Sumo | Rikishi Files

Tamawashi's January victory among sumo's biggest shocks

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Roughly half of sumo’s recent first-time champions have been rikishi on the way up.

Takakeisho, Mitakeumi and Asanoyama are young guns who should all win titles again in the future.

The other half are rikishi like Tochinoshin and the now-retired Kisenosato — veterans whose Emperor’s Cup wins only confirmed the potential many had seen in them for years.

Tamawashi, while also an older wrestler, is the outlier.

The Mongolian needed seven years in the top division before making the sanyaku ranks below yokozuna and two more before he managed a winning record at that level.

While he held his own among sumo’s elite in 2017 and 2018, it seemed like Tamawashi had maxed out his potential and, given his age, would tread water before starting his inevitable decline.

When he lost to Mitakeumi on day five of the January meet this year to fall to 3-2, no one could have foreseen what would happen next.

Ten straight wins — including the downing of two ozeki and then a tournament-leading Hakuho to draw even with the yokozuna — Tamawashi pulled away to take the title.

There have been a lot of surprising championships recently, but none more so than the Kataonami man’s triumph.

It’s all the more remarkable when you remember that he only fell into sumo by accident.

Tamawashi had no real background in sumo when, as a university student learning cooking and hotel management in his home country, he decided to visit his sister who was studying at the University of Tokyo.

On that trip he met Kakuryu. One introduction led to another and he found himself in professional sumo shortly afterward.

Tamawashi has kept his love of cooking, though, and is well known for his ability to bake — and talk at length about — all kinds of cookies, cakes and sweets.