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"Where there's a will there's a way" is an extremely trite phrase, but in this case, it's hard to think of a more succinct summary.

Mainoumi (1967- ) was one of the smallest sumo wrestlers ever, weighing in at 98 kg and 169 cm, only reaching the 173 cm required to wrestle by the Nihon Sumo Kyokai by having an extremely painful silicone implant embedded under his scalp. He was also one of the most exciting wrestlers ever, making up for his pint-sized build with a dizzying array of tricks and maneuvers that made his bouts the must-watch events of each basho in the early to mid 1990s and earned him the memorable nickname, "Department Store of Technique" (waza no depaato).

Born Nagao Shuhei in the town of Ajigasawa in Aomori prefecture, Mainoumi was a talented sumo wrestler at Nihon University, but knew he could never join the pro ranks because he was too short. Instead, he decided to become a high school teacher, and channeled his love of sumo into mentoring a close friend to become a sumo champion. His friend showed much promise, and many predicted he would become a champion one day, but during their senior year, the friend died suddenly of an illness. Nagao was heartbroken, and gave up sumo entirely for a few months. But after some reflection, he decided that the best way to honor his friend's memory was to make it to the top of pro sumo himself, by hook or by crook.

And that is what he did, eventually rising to become the fifth-ranked wrestler in all of sumo (as a komusubi) despite the fact that he was smaller than half of the people who write on this site.

The first step was finding a way to increase his height from 169 cm to the required 173. After making several inquiries, he finally found a doctor who agreed to implant a sack under his scalp and gradually inject silicone into it over a period of several months.1 The stretching of his scalp to increase his height by 4 centimeters caused Mainoumi incredible pain, such that he would sometimes throw up or pass out from the pain during his everyday activities. But nevertheless he wrestled throughout his career with the implant, which altogether required four different surgeries to maintain. Mainoumi was allowed into the ring with the implant and was allowed to finish out his career, but the Sumo Kyokai banned all future wrestlers from using such an implant.

In the ring Mainoumi was nothing short of a sensation. To compensate for his small size, he used dazzling speed, supreme command of conventional techniques, and a willingness to try anything and everything to achieve victory when conventional techniques failed. A favorite tactic of Mainoumi's was to lure an opponent into a charge, only to suddenly break free, duck around behind him, and push the off-balance oaf out of the ring from behind. Other times Mainoumi would confuse opponents by backing up at the tachiai (start of the fight). Another trick invented by Mainoumi, known as nekodamashii, was to clap his hands loudly rapidly in front of the opponents face to confuse them and get them to close their eyes before his real attack.

But despite the strangeness of some of his antics, Mainoumi never lost sight of his goal, which was always to win by any means possible. All told in his career, he won by an amazing 33 different kimarite (winning techniques) - by comparison most wrestlers use less than 15 in their entire career, and usually use only a handful with any regularity. Famously, Mainoumi was the only wrestler in the modern era to ever win by a kimarite known as mitokorozeme, literally "triple attack force-out," in which the wrestler wins by simultaneously tripping, pushing, and headbutting his opponent out of the ring.2 Mainoumi won by mitokorozeme two times officially, and one time beat massive Hawaiian future yokozuna Akebono with an attack most observers deemed mitokorozeme, but which was officially ruled uchigake. It was victories such as these that earned Mainoumi the nickname "Department Store of Technique" in addition to his other nicknames such as the alliterative "Mighty Mouse," the descriptive "Round-and-round Mainoumi," and the more prosaic "Most Exciting Man in Sumo."

Perhaps most impressive of all, was that Mainoumi was wrestling some of the most massive sumo wrestlers ever to enter the dohyo, including the likes of Akebono and Konishiki, but was not only wrestling them, but was wrestling them and winning. Mainoumi entered sumo exactly at the time that the big Hawaiians and Samoans were entering the sport and driving many Japanese rikishi to make extra trips to the buffet to try to compete. Mainoumi actually rose up through the ranks at roughly the same dates as Akebono. Thus, Mainoumi became the ultimate underdog, and a hero to sumo fans everywhere, standing up for the supremacy of wits and technique over size and brute force. Some of the most memorable sumo bouts of the 1990s involve the 99-kg Mainoumi facing off against 239-kg Akebono or 275-kg Konishiki, in which case fans had the pleasure of watching the largest sumo wrestler ever fight the smallest ever.

One of these fights memorable for all the wrong reasons was a bout in 1996 when, in a match which Mainoumi actually won, all 275 kilograms of Konishiki came crashing down on Mainoumi's knee, shredding it completely. For anyone who has seen pictures of Konishiki and Mainoumi, you can imagine how horrifying it looked to see the one come down on top of the other, and indeed the image is indelibly burned into the minds of many a sumo fan. It took Mainoumi more than a year and a half to make his way back to the ring, and even then he had to fight his way back from juryo. He finally made it back to makuuchi in 1999 before a new spate of injuries forced him to retire at age 32.

Today Mainoumi is a sumo commentator, television personality, and all-around ambassador of the sport. It is a sign of his enduring popularity as the lovable everyman that virtually every political party in Japan has asked him to run for office under its banner, although thus far he has declined.

Mainoumi's overall record as a professional was 385-418-27. He wrestled in 36 basho as a Makuuchi and won the technique prize 5 times, as is only befitting for the "Department Store of Technique."


1. For a picture of the cone-like implant, see http://halfpie.net/article/149/sumo-mainoumi
2. For a picture of mitokorozeme, see http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng/kimarite/67.html

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