TOKYO (Reuters) - Troubled sumo grand champion Asashoryu announced his retirement from the ancient sport at a tear-filled news conference on Thursday, following a probe into reports of a drunken scuffle in Tokyo last month.
“I have caused great trouble to everyone, as well as to the Japan Sumo Association,” the 29-year-old said, dabbing his eyes.
“I am taking responsibility and retiring today ... I am grateful for all those who believed in me and supported a young boy from the great plains of Mongolia.”
Asashoryu has often been in hot water outside the sumo ring but is beloved by fans for his exploits in it. Japanese broadcasters flashed new bulletins with his plans to retire, later telecasting his farewell announcement.
Asashoryu, born Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, won his 25th Emperor’s Cup last month but sumo officials took a dim view of his latest breach of discipline.
The head of Asashoryu’s sumo stable told Japanese media at the weekend that the Mongolian grand champion had been too drunk to remember the reported incident outside a nightclub in the early hours of Jan. 16.
Asashoryu has frequently been at odds with the sport’s hierarchy during an explosive career, for everything from pulling an opponent’s hair to starting a soapy bathroom brawl during a post-bout soak.
In 2007, Asashoryu was suspended after being caught playing soccer in Mongolia and forging a doctor’s note for an apparent back injury.
That suspension triggered a bout of clinical depression, leading Asashoryu to seek solace at a luxury spa resort in his native country.
“He was one of the strongest in the ring and will always be compared to the legends of the sport,” said Mark Buckton, editor-in-chief of Sumo Fan Magazine.
“But he never really followed the expectations for the role of the sport’s highest rank.”
Asashoryu, often criticised by domestic media for not showing “hinkaku” — dignity — as grand champion, said on Thursday his style in the ring showed his real commitment.
“Everybody talks about dignity, but when I went into the ring, I felt fierce like a devil.”
Newly elected Japan Sumo Association (JSA) executive board member Takanohana on Tuesday ordered an investigation following reports Asashoryu had broken a man’s nose.
Senior JSA figures had said Asashoryu would face punishment if the reports were proven.
His retirement left the traditional sport, with origins dating back to the mythological founding of Japan, with only one yokozuna — fellow Mongolian Hakuho.
In recent years sumo has attracted many foreign wrestlers, while most young Japanese have shunned the sport’s harsh lifestyle, exhausting training and rigid society.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed his disappointment.
“He was strong,” he said. “It is heartbreaking for fans that he is retiring under these conditions and I am disappointed.”
Asashoryu, long rumoured to be considering leaving the sport, called the timing of his farewell fate.
“I think this is my destiny,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa)
Editing by Peter Rutherford and Ed Osmond; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org