Kōji Kitao (born August 12, 1963) was a former sumo wrestler and professional wrestler, born in Mie, Japan. He was sumo's 60th yokozuna, and the only yokozuna in sumo history not to win a top division tournament championship. He was forced to leave sumo at the end of 1987 after a falling-out with his stable master Tatsunami, and became a professional wrestler in 1990.
Upon being dismissed by the Sumo Association, Kitao was linked with a move to America's National Football League, but instead turned to professional wrestling. To mollify the association, he dropped the shikona and reverted to his real name.
Professional wrestling career
American Wrestling Association (1989)
To prepare for his debut in Japan, he debuted in the United States for Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association in November 1989, through Masa Saito's connections. To keep his identity a secret to the Japanese press, he wrestled under the masked persona, Monster Machine.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (1990)
Trained at the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) dojo, he made his Japanese debut on February 10, 1990, at the NJPW/AJPW Supershow in the Tokyo Dome, where he defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in a highly anticipated match. Unfortunately, his stay in NJPW didn't last long, because later that July, he was fired for disrespectful conduct towards the Korean-born Riki Choshu, who Kitao taunted using an ethnic slur.
Super World of Sports (1990-1991)
Upon joining SWS in November 1990, he joined the Revolution stable and teamed with fellow former sumo Genichiro Tenryu. In an appearance at the World Wrestling Federation's WrestleMania VII, Tenryu and Kitao defeated Demolition. During his match with another former sumo-turned-pro wrestler in John "Earthquake" Tenta on April 1, 1991 at a show in Kobe, Kitao and Tenta broke kayfabe by being uncooperative with each other. Kitao didn't sell Earthquake's attacks and shot on him. After Kitao was disqualified for kicking the referee, he immediately grabbed a microphone and began telling the audience that wrestling is fake and that Tenta never could really beat him, as other Japanese wrestlers attempted to restrain him. Because of the incident, Koji was subsequently fired from SWS.
Various leagues (1991-1998)
Kitao then wandered in martial arts and got a black belt in karate. In 1992 he returned to wrestling under his new martial arts persona by appearing in a UWF International event, defeating Kazuo Yamazaki. This enabled him to face UWF-i top star Nobuhiko Takada in a worked shoot wrestling match. Pre-match discussions over the outcome of the match led to an agreement being reached for a draw, but Takada saw an opportunity and double-crossed Kitao during the match, legitimately KO'ing him with a kick to the head. Takada had won, but the importance of the match was that Kitao was truly back into puroresu. Moreover, Kitao showed a more respectful personality, bowing to the crowd and shaking hands with Takada after the match.
In the following years he was recruited by his long-time friend Genichiro Tenryu for his Wrestle Association R promotion. Kitao also formed his own dojo and promotion called "Kitao Dojo", later changed to "Bukō Dōjō". Among the wrestlers that came out of the dojo were Masaaki Mochizuki, Yoshikazu Taru, and Takashi Okamura, who later became business partners of Último Dragón in his junior heavyweight ventures. In WAR, they competed as a stable led by Kitao, also called Bukō Dōjō.
On May 5, 1995, Kitao appeared in New Japan Pro Wrestling to reconcile with Riki Choshu, and wrestled a match along Antonio Inoki against Choshu and Tenryu. Kitao participated in some Martial Arts Festivals arranged by Inoki, beating foreign wrestlers like Crusher Kline, Glen Jacobs, and Mabel.
In 1997, he won his only title, the WAR World Six-Man Tag Team Championship, with Mochizuki and WAR rookie Nobukazu Hirai in October 1997. They retained it for a year, dropping it in 1998 against Koki Kitahara, Lance Storm and Nobutaka Araya. Koji retired from pro wrestling in October 1998, celebrating his retirement ceremony in the PRIDE 4 event.
Personal life and death
In 2013, Kitao was diagnosed with kidney disease.
On March 29, 2019, his wife announced that Kitao had died on February 10 from chronic renal failure at the age of 55.
- In 1996, he had an appearance in the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie The Quest as the fighting representative of Japan, a sumo champion.
- Kitao appears unofficially in the games WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, and WCW/nWo Revenge, as Kim Chee.
- Finishing moves
- Kitao Driller (Over the shoulder reverse piledriver)
- Running leg drop - 1990-1991
- Signature moves
- Entrance themes
- "Thunder Storm (Instrumental)" by Demon Kogure Kakka (NJPW, 1990)
- "Koji Kitao SWS" (SWS, 1990–1991)
Championships and accomplishments
- Kitao Dojo
- Bukō Dojo Tournament (1995)
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him # 113 of the top 500 best singles wrestlers of the PWI 500 in 1996
- Super World of Sports
- One Night Tag Team Tournament (1990) - with Genichiro Tenryu
- Tokyo Sports
- Topic Award (1990)
- Wrestle Association R
- Haberman, Clive 1988-02-01. Wrestler fails to keep hold on an honorable past . New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-05-12.
- D'Orso, Mike 1990-02-12. Will Sumo Wrestling's Loss Be Pro Wrestling's Gain? . Sports Illustrated. Retrieved on 2009-05-26.
- New Japan Pro Wrestling Results: 1989~1999 (Tokyo Dome) (in German). PuroLove.com. Retrieved on 2014-06-19.
- Profile at Puroresu Central . Puroresu Central. Retrieved on 2014-06-19.