Cal Martin had interesting life in the early 1970s.
Well, before he was a target of first-ever Caucasian sumo wrestler’s anger. Telling the stablemaster that you want to go to America to hunt down and kill the man’s son because he has been fooling around with your stepmom — a quite rare occasion in this sport.
That soap opera-esque storyline was just par for the course in the short, but extremely eventful, sumo life of Araiwa (Martin).
Indignant at the high schooler’s dismissive attitude towards sumo while watching the sport on TV with his father during a trip to Japan, she challenged him to put up or shut up.
“It was her dare that got me in,” Martin explained in a recent phone conversation with The Japan Times. “I was just a cocky kid of 18 and thought I could whip the world. I have never even heard the word “sumo” before I got to Japan.”
“I loved Japan, but I didn’t plan on staying there … and that was part of the reason I said, ‘Y’know I think I’ve gone far enough,’” he said.
Hanakago knew the value of his asset and, in a move reminiscent of what European soccer teams would do decades later, leveraged the novelty of his foreign recruit into column inches and publicity.
“When he had me come over and try out, he made sure he had a reporter there that leaked it everywhere,” Martin said.
“I had a little pickup truck that I’d won in a bet with Hanakago,” he said. “When we had our two weeks off after a tournament, I used to take off with my hair down and go up into the mountains and rent a cabin. I would say I was a student and I’d stay there for a week and have a ball with the lumberjacks, arm-wrestling and everything. On the last day I’d tell them who I was. It was a fun time back then.”
Martin has fond memories of his old sparring partner.
“He was my only friend in Hanakago stable,” he said. “We kept in touch and he came over to the United States a time or two. He was great. We were like Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. We were just best buddies and made each other better. He used to tell people ‘if it wasn’t for that damn American, I wouldn’t have gotten into jūryō.” Martin’s own career almost ended as soon as it began. Soon after joining the sport he got called up for a military draft exam and while back in the U.S. took up a job working for Ford.
Repeated efforts by Hanakago to get him to return failed before negative press changed his mind.
“I actually came back (to Japan) again because of some articles written in the Japanese newspapers,” he said. “They said I just made it to the lowest division, and they said I was kind of a (expletive) — I didn’t show up for the rest. I said OK I’m coming back and by God this time we’ll get serious.” How serious the subsequent 13-month career actually was is debatable, but Martin certainly made a run at being the Most Interesting Rikishi in the World.
Credit for this amazing story goes to The Japan Times.