A day after receiving his first Emperor’s Cup trophy, Summer Grand Sumo Tournament winner Asanoyama said the reality of his maiden top-level title was still sinking in on Monday.
Having clinched victory with a day to spare, the No. 8 maegashira, who debuted in the elite makuuchi division in 2017, became the first rank-and-file wrestler since 1961 to win a grand tournament before first having reached the three sanyaku ranks below yokozuna.
“I didn’t imagine this,” the 25-year-old grappler told reporters at his Takasago stable in Tokyo. “I never thought I would win a championship within three years (of my debut), so I’ve surprised myself. I want to use this championship to build my confidence.”
Asanoyama, born Hiroki Ishibashi, also made history by winning the first grand tournament of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era. He finished the 15-day meet at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan with a 12-3 record after losing to komusubi Mitakeumi on the final day.
The action inside the ring on Sunday was overshadowed by the attendance of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose entrance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brought the arena to a standstill before Asanoyama’s bout with Mitakeumi.
After the final bout of the day, Asanoyama lifted the Emperor’s Cup for the first time. Trump then presented him with the President’s Cup, which the U.S. leader announced in April he would deliver in person during his four-day state visit.
Having battled lone yokozuna Kakuryu and sekiwake Tochinoshin for the lead, Asanoyama secured the title after he forced out ozeki Goeido on Day 14 of the tournament. The Toyama Prefecture native said he felt enormous pressure after taking the sole lead for the first time on Day 11.
“I tried not to be too self-conscious, but when my name was called, and cheers (from the crowd) grew louder, I felt the pressure,” he said. “Wrestling under those circumstances was a great experience. I’m glad I was able to stick to my style of sumo.”
After savoring the win, Asanoyama will shift his focus to the July 7-21 Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament at Dolphins Arena, where he is likely to fight as a sanyaku wrestler for the first time.
“It won’t be like the previous tournament. I need to prepare properly, starting from the basics. I want to finish with a winning record,” he said.