Former sumo grand champion Wajima, who won elite makuuchi division tournaments 14 times in the 1970s and 1980s, and was known for his left-arm throwing technique, has died at age 70, his family said Tuesday.
Wajima died in his Tokyo home on Monday. In recent years he had undergone surgery for throat cancer and had also been battling lung cancer.
A native of Ishikawa Prefecture, Wajima gained fame while still a student, winning the national athletic meet when he was at high school and twice becoming the amateur sumo champion as a student at Nihon University.
(File photo taken in Nov. 1980 shows Wajima with the Emperor's Cup after winning the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament)
He joined the Hanakago stable and debuted as a professional sumo wrestler in 1970, and in just three years was promoted to become the 54th yokozuna. Because of the gold-colored belt he wore in the ring and his superb left-handed underarm throws, he was referred to as having a "golden left arm."
He was a key figure in making sumo popular in his day, particularly through his fierce rivalry with fellow yokozuna Kitanoumi, who died in 2015 at age 62. Wajima's 14 grand sumo tournament championships are the seventh most, while Kitanoumi's 24 rank fifth.
Current yokozuna Hakuho, whose 41 career grand tournament titles are the most in history, dined and played golf with Wajima. When the Mongolian grand champion won his 14th championship, he did so wearing a gold-colored belt in Wajima's honor.
While most wrestlers adopt ring names, Wajima essentially used his real name in the ring -- only using different Chinese characters to write his first name, Hiroshi.
Wajima retired in 1981 and became the Hanakago stablemaster, but the following years were turbulent. He was found to have put forward his management right at the Japan Sumo Association as collateral for a debt and was forced to leave the sumo world in 1985.
He then turned to professional wrestling and also served as a coach of an American football team.