• KYODO

  • SHARE

Newly crowned champion Shodai said the reality of winning his first top-division title and securing promotion to ozeki had yet to fully hit him on Monday, a day after the sekiwake triumphed at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.

"I know I won the championship because of how everyone around me is reacting, but I feel like I haven't got there yet," Shodai said during an online news conference at his Tokitsukaze stable in Tokyo's Sumida Ward.

"I think it's just now starting to slowly sink in," he said.

The 28-year-old from Kumamoto Prefecture said he was able to get a good night's sleep after winning his maiden Emperor's Cup but admitted to feeling "more mental fatigue than physical" after the 15-day battle at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Competing in his fourth tournament at sumo's third-highest rank of sekiwake, Shodai beat rookie Tobizaru on the final day of the Autumn tournament to clinch his first makuuchi division title with a 13-2 record.

"I think the experience of being in the championship race at the July grand tournament was fresh in my mind," said Shodai, who finished 11-4 in the previous meet.

In addition to clinching promotion, Shodai also earned his first Outstanding Performance Prize and picked up his sixth Fighting Spirit Prize for a performance that included eight straight wins from Day 8 down to the wire.

"I'll work as hard as I can if I get promoted," he said.

His only losses came against No. 1 maegashira Terunofuji, the winner of July's grand tournament, and komusubi Okinoumi, on Day 4 and 7, respectively.

It was the first meet in 37 years to open without a yokozuna when more than one wrestler has occupied the sport's highest rank.

With Hakuho and Kakuryu sidelined with injuries and ozeki Asanoyama suffering three straight opening losses, the tournament eventually became a contest between Shodai, ozeki Takakeisho and Tobizaru, a 28-year-old competing in his first top-level meet.

"I was only in the sole lead on the final day, so until then I wasn't worrying about the championship race and I felt comfortable," Shodai said.

After he dispatched Takakeisho on Day 13 and took down Asanoyama on Day 14, Shodai needed to defeat Tobizaru to avoid a playoff.

"He was the worst opponent to face on the final day," Shodai said. "It was our first meeting and it was very tough to get through, he was probably the opponent I was most conscious of at the Autumn meet."

The makuuchi newcomer earned a Fighting Spirit Prize for flirting with becoming the first wrestler to win a championship in his makuuchi debut since Ryogoku in 1914, before sumo adopted the annual six-grand-tournament format.

Shodai made his professional debut in March 2014 and has been in the top division since January 2016. He reached the three sanyaku ranks below yokozuna for the first time a year later when he earned his initial bump to sekiwake.

His ozeki promotion will be officially decided by the Japan Sumo Association on Wednesday at a meeting to determine the rankings for the year's final grand tournament kicking off on Nov. 8 in Tokyo, instead of its usual location in Fukuoka Prefecture.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)