Photo/IllutrationYokozuna Harumafuji announces his retirement from sumo at a news conference on Nov. 29. (Tetsuro Takehana)

After weeks of heated speculation, Yokozuna Harumafuji announced his decision to retire from the world of sumo for assaulting a lower-ranked wrestler during a bout of drinking in late October.

From the outset, Harumafuji admitted to subjecting fellow Mongolian and maegashira No. 8 Takanoiwa to a savage beating.

No doubt he decided in his heart that he would have to step down from the sport he loved since he had mentioned retirement to close associates even before he was questioned about the incident by Tottori prefectural police.

I always admired his fighting spirit within the dohyo, so I regard his departure as a major loss for sumo.

During ceremonies to mark his promotion to ozeki, and then to grand champion, Harumafuji used the phrase "zenshin zenrei," or my entire body and soul, in pledging his determination to fight vigorously in those two important ranks.

Although he was comparatively smaller than other wrestlers in the top makuuchi division, Harumafuji won the Emperor's Cup nine times--mainly on the strength of the pledge he had made.

When he started out in sumo, Harumafuji weighed 86 kilograms. In the 2012 Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament when he first wrestled as yozokuna, he weighed 133 kg, which made him the lightest sumo wrestler in the makuuchi division at that time.

He compensated for his body weight with speed and fighting spirit. His face-off at the start of a bout was a thing to behold, especially when he was focused totally on his opponent.

He once said, "I cannot make any excuse once I step in the dohyo."

Harumafuji took on much larger opponents, such as yokozuna Hakuho and Kisenosato, even though he often had both elbow and wrist injuries.

There are still many unanswered questions about what transpired when he turned on his fellow Mongolian wrestler during a drinking session. Did Harumafuji strike Takanoiwa with something other than his fists? What caused him to beat the younger wrestler?

Harumafuji had a reputation for enjoying a drink and whose personality changed once he imbibed heavily.

He might have also let his guard down since everyone else at the drinking party was from Mongolia.

What is clear is that Harumafuji engaged in unbefitting behavior for a yokozuna, who has a duty to serve as a role model for other sumo wrestlers not only in terms of performance in the dohyo, but also by showing tremendous dignity outside the ring.

Had he not decided to retire, Harumafujo would likely have faced harsher measures from the Japan Sumo Association once its risk management committee wound up its investigation into the incident.

He might have faced the embarrassment of being fired, which would have meant Harumafuji received no retirement money nor allowed the courtesy of a ceremony in which his topknot is cut off, a symbolic gesture signifying the end of his sumo career.

The dignity of sumo wrestlers from outside Japan has always been raised as an issue. There are obviously differences in their attitudes in comparison to Japanese wrestlers.

Still, I cannot help but worry that the latest incident could lead to criticism of the many Mongolian wrestlers in sumo.

Harumafuji always looked up to former yokozuna Asashoryu, another Mongolian wrestler who abruptly retired in 2010 after he was found to have assaulted an acquaintance.

That may explain Harumafuji's decision not to apply for Japanese citizenship, a requirement for him to become stablemaster after retiring from sumo.

The studious 33-year-old Harumafuji has attended law school and he holds certificates that allow him to work as a lawyer and police officer in his native Mongolia, where he has also been involved in the construction of an elementary school.

He may never have had any intention of remaining as a member of the JSA since he has also begun learning about managing hotels and running an import business.

When he was promoted to yokozuna, Harumafuji said, "I want to become a yokozuna who serves as a model for everyone else."

I cannot help but feel deep regret that alcohol has cast a dark shadow on the end of his career, especially when I recall the kind smile he bestowed on his many fans.


Takahiro Takezono has written about sumo for The Asahi Shimbun for many years.