The greatest sumo champion of all time, Hakuho, has decided to retire due to lingering knee problems, Japanese media reported on Monday, leaving a gaping hole at the top of the old sport.
The 36-year-old, Mongolian-born, has won a record 45 tournaments, 13 more than anyone in history, but has been sidelined with injuries for most of the year.
He made his only 2021 appearance at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July, remaining undefeated to win the title after missing all or part of the previous six competitions.
He and 17 other wrestlers in his team were forced to miss the next tournament, which ended on Sunday, after a coronavirus outbreak.
Local media reported that Hakuho decided to retire with a right knee injury, ending his illustrious career after 1,187 victories.
The Japanese Sumo Association said it had no comment.
Born Munkhbat Davaajargal and the son of an Olympic silver medalist free wrestler, Hakuho came to Japan at the age of 15 to enter sumo.
He made his debut in 2001 and won his first Premier League title in May 2006, before reaching the sport’s top rank of yokozuna at age 22 in July 2007.
His battles with fellow Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu – the pantomime villain of the popular good guy from Hakuho – helped breathe new life into the old sport, with attendance booming.
Asashoryu retired in 2010, but Hakuho grew stronger and stronger, surpassing Taiho’s legendary record of 33 tournament wins in January 2015.
Hakuho outlived fellow Yokozuna Harumafuji, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, but his impending retirement will leave only one wrestler – Terunofuji – at the top of sumo.
Hakuho acquired Japanese citizenship in September 2019, giving him the right to run his own sumo team after his retirement.
He is leaving the sport as sumo’s longest-serving yokozuna, having fought his 1,000th row bout in July 2020.
© 2021 AFP