Injury-plagued grand champion Kisenosato confirmed Wednesday his decision to retire from sumo, making the announcement a day after suffering his third loss of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
The 32-year-old, who went into the 15-day tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan with his career in jeopardy, decided to call time on his wrestling career after posting a 0-3 record over the first three days of his 12th meet as a top-ranked yokozuna.
"I, Kisenosato, will retire as of this basho and train junior wrestlers as a toshiyori (sumo elder) under the name Araiso. Thank you for your support while I was active," he said.
"Even though it's very regrettable that I wasn't able to live up to everyone's expectations as a yokozuna, I don't regret one bit of my career on the dohyo," he added.
Asked about his handling of his injuries, Kisenosato said he had often considered whether it was time for a graceful exit but kept going out of a desire to repay fans for their support.
"I'm very sorry it turned out this way," he said.
On Wednesday morning, his stablemaster Tagonoura told the media that Kisenosato had decided to retire after the two had a discussion the previous night.
"Kisenosato and I spoke for 30 to 40 minutes last night and he said, 'Please, let me retire, I am retiring.' Outwardly, he looked composed like he always does, even though I'm sure a lot was going through his mind," Tagonoura said. "His two years (as yokozuna) went like a flash. I thanked him for his hard work over the years, I could not find any other words."
(Stablemaster Tagonoura speaks to the media)
Despite saying he was "close to his ideal shape" before the tournament, Kisenosato lost to komusubi Mitakeumi on opening day. He was handed his second and third upsets by top-ranked maegashira Ichinojo and Tochiozan.
The retirement of Kisenosato, a fan favorite and a big draw, leaves two wrestlers at the top of the banzuke -- Mongolians Hakuho and Kakuryu.
Not counting his forfeit on Day 5 of November's Kyushu meet, Kisenosato has posted eight straight losses since September, the worst run for a yokozuna since the 15-day grand tournament format began in the summer of 1949.
In March 2017, Kisenosato became the first Japanese-born wrestler in 19 years to gain promotion to yokozuna. He won his second straight championship on his yokozuna debut at the following tournament.
Nagging injuries to his knee, ankle, chest and arm, however, forced him to withdraw from a yokozuna-record eight straight grand tournaments between May 2017 and July 2018, raising questions over his ability to continue his career as a grand champion.
The Tagonoura-stable wrestler finished with a 10-5 record on his comeback at the September tournament to temporarily fend off calls for his retirement, but he lost four straight bouts to open November's Kyushu meet, the most by a yokozuna in 87 years.
The result in November prompted the Japan Sumo Association's yokozuna council to express dissatisfaction with his performance and revived commentary that he would be forced to call time on his career depending on his performance in Tokyo.
Although Kisenosato was unable to meet comeback expectations at the ongoing meet, sumo elder Nishiiwa, a former coach at the Tagonoura stable, gave credit to the wrestler for entertaining the fans with his own drama in the sumo ring.
"At the end, people saw him as a weak wrestler but he did enough," Nishiiwa said.
"It was impressive the way he chased that one win. Unarguably strong yokozuna are okay, too, but I like yokozuna like Kisenosato who look and act desperate on the dohyo," he said.
Kisenosato made his professional sumo debut in March 2002 at the age of 15 and joined the top makuuchi division in 2004.