OSAKA – Yokozuna Hakuho extended his career championship haul to 42 on Sunday after winning the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament with a record 15th undefeated run.
Needing a win against fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu to avoid a championship playoff, Hakuho was pushed to the limit in a long battle. Although Hakuho let Kakuryu shove him backward, both wrestlers secured double belt holds, preventing either man from ending it quickly.
Hakuho broke the stalemate by thrusting his right knee inside Kakuryu’s left leg, and used that leverage to lift Kakuryu off his feet before tipping him over for an underarm throw.
“I entered sumo at the tournament in Osaka, and now I’m here as we ring out the end of the Heisei era, so Osaka has a special place in my heart,” Hakuho said after the last Grand Tournament during the reign of Emperor Akihito.
“I entered sumo in the 13th year of the Heisei era. I am a creature of this era. Nine years ago in Nagoya, I received a letter from the emperor. This Heisei era means everything to me.”
Hakuho thanked his family and supporters for helping him come back from leg surgery in October, and led the crowd in a traditional tejime clapping cheer to mark the end of the era, which will end when the 85-year-old emperor abdicates on April 30.
The victory was Hakuho’s 41st in 48 career matchups with his compatriot Kakuryu. They had not fought each other since September, when Hakuho won his last title — also with a 15-0 record.
Earlier in the day, Ichinojo improved to a career-high 14 wins by beating No. 2 maegashira Daieisho, securing the victory required to stay in the title hunt.
The 226-kg Mongolian was quickest off the mark, rocked Daieisho back and then tried to pull him down. Daieisho wriggled free once, but Ichinojo tried again and succeeded with a hatakikomi slap down.
In what amounted to a winner-take-all, ozeki promotion-relegation battle, Tochinoshin, who has been racked with injuries since he made his ozeki debut last July, was blown out of the ring by 22-year-old sekiwake Takakeisho.
The youngster exploded out of his charge before the powerful Georgian could react, and Takakeisho was able to slap and thrust his opponent backward while swatting away the ozeki’s attempts to grab hold of him.
The result will see Tochinoshin fight in May as a sekiwake, and all but guaranteed Takakeisho’s promotion to ozeki.
Since the six-tournament system started in 1958, Tochinoshin is just the second ozeki to drop from the sport’s second highest rank after only five tournaments, and the first since 1974. He can regain his ozeki ranking if he earns 10 wins at the Summer Grand Tournament in May.
The other two ozeki slugged it out in the day’s penultimate bout, with local favorite Goeido (12-3) beating Takayasu (10-5) for bragging rights.
Earlier, No. 8 maegashira Kotoshogiku failed in his bid for a 12th win and a fighting spirit prize when the 35-year-old former ozeki was forced out by No. 11 Ryuden (10-5).
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5