Tochinoshin became the first rank-and-file wrestler in nearly six years to win a grand sumo tournament on Saturday, the penultimate day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
Fighting as a No. 3 maegashira, the 30-year-old from Georgia reeled off his seventh straight win to run his record in the 15-day event at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan to 13-1.
Beginning the day two wins ahead of yokozuna Kakuryu, Tochinoshin, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze, survived a slight misstep against 177-cm dynamo Shohozan (9-5), but recovered quickly to force him over the straw.
“This is the greatest. I’m extremely happy,” said Tochinoshin after sending his ninth-ranked maegashira opponent down to his fifth loss of the tournament.
From the start, each man tried to drive the other back with rapid-fire shoves to the upper body with Tochinoshin forcing his opponent back to the straw. But as the Georgian drew back for another blow, Shohozan ducked out of the way, and Tochinoshin’s follow-through carried him toward the straw and perilously close to defeat.
For a second, Tochinoshin’s back was turned to his opponent. But the 177-kg Georgian pivoted in a flash, locked up the disbelieving Shohozan’s right arm and proceeded to usher him struggling from the bout.
He is the third sumo wrestler from Europe to win a 15-day grand tournament in Japan’s traditional sport. Before he made his professional sumo debut in March 2006, Gorgadze practiced judo and sambo, a Russian martial art.
In the July 2013 Nagoya tourney when he was fighting as a No. 11 maegashira, Tochinoshin severely damaged his right knee, rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament and tearing the medial collateral ligament. He missed three straight tournaments before returning to action in the third-tier makushita division.
By winning four straight tournaments upon his return, Tochinoshin returned to the top division in November 2014 and began a gradual rise up the rankings until he was promoted to sekiwake after going 10-5 as a No. 4 maegashira in May 2016.
“This is something I never imagined when I dropped from makuuchi,” Tochinoshin said. “There were many times I felt like quitting. But I settled down, got out of the hospital and even though I had dropped way down the rankings, my attitude changed dramatically.
“I wanted to give it one more shot. My stablemaster and his wife encouraged me, and that made me happy.”
Long after Tochinoshin had stolen the day’s headlines, ozeki Goeido forced out sekiwake Mitakeumi, leaving both with 8-6 records. In the day’s final bout, ozeki Takayasu (11-3) put a feather in his cap by sending yokozuna Kakuryu (10-4) to his fourth straight defeat.
As he had the day before against Mitakeumi, Kakuryu was thrown of his game by a couple of blows to his throat early on and could not keep pace with the ozeki’s powerful shoving attack.