OSAKA – Kakuryu defeated rival ozeki Kotoshogiku to capture his first career championship on the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament Sunday, defying the odds to all but secure his promotion to sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna.
The Mongolian-born rikishi won bouts against both yokozuna Harumafuji and Hakuho at the 15-day meet and claimed the Emperor’s Cup with a mark of 14-1, one more win than had been asked of him by the powers that be for consideration for the top rank.
With the 10th sell-out crowd at the Osaka meet, Kakuryu only needed a short grappling exchange with Kotoshogiku before changing hand positions to get his right hand on the front of his opponent’s mawashi and his left on the back to drive his rival out in textbook fashion.
“I am so happy. The third time was the charm. It’s great,” said Kakuryu, who had come close to winning the championship twice before, most recently losing in a playoff to Hakuho at the New Year Basho in January. I focused on my sumo each and every day. When I lost (on the third day) I actually felt more relaxed.”
He added: “I just wanted to wrestle with my style of sumo till the very end.”
Hakuho (12-3), who jammed two fingers on his right hand in a loss to Kotoshogiku on Friday and fell to Kakuryu on Saturday, lost to rival yokozuna Harumafuji (12-3) after the pair had to redo their match when the first bout was too close to call.
Hakuho, who had appeared invincible until going on the defensive against nemesis Kisenosato for his 12th straight win, was sent backpedaling out in seconds as Harumafuji came flying out of the crouch with a fierce thrusting attack in the second match.
Sumo’s premier yokozuna, who had been gunning for his 29th career title, appeared bothered by his right hand and hardly put up a fight as he stepped out of the raised ring.
Local favorite Goeido (12-3) wrapped up his third Outstanding Performance Prize with a walloping of Kisenosato (9-6), the sekiwake getting his right hand on the back of the ozeki’s mawashi before tackling him over the straw bales in convincing fashion.
It will be the first yokozuna promotion since Harumafuji’s debut at sumo’s highest rank at the 2012 Kyushu Basho. Kakuryu will be the fourth Mongolian-born wrestler to become yokozuna after Asashoryu, Hakuho and Harumafuji.
Early on, Osunaarashi (8-6) snapped a six-bout losing streak (one loss by default with one rest day).
The Egyptian-born wrestler manhandled Toyohibiki (6-9) with a powerful frontal force out to get his kachi-koshi winning record in his third appearance in the elite class.
Sumo’s first African wrestler had won his first seven bouts before suffering an injury to his right thigh in a defeat to Endo on the eighth day and pulled out for two bouts before returning to compete for the final four.
Endo finished on 6-9 after losing by “yoritaoshi” to Yoshikaze (10-5), who won his third Fighting Spirit Prize by notching double-digit wins.
No. 1 maegashira Endo, whose popularity has skyrocketed in just his fourth tournament in the top division, lost his first four matches against both yokozuna and two of the ozeki before winning his next four, including an impressive victory over Kisenosato, but he had a bumpy road over the final week.