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Combining Speed with Size, Onosato Has Arrived as a Bona Fide Sumo Star

A native of Ishikawa, the 23-year-old Onosato is inspiring fans in his home prefecture and giving sumo a much-needed boost in popularity.

With his dominant win at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, komusubi Onosato has emerged as the most promising Japanese rikishi in decades.

Onosato beat grand champion Terunofuji on Day 1 of the 15-day Summer Basho, a result that not only forced the Mongolian yokozuna out of the tournament but sent a message that the newly promoted komusubi was the top contender.

The native of Ishikawa Prefecture then went on to a 12-3 record to claim his first Emperor's Cup on May 26 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan in just his third tournament in the elite makuuchi division.

Many wrestlers pulled out of the meet due to injury and some may argue that with all the withdrawals it was a watered-down win.

But in the first week of the tournament, Onosato also defeated ozeki wrestlers Kirishima and Kotozakura as well as sekiwake Wakamotoharu and top maegashira Atamifuji. Those are among the best wrestlers in the sport today.

Now he is setting his sights on more success.

"I'm very happy to have won the championship but it doesn't stop here," Onosato said a day after winning the title. "I want to keep going higher."

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Komusubi Onosato celebrates with supporters after winning the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on May 26 in Tokyo. (KYODO)

Onosato Utilizes Speed to Secure Wins

What has impressed sumo observers most about Onosato is his combination of size and speed.

At 1.92 meters (6-foot-3) and 176 kilograms (388 pounds), the 23-year-old Onosato moves incredibly fast for a big man.

That speed was on display throughout the tournament in wins over Terunofuji, Tobizaru and finally against Abi on the final day when he simply overwhelmed his opponent at the face-off and didn't give the sekiwake a chance to use this trademark arm thrusts.

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Onosato (right) grapples with Abi on Day 15 of the Summer Basho on May 26. (KYODO)

Onosato, whose real name is Daiki Nakamura, has been on a meteoric rise up the ranks and appears destined for the top.

He became a paid sekitori in September of 2023. Since then, he has yet to post a record lower than 11-4.

A Quick Promotion to the Makuuchi Division

With back-to-back 12-3 records in the juryo division in September and November of 2023, Onosato was promoted to the elite makuuchi division for this year's New Year Basho, which came just days after the deadly New Year's Day earthquake hit his home prefecture.

Onosato went 11-4 in that tournament and, fittingly, won the Fighting Spirit Prize. 

He followed that up with another 11-4 in the March tournament as a No 5 maegashira, this time taking home both the Fighting Spirit Prize and the Technique Prize.

For his efforts, he was rewarded with promotion to komusubi for the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan where he solidified his reputation as a rising star.

In addition to the Emperor's Cup, he also took home the Outstanding Performance Award and the Technique Prize.

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Onosato receives the Outstanding Performance Award and the Technique Prize after winning the Summer Basho. (Tokyo Chunichi Sports representative photo/via SANKEI)

It's just a shoe!

Can Onosato Fill a Void?

Sumo hasn't had a dominant Japanese grand champion since Takanohana fought his way to 22 Emperor Cups way back between the years 1994 and 2003.

Onosato's stablemaster Nishonoseki, formerly Kisenosato, was the last Japanese yokozuna when he was promoted in 2017 but won only two tournament's at the sport's highest rank.

With Terunofuji's career clearly winding down, sumo officials would love nothing more for a new star to emerge and if it's a homegrown one, all the better.

The sport's ozeki wrestlers have disappointed in recent years and sumo has lost some fans to sports like baseball and soccer.

Onosato is the brightest prospect to come along in years and is giving the sport a breath of fresh air.

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Onosato speaks to reporters on May 27. (KYODO)

Matching Annenyama's Feat from 1957

In the recently completed Summer Basho, Onosato became the first newly promoted sanyaku wrestler in 67 years to win the championship.

Annenyama was the last wrestler to achieve the feat when he went 13-2 to win the championship in the 1957 May tournament as a newly promoted komusubi.

The Japan Sumo Association said only Onosato's latest 12 wins will count toward the usual ozeki promotion requirement of 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments as a komusubi or sekiwake.

So Onosato will need two more strong tournaments in July and September to gain consideration for promotion to ozeki, which could happen before the end of the year. He is set to move to sekiwake for the July meet in Nagoya.

Onosato said that is exactly his goal for the next two tournaments.

"I want to win 13, 14 or all bouts while working to raise my level further," Onosato said. "I want to be a sumo wrestler cheered and loved by people across Japan."

But it's clear Onosato still has some work to do.

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Onosato had double-digit victory totals in each of his first three tournaments in the makuuchi division. (KYODO)

Focus on Making Improvements

In the Summer Tournament, Onosato was overwhelmed by ozeki Hoshoryu on Day 11 for his third straight loss against the unorthodox Mongolian.

Hoshoryu used a spectacular underarm throw to send the komusubi toppling to the dirt surface. 

Nishonoseki has taken a typically strict view of this.

"He needs to use his head more against Hoshoryu," Nishonoseki told Japanese media. "He can't keep getting beaten by him in nearly the same way." 

Given how quickly he has adjusted to fighting in the elite division, it's a safe bet to say Onosato will overcome his Hoshoryu bugaboo and continue rising to the top.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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Summer Basho Tournament Records

Day Opponent Result