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Former Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu, who retired in February after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo nightclub, had his topknot removed in a ceremony at Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.

Asashoryu, 30, performed his “unryu” style dohyo-iri ritual in the raised ring for the last time, flanked by Mongolian wrestlers Asasekiryu and ozeki Harumafuji, who served as the usher and sword-bearer, respectively.

Thousands of fans turned out to bid farewell to the 68th yokozuna, whose popularity still remains strong even after leaving the sport. About 380 people took snips from his oicho (ginko-leafed topknot) before his former stablemaster Takasago cut it off.

“The fans cheered for me like it was the final day of a tournament after a playoff. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I was overwhelmed,” Asashoryu said.

“The time I spent with Asasekiryu, who came with me from Mongolia, was very meaningful. Sumo elder Kokonoe (former yokozuna Chiyonofuji), who was the person I aspired to be like, also came. I feel nothing but appreciation.”

Asashoryu, who was known for his fiery style and was often criticized by the media and Japan Sumo Association for not upholding to the standards of behavior expected from the highest rank, kissed the dohyo to show his appreciation.

“I have put my life into this dohyo. The dohyo was an inseparable part of my life and so important. I feel so much appreciation,” he said.

Asashoryu won 25 Emperor’s Cups, third on the all-time list. He was also the first yokozuna ever to be suspended when he took part in a charity soccer event in Mongolia, despite having withdrawn from a regional sumo tour claiming injury.

“In another life as a Japanese, I would like to become a yokozuna with Japanese spirit. I will move on to my next dream in life. I want to show everyone that I can become a better person,” he said.

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