OSAKA - It was not pretty, but Hakuho defeated fellow Mongolian yokozuna Harumafuji to capture a record-extending 36th career championship title with a 14-1 record on Sunday, the final day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
Entering the day in control of his own fate with a one-win lead, Hakuho used a frowned-upon henka sidestep technique at the charge to avenge three straight defeats to Harumafuji (9-6), triggering boos and jeers among the sold-out crowd at Edion Arena Osaka.
The most successful wrestler in sumo history, Hakuho has dominated the top makuuchi division in recent years but had not won a championship title since the Nagoya meet in July last year.
Hakuho, whose only defeat here came on the opening day, apologized for using a henka but hundreds of spectators had already left the arena before his post-match interview.
“Winning a championship has seemed far away over these last eight months,” said Hakuho, who took long pauses before answering as he struggled to hold back tears.
“Losing (on the first day of the tournament) was a good dose of medicine for me. I wrestled well from the second day but I never planned to win on the final day with a henka and I feel really bad about that.”
In a matchup between the only other wrestlers still in with a shot at the title coming into the final day, Kisenosato claimed ozeki bragging rights and closed at 13-2 by muscling out Goeido (12-3).
Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu floored ozeki Kotoshogiku with an underarm throw for a 10th win. Kotoshogiku, who started the meet with hopes of promotion to yokozuna after a surprise championship win at the New Year meet, finished with an 8-7 mark.
In other bouts of note, Kotoyuki emerged victorious from an entertaining slugfest against local favorite Ikioi for a 12-3 record. The top-ranked maegashira, who beat one yokozuna and two ozeki en route to double-digit wins, won his first Outstanding Performance prize.
“It was a close fight (against Ikioi) but I was patient and did better than I expected,” said Kotoyuki. “Every day has been fulfilling and I have learned lessons and gained confidence.”
Fourth-ranked Ikioi (10-5) has also had an impressive showing here but failure to score an 11th win saw him miss out on the Fighting Spirit Prize. There was no Technique Prize awarded for the second tournament in a row.
Bulgarian-born No. 3 maegashira Aoiyama (7-8) piled more misery on Toyonoshima, thrusting him out to condemn him to a 12th defeat on his return to sumo’s third highest rank of sekiwake.
Sekiwake Yoshikaze (4-11) has also had a disappointing tournament, although he was able to finish on a winning note by outmuscling Mongolian ozeki Terunofuji (8-7).
No. 11 maegashira Ichinojo (11-4) finished with a flourish, the Mongolian giant getting a firm left-handed grip on Sadanoumi’s belt and marching the ninth-ranked grappler out to an eighth loss.