Shonanzakura steps away from the ring, but not without high praise from his coach and fans.

January 21, 2019, was the ninth day of the Hatsu Basho, the annual sumo tournament held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan arena. On that day, sumo wrestler Shonanzakura stepped into the ring against opponent Houn, and emerged victorious.

▼ Shonanzakura defeating Houn

It was the last sumo match Shonanzakura would ever win.

That might sound ominous, but Shonanzakura didn’t suffer a career or life-ending accident after the contest. Time hadn’t caught up to him either, as he was just 20 years old when he beat Houn. As a matter of fact, Shonanzakura continued to compete for the next two and a half years. He just never won.

Shonanzakura’s most recent campaign was last month’s Nagoya tournament, where he lost all seven of his matches. The last of those brought his streak of consecutive defeats up to 104 losses in a row, extending his record for the longest in professional sumo history, and now he’s finally retiring, with a total record of three wins and 238 losses.

▼ Shonanzakura

Despite his lopsided record, Shonanzakura isn’t being forced out of the sport by its controllers or his coaches. If anything, his stablemaster, as the head of sumo training schools are called, wishes he’d keep wrestling. “Personally, I’d have liked for him to keep fighting,” said Kitazakura, the former sumo wrestler who now heads the Shikihide stable in Ibaraki Prefecture that Shonanzakura was a member of. “But I understand his feelings, and I accept his decision…[and] I hope he will have a good rest while taking the time he needs to prepare [for what’s next for him].”

Shonanzakura himself approached Kitazakura shortly after the end of the July Nagoya tournament, telling his stablemaster that he’d reached the limit of what he could push his body to do, and wished to retire. Despite a winning percentage of under 1.5 percent, Kitazakura has nothing but praise for his disciple. “No matter how many times he lost, he was always willing to take on the challenge,” Kitazakura says. “He had an amazing spirit…In the morning, he was always the first one out of bed and ready to go in the practice ring,”

Online commenters have reacted to Shonanzakura’s decision to retire with a chorus of otsukaresama, as well as:

“I’ll actually be sad to see him go,”
“I’m so shocked that he’s retiring. I was always rooting for him.”
“He probably isn’t happy with his record, and I’m sure it was hard for him…But there’s no denying he made the sumo world more interesting. Thank you, and enjoy your rest.”
“Sports aren’t only about winning. If you get knocked down, you rise back up again. That’s what living is.”

▼ Shonanzakura, wrestling under his original ring name Hattorizakura, takes on Kenho, who outweighed him by approximately 160 kilograms (353 pounds).

Shonanzakura’s retirement was publicly announced on Wednesday, and he’s already completed his danpatsushiki, the “hair-cutting ceremony” in which a sumo wrestler cuts off his topknot to symbolize his retirement from competition and has since returned to his hometown of Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefeture, on the Shonan coast (pronounced the same as the “Shonan” in “Shonanzakura,” but rendered in different kanji characters). At 23 years old and 90 kilograms (198 pounds), he’s younger and leaner than many retired sumo wrestlers, which will hopefully make for a smooth transition into the next chapter of his life.

Source: Nikkan Sports via Yahoo! Japan News via Golden Times, Nihon Sumo Kyokai, Twitter
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