NAGOYA – The Japan Sumo Association formally promoted sekiwake Goeido to the ozeki rank, following a unanimous decision from its board of directors on Wednesday.
The decision to promote the Sakaigawa wrestler was officially made after a meeting to determine the sumo rankings for the Sept. 14-28 Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Goeido, whose given name is Gotaro Sawai, is the first wrestler to rise to sumo’s second-highest rank since Kakuryu, currently a yokozuna, was promoted after the 2012 Spring basho.
The 28-year-old is the first Japanese-born rikishi to make ozeki since Kisenosato did so after the 2011 Kyushu tournament. After his induction ceremony where he gave a short prepared speech, Goeido said, “I am relieved, but now I have to really buckle down. I don’t feel any pleasure.”
The Autumn basho will feature three Mongolians at sumo’s top rung of yokozuna with three Japanese at the ozeki rank. At his induction ceremony, Goeido said he intends to exemplify the Japanese spirit of “Yamato-damashii.”
“(When I mentioned Yamato-damashii in my speech) I felt that this word imbues the strong patience of Japanese people and manliness. This is what I myself will require most of all,” he said.
Goeido finished the Summer basho in May with a just passable 8-7 record but toppled both Kakuryu and Emperor’s Cup winner Hakuho on consecutive days at the Nagoya meet this month.
It was his first tournament with 12 victories in two meets, bringing the Osaka native’s tally to 32 wins in his three most recent tournaments, just one win away from the JSA’s roughly prescribed guideline of 33 for ozeki promotion.
“He will have a lot of pressure,” said stable elder Sakaigawa. “He will have to be more prepared than ever. He really trains hard, and I think if there is a sumo God, he’s been watching over him.”
A former yokozuna high school champion, Goeido remained at sekiwake for 14 consecutive tournaments, the longest since the start of the Showa period (1926-1989).
His pace of 41 tournaments to reach ozeki after joining the elite makuuchi division is the sixth slowest ever. Maenoyama, who was promoted to ozeki after the 1970 Nagoya basho, was the last wrestler from Osaka to reach the rank.
JSA Chairman Kitanoumi said he hopes Goeido makes his time at ozeki just a checkpoint en route to yokozuna. “It was a unanimous decision for his approval. He has extremes with good times and bad times, but if he wrestles the way he knows how, I’d like him to see ozeki as just a checkpoint as he aims for yokozuna. Beating two yokozuna in a row was impressive.”
As one of the poster boys in the upper echelon, Goeido will also see a rise in salary; he will take home ¥2.34 million per month, the next highest paycheck after the yokozuna salary of ¥2.82 million — up ¥654,000 from what he made as a sekiwake.