Former yokozuna Wajima, who won elite makuuchi division tournaments 14 times in the 1970s and 1980s, and was known for his left-arm throwing technique, has died at age 70, his family said Tuesday.
Wajima died in his Tokyo home on Monday. In recent years he had undergone surgery for throat cancer and had also been battling lung cancer.
A native of Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, Wajima gained fame while still a student, winning the national athletic meet when he was in high school and twice becoming the amateur sumo champion as a student at Nihon University.
He joined the Hanakago stable and debuted as a professional sumo wrestler in 1970, and in just three years was promoted to become the 54th yokozuna. He has been the only wrestler that graduated from a university and went on to become yokozuna in history.
Current yokozuna Hakuho, whose 41 career grand tournament titles are the most in history, dined and played golf with Wajima. When the Mongolian won his 14th championship, he did so wearing a gold-colored belt in Wajima’s honor.
While most wrestlers adopt ring names, Wajima continued to use his real name even as a yokozuna. He was a key figure in making sumo popular in his day, particularly through his fierce rivalry with fellow yokozuna Kitanoumi, who died in 2015.
Wajima retired in 1981 and became the Hanakago stablemaster, but the following years were turbulent. He was found to have put forward his management rights at the Japan Sumo Association as collateral for a debt and was forced to leave the sumo world in 1985.
In his career, he won 673 bouts and lost 234 times, while he was absent from 85 bouts.
In 1986, Wajima made his debut in All Japan Pro Wrestling, which was owned by famous grappler Shohei “Giant” Baba. He retired in 1988. Because Wajima joined All Japan, the promotion could not use Ryogoku Kokugikan, the sumo capital, for 14 years.
Later, he served as a sideline supervisor for the Rocbull American football club in the X League. He also worked as the head coach for Cuban national sumo team.