Scandal has fans wondering if sumo is on the take

by Eric Talmadge

The Associated Press

In Japan, Asashoryu is a household name.

At just 26, the Mongolian muscleman has conquered the sport of sumo, establishing himself not only as the sole wrestler worthy of the lofty honor of yokozuna, but as one of the best grand champions in sumo history.

He’s the stuff that legends are made of. But now he’s also the focus of one of sumo’s biggest scandals ever — one that has all of Japan wondering if their cherished, ancient sport is on the take.

Sumo has been reeling since the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai published a series of articles alleging that Asashoryu paid off his opponents to let him win a tournament last November, when the Mongolian marked a rare perfect 15-0 record to claim his 19th career title.

The sport’s supervisory body, the Japan Sumo Association, investigated and said it found no wrongdoing and lodged a defamation suit against the publisher of the magazine, one of the biggest in Japan.

Asashoryu, fresh off winning his 20th title in January, gruffly denied the allegations. “I have never done anything like that,” he told reporters. “Is this how you are rewarded for getting strong?”

But things have just gotten worse since.

The magazine is standing by its report, which also claims that other top-ranking wrestlers have taken — or bought — falls. And, at the beginning of a tournament now ongoing in Osaka, Asashoryu did something he has never done before.

He lost his first two matches (but won his next three).

The current scandal is by no means the first. Bout-fixing allegations go way back, though none have ever been proven conclusively. Sumo wrestlers have been rumored to have murky connections to organized crime.