Koji Kitao, Sumo Star And WrestleMania 7 Participant, Passes Away

He was 55...

Koji Kitao, a prolific sumo star of the 1980s who later turned to professional wrestling after leaving the sport, passed away on February 10 of chronic renal failure, aged 55. News of Kitao's death had been kept secretive for reasons unclear, before being reported by Nikkan Sports on Friday.

The 6'7, 300-plus pound Kitao was promoted to the standing of yokozuna (grand champion) in 1986, a controversial move given that Kitao would never win a tournament with that ranking, the only yokozuna to never do so.

Kitao left sumo in 1987 after a major falling out with stable boss Tatsunami, and made his professional wrestling debut in November 1989 for Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association.

In the fall of 1990, Kitao began wrestling for the upstart Super World of Sports promotion, which entered into a co-promotional relationship with WWE around that time. This led to Kitao and Genichiro Tenryu defeating Demolition in a somewhat random interpromotional match at WrestleMania 7 in 1991.

One week later, during a WWE/SWS joint run in Japan, Kitao was fired for his actions after refusing to cooperate with opponent Earthquake. The match between the two degenerated into a bizarre shoot in which Kitao refused to physically engage with Earthquake (a former sumo himself), before angrily kicking the referee, and then declaring over the microphone that wrestling was fake.

Kitao would continue wrestling up into early 1998, primarily for Tenryu's Wrestle Association R (WAR).

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.