OSAKA, March 16 (Kyodo) - Yokozuna Wakanohana, one of sumo's smaller stars but a wrestler known for his tremendous tenacity and agility who took center stage during sumo's boom years, bowed out of the dohyo ring forever Thursday after a string of disappointing records as a grand champion.
Wakanohana announced his retirement from the traditional Japanese sport after being shoved out by sekiwake Tochiazuma for his third loss five days into the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
"I've found it hard to keep my mental toughness that can make up for the lack of my physical strength. I decided to call it quits on my way back (from the gymnasium) after losing today's bout," Wakanohana said at a hastily arranged press conference Thursday night.
"I told my stablemaster that I'd like to retire rather than asking for his advice. I just want to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who supported me in all those years," he added.
Stablemaster Futagoyama, who is also Wakanohana's father, said he has accepted and respects Wakanohana's decision and will formally submit the wrestler's resignation to the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) on Friday.
Wakanohana, plagued with a spate of injuries for much of his 13-year career, quit at the age of 29 years and one month, becoming the sixth youngest of 67 yokozuna on record in terms of retirement age.
His tenure of 11 tournaments at sumo's ultimate rank is the sixth shortest and he sat out or withdrew from six of them through damaged ligaments and a torn thigh muscle, which followed a liver ailment, a sprained ankle and a broken toe earlier in his career.
He won five Emperor's Cups but none as a grand champion.
"I wanted him to be fully fit by taking more time off and I have no idea why he returned to the dohyo in a hurry," said Kazuo Ichiriki, head of the powerful Yokozuna Deliberation Council, an advisory body to JSA Chairman Tokitsukaze.
"He could have stayed on in sumo for some more years had he not been promoted to yokozuna and left lasting memories as an outstanding ozeki just like his father did," Ichiriki added.
Ichiriki and his council members gave the nod to Wakanohana's promotion to yokozuna in May 1998 after he defied the odds to win back-to-back tournaments to join younger brother Takanohana as the first pair of siblings in history to share grand champion status.
On his way to the top, Wakanohana needed 47 tournaments in the makuuchi division and spent 29 basho at the second highest rank of ozeki, the third longest spell spent waiting for yokozuna promotion.
Such a snail's pace contrasted with the smooth path traveled by Takanohana, a 20-time Emperor's Cup winner who made his professional debut simultaneously with Wakanohana in March 1988 and made yokozuna more than three years earlier.
Weighing about 130 kilograms and 181 centimeters tall - a diminutive physique for a sumo wrestler - Wakanohana gained huge popularity among sumo fans and was at the center of the sport's boom alongside Takanohana in the late 1980s through mid-1990s.
The Waka-Taka boom culminated in a championship playoff between them - the first ever between siblings - at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November 1995, which was won by the elder brother.
Wakanohana's promotion and the subsequent slump of both grand champions in the last two years signaled a decline of their once mighty Futagoyama stable - and sumo's popularity as well.
Wakanohana entered the dohyo ring in Osaka knowing it would be a do-or-die occasion for his career after receiving an ultimatum from senior JSA elders and members of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council.
They advised Wakanohana to keep away from the dohyo until he recovered fully from a thigh injury after finishing last year's Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament with a disastrous 7-8 record.
Wakanohana, who was wrestling the final five bouts of that tourney with a torn thigh muscle, became only the second yokozuna to fail to collect a majority of wins in a 15-day grand sumo meet.
He skipped the next two tournaments in the run-up to the ongoing spring tournament.
OSAKA, Japan (AP) - Hawaiian-born yokozuna (grand champion) Akebono suffered his second defeat to fall to 3-2 Thursday, the fifth day of the 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
suffer upset defeats
Two lower-ranked wrestlers, Takatoriki and Toki, moved into a two-way lead with a 5-0 record after sekiwake (junior champion) Musoyama suffered his first defeat.
Also tied at 4-1 are five other wrestlers - yokozunas Musashimaru and Takanohana, ozeki (champion) Dejima, sekiwake Miyabiyama and No. 8 maegashira Asanowaka.
Wakanohana, another yokozuna, suffered his third defeat, driven out by sekiwake Tochiazuma. Both wrestlers now stand at 2-3.
Wrestling at the Osaka prefectural gymnasium in western Japan, Miyabiyama dodged Akebono's driving charge skillfully and sent Akebono, or Chad Rowan, out.
No. 2 maegashira (senior wrestler) Kyokutenho, or Mongolian Tsevegnyam Nyamjav, sidestepped to the left in the initial charge and slapped down Musoyama. Kyokutenho stands at 1-4.
In the day's final bout, Takanohana forced out No. 3 maegashira Kotoryu, leaving Kotoryu at 2-3.
Musashimaru, or Fiamalu Penitani, fought off komusubi (junior champion second class) Tosanoumi's driving attempt at the ring's edge and slapped him down. Tosanoumi is 2-3.
In other major bouts, Dejima charged No. 4 maegashira Minatofuji with hand thrusts and forced him out. Minatofuji falls to 1-4.
No. 1 maegashira Kyokushuzan, or Mongolian Batbayar Davaa, threw down ozeki Takanonami, leaving both wrestlers at 3-2.
Komusubi Kaio crashed hard against ozeki Chiyotaikai and pulled him down for his second victory against three defeats. Chiyotaikai now has a 3-2 record.
No. 7 maegashira Toki crushed down No. 11-ranked Oikari, leaving Oikari at 1-4.
No. 14 maegashira Takatoriki charged No. 10 maegashira Hayateumi with hand thrusts and sent him out, leaving Hayateumi at 2-3.
In the 26-member juryo division, just below the senior makuuchi division, No. 7-ranked Hoshitango, or Argentine Imach Marcelo Salomon, suffered his fifth straight defeat against no victories, losing to No. 3-ranked Mitoizumi by a driving technique. Mitoizumi is 2-3.
No. 11-ranked Sentoryu, or American Henry Armstrong Miller, pushed out No. 8-ranked Aminishiki for his fourth victory against one defeat. Aminishiki is 3-2.
In makushita, the top junior division, No. 19-ranked Asashoyu (2-1), or Mongolian Dolgorsvren Dagvadrj, slapped down No.17-ranked Kotohikari.
In sandanme, the second highest junior division, No. 63-ranked Azumaoh (1-2), or Brazilian Yasuto Morita, was sent out by No. 60-ranked Hanada.
No. 68-ranked Kaihakusan (2-1), or South Korean Baeg Yun-gi, was thrown down by No. 69-ranked Haguroumi.
In jonidan, the third highest junior division, No. 120-ranked Kitakasuga (3-0), or Mongolian Tsolmonbayar Munkhbat, slapped down No. 124-ranked Kaisho.
Wrestlers in junior divisions have only seven bouts during the 15-day tournament.
Results in Scoreboard
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Kyodo News Service