The decade-long wait for a Japanese-born championship winner is finally over.
Ozeki Kotoshogiku overpowered Goeido on Sunday to win the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, becoming the first homegrown wrestler to claim an Emperor’s Cup since retired ozeki Tochiazuma won this tournament in 2006.
“I’m filled with happiness beyond words. I was given lots of support even when I was having a tough time and not getting results, and I’m happy I’m standing here today,” Kotoshogiku said.
Holding a one-win lead over Mongolian 35-time champion Hakuho and childhood friend Toyonoshima, Kotoshogiku entered the final day of the 15-day meet needing only a victory to secure the tournament hardware.
The 31-year-old bruiser from Fukuoka, who was promoted to ozeki in the fall of 2011, did not disappoint, working ozeki Goeido (4-11) up against the ridge and later thrusting him down to wrap up the tournament with a 14-1 record, sending spectators into raptures at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Ozeki Kisenosato had been the man tipped as the Japanese wrestler with the most realistic shot at snapping 10 years of domination by foreign-born rikishi, such as Hakuho and former yokozuna Asashoryu, another Mongolian, and restoring national pride in the centuries-old sport.
But Kotoshogiku stole the show and his achievement is all the more surprising since he had only managed double-digit wins twice in the last two years and has struggled with physical issues, including a shin injury that forced him to withdraw near the end of the Kyushu tournament in November.
Toyonoshima (12-3) dropped out of contention in the preceding bout after he was shoved out by sekiwake Tochiozan (7-8).
However, the seventh-ranked maegashira’s showing at this tournament was still good enough to earn him his third career Outstanding Performance Prize, one of three prizes awarded to makuuchi division wrestlers by the Japan Sumo Association on the final day of a tournament.
“Honestly, I’m really happy he won, but the flip side of that is that I’m extremely frustrated,” said Toyonoshima, who was one of the first to congratulate his rival. “I’m happy but frustrated.”
“I’d like us two to have a title race again, with me ahead of him next time, and let him savor this frustration and happiness.”
Hakuho, who had come into the tournament seeking his first title in three meets, was sent packing to a third loss when fellow yokozuna Harumafuji floored him with an overarm throw.
Kisenosato forced out Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu (10-5) to finish with a 9-6 mark.
Yoshikaze secured a winning record in his first tournament as sekiwake, forcing Georgian komusubi Tochinoshin out to a ninth loss.
In the lower ranks, No. 12 maegashira Shodai, a former college yokozuna, completed an impressive debut in the makuuchi division, scoring a 10th win that secured him the Fighting Spirit Prize.
“I am really pleased and at the same time it hasn’t really sunk in. I knew (I would win this prize with a 10th win) but tried to shut it out of my mind. This was the hardest bout of the 15 days.
“I found myself retreating a lot of the time (at this tournament) instead of advancing and I want to make my tachiai sharper.”
No Technique Prize was awarded for the first time in three tournaments.