In terms of sumo’s vintage years, 1976 was one of the best.
The bumper crop included three-time champion Chiyotaikai, fellow ozeki Kotomitsuki (also a title winner), long time sanyaku (the three ranks below yokozuna) occupant Wakanosato and several other top-division stalwarts.
A third ozeki, Tochiazuma, was born the same year. Like Chiyotaikai, he went on to lift the Emperor’s Cup on three occasions.
The Tokyo native was raised in a sumo environment with his father — who also fought under the name Tochiazuma — being a former sekiwake and one of only three men to have won a championship with an 11-4 record.
The younger Tochiazuma was born two months before his father retired.
Eighteen years later he made his professional debut after joining Tamanoi beya — a stable his father had opened in 1990.
Tochiazuma made a blistering-fast start to his career, with 26 straight wins from his entry. That equaled the record as it stood at that time, and only Jokoryu (with 27) has bettered it since.
Tochiazuma won the title in all six of sumo’s divisions, earning 12 special prizes and four kinboshi for defeating yokozuna before retiring in 2007.
His January 2006 championship was the last won by a native-born Japanese rikishi for ten years.
Tochiazuma had numerous rivalries, mostly with fellow ozeki, Kaio, Miyabiyama, Chiyotaikai and Kotomitsuki.
His battles with Asashoryu, though, were particularly fierce.
In one 2002 bout, the Mongolian pummeled him so hard and for so long that the referee had to stop the bout to allow Tochiazuma time to clean up the blood streaming from a reportedly broken nose.
That came a year after Asashoryu had knocked Tochiazuma’s front teeth out in another bout.
To his credit, Tochiazuma wiped himself down, got back in the ring and sent the future yokozuna flying out of it.
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