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Japan’s only homegrown sumo champ bows out in tears

Tokyo: The only Japanese-born grand champion or "yokozuna" in sumo tearfully insisted he had "no regrets" as he announced his retirement Wednesday after a disastrous run of form and injury.

Kisenosato, the first Japanese-born wrestler to reach the heights of yokozuna since 1998, decided to throw in the towel after three straight losses in the New Year "basho" or tournament. 

"I feel that I did everything I could," he said, with tears running down his cheek.

"I was supported by so many people… I have nothing but gratitude," he said.

With the retirement of the 32-year-old, there will only be two fighters left in the top rank of the ancient sport — Hakuho and Kakuryu, both Mongolians.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga described the retirement as "very regrettable."

"It's sad," he told reporters at a regular briefing.

"I think he captivated many fans as the first Japanese-born yokozuna in 19 years," he added.

Kisenosato won promotion to yokozuna in March 2017, much to the delight of fans eager to see a home-grown champion.

He had a promising start, winning his first basho as a yokozuna, but suffered a chest injury that forced him to miss eight consecutive tournaments.

He managed to win the autumn tournament last year but was again forced to retire in the basho after that following four consecutive losses.

This prompted officials to voice disappointment with his performance, sparking speculation that he needed good results in the New Year tournament to retain his top-ranked status. 

Local wrestlers have been unable to repel a flood of foreigners who have dominated in recent years.

The overseas invasion began in earnest with Hawaiian behemoth Konishiki, who was nicknamed "Dump Truck" and tipped the scales at a whopping 285 kilos (628 pounds), and other hulking Pacific islanders in the 1990s.

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