IT IS a sport rooted in ancient traditions and famed for the dignity and virtue of its giant competitors.
But Japan’s champion sumo wrestler was looking less than composed this week as he apologised for going on a drunken rampage that culminated with him smashing up his training stable.
Now Asashoryu, the Mongolian wrestler who rose to the top of Japan’s national sport in just 14 tournaments, is facing expulsion for bringing the traditions of sumo into disrepute.
Japanese tabloids have had a field day following Asashoryu, who, after winning the past four championships, is clearly at the peak of his game.
But in the latest of a series of incidents that have left sumo masters frowning, the giant wrestler was forced to issue a public apology after admitting going on the rampage at his training stable following an argument over arrangements for his impending marriage.
"He has had a great year and won every tournament this year - that’s four in a row - but if the reports are true then I’d expect at the very least that he would have to leave his stable," said Fred Varcoe, who has written about sumo for magazines and newspapers for 15 years.
"He has been in trouble with the Japan Sumo Association before, and as the elders don’t really want a Mongolian to be the top wrestler anyway, maybe Asashoryu has used up all his lives this time," Varcoe said.
This week, Asashoryu, whose real name is Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, apologised for being drunk in public and causing damage to the front door of the Takasago stable in Tokyo’s Sumida ward.
The police had to be called and the wrestler, 23, had to be restrained from attacking his stable-master, a former wrestler called Asashio, after the two men clashed over preparations for Asashoryu’s wedding.
Asashoryu is to marry a Mongolian woman called Tamir next month in their homeland and plans to hold a sumptuous wedding in Tokyo.
The problem was reported to have stemmed from the fact that Asashoryu apparently signed a deal with a television company to screen his wedding party in Tokyo without consulting his stable-master.
Traditionally, any income generated by a stable’s wrestlers is shared with its owner, with as much as 60 per cent of the couple’s wedding gifts going to the stable.
At a meeting between officials of the television station, the stable-master and Asashoryu, the two men got into a fierce argument over the division of the money from the wedding gifts, the television company’s payment - estimated at several hundred thousand dollars - and the money earned by the wedding in Mongolia.
Dubbed Genghis Khan, Asashoryu is the 68th "yokozuna" or grand champion, in the 2,000-year-old sport’s history.
But from the outset of his career in the ring, his truculent behaviour and volatile temper have upset the purists.
Standing just over 6ft tall and weighing about 25st, his rise through the ranks has been meteoric.
He made his first appearance in January 1999 and made yokozuna in just 14 tournaments, attributing his style to his upbringing in a family of Mongolian wrestlers.
However, commentators say his early years in another country have left him ill-equipped for a life as sumo’s undisputed champion.