Hakuho seized a record-extending 44th top-level championship Sunday after outlasting fellow yokozuna Kakuryu at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
The two Mongolian-born titans came into Day 15 tied for the lead at 12-2, setting up a tantalizing winner-take-all battle in the final bout of the meet at Edion Arena Osaka.
Following a false start from Hakuho, Kakuryu gained an early advantage thanks to a shallow belt grip, but the all-time great countered with a belt grip of his own. After repositioning his feet, Hakuho muscled his opponent over the straw for a frontal force-out that denied Kakuryu (12-3) a seventh Emperor’s Cup.
The 15-day tournament, however, will be remembered as the first in sumo history to be held in an empty arena after spectators were locked out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“On the very first day, I felt really strange, and it was really difficult to maintain motivation,” Hakuho said. “There were a lot of ups and downs, but it was not just me. Everybody felt the same way.”