Five years after an injury at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament nearly ended his career at the age of 25, Georgian wrestler Tochinoshin will return to Nagoya in July as an ozeki.
The 30-year-old, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze and who will become the third European to reach sumo’s second-highest rank, got a huge wakeup call five years ago when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Following his 12th win at this month’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, a victory over 40-time champion Hakuho, officials of the Japan Sumo Association decided it was time for sekiwake Tochinoshin to move up a step to ozeki.
A former judoka, Tochinoshin made his professional sumo debut in 2006 at the age of 18 and won the juryo division in his debut in sumo’s second tier at the age of 20.
“I thought that the only thing to sumo was just winning,” said the wrestler of his younger days when his stablemaster, Kasugano, disciplined him for breaking rules.
The knee injury forced him out of that tournament five years ago and he did not return until March 2014. During his layoff, he underwent an attitude adjustment.
“I desired to practice. My emotions when I put on my belt had changed,” he said. “I went back to the fundamentals (of sumo training).
He polished the “migi-yotsu” right-hand underarm grip, something that would put less of a burden on his right knee. In his first tournament after his injury, Tochinoshin went 7-0 as a No. 55 makushita wrestler in March 2014. Four straight championships during which he went 42-2, saw him earn readmission to the elite makuuchi division.
In September 2015, Tochinoshin regained his previous career-high rank of komusubi, the lowest of the three ranks below yokozuna known as “sanyaku.” His comeback from No. 55 makushita to the sanyaku was the greatest rebound in sumo since the start of the Showa era in 1926.
Tochinoshin’s ranking came and went with his fitness over the next two years, but since January, when he won his first career grand tournament championship as a No. 3 maegashira, he has become a force to be reckoned with.
“It’s a good thing I took up sumo,” Tochinoshin said. “You never know where life is going to take you.”