Nikkan Sports reported on Friday that former sumo star, professional wrestler and mixed martial artist Koji Kitao died back on February 10th with the news only coming out now.
Kitao began his journey in Sumo at the age of 15 and within seven years had been promoted to the rank of “yokozuna” and adopted the name of “Futahaguro”. Kitao was thrown out of Sumo after several alleged incidents, including striking a stablemate and having a heated argument with his stable master. In later years, the issues with his stablemaster were disputed but at the time they forced Kitao out and positioned it as retirement to the public rather than a firing.
He transitioned to professional wrestling, training under Lou Thesz and was sent to Verne Gagne in Minneapolis to wrestle under a mask as the Monster Machine before returning to Japan.
Kitao entering New Japan Pro Wrestling was a big deal and would occur at a special joint show put on by New Japan and All Japan in February 1990. The show has an intriguing backstory as it was scheduled to feature WCW talent, including Ric Flair coming to work the show. Flair was in the middle of problems with Jim Herd and he didn’t come to the show. New Japan needed something to save the Tokyo Dome card and enlisted All Japan to send some talent.
Kitao debuted against Bam Bam Bigelow in one of the prominently featured attractions on the show. However, by July, Kitao had burned a bridge in his new profession, disrespecting Riki Choshu and allegedly uttering an ethnic slur against the Korean born Choshu.
His next stop came with the upstart SWS group, financed by eyeglass company Megane Super and its key signing being Genichiro Tenryu from All Japan. Kitao was signed by the group in 1990, who had a working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation. This deal led to Kitao teaming with Tenryu at WrestleMania 7 in March 1991 against Demolition members Smash and Crush.
Later that month, SWS booked Kitao for a match against John “Earthquake” Tenta at the group’s inaugural Tokyo Dome card. Tenta won the match and then had a more infamous rematch two days later in Kobe where the match completely fell apart. Tenta, who had competed in Sumo but far below Kitao’s level, was frustrated with Kitao’s refusal to sell and the match became a disaster with Kitao attacking the referee for the disqualification. Kitao went into business for himself cutting a promo about wrestling being fake and his time with SWS was over.
Kitao worked for the UWFi organization in 1992, including the main event against Nobuhiko Takada in October 1992 at Budokan Hall that Takada won with a knockout in the third round. He went to Tenryu’s WAR promotion in 1994 and had the most sustained run of his wrestling career with the group. This included winning the promotion’s six-man tag titles in October 1997 alongside Nobukazu Hirai and Masaaki Mochizuki and held them until Kitao’s retirement announcement in 1998.
In May 1995, he made amends with those in New Japan including Riki Choshu, teaming with Antonio Inoki against Choshu and Tenryu at Wrestling Dontaku in Fukuoka.
His foray into MMA was brief, having three fight, which included a loss to Mark Hall at UFC 9 in May 1996 and facing future WWE wrestler Nathan Jones on the first PRIDE card in October 1997
The Nikkan Sports report is listing the cause of death as renal failure.