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Takerufuji is the First Makuuchi Division Debutant Winner in 110 Years

In the Spring Basho, Takerufuji gutted out a Day 15 win over Gonoyama to capture his first Emperor's Cup and match Ryogoku's 110-year-old feat.

Takerufuji chose to compete on the final day of the Spring Basho despite intense pain in his right ankle. 

The makuuchi division rookie displayed mental fortitude and physical strength in his Day 15 match against maegashira No 6 Gonoyama at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium on Sunday, March 24.

With a forceful frontal push-down, Takerufuji wrapped up his first tournament in the top division with a title, finishing with a gaudy 13-2 record.

Ryogoku, seen in an undated photo, won his lone title as a makuuchi division debutant in May 1914. (PUBLIC DOMAIN)

In doing so, the Aomori Prefecture native, who turns 25 on April 9, became the first wrestler to win his first tourney in the makuuchi division since Ryogoku in 1914.

It was Takerufuji's 10th tournament since he turned pro.

Takerufuji
Takerufuji shoves Gonoyama to the edge of the raised ring en route to his 13th win of the Spring Basho. (KYODO)

On the previous day, Takerufuji suffered his second defeat of the 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament against top maegashira Asanoyma, barreling out of the dohyo with an awkward landing that caused severe pain in his right ankle. The No 17 maegashira left the arena in a wheelchair and was taken to a local hospital in an ambulance.

Takerufuji held a one-win lead over fifth-ranked maegashira Onosato, who is 23, entering the final day. If he had forfeited his match to Gonoyama due to his physical condition after Saturday's match, Takerufuji could still have secured the Emperor's Cup without stepping into the ring.

As it turned out, Takerufuji, competing in the ninth of 19 makuuchi division bouts on Sunday, clinched the victory outright. A playoff was not needed to determine the tournament winner.

Takerufuji
Takerufuji (©SANKEI)

The Will to Win

After his title-clinching triumph, Takerufuji shared details about his thoughts on his clash with Gonoyama. He also spoke about why he decided to ignore the ligament injury in his ankle in order to compete.

"I did it through sheer force of will [and] I didn't really know what was happening," Takerufuji was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

Takerufuji also ignored the initial advice from the Isegahama stablemaster (former yokozuna Asahifuji) by deciding to gut it out and wrestle on Day 15.

"I injured a ligament in my right ankle on Day 14," Takerufuji said, according to Kyodo News. "My stablemaster told me to pull out. But I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did. If you ever ask me to do it again, there's no way I would be able to."

The Spring Basho champion elaborated on his discussion with his stablemaster after the tourney wrapped up.

"When I told my master that I was going to participate, he told me, 'I'm not against it, but you've made your decision, so do your best,' " Takerufuji told NHK.

Which, as it turned out, put a dramatic finishing touch on Takerufuji's historic title.

Takerufuji
Spring Basho winner Takerufuji is interviewed after securing the title. (©SANKEI)

Encouragement from Terunofuji

Injured yokozuna Terunofuji, who also wrestles out of the Isegahama stable, kept tabs on Takerufuji's performances throughout the Spring Basho.

After Takerufuji's painful exit on the penultimate day, Terunofuji gave him encouragement, the rookie revealed on Sunday.

"He told me, 'You can do it,' and thanks to that, I decided to compete," Takerfufuji told NHK. "I grew up watching yokozuna's backs, and I know how hard they work."

He added, "I thought I wouldn't be a man if I didn't step into the ring because of this injury."

New Year Basho winner Terunofuji withdrew from the tournament after suffering his third straight defeat on March 15. He was clearly in pain due to lower back ailments early in the tournament. 

The yokozuna, a nine-time Emperor's Cup winner, was 2-4 at the time.

Takerufuji
Takerufuji went 13-2 in his first tournament in the makuuchi division. (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Spring Basho Highlighted by Takerufuji's Breakout Success

Takerufuji, who made his professional sumo debut in September 2022, recorded a Day 1 victory over 16th-ranked Daiamami on March 10 to kick off an 11-match win streak.

In the makuuchi division, it was the longest winning streak in a rookie's maiden tournament since legendary yokozuna Taiho had 11 consecutive victories in his debut in 1960.

Takerufuji defeated komusubi Abi on Day 9 and two days later collected that 11th win in a row by beating ozeki Kotonowaka. In between, he topped heralded up-and-comer Onosato, a No 5 maegashira who was appearing in his sixth grand sumo tournament and only his second in the top division.

Takerufuji nabbed a trio of accolades to complement his winner's trophy: the Outstanding Performance Award, the Fighting Spirit Prize and the Technique Prize.

Hoshoryu (right) in action with Onosato. (©SANKEI)

Hoshoryu Ends Tournament on a Positive Note

In other major bouts on Sunday, ozeki Hoshoryu improved to 11-4, dispatching Onosato (11-4) with a well-executed underarm throw. 

Hoshoryu was 10-4-1 in the New Year Basho.

Like Takerufuji, Onosato also received the Fighting Spirit and Technique Prizes.

The Spring Basho concluded with an all-ozeki battle between Kirishima and Kotonowaka. In a marathon bout that generated cheers from the crowd, Kirishima (5-10) wrapped up the proceedings by tossing his opponent over the edge of the straw bales. The Mongolian-born wrestler lost his first four matches in Osaka.

Kirishima (left) defeats Kotonowaka on Day 15. (KYODO)

Kirishima also had a four-match losing streak end on Saturday when he won by forfeit over fellow ozeki Takakeisho, who pulled out of the tourney with a chest injury after his Friday win over Kotonowaka.

Takakeisho (8-6-1) sealed a winning record on Day 13 after starting the Spring Basho as a demotion-threatened (kadoban) ozeki. In other words, he needed at least eight wins in Osaka to avoid demotion.

Takayasu Collects 11th Victory

Earlier Sunday, No 8 maegashira Takayasu concluded his successful tourney with a frontal force-out of Daiamami to improve to 11-4. Sixteenth-ranked Daiamami slipped to 7-8.

Komusubi Abi beat No 2 Atamifuji with a textbook shove. Abi raised his record to 9-6, while Atamifuji finished at 8-7.

Nishikigi, the other komusubi, ended his disappointing tournament (3-12) by overpowering seventh-ranked Kinbozan (6-7-2). The Aomori Prefecture-born grappler ended an 11-match losing streak on Friday versus Meisei to get back in the win column. Then he lost to Oho on Day 14.

Wakamotoharu Overpowers Asanoyama

Also Sunday, sekiwake Wakamotoharu improved to 9-6 with a display of brute strength against top-ranked maegashira Asanoyama, who also finished the meet with the same record.

No 4 maegashira Hiradoumi, a 23-year-old Nagasaki native, deployed a successful hand pull-down to notch an upset win over sekiwake Daieisho, giving him a 9-6 record in Kansai. Daieisho fell to 6-9.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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