The volatile Mongolian first raised eyebrows when he uttered a few words to the media scrum as he marched off to take a bath following a training session for this month’s Tokyo tournament.

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“Do you fancy coming for a drink?” Asashoryu was quoted as saying in Tuesday’s Nikkan Sports. “Because this could be my last appearance in Tokyo.”

The 28-year-old made some equally baffling comments later on Monday when he took part in a hot-air balloon trip.

“I will do my best to come back next year,” Asashoryu said after joining 60,000 enthusiasts at a balloon festival in Nagano.

Asashoryu’s short fuse has landed him in trouble with Japanese sumo authorities many times, most notably resulting in a ban two years ago for playing soccer while supposedly injured.

His suspension triggered a bout of clinical depression, leading Asashoryu to seek solace at a luxury spa resort in his native country.

Asashoryu was given around-the-clock police protection in Tokyo earlier this year after receiving a death threat posted on an Internet forum.

Critics within the closeted world of sumo accuse him of lacking the dignity to hold the elite rank of “yokozuna” despite his 23 Emperor’s Cup victories.

Asashoryu’s future in Japan’s ancient sport has been the subject of increased speculation after he was recently granted permanent residency.

Several former foreign wrestlers such as Hawaiian-born Konishiki and Akebono obtained Japanese citizenship in order to run a sumo “stable” (gym) but Asashoryu did not apply.

(Reporting by Alastair Himmer. Editing by John O’Brien)