Retired yokozuna Hakuho on Friday spoke of his relief after drawing his unrivaled career of 45 championships to a close, a decision he said he made in July.
The Mongolian-born 36-year-old, who earned rebukes from sumo authorities for not always bowing to the sport’s strict protocols, is moving on to a coaching role at his Miyagino stable as sumo elder Magaki.
“I’m filled with a sense of relief,” said Hakuho during a news conference at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
“I made the decision on the 10th day of the Nagoya meet (in July). My target then was double-digit wins … Once I got the 10th win, I told my stablemaster and all the others in the stable that I’m retiring after this meet.”
Hakuho, who had right knee surgery in August 2020 and again in March, won the meet with a perfect 15-0 record despite missing all or part of the previous six tournaments.
He beat Terunofuji, then an ozeki, on the final day to secure his last title and said his rival’s presence was one reason behind his decision to call it a day.
“I felt I could leave the rest to him,” Hakuho said. “I had two surgeries in about half a year and the doctor told me everything has been done, and it will be an artificial joint next time I hurt my right knee.”
Hakuho revealed he had been waiting for the right time to make the announcement due to Terunofuji’s promotion to yokozuna, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the disruption at his stable, where a handful of wrestlers were infected with the coronavirus just before September’s tourney.
Sumo’s 69th yokozuna, Hakuho — whose birth name is Monkhbatyn Davaajargal — debuted in the spring of 2001 and won his first top-division title at the summer meet in May 2006, when he first fought at the second-highest rank of ozeki.
Hakuho was grateful to stablemaster Miyagino, who accepted him as a skinny 15-year-old who weighed just 62 kg and was not being scouted by other stables.
“My stablemaster was really kind and his presence alone made me train ardently, as I wanted to hear good words from him. That got me to become a sumo wrestler, to win promotion to ozeki and then yokozuna,” Hakuho said.
“I was thin and there were periods when I wanted to get bigger, or wished to get stronger quickly, but the stablemaster had the right ideas … My wins were thanks to staying true to his training and fundamentals.”
Hakuho boasts numerous records, including 1,187 career wins and 84 tournaments at the ancient sport’s highest rank of yokozuna.
His fierce rivalry with fellow Mongolian-born grand champion Asashoryu captivated sumo fans until the latter’s retirement in February 2010 left Hakuho as the only active yokozuna and the dominant force in the sport.
Hakuho said there are two bouts he remembers most in his career. One was against yokozuna Asashoryu back in November 2004, when then-19-year-old Hakuho won as a No. 1 rank-and-file maegashira.
“It was my first and only kinboshi (a maegashira’s victory over a yokozuna) when I was climbing up the rankings and had hit a wall,” Hakuho said.
He won 63 consecutive bouts through November 2010, equaling the sport’s second-longest winning streak, when future yokozuna Kisenosato, then a No. 1 maegashira, beat him.
“I was chasing the (record) 69 wins by Futabayama and lost,” Hakuho said. “(But) that defeat played a part in getting me to where I am today … It made me think I need to wrestle in a manner that would be worthy of the record.”
In January 2011, he became only the third wrestler to win six consecutive grand tournaments, following former yokozuna Taiho and Asashoryu.
He claimed the all-time championship record with his 33rd career Emperor’s Cup in January 2015, breaking the previous mark set by Taiho.
Hakuho drew flak toward the end of his career from the Japan Sumo Association, however, due to his rough wrestling style and behavior the association sometimes deemed to be self-righteous.
On Thursday, the JSA approved Hakuho’s application to adopt the name of sumo elder Magaki, but only after taking the extraordinary step of having him sign a pledge to abide by its regulations.
“There were meets when I adjusted my fighting style after hearing the (JSA’s) Yokozuna Deliberation Council’s evaluations and tried to stay on that path. But I regret I could not continue to do so because of repeated injuries, and I’m disappointed myself.”
By acquiring Japanese citizenship in September 2019, Hakuho became eligible to stay in the sport and eventually run his own stable of wrestlers after retirement.
“I want to be like stablemaster Miyagino, who has warmth and is caring toward his wrestlers,” said Hakuho, who also advised young people to develop their own unique talents.
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