Iconic Chiyonofuji Passes Away at 61

Mitsugu Akimoto, better known as the yokozuna Chiyonofuji, lost his battle with pediatric cancer on the evening of July 31. He was 61.

Chiyonofuji, who won a total of 31 championships, made his debut at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September 1970. He was promoted to juryo, the second highest division, at the end of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November 1974, then to the makuuchi top division at the autumn tournament in September 1975.

He won his first championship at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January 1981, and he was subsequently promoted to ozeki, one rank below yokozuna. In the same year, he became the 58th yokozuna following the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July 1981.

That year, in fact, Chiyonofuji won championships in three ranks — sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna — an extremely rare feat made possible only through rapid promotion.

Standing at just about six feet tall (183 cm) and weighing in at only about 271 lbs (123 kg), Chiyonofuji often seemed to be at disadvantages in his sumo career, but he still managed to achieve icon status. Earning the nickname "Wolf" for his power style, he ruled the sumo world in the 1980s and helped raise the sport’s popularity, especially among females, who fell for his muscular and handsome looks.

His success did not stop with age, as he won 19 of his championships after reaching the age of 30. Retiring in 1991 at the age of 35, Chiyonofuji ranks third in total championships, behind only current yokozuna Hakuho’s 37 and former yokozuna Taiho’s 32.

He also had 53 consecutive wins, the third longest streak since the beginning of the Showa Era in 1926, and a total of 1,045 wins through his career, the second most in sumo history.

After his retirement, Akimoto succeeded as stablemaster of the Kokonoe stable in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward, and trained former ozeki Chiyotaikai and many other wrestlers.

Original story by The Asahi Shimbun

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