Sumo | Rikishi Files

Konishiki went from rags to riches in colorful career

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

One of the most famous rikishi of all time was never promoted to the rank of yokozuna.

That decision to deny Saleva’a Atisano’e (better known as Konishiki) the sport’s top rank in the early 1990s almost caused a diplomatic incident and was certainly played up in the media at a time when Japan-U.S. relations were under great strain.

Whether or not the big Hawaiian actually deserved promotion is harder to say.

His second and third titles (both achieved at the rank of ozeki) were split by a 12-3 performance and perhaps in the current climate that would be enough, but Konishiki was active at a time when things were much stricter.

Accusations of a double standard for foreign rikishi hold no water when you see how the golden boy of Japanese sumo needed to lift the Emperor’s Cup seven times before finally earning the rope.

Scouted by legendary trailblazer Takamiyama, Konishiki literally arrived in Japan with nothing but the shirt on his back.

After some reluctance and over and back thinking, he just decided to go to Japan shortly before the plane departed and boarded without any real luggage.

Arriving in Tokyo he didn’t even have the money needed to pay the departure tax at the airport and had to borrow it from a fellow passenger.

A decade and a half later, he ended a career in 1997 that had seen him morph from an unstoppable force that was compared to Perry’s famous Black Ships to villain to hero bravely struggling on in the face of increasing pain.

Post-retirement Konishiki became a popular entertainer and media personality performing in everything from children’s TV to live concerts with his wife.

Never one to sit still, his latest venture has him on the road in the United States, touring everywhere from Seattle to New York with several retired rikishi as part of a sumo entertainment show.