Takerufuji captures historic title at Spring Grand Tournament

The Yomiuri Shimbun
No. 17 maegashira Takerufuji receives the Emperor’s Cup after his historic win at the Spring Grand Tournament on Sunday in Osaka.

With all the greats who have graced the sumo ring for the past century, Takerufuji became the one to accomplish what none of them could.

Takerufuji, the lowest-ranked wrestler in the uppermost makuuchi division as a No. 17 maegashira, became the first in 110 years to win the championship in his debut in the top tier when he captured the title at the Spring Grand Tournament on Sunday in Osaka.

The 24-year-old Aomori Prefecture native, who missed a chance to clinch the title the previous day, pushed out No. 6 maegashira Gonoyama to finish the tournament at EDION Arena Osaka with a 13-2 record. “Achievements are important, but I fought my hardest to be remembered by many people,” Takerufuji said in a ringside interview.

Waiting in the wings was No. 5 maegashira Onosato, the only wrestler with a mathematical chance of catching Takerufuji. Had Takerufuji lost, a win by Onosato nine matches later over ozeki Hoshoryu would have set up a playoff.

Onosato lost that match to finish 11-4, but it had become just for pride when Takerufuji, showing no signs of a leg injury he suffered in a loss to top maegashira Asanoyama on Saturday, dispensed of Gonoyama, much to the thrill of the capacity crowd. Takerufuji had to visit the hospital Saturday, but was determined to overcome the pain. “I heard from a lot of people after my injury, so I realized that it was not me worrying, but many others. Whether I won or lost, I went into the ring believing in myself.” The last time that a wrestler won the title in his makuuchi-debut came in 1914, when Ryogoku triumphed in the Summer tournament. Ironically, it was only two months ago at the New Year tournament that Onosato himself had threatened to win the championship in his makuuchi debut. He was tied for the lead after nine days before three straight losses knocked him out of the running.

In this tournament, Takerufuji defeated Onosato on the 10th day, one of 11 straight victories he notched from the opening day, tying the makuuchi debut record set by the legendary Taiho in 1960.

In addition to the Emperor’s Cup, the champion took home all three of the post-tournament prizes – Outstanding Performance Award, Fighting Spirit Prize and Technique Prize. Onosato also received the Fighting Spirit and Technique Prizes.

Takerufuji entered pro sumo out of Nihon University, but unlike Nippon Sports Science University rival Onosato, did not have a distinguished record that would allow him to start in a high division. Still, he needed just eight tournaments to make it to the makuuchi division.