Georgian wrestler Tochinoshin was officially promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank of ozeki by the Japan Sumo Association on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze, became the third European wrestler to reach the rank, moving up from sekiwake. He is the first new ozeki since Takayasu was promoted after last year’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.
Upon receiving the news at his Kasugano stable in Tokyo, Tochinoshin delivered a kojo (stage speech), a custom for wrestlers newly promoted to the status.
“I will follow my stablemaster’s teachings and put my heart and soul into training in order to become a good role model for other wrestlers,” Tochinoshin said as he knelt down and bowed according to tradition.
After winning 37 bouts in the previous three 15-day tournaments, including winning the January basho with a 14-1 record, the Georgian more than exceeded the 33 wins considered as one of the criteria for promotion.
“I was really nervous (about the speech). I woke up five or six times last night,” Tochinoshin said.
“I really wanted to mention my stablemaster in my speech. When I joined the stable, I didn’t know how to speak Japanese or anything about sumo, but my stablemaster taught me from scratch.”
He reiterated that there will be challenges ahead when he joins Takayasu and Goeido in the ozeki rank for July’s Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, but said he will devote himself to training so he can measure up to his new status.
Kasugano, who sat by Tochinoshin as he made the speech, expressed surprise that the Georgian, who made his professional sumo debut in 2006 at the age of 18, has grown to become an ozeki.
“Winning (the January meet) was a huge surprise and I never thought there would be (another) ozeki from this stable. Two surprises came in a row,” Kasugano said. “I want him to be a wrestler who can always be in contention for a championship.”
Tochinoshin became the first Kasugano stable wrestler to be promoted to ozeki in 56 years, following Tochihikari and former yokozuna Tochinoumi in 1962.
Tochinoshin was virtually guaranteed an ozeki promotion after going 13-2 in the Summer Basho, which concluded Sunday. That included a 12-match winning streak and also his first victory over yokozuna Hakuho, the all-time leader with 40 championships.
Tochinoshin’s promotion was rubber stamped after a unanimous decision was reached at Wednesday’s extraordinary JSA board meeting.
Despite making his top-tier makuuchi debut in May 2008, Tochinoshin was forced back to the third-tier makushita division in 2014 after sustaining a right knee injury. He needed 60 tournaments to reach ozeki, tying the most meets needed by a sekiwake to gain promotion to the rank.
According to sumo rankings, if an ozeki finishes two consecutive tournaments with a losing record, the wrestler will be demoted from his rank. After returning to sekiwake, the wrestler can be promoted again with 10 or more wins in the tournament immediately following the demotion.
An ozeki needs to win back-to-back championships or display an equivalent performance to be considered for promotion to yokozuna, the sport’s highest rank.