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Ex-yokozuna Wajima remembered for powerful left-arm throws, rivalry in ring

Wajima performs a traditional ring-entrance ceremony at Yasukuni Shrine in April 1978. (Mainichi)
Wajima raises his fists after scoring his 14th straight makushita division win in March 1970. (Mainichi)

Hiroshi Wajima, a former top-ranked yokozuna sumo wrestler, left behind memories of his powerful left-hand throws and his rivalry with the late grappler Toshimitsu Kitanoumi, as he passed away at the age of 70.

During his heyday in the 1970s, Wajima helped spur a boom in sumo alongside Kitanoumi, who died in 2015, and Kenshi Takanohana, who passed away in 2005. He wore a gold sash and had a powerful left-handed throw, which led to him being dubbed "The Golden Left."

Wajima once said when commenting on his technique, "I'm left-handed, so I have more power in my left arm. I came to believe that I wouldn't lose if I grabbed my opponent's belt with my left hand, and strangely enough I started to win."

The wrestler, a native of Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan, was quickly hailed as a genius, capturing the eye of the great wrestler Taiho as a high school grappler in the prefectural capital of Kanazawa. Sumo stables competed to scout him and he ended up joining the Hanakago Stable. He made his debut in the third-highest makushita division of sumo at the bottom of the ranking, and won 14 bouts in a row. After winning two straight makushita tournaments, he was promoted to the juryo division.

Wajima takes down Kitanoumi in a bout to determine the tournament winner, on the final day of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in 1974. (Mainichi)

In 1971, a year after his debut, Wajima entered the top makuuchi division. He was fortunate to have rivals who helped drive him forward, as his stable trained together with the Futagoyama Stable headed by Kanji Wakanohana I, a former yokozuna wrestler. One of those rivals was Wakanohana's brother Takanohana, a member of the Futagoyama Stable. Within his own Hanakago Stable, meanwhile, was the wrestler Masateru Kaiketsu, who was the same age as Wajima and had also attended Nihon University. After being inspired by seeing Kaiketsu wrestle, albeit unsuccessfully, in the final bout to determine the winner of the 1972 spring grand sumo tournament, Wajima went on to win the following May tournament that year for his first top-division title.

Wajima first faced formidable opponent Kitamoumi in the next tournament in Nagoya. Wajima won only eight of his 15 bouts in that tournament, but he secured 13 victories in the next one, and was promoted to the rank of ozeki alongside Takanohana. He stayed at that rank for just four tournaments and was promoted to the top rank of yokozuna after the summer tournament of 1973. It was one year later, after the 1974 Nagoya tournament, that Kitanoumi also secured promotion to the rank of yokozuna. Wajima won that tournament, having scored victories against Kitanoumi in both his final regulation bout and the clash to determine the tournament's winner.

When Wajima later came to retire, he cited those bouts as his memorable ones. Kitanoumi similarly stated that those two losses formed his No. 1 memory. In his regulation bouts against Kitanoumi during his career, Wajima finished with 23 wins and 21 losses.

Wajima had an outgoing personality, perming his hair when he was young, driving a luxury imported vehicle, and going out on the town at night, while Kitanoumi was seen as a strong, silent type. With this contrast they had an equal share of popularity.

Wajima fights against Tiger Jeet Singh in November 1986 after making his debut as a professional wrestler. (Mainichi)

With the spring tournament of 1981, Wajima marked his retirement. He assumed the position of head of the Hanakago Stable, but later left the Japan Sumo Association over trouble resulting from him putting up his trusteeship (elder stock) in the association as collateral to borrow a huge amount of money.

Wajima went on to enter the world of professional wrestling and even worked as an American football coach. Even so, he had made appearances at gatherings of yokozuna wrestlers in recent years. And while he lost his voice to throat cancer in 2013, he had remained cheerful until recently.

(Japanese original by Taro Iiyama, Sports News Department and Jo Kamiuse, Utsunomiya Bureau)

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