In March 1986, while Mike Ditka, Walter Payton and William “The Refrigerator” Perry and the rest of the Chicago Bears were still celebrating their Super Bowl XX mauling of the New England Patriots two-plus months earlier, in Osaka a young man named Daisaku Yamaguchi made his professional sumo debut.
Thirty-four years later, he is still going.
Fighting under the ring name Hanakaze since 1999, Yamaguchi now owns several notable longevity records.
Hanakaze’s entry in sumo came at a time when more than half of the top division consisted of wrestlers born in the 1950s, and he is the only rikishi remaining in sumo that wrestled in the Showa Era.
Sumo was very different when the Tokyo native made his debut. Apart from Hawaiian Konishiki, the only foreign rikishi were three Brazilians in the lower divisions — and two of those were of Japanese descent.
Current Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku was ranked at sekiwake when Hanakaze made his bow. Still fighting under the name of Hoshi, he would win the first of his eight championships that tournament and be promoted to yokozuna just over a year later.
Hanakaze has been in sumo for an incredible 203 sumo tournaments — by far the most all time — but has never progressed beyond the lowest three divisions. His career high of East Sandanme No. 18 came in November 2003, but he lost all seven fights that meet.
Hanakaze was the first rikishi to win a bout at the rebuilt Osaka Prefectural Gym in March 1987, and he is the only wrestler left who fought during the time of yokozuna Futahaguro.
It took Hanakaze almost eight years to make it out of sumo’s bottom two divisions, but he has since been promoted to the third- from-bottom tier (sandanme) a record 19 times.
Hanakaze turns 50 in May this year. At that point he will be just 15 years away from the compulsory retirement age for stablemasters and elders.