Takerufuji’s 1st Tournament Victory: Spirited Young Gun Achieves Historical Milestone

A 24-year-old warrior has set a new milestone in the long history of sumo. He deserves applause for overcoming an injury to secure a great accomplishment, as he excited the audience with a push-dominated sumo style that takes advantage of his speed.

East maegashira No. 17 Takerufuji, a wrestler newly promoted to the top makuuchi division, won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament 13-2 after defeating Gonoyama on the final day for his first tournament victory. This is the first time in 110 years, and only the second overall, that a newly promoted makuuchi division wrestler has won a tournament since the former sekiwake Ryogoku did so at the summer tournament in 1914.

Takerufuji is the fastest ever to win a top division championship, in just his 10th tournament since his debut in the ring, and he also won all three prizes — Outstanding Performance Award, Fighting Spirit Prize and Technique Prize. The spring tournament is said to be unpredictable. But even so, this one was full of new records. Many fans must have enjoyed the charm of sumo for the first time in a long while.

A native of Aomori Prefecture, Takerufuji entered the pro sumo world after pursuing the sport at Tottori Johoku High School and Nihon University, both sumo powerhouses. His first appearance as a pro was in the autumn tournament in 2022. Takerufuji stands 1.84 meters tall and weighs 143 kilograms, more than 15 kilograms lighter than the average weight of makuuchi division wrestlers. But he is known for his sharp, aggressive fighting style that overwhelms his opponents.

Takerufuji won the lowermost jonokuchi division at the Kyushu tournament in 2022, and the jonidan division title at the New Year tournament last year. He then won the New Year tourney this year after being newly promoted to the juryo division, the second highest level, earning promotion to makuuchi.

At the start of the 14th day of the latest tournament, Takerufuji was the sole leader with one loss, but he was defeated by Asanoyama. He injured his right leg in that bout and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. His participation in the tournament was in doubt, but he fought on the final 15th day despite the injury.

In an interview after winning the tournament, Takerufuji said, “I approached [the bout] with just my willpower.” Not only is he physically strong, his mental strength is also impressive.

Starting from the next tournament, Takerufuji will be targeted by other wrestlers. It is hoped that he will heal from his injury and continue to devote himself to the sport.

Terunofuji, the lone yokozuna, bowed out during the tournament. The ozeki wrestlers also failed to display their true potential. Although Takerufuji’s strength stood out, the top ranked wrestlers should work to live up to their rank.

Before the tournament, former makuuchi wrestler Hokuseiho retired over his violent conduct, and his stablemaster Miyagino — the former yokozuna Hakuho — was hit with such penalties as being demoted two ranks in the sumo association and losing his position as stablemaster. Takerufuji’s success surely constitutes much-desired good news for the sumo world, which was rocked by this scandal.

The latest tournament was the second for Ishikawa Prefecture-native Onosato since he reached the makuuchi division, and he was a major contender for the championship. In early February, Onosato visited areas hit by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake and encouraged affected people. Many people must have been cheered up by his winning bouts day after day.

How strong will Takerufuji and Onosato become in the future? The efforts of these young Japanese sumo wrestlers will surely be a great inspiration to other wrestlers as well. There are great expectations for the next tournament.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 25, 2024)