NAGOYA – Yokozuna Kakuryu won his sixth top-division title by defeating Hakuho at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday and avoiding a playoff with the all-time championship record holder.
Kakuryu (14-1) summoned every ounce of his strength to fight off an attack from his yokozuna colleague, who went into the bout one win off the pace at a meet that saw all four ozeki withdraw prior to the final day.
The 33-year-old Kakuryu said he owed his first championship in Nagoya to the support from local fans.
“This championship has a little different feel from the others. I was not in good shape before the tournament, but I managed to get good results because of the support of the fans in Nagoya,” Kakuryu said.
“I’d never won before in Nagoya, and on top of that I’d pulled out of the last three tournaments here, so I felt like I owed the fans here an apology. I came in determined not to keep going like that. So instead this year, I got going in a good direction. And this is just the greatest.”
Needing to force a playoff for a chance at a record-extending 43rd title, Hakuho got the better of the initial charge, but Kakuryu recovered and forced a lockup in the center of the ring as both yokozuna fought into their preferred one-hand-inside, one-hand-outside holds.
Kakuryu waited for an opportunity and tried to charge Hakuho out, but was forced to switch gears after Hakuho pushed back. Risking his hold, Kakuryu swiftly drove his other arm under Hakuho’s armpit and latched onto his Mongolian countryman’s belt to set him upright and bulldoze him over the straw.
Hakuho had entered the match at Dolphins Arena boasting a 41-7 record over Kakuryu, who was fighting through injuries to claim his first title since last year’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.
“After my last championship, I got hurt again and again. I went through some hardship but couldn’t give up. It brought home to me once again how no individual competes on his own. More than ever, I recognize the strength that comes from my family and the fans. That’s the best thing,” Kakuryu said.
“Because of my back (pain) I might easily have withdrawn again if it weren’t for the cheers of the fans.”
In other bouts, Mitakeumi (9-6) easily drove out No. 6 Shimanoumi (8-7), while his sekiwake counterpart Tamawashi (5-10) recorded his first victory in four attempts against No. 8 Onosho (6-9). The Mongolian faces another demotion from the sanyaku ranks, the three below yokozuna, after finishing with just five wins.
Abi (8-7) beat No. 5 Kotoshogiku (7-8) to secure a winning record in his first tournament as a komusubi. Abi quickly darted to one side at the initial charge and pulled Kotoshogiku down to little fanfare for using a controversial henka (sidestep) move.
Kotoshogiku had been in the running for a fourth Outstanding Performance Prize after defeating Hakuho on Day 14, but the 35-year-old former ozeki was unable to satisfy the necessary conditions.
The other new komusubi, Ryuden, was quickly driven out by No. 4 Meisei as both wrestlers finished with 4-11 records.
Among the rank-and-file wrestlers, 24-year-old up-and-comers No. 7 Tomokaze and No. 16 Terutsuyoshi capped off their third tournaments in the elite makuuchi division with a fitting face-off on the final day. Terutsuyoshi launched into an unstoppable charge to even their fledgling makuuchi rivalry at one apiece.
“I did better than I thought,” Terutsuyoshi said. “I wasn’t really thinking about winning the championship, I just thought I should put everything into my sumo.”
Terutsuyoshi, who had been in contention for the Emperor’s Cup until Day 14, picked up a Fighting Spirit Prize for recording his first winning record in makuuchi en route to a 12-3 result.
The Hyogo native said he wanted to pay tribute to his former Isegahama stablemate Aminishiki, who announced his retirement mid-tournament and moved on to coaching duties at Isegahama under the name Ajigawa.
Tomokaze (11-4) won an Outstanding Performance Prize for securing his third-straight winning record in the top division and handing Kakuryu a loss on Day 13, earning him his first kinboshi prize for defeating a yokozuna.
“It’s still like a dream, but I’m really happy to win this award,” Tomokaze said. “I put out some good sumo, but some bouts weren’t that good. I just went day by day, and I think that’s why things are going well for me.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to challenge the upper-ranked fighters but I have a long way to go. I’ll do my best to grow and catch up with them.”
No. 14 Enho, the division’s lightweight at 99 kg, won a Technique Prize for deftly taking down wrestlers twice his size and earning his first winning record since promotion to the top tier in May. He finished at 9-6 after defeating No. 9 Daishoho (6-9) in the day’s second bout.
“I don’t believe it. This is the best,” Enho said. “I’m happy that I was able to end with a win. It was a tough fight for 15 days. I’ll keep thinking about this tournament and keep training hard.”
No. 2 Endo (10-5), who rallied back from the brink of defeat against No. 1 Hokutofuji (9-6) to finish the tournament with seven straight wins, also earned a Technique Prize, his third overall.
In the juryo division, No. 6 Tsurugisho claimed his first title with a 13-2 record, a result which may finally earn the 27-year-old wrestler from Oitekaze stable promotion to sumo’s top division.
“I’m pretty satisfied (with my result). I feel like I’m finally at the starting line,” Tsurugisho said.
“I’ve been trying to get promoted for a while but it’s taking a long time. I’ve watched sumo on television since I was a kid. It still doesn’t feel like it’s totally real.”