Konishiki Yasokichi

Konishiki Yasokichi ,was born Saleva’a Fuauli Atisano’e on December 31, 1963), is a Hawaiian-born Japanese-Semoan sumo wrestler known as “The Dump Truck.” He was the first foreign-born wrestler to reach ozeki, the second highest rank in the sport. During his career he won the top division championship on three occasions and came close to becoming the first foreign-born grand champion (yokozuna.) This prompted a debate as to whether a foreigner could have the necessary cultural understanding to be acceptable in sumo’s ultimate rank. At a typical fighting weight of 264 kg (580 lb) he was also the heaviest rikishi in sumo.

Atisano’e entered sumo in July 1982 at the age of 18, recruited by another Hawaiian born wrestler, Takimiyama.   A promising student at the University High School in Honolulu, he initially wanted to be a lawyer and was also offered a music scholarship to Syracuse University.   Atisano’e regarded Takimiyama as a local hero and found the opportunity to join sumo too hard to resist.

Due to his potential he was given the name Konishiki, after the 17th Yokozuna, Konishiki Yasokichi I who came from the same training stable at the end of the 19th Century.  Atisano’e was the sixth “Konishiki” in history, though he was the third to reach the top division. Konishiki rose to the privileged  sekitori ranks in just eight tournaments, a remarkably rapid rise.

He made his debut in the top makuuichi division in July 1984, and in the following tournament in September he defeated two yokozuna,  Chiyonofuji and Takanosato, and was runner-up with a 12–3 record. He was promoted to komusubi for the first time in May 1985 and sekiwake in July 1985. However, he suffered an injury to his coccyx (caused by a stool collapsing underneath him) and had to sit out all the next tournament. In May 1986 he suffered another injury, this time in competition, during a bout with Futahaguro. Konishiki came back strongly from this setback and three consecutive double figure scores in 1987 earned him promotion to ozeki…

Many people expected Konishiki to quickly make his push for yokozuna promotion. His stablemaster, the 46th yokozuna Asashio Tarō III had predicted Konishiki would reach the top rank by his 25th birthday.  However, his weight increased to over 254 kg in 1988, and the subsequent strain on his knees badly affected his performances. After a string of mediocre 8–7 scores he turned in a disastrous 3–12 in September 1988. His problems continued in 1989 and a 5–10 mark in September left him in danger of demotion from ozeki once again. He made a spectacular comeback in November 1989, taking his first tournament championship with a 14–1 record. He was the first foreigner to win a top division title since Takamiyama in 1972. In March 1990 he took part in a three-way playoff for the title but he was outshone by Asahifuji, who earned promotion to yokozuna in July. In May 1991 Konishiki won 14 consecutive bouts but was beaten in a playoff on the final day by Asahifuji.

Close to yokozuna

By late 1991 Konishiki was a strong yokozuna candidate. He had overcome his injuries and showed much more consistency. Yokozuna Chiyonofuji and Onokuni had both recently retired, and Asahifuji and Hokutoumi were struggling with illness and injury. Konishiki took advantage by winning two championships (his 2nd and 3rd overall) in November 1991 and March 1992, with a record in the last three tournaments of 38 wins and 7 losses. However, he was denied promotion to yokozuna, with the chairman of the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee, Hideo Ueda, announcing, “We wanted to make doubly sure that Konishiki is worthy to be a grand champion. Therefore, we decided to wait for another tournament.” The New York Times subsequently quoted Konishiki as saying, “If I were Japanese, I would be yokozuna already.” The Japan Sumo Association demanded an apology. Konishiki held a press conference in which he tearfully denied making the remarks, but the damage had been done. The media furor hampered his preparations for the forthcoming tournament which resulted in a mediocre 9–6 record. Konishiki never came close to promotion again.

Later career

Konishiki retained his ozeki ranking for 39 tournaments over more than six years, but he eventually lost it in November 1993 after two consecutive losing records. However, he continued to compete in the top maegashira division for another four years. His weight continued to increase and he became susceptible to belt throws and slap downs by lighter and more agile opponents. Ironically, even though he enjoyed less success, he became progressively more popular with Japanese fans due to his fighting spirit, distinctive bulk, and amiable personality. In November 1997, he faced demotion to the second juryo division and announced his retirement after 15 years in sumo. He had spent 81 consecutive tournaments in the top division and won 649 bouts there.

Fighting style

Early in his career, under the instruction of his first stablemaster, Konishiki was primarily oshi-sumo specialist, preferring pushing and thrusting techniques such as oshi-dashi and tsuki-dashi that would win the bout as quickly as possible. Following his knee problems in 1988 and 1989, his balance suffered and as his weight continued to increase he began to change his style, preferring to bide his time by grabbing the opponent’s mawashi and rely on his huge weight advantage to wear them out. By 1992 he was winning virtually all his matches by yori-kiri (force out), and his lack of ability to change tack once he had been sidestepped was one of the concerns raised by the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee when he was up for promotion.

Life after sumo

Konishiki remained in the Japan Sumo Association as an elder for a short time under the name of Sanoyama, before branching out as a Japanese entertainer under the name “KONISHIKI”. (The capitalization is an effort to reflect the association’s requiring him to write the name in the Roman alphabet, forbidding its being spelled out in Japanese characters after he left sumo.)

In January 2004 he married his girlfriend of two years, former medical worker Chie Iijima. He had previously married former model Sumika Shioda in 1992, but they divorced amicably in December 2000.

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