Kisenosato, First Japanese Yokozuna in 15 Years, Can’t Hide his Emotions

I’ll be the first person to tell you that I don’t follow sumo wrestling at all.  But I’ll also tell you it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how unbelievably huge this sport is.  Sumo Wrestler’s in Japan are easily the biggest celebrity athletes in the entire country.  They’re the equivalent to our football, basketball, and baseball players.  So when a guy gets the amazing distinction of Yokozuna, it’s humongous news.   For those that don’t know a Yokozuna is the highest honor a sumo wrestler can get.  It’s the “grand champion.”    The reason I wanted to share this story is because I think it could be a great movie someday.

Kisenosato was notorious for choking for years and years despite consistently racking up tons of wins, but he finally won the previous tournament–his first ever, after 73 tries–and was promoted to yokozuna. It took him longer to make it to yokuzuna than anyone since 1926. His detractors felt he was promoted too early, wanting him to win back to back tournaments and expecting that he’d go back to choking. Instead, he looked the best out of all 4 grand masters in this tournament, winning double digit bouts and being ahead of everyone before finally being taken down by another yokuzuna, and clearly sustaining an injury.

Despite his injury, he shows up the next day and is gently shoved out of the ring by another yokuzuna, bringing his record to 12-2 and putting him 1 loss behind Terunofuji, who secured his 13-1 record heading into the final day in rather controversial fashion. Not only did Terunofuji crush the hopes of an older fan favorite (who had done better than most had expected, winning a majority of his bouts, but needed to win on the final two days to regain his old rank), he did so by sidestepping his attack instead of beating him straight on. This made him a villain to many sumo fans, since he was practically going to get a freebie when facing the injured Kisenosato on the final day, so for him to take the easy win over a wrestler he should be able to beat head on was really frowned upon.

It’s worth noting that the man who injured Kisenosato is Terunofuji’s main training partner, and the one man who defeated Terunofuji earlier in the tournament is Kisenosato’s main training partner.

Then, when facing Kisenosato on the final day, Kisenosato pulls the same sidestep maneuver on Terunofuji, and though it didn’t win him the match, his next technique did, bringing him to 13-2 and forcing a tie-breaker. Somehow, despite his injury (which could be a really bad one; I don’t think it’s actually been diagnosed yet, but some speculate he might’ve torn a pec or something judging by heavy bruising on his arm), he wins the tie-breaker as well, clutching his second tournament win in a row after years and years of being considered very good, but just not great enough to win it all. And he proved everyone who said he needs to win two tournaments in a row that he can do that, and that he is a worthy grand champion. His legacy is secured after such an incredible tournament.

Here’s Kisensato reacting to the ceremony.

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