Maegashira 3 Tochinoshin wins the January 2018 Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo, his first-ever top-division championship and the first from a mid-ranked Maegashira since M7 Kyokutenho in 2012. He finished with an outstanding 14-1 record, losing only to Yokozuna Kakuryu on Day 7. Over the course of the tournament he used five different kimarite (winning techniques): yorikiri (9), tsukiotoshi (2), tsukidashi (1), tsuridashi (1), and oshidashi (1).
I love bouts on the last day between two 7-7 wrestlers. Both have to give it their all to avoid demotion, and there’s nothing like a potential drop in rank and a pay cut for motivation. Takarafuji and Kotoshogiku do not disappoint with their efforts, but it’s Takarafuji who overcomes Kotoshogiku’s variety of defensive techniques to pick up his kachi-koshi (eight wins or better). ‘Giku tries a huge shoulder slam at the tachiai, diverting Takarafuji to the side. He tries a left-side sukuinage (beltless arm throw). He tries his patented gaburi-yori (belly bump), followed quickly by a smooth triple-combo sukuinage into head pull into kotenage (arm lock throw). But Takarafuji hangs in there until the very end, and walks an exhausted Kotoshogiku over the straw. Takarafuji makes his way back to his side of the ring, breathing deeply himself, one last all-important win under his belt.
Goeido gets his kachi-koshi on Day 14, several days later than he would have liked. Finally returning to form, he gets a good launch at the tachiai and puts his head underneath Mitakeumi’s chin. Mitakeumi gets lifted up and backwards and doesn’t have enough of a grip on Goeido’s left arm to defend. Both will enter the final day at 8-6.
The schedule makers have no mercy on M14 Abi, giving him a huge jump in opponent skill level on Day 14. He faces Kotoshogiku, who at M2 is the highest-ranked wrestler Abi’s ever fought. And it shows. Kotoshogiku picks up his seventh win in fine fashion, surviving Abi’s early onslaught to take control and show the youngster how it’s done. At 7-7, Kotoshogiku will be eager to win on the last day and avoid demotion. Abi, at 9-5, will be looking to pad his already impressive record.
Shohozan is a tough out for anybody. He smashes Tochinoshin in the face and throat, slaps his arms to the side, and generally makes himself a painful nuisance. But Tochinoshin is destined for the history books, and he weathers the storm. Returning fire with thrusts of his own and holding his ground when Shohozan knocks him to the side, Tochinoshin gets the hold on the belt that’s served him so well this tournament and walks out Shohozan to clinch his first ever top-division championship. There’s still one day left, but no one can catch him. Huge congratulations on a great performance.
Goeido’s out of the running for the tournament championship, but he still needs to get eight wins. Improving to 7-6 against Okinoumi helps his cause. This is the kind of sumo he should have been doing the past few days.
Ichinojo has been steamrolling opponents the past few days with displays of surprising strength, but Tochinoshin is not intimidated. Tochinoshin dives right into the mouth of the lion, ignoring defense and betting everything on his ability to out-muscle his giant opponent. His confidence is not misplaced. No tricks, no sidesteps, nothing fancy whatsoever. Just grabbing the belt with both hands and walking inexorably towards the edge of the ring. Tochinoshin stands alone atop the leaderboard at 12-1, now two wins ahead of his closest competitors with two days remaining. Which means a win on either of the next two days will clinch his first championship. Go Tochinoshin!