Japan mourned the death of legendary sumo wrestler Chiyonofuji on Monday, a day after the 31-time tournament champion succumbed to pancreatic cancer in a Tokyo hospital at the age of 61.
The muscular wrestler, who ran the Kokonoe stable, is third on the all-time list for the most championship wins behind Hakuho (37) and Taiho (32) respectively.
Chiyonofuji was promoted to the ancient sport's highest rank of yokozuna after the Nagoya tournament of 1981 and retired following the 1991 summer tournament after racking up 1,045 career victories.
"All I have to say to him is, 'Thank you for your hard work.' I was blessed with a wonderful disciple," Kyodo news quoted former yokozuna Kitanofuji, who was head coach of the Kokonoe stable when Chiyonofuji was still active, as saying.
"Chiyonofuji is Chiyonofuji. He was wild but sensitive. He used bad language but his heart was not as bad, and he was actually easily moved to tears."
Chiyonofuji, whose real name was Mitsugu Akimoto, was the first sumo wrestler to receive the People's Honour Award, bestowed on those who have made tremendous achievements in their careers, in 1989.
He won 53 straight bouts, the third-longest streak since the start of the Showa Era in 1926, and in 1990 became the first wrestler to win 1,000 bouts.
Shibatayama stablemaster and former yokozuna Onokuni, who ended Chiyonofuji's longest winning streak in his final bout of the Showa Era that ended with Emperor Hirohito's death in January 1989, also mourned his untimely death.
"He was a star, and we've lost a very important person. He was some yokozuna," Tamanoi stablemaster Tochiazuma said.
Former yokozuna Takanohana added: "I will never forget that feeling when I fearfully pressed my forehead against his metal body."
Chiyonofuji had surgery for pancreatic cancer last year, and according to Kyodo, had been telling his close associates that the disease had spread to his stomach and lungs.