Asashôryû Retires

Asashôryû Retires Disappointing but probably unavoidable. Asashôryû had some temper problems in and out of the ring, but he was a brilliant sumo wrestler. As one of my fellow martial arts geeks said in his blog, “Since I followed sumo he has gone on to throw everyone on God's green earth around the ring.” 1 Against a skilled opponent—like virtually everyone he’s had a bout with since achieving the rank of ôzeki back in 2002—performing a clean throw is very difficult. He’s handled some of these guys like they were little kids.

Particularly when he was younger and smaller, he had to rely on technique against his opponents, who often significantly outweighed him. Take a look at some videos of him and you’ll see him throw guys who are a head taller than him, and outmass him by a good 80–90 kg (about 175–200 lbs.) That weight difference is equal to or greater than the total body weight of a normal man. An average NFL quarterback is about 6’3”. Asashôryû is only 6 feet tall. Imagine a short quarterback tackling a big offensive lineman, making it look easy, and you’ll get some idea of how badass he is.

It may seem like a bit of hair pulling during a match, skipping a tournament, pumping his fist in victory a few times, and a bar fight are pretty minor offenses, but sumo is charged with religious significance in Japanese culture. I disagree with the degree of dislike some Japanese hold against Asashôryû—and wonder if they would be quite so critical if he were Japanese instead of Mongolian—but I am somewhat sympathetic with their point of view considering the cultural significance of the sport.

The problem is that behind the scenes, the sumo world is notoriously corrupt. The way he was railroaded into retirement stinks more than a bit. There have been sketchy and contradictory details about what exactly happened. At first, it was reported that he had a scuffle with his manager. Then it was a customer at the club. He variously broke the man’s nose, bruised his face, or just pushed him around. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened.

One thing is certain, Asashôryû left a mark on the sumo world that will take a long, long time to erase. It will take years, if not decades, for other rikishi to push his name off the wall commemorating the awards and victories of sumo winners.

1 Sensei Strange on Sumo