NAGOYA – Battle-worn ozeki Kaio, the all-time career wins leader, will retire from sumo, drawing the curtain on an illustrious but injury-plagued career, his stablemaster Tomozuna said Tuesday.
The hugely popular Kaio, who suffered his seventh defeat the same day at the ongoing Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, would have needed to win his remaining five bouts at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium to avoid facing demotion at the autumn basho in September.
“He told me that he wants to retire. He has really done the best he can, that’s all,” said Tomozuna. “I told him, ‘You’ve really done your utmost and anytime that you want to retire it’s fine with me.’ He will talk in detail at a press conference tomorrow.”
The 38-year-old Kaio was the last remaining Japanese wrestler at sumo’s second-highest rank after Kotomitsuki was banned for life from the national sport for betting on pro baseball last summer.
It is the first time since the 1993 New Year basho that no Japanese will occupy the top two ranks of ozeki or yokozuna. Americans Akebono and Konishiki reigned at ozeki at that time when there was no grand champion.
His body bruised and battered, Kaio won his career 1,046th bout on the fifth day to surpass former yokozuna Chiyonofuji as the all-time leader and added another win on the seventh day, but he suffered his third defeat in a row at the hands of rival ozeki Kotooshu on the 10th day on Tuesday.
After the loss, he made the decision after a discussion with stablemaster Tomozuna. Kaio, who will act as a coach at the Tomozuna stable, will assume the stable elder’s name Asakayama.
Kaio debuted at the age of 15 at the 1988 spring meet, along with Akebono, Takanohana and Wakanohana.
Known for his fierce upper right-handed grip, Kaio was promoted to ozeki after the Nagoya basho in 2000 and won his fifth career title at the autumn tourney in 2004.
Kaio had aimed for promotion to sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna at the following Kyushu meet, but he failed to get the green light after posting a 12-3 record.
Since 2005, Kaio has suffered from a slew of injuries and rumors of retirement have plagued him as he continued an inevitable decline. He held his ozeki status for 65 tournaments, matching former ozeki Chiyotaikai for the all-time record.
His 879 wins in the elite makuuchi division and 107 tournaments in the top flight are also all-time marks. Kaio, who turns 39 on the final day of the 15-day meet on July 24, is the only ozeki to end his career with as many as five Emperor’s Cup titles.
Hakuho improves to 10-0
Hakuho passed his biggest psychological test, overpowering yokozuna destroyer Kisenosato while Harumafuji tossed aside Wakakoyu to remain in a tie for the lead on the 10th day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Tuesday.
The tension in the air was palpable but the lone yokozuna was never in trouble as he rattled the sekiwake with a strong elbow to the head before slamming him down with a powerful overarm technique in the day’s finale for a 10-0 mark at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.
Kisenosato beat Hakuho at the Kyushu basho last year, snapping the yokozuna’s 63-bout winning streak and sent him to another shock defeat at the New Year basho, proving that the grand champion is not invincible.
The only other wrestlers who have beaten Hakuho, who is seeking an unprecedented eighth consecutive title, in more than 100 matches have been Harumafuji and ozeki Kaio. But Hakuho now appears to be dead set on winning his career 20th Emperor’s Cup.