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Published:February 16th, 2010 20:53 EST
The Future of Disgraced Sumo Grand Champion, Asashoryu

The Future of Disgraced Sumo Grand Champion, Asashoryu

By Geoff Dean


The latest parlor game in Japan is predicting the future of former sumo grand champion, Asashoryu, who was "retired" from sumo (theoretically, he quit himself but it was under threat of imminent, face-losing dismissal). For those who don`t know, he was kicked out of sumo after a brawl in which he apparently broke the nose of a bar customer or maybe it was his manager or someone he knew and maybe the nose was only bruised or maybe the other person hit Asashoryu first or... In other words, only sketchy details have been released and probably nothing else ever will be.

 Still, regardless of how serious or not his misbehavior, he has been banned from sumo. This has raised the question of what is next for the Mongolian that manyTokyo sumo fans referred to as "Genghis Khan". A random sample of on the street opinion in the Japan Times came up with some plausible and not so plausible options. He might a) try to return to sumo (I see this a 0% chance since sumo made such a point of kicking him out "permanently"), b)try to become a sumo stable master (even less likely, if there is less than 0%), c) run for President of Mongolia (I give it 10%, mainly because I would like to see a summit between Hatoyama and Asashoryu), d) go back to Mongolia and live off his winnings (20%), e) become a TV "talent" in Japan, playing off his brutish image (40%-he`s already on TV a lot and is definitely charismatic), or f) go into pro wrestling and/or mixed martial arts (70%-he already has a persona and would be immensely popular as an unpopular wrestler).

 While considering the future of Asashoryu, and while watching some mindless Japanese TV programs, I got a chance to see how two great sumo grand champions of the past had fared. By coincidence. Japanese TV can be that way.

 Sumo was at its most popular in Japan some ten years ago when Takanohana and Akebono battled it out tournament after tournament. Takanohana, a Japanese superstar, was extremely popular, especially with the ladies who tuned into sumo as never before. Akebono, the behemoth from Samoa, provided the perfect foil for Takanohana, an "uncouth" (that was the image portrayed) wrestler who kept things exciting and made for tournament drama time after time.

 When the pair retired, they went out as two of the greatest grand champions of all time. The "so-called" Taka-Ake Era had ended. Takanohana retired to become a stable master immediately. Whereas normally, upon retirement, wrestlers are given new names, he was allowed to keep his name from his active years (Chiyonofuji, the sumo great of twenty years ago, for instance, became Kokonoe at retirement). Furthermore, his stable was renamed "Takanohana Stable", another rarity in sumo, an accolade few had ever gotten before (stable names are usually passed on for generations, regardless of who becomes the stable master). Recently, he was back in the news, and thus on TV when I watched, because he was elected to the governing council of sumo, and at a very young age for such a conservative sport. Many think it is a matter of time before he becomes sumo council chairman.

 Just shortly after seeing Takanohana on TV and remembering some of the classic showdowns, I got a chance to see Akebono as well. He, since retirement, has become a "villain" of mixed martial art wrestling, a major step down for a yokozuna (grand champion). But, when I saw him on TV, he had taken a further step down the ladder. He was on a game show, in drag, introducing women, one by one, to a panel of celebrities who had to guess why each woman was unique (one was a jockey, for example). When I say he was introducing them, in fact, he was just sitting on a chair and shouting "Come on, Venus!" when it was time for the next woman to come out. That was it. And who knows what it meant! Once, he forgot to say "Come on, Venus!" and had to be prompted by the prompter, drawing laughs of derision from the assembled panel. At the end of the show, he "sumo wrestled" two female celebrities who ripped off his dress. It was tacky, mindless, virile, sleazy. And I watched it until the end.

 My point is that there are two trajectories for a former sumo wrestler. He can become a stable master, open a sumo restaurant, become a sumo commentator, or in some way, stay connected to the sumo world. For Asashoryu, this does not seem to be an option. Or he can become a part of the freak show that is Japanese popular TV. I don`t see Asashoryu going this way, either.

 So will the Mongolian terror just disappear? Not any time soon. On a recent visit to the Tokyo Sumo Arena, I looked up at the larger than life size pictures of tournament winners that filled the rafters. There were a couple of Musashimarus, some Hakuhos, a Harumafuji, and a slew of Asashoryus. After each tournament, a new picture goes up and an old one comes down. It will be years before all of the Asashoryus are removed from the rafters. He may be gone from Japan, ousted from sumo, but he will not go so quietly. Of that, I am sure. Pretty sure, anyway.