Mongolian-born Kyokutenho became the oldest wrestler in the modern era to win his career first title with a victory over Tochiozan in a playoff on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
It was experience against youth, but Kyokutenho at 37 years, 8 months, prevailed with a vintage performance to send Tochiozan sprawling with a smackdown just seconds into the playoff. The No. 7 maegashira immediately broke down in an emotional display of tears as he headed off the dohyo.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” said Kyokutenho, who made his sumo debut at the 1992 spring basho. “So many people came out in support of me, and I really appreciate that. It’s because of their support that I am here standing in this position today.”
Kyokutenho (12-3) surpassed the mark of Toyokuni who achieved the feat at 35 years, 6 months in 1929 — making it the best record since the Showa era (1926-1989). He also was a step above Chiyonofuji for the oldest to win a title since the establishment of the six-tourney system in 1958, the former yokozuna great winning one at 35 years, 5 months.
Tochiozan (12-3) failed to become the first Japanese-born wrestler to win a title since now-retired Tochiazuma won the New Year basho as an ozeki in 2006. It was the first time that a maegashira wrestler claimed the Emperor’s Cup since Kotomitsuki did so at the 2001 autumn meet.
“I didn’t know what to expect on this final day but everything came together. I was just focused on my sumo,” said Kyokutenho, who brought the number of Mongolian title victories to 50.
Kyokutenho, who claimed Japanese citizenship in June 2005, set up the playoff when he dug deep in his energy reserves to pull off a win over sekiwake Goeido, who inadvertently stepped over the barrier as his opponent pulled with all his might on the top of the mawashi with one hand.
Kisenosato had a chance to make it a three-way playoff but fellow ozeki Baruto denied his rival a 12th win with a powerful display in the day’s penultimate bout in regulation.
Kisenosato (11-4) had the Estonian giant on the ropes after the face-off but couldn’t finish off, and Baruto (9-6) deployed a body-wrenching overarm throw to topple the Japanese ozeki into the ringside seats as the crowd let out a gasp of disappointment.
Hakuho had to take his honey with vinegar this time, grinding out a respectable 10-5 mark despite wrestling with a fractured left index finger suffered in his loss on the opening day, salvaging his pride but coming up short in his bid for a second straight title.
He lost on the final day to Harumafuji (8-7).
Before the main bouts in the top makuuchi division even got started Sunday, the tournament took an unsuspecting twist when Bulgarian Kotooshu (8-7) pulled out with a ligament injury, narrowing the title race down to three while ruining Hakuho’s shot at his 23rd career title in the process.
Tochiozan was automatically guaranteed a 12th win as Kotooshu forfeited his bout against the No. 4 maegashira, making it mathematically impossible for Hakuho and two maegashira who had four defeats heading into the final day to close the gap.
The full house at Ryogoku Kokugikan had been expecting a battle royal, potentially with six wrestlers with a chance of winning the title on the last day, and the fans showed their disapproval with a shower of boos directed at the absent Kotooshu when the gyoji awarded the default win to Tochiozan.
Kotoshogiku beat fellow ozeki Kakuryu in a textbook shove-out to finish at 10-5 while the ozeki debutant ended with a barely passing mark of 8-7.
Tochiozan and Kyokutenho won prizes for Fighting Spirit, the former his second since the 2007 summer basho while Kyokutenho took the accolade for the sixth time overall.
Goeido (8-7), who beat Hakuho on the eighth day and toppled three of the ozeki wrestlers, claimed his first Outstanding Performance Prize.
Komusubi Aminishiki, who also beat Hakuho and three ozeki, was unable to claim his fifth Outstanding Prize after he was shoved out by Bulgarian Aoiyama (11-4) in a lopsided bout, finishing with a majority of losses despite his achievements at the 15-day meet.
Myogiryu (9-6) was too savvy for Tochinoshin (9-6), wriggling free from the Georgian’s grip on the front of his mawashi before charging his opponent out. The Hyogo native won his second Technique Prize.