Persistence paid off for Kisenosato, but it may have also led to his downfall as yokozuna.

The native of Ibaraki Prefecture strictly followed the advice of his first stablemaster and finally made the leap to grand champion. But he ended up struggling with injuries while carrying the hopes of a nation as the first Japanese-born yokozuna since 2003.

After only two years at sumo’s highest rank and three straight losses to start the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo, Kisenosato told his current stablemaster, Tagonoura, on Jan. 15 that he wanted to retire.

“While I have regrets about not having met the expectations for a yokozuna, I hold no regrets at all regarding my sumo career,” Kisenosato, 32, said at a Jan. 16 news conference. He will now assume the sumo elder name of Araiso.

Kisenosato entered the sumo world when he was 15, and he became the second-youngest wrestler in the Showa Era (1926-1989) to reach the highest makuuchi division when he was 18 years and three months old.

But his road in the top division was not smooth, and he was often just one step away from glory.

On 11 occasions, he had the second-best record behind the wrestler who took home the Emperor’s Cup.

He needed 42 tournaments before he was promoted to ozeki, the sixth-slowest pace to reach the second-highest rank. It took an additional 31 tournaments for Kisenosato to become yokozuna, the third-longest period in the Showa Era.

Kisenosato’s previous stablemaster Naruto, the former yokozuna Takanosato, encouraged him to develop moves using his powerful left arm. The stablemaster also taught him that a sumo wrestler should be a solitary figure.

Kisenosato continued to follow that advice even seven years after Naruto died in 2011.

He almost never speaks with other wrestlers while preparing for the day’s bout, and he has no social networking services accounts.

His reliance on his left arm was also the beginning of his end, especially after he injured it during the 2017 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, the only tournament he won as yokozuna.

At training sessions, he tried to use his right arm more. But in actual matches, he resorted to his hobbled left arm, often leading to miserable results.

Sumo fans said he may have also suffered mentally and felt compelled to compete as the only Japanese yokozuna in a sport long dominated by Mongolians.

“He probably reached his physical and psychological limits since he likely had to fight in the tournaments even though his injury was not fully healed,” said a woman in her 50s who came from her home in Kawasaki to watch the bouts on the first two days of the current tournament.

Mitsuru Yaku, a cartoonist who is also a knowledgeable sumo fan, said Kisenosato stuck to his style of sumo until the bitter end, even though sumo commentators and analysts suggested that he might have more success by changing his tactics.

“He became yokozuna late in his career, and while his record as yokozuna is not brilliant, that does not negate one bit his overall evaluation as a sumo wrestler,” Yaku said.

As of Jan. 15, Kisenosato’s record as yokozuna is 36 wins, 35 losses, and 97 bouts that he sat out. He also set a yokozuna record by withdrawing or skipping eight straight tournaments.

The crowd at Ryogoku Kokugikan, venue of the current tournament, may have sensed the end of Kisenosato’s career. They continued with warm applause even after his third defeat.

Excited sumo fans often hurl their seat cushions toward the dohyo when a lower-ranked wrestler upsets a yokozuna.

But that never happened after Kisenosato’s three losses.