Sumo’s greatest-ever champion Hakuho retired on Monday after battling persistent knee trouble, officials said, leaving a gaping hole at the top of the ancient sport.
The Mongolian-born 36-year-old has won a record 45 tournaments — 13 more than anyone else in history — but has been sidelined by injury for most of the year.
He and 17 other wrestlers from his stable were forced to miss the following tournament, which ended Sunday, after a coronavirus outbreak.
“I learned from the sumo association chairman that Hakuho’s letter of retirement was filed through his stable master today,” Hironori Yano, head of the yokozuna deliberation council, which is close to the association, told reporters.
The Japan Sumo Association declined to comment, but the news made headlines in the country and grateful fans tweeted their support for the star.
“I want to tell him: ‘Great work. Well done’. He worked really hard, coming all the way to Japan, becoming a sumo wrestler and a yokozuna champion. It’s not very easy to achieve all that,” the 76-year-old told AFP.
“I think there are many wrestlers whose admiration of Hakuho led them to pursue the sport,” the 46-year-old added.
Born Munkhbat Davaajargal and the son of an Olympic silver-medal freestyle wrestler, Hakuho came to Japan at age 15 to enter the sumo world.
His battles with fellow Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu — the pantomime villain to Hakuho’s popular good guy — helped breathe new life into the sport, with attendances booming.
The one-time rival called Hakuho “a tremendous yokozuna”, in a post on Twitter after news of the retirement emerged.
Hakuho outlasted fellow yokozuna Harumafuji, Kakuryu and Kisenosato.
He leaves the sport as sumo’s longest-serving yokozuna, having fought his 1,000th bout at the rank in July 2020.