Sumo's enfant terrible Asashoryu, one of the sport's most successful wrestlers despite a career dogged by scandal and controversy, has quit amid claims that he drunkenly attacked a man outside a Tokyo nightclub.
The 148kg (23 stone) Mongolian firebrand handed in his resignation yesterday to the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) after being summoned to explain the incident, which reportedly left the man with serious injuries including a broken nose.
"I have resigned to take responsibility for causing so much trouble to the JSA and to sumo," a tearful Asashoryu told reporters after the dressing-down. "I'm now going to take a break and relax."
News that the sport's biggest draw was stepping down was the top story on many Japanese TV networks and dominated the media in his native Mongolia, where he is a national hero.
Police have dropped charges against the wrestler, who reportedly reached a settlement with his victim last week. However, the JSA took a dim view of the nightclub fight, the latest in a string of scandals that have plagued him and the sport.
"We were debating today whether or not to punish Asashoryu,'' Musashigawa, the chairman of the JSA, said after the meeting. "He felt compelled to resign for misconduct which was inexcusable, and the board accepted."
The third most successful sumo wrestler of all time in terms of tournament wins, Asashoryu – real name Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj – has by turns thrilled and divided fans with his antics inside and outside the dohyo.
Soon after climbing to the rank of yokozuna (grand champion) in 2003, he was disqualified in a bout for pulling the topknot of hair of an opponent, a serious breach of sumo etiquette. He later allegedly followed the wrestler to a dressing room and punched him.
In 2007, the JSA handed Asashoryu one of the toughest punishments in the sport's history after he took sick leave to return home and play in a charity football match, suspending him and slashing his ¥2.8m (£20,000) monthly salary by 30 per cent.
The same year the wrestler had to fight allegations in a magazine that he paid opponents to take a dive, but was later vindicated when a court dismissed the claims and ordered the magazine to pay damages.
Asashoryu went on to answer his critics in the most emphatic way possible, winning a total of 25 top division titles, including his final victory last month when he clinched the prestigious Emperor's Cup. Though plagued recently by injuries, he was still expected to continue wrestling for several years.
Asked about leaving the sport under a cloud, Asashoryu called his resignation "destiny".
Sumo scandals: a sport under siege
There were calls for training camps to be reformed after a 17-year-old sumo hopeful, Tokitaizan, died in 2007 after his “stable master”, or tutor, assaulted him with a beer bottle and other wrestlers hit him with baseball bats. The cause of death was given as natural causes and the tutor, Tokitsukaze, pressed for a quick cremation. But after protests by the boy’s family, details of brutality at the camp were uncovered. Tokitsukaze was jailed for six years.
* The Hawaiian wrestler Konishiki provoked protests in 1992 when he accused the sport’s governing body of racism when he was denied promotion to the top rank of yokozuna .
* Match-fixing claims surfaced in the 1990s when the authors of a whistle-blowing book, the former wrestler Seichiro Hashimoto and ex-stable master Onaruto, died of the same disease within 15 hours of each other.