Former yokozuna Musashimaru believes the absence of a Japanese wrestler at sumo’s highest rank of grand champion is contributing to the continuing slide in popularity of the national sport.
And the Samoan-born 12-time Emperor’s Cup winner, who drew the curtain on an illustrious but injury-interrupted career last November, says he does not think the current crop of ozeki in the makuuchi division have what it takes to reach sumo’s summit.
“(Not having any Japanese grand champions) is a problem right now. But I don’t think there is anyone (worthy of yokozuna status) on the horizon, not right now,” Musashimaru told reporters at The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on Thursday.
“Maybe the closest this time around was (ozeki) Tochiazuma but no, he has got to work a lot harder.”
“I don’t think any of them (ozeki) have got it, not even Kaio or anybody else. The biggest thing is that I think they lack confidence,” added Musashimaru.
After winning the Kyushu meet last November, Tochiazuma was gunning for promotion to yokozuna for the second time at the recently concluded New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo.
But he failed to meet the requirement for promotion set by the Japan Sumo Association of 13 wins and in the end was fortunate to walk away with a 9-6 record.
Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu is the only wrestler left at the top of the sumo tree after Musashimaru stepped down from the raised ring after failing to recover from niggling wrist injury.
Takanohana was the last Japanese yokozuna. He retired in January 2003 also because of injury.
Musashimaru, who will not officially retire until later this year when he has his top knot removed, made his debut at the autumn tourney in 1989 and quickly rose through the ranks to enter the second-tier juryo division by the 1991 Nagoya meet.
In 1999, Musashimaru, whose real name is Fiamalu Penitani, became the second foreign-born wrestler after Hawaiian Akebono to reach yokozuna.
Musashimaru says his goals now are to lose weight and coach youngsters hoping to one day follow in his footsteps and wrestle as a grand champion.
One thing he will not be doing is trying his luck as a K-1 martial arts fighter like Akebono, who was given a sound beating on his K-1 debut by Bob Sapp.
“I think Akebono made a fool of himself. That was probably down to lack of training and he also had to lose more weight,” said Musashimaru.