Japan in raptures as outsider wins sumo contest – and bursts into tears

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

Sumo fans in Japan are celebrating after the lowest-ranked wrestler beat incredible odds to emerge victorious at the first main tournament of the year.

Tokushoryu, a relative unknown until his incredible winning streak at the new year tournament, shoved and threw his way through a succession of “superior” opponents in Tokyo, ending the 15-day contest on Sunday with an unassailable 14 wins and one defeat.

The 188kg wrestler manhandled Takakeisho – an ozeki champion wrestler – out of the dohyo ring in his final bout and promptly burst into tears, while the crowd at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium roared their approval.

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“I might have cried too much, but at that moment I felt relieved from all the pressure,” Tokushoryu said of his improbable victory in a post-bout interview, according to Kyodo news agency.

“Deep down I’m feeling like, ‘Is it okay for me to win the championship? I was the lowest-ranking fighter, so I had nothing to fear. I just had to give it everything I had.”

Tokushoryu’s victory and the emotion that followed drew a positive response on social media, with some users also pointing to his playful side.

One Twitter user wrote: “He was so emotional. One moment he was laughing, the next he was crying. And he was really blubbing. I’m going to keep cheering him on.”

Another said: “I was so impressed … it was a tear-stained win over Takakeisho and everyone in the stadium was captivated.”

Tokushoryu, who held the lowly rank of No. 17 maegashira going into the tournament, became the first bottom-ranked wrestler to win a top-division sumo title since March 2000.

He later said he had been inspired by the death, midway through the competition, of his university coach. “I thought I should do it for him,” he said.

The 33-year-old, who had spent the previous 13 tournaments fighting in the ancient sport’s second tier, is also the first wrestler from Nara, in western Japan, to lift the prestigious Emperor’s Cup for a century.

His heroics, along with displays of emotion not usually seen in the conservative sumo world, captivated fans more accustomed to watching titles go to elite wrestlers, including the Mongolian-born yokozuna grand champions Hakuho and Kakuryu, who both missed the Tokyo tournament due to injury.

A day after his achievement, Tokushoryu was still struggling to keep his emotions in check when asked how he had managed to put on one of the most extraordinary displays of sumo for many years.

“What have I done?” he said. “It feels like a dream. I don’t feel like myself. I feel like I’m walking on clouds.”

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