Last Saturday, I unknowingly watched the penultimate match of a legend, as Sumo Yokozuna Takanohana today announced the end of his career after losing again on Sunday. In sumo, the yokozuna is the the highest rank, very hard to achieve (there were only 66 in the last 300 and some years), the only rank that is not subject to possible demotion in every tournament. But being the pinnacle of the sumo world carries the expectation of performing along this standard, and stepping down when no longer able to live up to his status.
Takanohana, one of the most illustrious wrestlers had been plagued by injuries lately, and had missed seven straight tournaments in 2001 and 2002 before making an impressive comeback to the dohyo with a 12-3 record in the September tournament, but then opted out of the Kyuushuu tournament in November as he still hadn't fully recovered.
Opting in for the New Year's tournament at the last minute, he retired from the tournament after just one day, but returned after only one day of absence, won two bouts in a row, but then fell twice to rank-and-file maegashira, bringing his tournament score to 4-3 with one absence. Realizing his health still hadn't improved as hoped, he announced his retirement this morning, no doubt also due to a lot of pressure from the sumo association. Technically, he will remain yokozuna until the traditional cutting of his topknot in one of the next tournaments, but he will not participate in any more fights.
His professional career was an illustrious one:
Starting his career in 1988, he was the son of the former ozeki Takanohana (now Futagoyama). He was the youngest wrestler ever to win the title of the makushita division, youngest ever to ascend to the juryo division, and again youngest ever to reach the top makuuchi division. He then became the youngest wrestler to defeat a yokozuna (Chiyonofuji), and aged 19, he became the youngest ever tournament winner in the 1992 New Year Tournament. He ascended to the rank of Yokozuna in 1995, when he ended the 1994 season with back to back 15-0 victory series.
In total, he won 22 tournaments, earning him the fourth place in that respect. In the 1990s, he and his brother Wakanohana (formerly a yokozuna himself) dominated the sport and created a lot of fan exitement as the Taka-Waka period. Up to his series of injuries, Takanohana was almost undefeatable with only fellow yokozuna Musashimaru able to stand against him from time to time.