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Hefty fan club

Whenever Kent Moore meets someone from Japan, one of the first things he does is flop out his wallet and show them the picture of 340-pound sumo wrestler Kotomitsuki Keiji.

Moore, chairman of the Newport Beach Sister City Assn., is usually met with a look of recognition and a friendly “ah so,” a common Japanese phrase meaning “oh, really.”

“It’s a great ice breaker,” Moore said.

Moore, Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau and City Councilmen Don Webb and Steve Rosansky, are all members of Kotomitsuki’s official fan club. Mayor Ed Selich is in the process of joining. Moore believes Newport Beach may be the only city in the United States to have its own city-sponsored sumo wrestler. Kotomitsuki is the favorite son of Newport’s Japanese sister city Okazaki and Newport Beach city officials also have adopted the hefty sumo star.

“He’s kind of their hometown hero — kind of like football or baseball player there,” Rosansky said. Rosansky met Kotomitsuki on a visit to Okazaki last year during a good-will visit. He and other city officials get regular newsletters on how Kotomitsuki is doing as members of his fan club. Rosansky also is the proud owner of a Kotomitsuki beach towel and a T-shirt bearing the wrestler’s likeness.

Kotomitsuki is a well-known Sumo star in Japan. The 31-year-old wrestler, whose real names is Keiji Tamiya, became the oldest wrestler ever to climb to the second-highest champion rank of ozeki within the sport last year, earning him an official congratulatory proclamation from then-Newport Beach Mayor Rosansky.

“He [Kotomitsuki] is like a real local hero over there,” Selich said.

“I joined his fan club because I thought it would be cool to follow the tradition.”

Selich said he hopes to meet Kotomitsuki during the next official Newport to Okazaki visit next year.

City officials said they believe their membership in the sumo club is a gesture of goodwill toward Okazaki.

“We felt that it was important since he’s kind of been adopted by the community in Okazaki,” said Webb, who lost an arm-wrestling match with Kotomitsuki during his visit to Okazaki last year.

Sumo wrestling is a more than 1,000-year-old tradition in Japan, where it is the national sport. There are 70 winning techniques in Sumo, which include moves involving pushing, thrusting and throwing to force an opponent down or out of the ring, according to Moore.

Kotomitsuki speaks very little English, but seemed like a good enough sport when Bludau used an old trick to beat the wrestler during an arm wrestling match when he visited Okazaki about four years ago, Bludau said.

“When he was least suspecting it, I downed his arm and walked away — but I don’t think it went on his record,” Bludau said.

The city manager still has an official Kotomitsuki hand towel he takes with him when he works out at the gym, he said.

“I think they [the people of Okazaki] would like to know that there are members of the fan club who support the same guy they support,” Bludau said.

Kotomitsuki Keiji

Birth name: Keiji Tamiya

Born: April 11, 1976

Height: 5 feet 11 inches

Weight: 340 pounds

Career highlights: Kotomitsuki became the oldest wrestler in modern times to obtain the champion rank of ozeki in July 2007. Ozeki is the second-highest rank a sumo wrestler can obtain in the sport, yokozuna being the highest.


BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at brianna.bailey@latimes.com.


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