Sumo elder Futagoyama dies

Sumo elder Futagoyama, a former ozeki and the father of former grand champions Takanohana and Wakanohana, died of mouth cancer at a Tokyo hospital Monday, his family said. He was 55.

News photoSumo elder Futagoyama (right) is seen with his sons Takanohana (left) and Wakanohana in May

Futagoyama, whose real name is Mitsuru Hanada, had been receiving treatment at a hospital in Tokyo since the fall of 2003 for a type of cancer that afflicts the region between the tongue and gums at the base of the mouth.

A native of Aomori Prefecture and younger brother of former yokozuna Wakanohana, Futagoyama made his debut in professional sumo in July 1965 and earned promotion to the elite makuuchi division as an 18-year-old.

Nicknamed “Prince of Sumo,” Futagoyama quickly made his mark in the top flight as Takanohana and was promoted to ozeki, one below sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna, in the fall of 1972. He remained an ozeki for 50 tournaments until he retired in January 1981, the longest stint ever in the sport’s second-highest rank, and won two tournaments in the top division — both in 1975.

The lanky, lightweight wrestler drew huge popularity from among sumo fans for his skillful, valiant style of sumo against his heavier opponents.

“The deepest memory I have of him is a playoff in the spring tournament in 1975, when he beat me to win his first tournament, and I still remember the fans throwing a countless number of cushions with delight,” said Japan Sumo Association Chairman Kitanoumi, a former yokozuna who was one of Futagoyama’s chief rivals. “He was an important person for the development of the association and it makes me doubly sad.”

After his retirement, Futagoyama became known as a stablemaster who developed his two sons into elite sumo wrestlers.

Brothers Wakanohana and Takanohana both realized the dream their father could not achieve by becoming yokozuna and elevated the popularity of sumo in the 1990s to a level the sport had never experienced.

Futagoyama’s proteges also include former ozeki Takanonami and former sekiwake Akinoshima and Takatoriki.

However, his fortunes turned downward gradually in the past decade with a series of troubles off the sumo ring, including disputes with his sons and divorce from his wife.