Two Milestones in Japanese Sumo

Banners for the top rikishi, Nagoya Sumo BashoIn an era when foreign wrestlers dominate the top ranks of sumo, two veteran ozeki have given Japanese fans local heroes to root for. This week one of them broke a record for most career wins and the other announced his retirement.

Fukuoka-born fan favorite Kaio clinched his 808th career win in the top makuuchi division, breaking Chiyonofuji‘s record of 807 makuuchi wins. (Chiyonofuji still holds the all-time, all-division record, at 1,045.) At 37, Kaio is the oldest rikishi in the makuuchi, making his debut there in 1988, alongside future yokozuna Akebono and Takanohana, both of whom have long retired.

The loser in that record-setting bout was Hokkaido-born, 33-year-old Chiyotaikai, who had earlier lost his ozeki status and this week announced his retirement after getting off to a poor start in the current tournament.

Both Kaio and Chiyotaikai hung onto to their ozeki rank for years by eking out winning records barely sufficient to avoid demotion, often 8-7, or even dropping to probationary (kadoban) ozeki status after a losing record. There is talk of revising the kadoban ranking system to force ozeki to maintain better win-loss records to avoid demotion. Ozeki (‘champion’) was once the highest rank. When someone at the current top rank of yokozuna (‘grand champion’) is no longer at the peak of his game, he is expected to retire rather than bounce down through the ranks.

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