In the world of sport, there are a select number of records so substantial, set by athletes who transcended their sport, that they are considered unbreakable. Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak, Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games played. All great records, all thought to be unbreakable. Yet there is one record that may genuinely never be bested: Yokozuna Futabayama Sadaji’s 69 consecutive wins.
At the age of fifteen Futabayama entered the world of sumo, making his Makuuchi debut five years later in 1932. His meteoric rise up the banzuke from mid-Juryo to Meagashira 4, an unusually large promotion, was the result of many of the sports top stars going on strike due to demands for reform within the Sumo Association. Desperate for talent, The Association put their faith in the young Futabayama. Their faith was well founded, and it did not take long for him to find success in the top division. In March of 1936 Futabayama won his first yusho at the rank of Sekiwake with a perfect 11-0 record. As a result of his impressive zen-yusho victory, Futabayama was awarded the rank of Ozeki for the following tournament. As an Ozeki, he would go on to win both bashos in 1937* with perfect zensho-yusho records and became the sports 35th Yokozuna.
At this point in his career Futabayama had garnered a great deal of public attention. Spectators eagerly attended tournaments to see just how long the Yokozuna could stretch his winning streak. Capitalizing on this popularity, the Sumo Association extended the number of days each basho ran from 11 to 13 and eventually to the 15-day tournaments we see today. Futabayama continued his winning ways with an additional two zensho-yusho in 1938. His streak would come to an end on the eighth day of the 1939 Haru basho when Futabayama, who was ill with dysentery, was finally defeated by future Yokozuna Akinoumi Setsuo. Although his undefeated record had been capped at 69 victories, Futabayama continued to find success in his career. He went on to win another six more yusho and opened his own stable in 1941 while still an active rikishi, an act now forbidden by the Sumo Association. After his retirement in 1945, Futabayama revealed that he had been robbed of his sight in one eye as a child, making the incredible achievements throughout his career even more impressive.
Since setting the record for most consecutive wins, many other great Yokozuna such as Taiho and Chiyonofuji have tried and fallen short of surpassing Futabayamas most enduring legacy. In 2010, Yokozuna Hakuho became the closest in modern time to breaking the record. Believing himself to have been born to eclipse Futabayama’s achievement, Hakuho fell just six wins short of drawing even with his Yokozuna predecessor. If the greatest rikishi of our time could not overcome Futabayama’s record 69 consecutive wins, Then it can truly be said to be unbreakable.
*During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s only two basho were held each year
Futabayama (left) vs. Akinoumi (right), Natsu basho, 1942.