The saying that ‘every dog has its day’ is true in life, sport and, it seems, in sumo wrestling.
That was certainly the case at the weekend when Tokushoryu, a relative unknown at the top-level of the sport, defeated the very best sumo wrestlers in the business to win the first major tournament of 2020, the Emperor’s Cup.
The 15-day contest ended with Tokushoryu, who was the lowest ranked wrestler in the competition, winning 14 of his 15 contests to take overall glory.
He grappled, shoved and propelled a number of more experienced wrestlers out of the dohyo, including the beastly Takakeisho Mitsunobu, who boasts the ozeki title which marks him out as the finest sumo on the planet.
Watched by tens of thousands inside the Kokugikan Stadium, Tokushoryu manhandled Takakeisho in the final contest to confirm his championship win, and the 29st 8lb wrestler immediately burst into tears amid a rapturous response from the crowd – highly unusual in the very conservative and stoic Japanese culture.
No. 17 maegashira Tokushoryu makes history by winning the title at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. #Tokushoryu #sumo #NewYearGrandTournament https://t.co/kCN88jvJ4a pic.twitter.com/tSiyvuKPrg
— The Japan News (@The_Japan_News) 26 January 2020
“I might have cried too much, but at that moment I felt relieved from all the pressure,” he told the local Kyodo news agency after his historic win.
He also reflected on the feelings of being the underdog and tackling a name as revered as Takakeisho for the spoils.
“Deep down I’m feeling like ‘is it okay for me to win the championship?’ I was the lowest-ranking fighter, so I had nothing to fear. I just had to give it everything I had.”
Tokushoryu held the rank of maegashira heading into the tournament, which is the lowest rank available in the Makuuchi division. He had been fighting in the Juryo division for the past 13 competitions, which is essentially the second tier of sumo wrestling. From a ranking of 17, he became the first bottom-level wrestler to win a top flight title in sumo in 20 years.
You can almost sense the Hollywood biopic writers sharpening their pencils, given that Tokushoryu’s coach and mentor sadly passed away halfway through the competition. “I thought I should do it for him,” the 33-year-old said with cool understatement.
Tokusho’s Breaking Boundaries
Tokushoryu will be a hero to many for the new ground he tread in winning the Emperor’s Cup.
He was the first wrestler from Nara, a city in the West of Japan, to win a major tournament in more than a century, which should help to reignite the region’s passion for the sport.
But it was his lowly ranking that really makes his achievement all the more remarkable. The Makuuchi division is split into rankings based on previous performances, with the champions – known as ‘san’yaku’ – given the title of yokozuna, ozeki, sekiwake or komusubi.
That usually accounts for the top eight or so wrestlers in the Makuuchi, while the rest – the maegashira – are given lower status ranks on a descending scale. At 17, Tokushoryu could not have been ranked any lower, and while it is not unheard of for a member of the maegashira to win a big tournament, it is still scarcely believable in itself.
As the big man himself reflected.
“What have I done?” Tokushoryu wondered aloud after his epic victory. “It feels like a dream. I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I’m walking on clouds.”