Sumo / Basho Reports

Kakuryu holds on to claim second straight championship

Kyodo

Kakuryu defeated rival yokozuna Hakuho to win the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday and capture back-to-back championships for the first time in his career.

Needing a win to avoid a championship playoff with ozeki-in-waiting Tochinoshin, Kakuryu defeated Hakuho for just the seventh time in their 46 career bouts. The championship is the fifth of Kakuryu’s career.

“Winning consecutive championships holds very large meaning for me. Since I became a yokozuna this has been a target of mine,” Kakuryu said. “Last year was a challenge for me, but so many people believed in me and supported me. The desire to repay them and make them happy has motivated me.”

Hakuho had entered the 15-day tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan looking for his first championship of the year after he had withdrawn in both January and March. But a shock defeat on Saturday left him out of the running.

Kakuryu (14-1) got the better of Hakuho (11-4) on the initial charge, hooking his left hand under the side of his rival’s belt and grabbing the front with his right. Kakuryu forced Hakuho back to the straw only for his opponent to counterattack and return the fight to the center of the ring.

Although he was able to get strong-looking grips on the back of Kakuryu’s belt, Hakuho found himself pressured backward until the unstoppable Kakuryu rocked him out of the ring to secure the championship.

“This was not the first time I’ve been in a battle for a championship,” Kakuryu said. “I knew I had to focus on my sumo, and I was able to do just that.”

Tochinoshin (13-2), who is virtually assured promotion to ozeki, the sport’s second-highest rank, defeated No. 5 maegashira Ikioi (8-7) in the day’s penultimate bout. Although he failed to win his second career championship, Tochinoshin received two of the sport’s coveted special prizes, his third career Technique Prize and his sixth Fighting Spirit Prize.

“Since I had won 12 straight bouts, I wanted to win the championship, so this is unfortunate,” said Tochinoshin, who had defeated Hakuho on Thursday before suffering back-to-back losses to No. 4 maegashira Shodai (9-6) and Kakuryu.

Fighting with a taped-up right wrist he hurt on Friday, Tochinoshin grabbed his favored left-hand overarm grip on the initial charge. With Ikioi distracted by Tochinoshin’s left, the sekiwake snuck his right hand onto the maegashira’s belt and then hoisted him over the straw bales to set up a thrilling conclusion to the tournament.

The 30-year-old Tochinoshin won January’s New Year Grand Sumo Tournament with a 14-1 record, and earned the Outstanding Performance Award in March, when he finished at 10-5.

On Sunday, sumo elder Onomatsu, the Japan Sumo Association’s judging director, said JSA chairman Hakkaku had agreed to convene a board of directors meeting to discuss Tochinoshin’s promotion. To date, no promotion recommendation has been rejected by the board.

No. 11 maegashira Chiyonokuni (12-3) and makuuchi-division debutant No. 15 Kyokutaisei (10-5), each received a Fighting Spirit Prize, the first special prizes of their careers. No. 2 maegashira Shohozan (8-7), who defeated Kakuryu on Day 4, earned the Outstanding Performance Prize.

No. 2 maegashira Abi (7-8) finished with his first losing record after going 10-5 his first two grand tournaments in the elite makuuchi division.

Mitakeumi, demoted to komusubi for this tournament after a lengthy run at sekiwake, appears poised to return to that rank after defeating sekiwake Ichinojo (8-7) and finishing with a 9-6 record.