992, where he won the Battlebowl battle royal. In 1993, he became the first to hold the NWA and IWGP World Championships. Muta’s only WCW appearance in 1994 brought about an exciting match-up against Steve Austin for the United States Title at Spring Stampede.
Fans stateside wouldn’t see the Japanese sensation again until the May 26. 1997 episode of WCW Monday Nitro. Muta, scheduled to wrestle Masahiro Chono, turned on his manager Sonny Ono and accepted Chono’s invitation to join the nWo.
While Muta has wrestled worldwide throughout his illustrious career, New Japan Pro Wrestling is where he became a legend. Muta will have his final New Japan match on November 20, where he will team with Kazuchika Okada and Toru Yano against The Great-O-Khan, Aaron Henare, and Jeff Cobb.
Mutoh will wrestle his final match under the Muta persona on 1/22 in Yokohama, Japan, where he will team with Sting.
It is rare for WWE to allow their wrestlers to work on shows for other promotions. In an interview with Tokyo Sports, Nakamura said, “It’s nothing but a miracle,” citing persistent negotiations on his part. Nakamura said he wrestled Mutoh twice but never locked up with The Great Muta.
Muta and Nakamura share a significant career achievement. Both were members of their generation’s incarnation of The Three Musketeers. Trained and influenced by the late Antonio Inoki, the Musketeers were designed to supplant the old guard of New Japan Pro Wrestling and become the company’s biggest stars.
Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto were dubbed the original Musketeers in 1984. Two decades later, Shinsuke Nakamura, Katsuyori Shibata, and Hiroshi Tanahashi were labeled the new generation of Musketeers.
The novelty of this matchup is Nakamura was given clearance to wrestle for another promotion to celebrate a wrestler who never stepped foot in a WWE ring. However, there are no illusions that we will see a classic match on New Year’s Day.
Muta will be 60 years old in December, and his knees are all but shot. Nakamura is most likely winning since WWE would never have their stars lose in someone else’s ring. Also, most Japanese wrestlers who embark on a retirement tour lose most of their matches on the way out.
It will be interesting to see if Nakamura will give fans a glimpse of the style that lit Japan on fire. The toned-down WWE style Nakamura has employed over the last several years has some wondering if he’s not the same wrestler he used to be.
Pro Wrestling NOAH, Muta, and Nakamura are all getting something out of this deal. What is Triple H getting? Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this leads to The Great Muta being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2023.
NXT Japan has been an on-again-off-again thing for several years. Maybe, this is WWE’s opening salvo to expand their operations in Japan.
Nakamura vs. Muta is a better-late-than-never affair that wouldn’t have happened under the Vince McMahon regime. While no one is expecting a five-star classic, it’s a historic match where perhaps we will get some flashes of brilliance that made them two of the most beloved superstars in all of Japanese professional wrestling.