WWE Alum Earthquake vs. Koji Kitao; a History of Pro Wrestling Shoots, Part 1

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WWE Alum Earthquake vs. Koji Kitao; a History of Pro Wrestling Shoots, Part 1
Photo credit: wwe.com

Two former sumo wrestlers collided in Kobe, Japan in one of the most bizarre matches ever. Pride and stubbornness derailed Koji Kitao and John Tenta aka Earthquake's match, sending it veering off the script.

In April of 1991, the Japanese wrestling promotion Super World of Sports (SWS) put on a joint show with WWE called Wrestle Dream.

Each company's biggest stars faced off. Matches included Randy Savage vs. Genichiro Tenryu, Bret Hart vs. George Takano and Hulk Hogan vs. Yoshiaki Yatsu

The only thing most fans remember from the event though was Tenta and Kitao's no-contest.

The two behemoths spent much of the match circling each other, walking on the precipice of a full-on fight. Their inaction ended up causing more of a stir than an actual wrestling match between them probably would have.

The incident will go down as one of the weirdest cases of a wrestling match devolving into a shoot.

To understand what happened that night, it helps to peek back at the two performers' pasts.

 

The Men

WWE fans will remember John Tenta most for his WWE run in the early '90s as Earthquake. He was a destructive force, a large man who came crashing down on many an opponent's chest.

Photo from Sumo World Magazine

 

Before Tenta was battling the likes of Hulk Hogan, he was a sumo wrestler.

Some believe that this is what birthed some of the tension between him and Kitao.

Kitao was also a former sumo wrestler, but held a much loftier position. Tenta competed in sumo for just over a year.

Kitao, on the other hand, rose to the rank of Yokuzuna, the sport's highest rank. Perhaps he saw a scripted loss to a lower-ranked sumo as an insult or perhaps he was just an immature malcontent.

Before this match with Tenta, Kitao had been fired from New Japan Pro Wrestling and expelled from sumo.

Regarding his exit from sumo wrestling, Mike D'Orso of Sportsillustrated.com wrote:

"It was a temper tantrum that did him in. In the tradition-bound world of sumo, where the virtues of honor and harmony are law, there is no room for a man who, in a pique, sidekicks his 88-year-old stable master and shoves the master's wife into a sliding door."

With a track record like this, Kitao's childish antics at Wrestle Dream come as no surprise.

 

The Match

Tenta had beaten Kitao in Tokyo just two nights before this showdown. The rematch would never get started, but instead stutter awkwardly into the annals of history.

Kitao is in blue

 

It was clear right away that something was not right.

Kitao seemed to resist Tenta's initial moves, including a headlock. When the referee separated them, Tenta pushed Kitao.

Kitao didn't react at all to the push. He showed a glimpse of his defiance by not selling the minor move.

The two men locked fingers in a test of strength, and the matched seemed to be returning to normalcy. About a minute later, Kitao seemed to be pouting as he walked out of the ring and threw part of the commentary table against the ring ropes.

Wrestling fans likely assumed that this was all part of the storyline until the awkwardness intensified.

Tenta and Kitao soon stood in the ring, batting each other's hands away. Tenta stared down his opponent with legitimate anger.

Kitao would not work with Tenta. He was the improv actor who said no to everything.

He was making a mockery of the match.

Tenta could be heard yelling at him, "This is pro wrestling."

The rest of the match consisted of the two big men pacing around each other with Kitao trying to poke Tenta in the eye.

The normal pace of a wrestling match was replaced by a stare-down and near fight.

 

Had they actually traded blows, this incident would be even more infamous. There was only the puffing out of chests.

Kitao acted like a frustrated toddler and in a startling turn of events, kicked the referee over. It was a real kick, not a theatrical one.

This moment eerily echoed his dishonorable departure from sumo.

The ref called for the bell. This match was not salvageable.

With some intense encounters it's hard to tell what is part of the show and what isn't, but no booker would put together a match where two guys just looked at each other angrily and didn't do anything about it.

 

The Aftermath

After wrecking his match with Tenta, Kitao allegedly grabbed a mic at ringside and told the crowd, "Wrestling is fake" before storming off.

Like his career as a sumo wrestler and his stint with NJPW, Kitao ended his SMS run in disgrace.

Next up for the former sumo grand champion was a short-lived MMA career where he amassed a total of one win.

Kitao's odd behavior probably didn't rob fans of an all-time classic, but his behavior that night spit in the face of pro wrestling tradition. He broke character and departed from the plot the equivalent of an actor on Broadway refusing to give his lines and then walking off the stage.

Tenta will be remembered for a run at the top of the world's biggest company, for his work in Japan and his strange turn as the South Park-obsessed character, Golga.

Kitao's pettiness and his gutting of a match will be his most well-known contribution to pro wrestling history.

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