Rehabilitated sumo wrestler repays stablemaster with 1st championship

Courtesy of the Japan Sumo Association
Abi speaks at an online press conference on Monday.

No. 9 maegashira Abi won an unusually close competition at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, the last event of the 2022 season — tied with ozeki Takakeisho and former ozeki Takayasu, Abi won the first Tomoe battle of three to be held since 1996.

This is the first time in history that a hiramaku rikishi has won three consecutive makuuchi titles, following Ichinojo in the Nagoya tournament and Tamawashi in the fall tournament.

Faithful to stablemaster’s teachings

“I’ve caused nothing but trouble. I hope he can be as happy as possible,” Abi said after his victory Sunday at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center. Packed to capacity for the first time this tournament, the hall resounded with applause when Aabi thanked his stablemaster Shikoroyama, the former sekiwake Terao, who was absent from the tournament due to illness.

In a Tomoe battle, the three wrestlers change opponents until one of them secures two consecutive victories. Abi won his first match against Takayasu, fending off his intial charge and slapping him down.

Facing Takakeisho in the second match, someone yelled for Abi to “go head-on” before the bout began. From a low, focused initial charge, he pushed the ozeki all the way out and accepted the win with his chest pushed out proudly.

Abi was strongly admired in the sumo world for his shiko, in which he raised each foot high in the air and stomped it down on the ring. Although he won bouts with his powerful thrusts, he was a wild, unrestrained rikishi. In July 2020, Abi was suspended for three tournaments for repeatedly going out at night during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

He was supported by his stablemaster Shikoroyama, who said, “Abi is the most like me.” Shikoroyama gave him the fighting name of Abi, which was Shikoroyama’s own nickname, out of affection.

When Abi was suspended, Shikoroyama re-taught him from the basics, saying, “You have to repay the people who’ve taken care of you.”

Since his return, Abi’s attitude inside and outside the ring has changed completely, and he has been sincere in his approach to sumo. During Shikoroyama’s hospitalization, he received daily advice from his stablemaster via email, and Abi is proud that he was able to succeed by following his master’s advice and exercising properly.

One night later

Abi held a press conference online on Monday. After winning the tournament, he thought of his master’s smile and said, “I think this was the best way to give back.”

He has received about 200 congratulatory messages. “I think people must be very happy,” Abi said.