Sumo great Hakuho bids an emotional farewell - in pictures

Persistent knee injury ends 20-year career that yielded record 45 titles

Sumo legend Hakuho got emotional as he retired from the ancient Japanese sport on Friday after becoming the greatest champion of all time.

The Mongolian-born 36-year-old had own a record 45 tournaments during his 20-year career which was brought to an end by a right knee injury. He had registered 1,187 wins, an all-time record in sumo.

Sitting alongside stablemaster Miyagino, who trained him since he moved to Japan aged 15, Hakuho said a persistent knee injury forced his decision.

"When I first came into sumo I had a dream to become a yokozuna [sumo's highest rank]," said Hakuho.

"But I never thought I would win 45 tournaments. I just took it step by step and it all built up to become what it did," he said.

He had two operations on his knee and competed in only one tournament this year. That was in July and he says, despite winning the tournament, he knew the injury would not let him to continue.

“I had my knee operation, contracted the coronavirus, then had another knee operation in March,” he added.

Hakuho made his sumo debut in 2001 and won his first title five years later. He was promoted to yokozuna at 22 and overtook the legendary Taiho's record of 32 tournament wins in 2015.

Hakuho will now serve as an instructor.

His retirement is poignant as experts fear sumo will struggle to fill the void left by the departure of its greatest champion, with few new stars emerging and public interest likely to wane.

The sport has just one wrestler, Terunofuji, at the highest rank of yokozuna and even his long-term future is unclear.

"I don't see anybody that's going to fill the void," commentator Murray Johnson was quoted as saying by AFP.

"Terunofuji is the only one that can take that role, but with his knees, how long does he last? If he lasts any longer than a couple of years, that would surprise me."

Updated: October 1st 2021, 11:15 AM