FUKUOKA – A day after winning his first makuuchi division championship at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, up-and-coming komusubi Takakeisho said Monday he slept like a baby for the first time in a while.
“I was able to fall asleep without thinking about anything for the first time in a long time. I’m really happy,” Takakeisho said at a news conference at the lodgment of his new Chiganoura stable.
On the opening day of the 15-day tournament, Takakeisho started strong by beating Kisenosato, the only one of the three yokozuna competing at Fukuoka Kokusai Center. Kisenosato later withdrew after four straight losses, leaving the ozeki wrestlers as the highest-ranked men in the basho.
On Monday, the Japan Sumo Association’s Yokozuna Deliberation Council issued an “encouragement” to Kisenosato, the most lenient resolution the sumo body issues to wrestlers, suggesting that he is not living up to the standards of a yokozuna. The other two resolutions are “retirement recommendation” and “warning.”
“For a long time, he hasn’t been able to show the strength necessary for his status. I hope Kisenosato will make a comeback as he has promised in the next basho,” said Masato Kitamura, who heads the council.
Takakeisho went on to go 12-1 before losing against Takayasu on Day 14, allowing the ozeki to pull even and possibly force a playoff on the final day.
“It’s disappointing I couldn’t win the most important one,” Takakeisho said. “Maybe I was just too overwhelmed. Putting that loss behind me was the hardest part of this tournament.”
But after Takakeisho recorded his 13th win on the final day, Takayasu fell against sekiwake Mitakeumi and allowed the 22-year-old komusubi to earn his first makuuchi division title five years after his professional debut.
“Every day I was thinking that I wouldn’t be able to keep it going tomorrow,” Takakeisho said. “I never thought I’d be able to get 13 wins.”
Takakeisho, whose real name is Takanobu Sato, began his career with the Takanohana stable in 2014 but was absorbed by Chiganoura when his stablemaster resigned from the Japan Sumo Association after the previous tournament.
“I was able to settle in quickly thanks to stablemaster Chiganoura,” Takakeisho said. “I wasn’t worried at all. I felt I had to do my best at my new stable.”
The Hyogo Prefecture native debuted at the sport’s fourth-highest rank at the New Year meet in January, becoming the first wrestler from the Takanohana stable to reach sanyaku — the three ranks below yokozuna.
At 22 years and three months, Takakeisho is the sixth-youngest wrestler to win the Emperor’s Cup since the current format of six annual grand tournaments started in 1958.
Having posted four straight winning records with 42 combined victories, Takakeisho is expected to be a future candidate for an ozeki promotion.
“I’m motivated to not let this championship be the first and last one of my career,” Takakeisho said.
While Takakeisho may be carving out a place for himself in sumo now, it wasn’t his sport of choice initially. He competed in Kyokushin (a style of full-contact karate) during his younger years.
He switched to sumo after losing a match by a decision he wasn’t satisfied with. He was a third grader when he took up sumo, which he thought was a more clear-cut pursuit.
As a fourth grader, he participated in the Takanohana stable’s sumo class for children, which motivated him to become a sumo wrestler.
His father’s enthusiastic training methods became well-known to his peers; Takakeisho used to walk up the stairs on all fours so he could learn to maintain a low balance. After his father also told him to increase his weight, he added 20 kg every year, surpassing 80 kg when he was in sixth grade.
He stayed away from cup noodles and ate a lot of whale meat, which has a lot of protein.
“He was a strict (father). He would never say ‘you’ve done well,’ But that was good,” he said.
Takakeisho says he would’ve given up on his strict training regimen had his father gone easier on him.
“He really has a strong mentality. He has never said he doesn’t want to (get in the ring) or that he’s given up on sumo,” his father, Kazuya Sato, said.