SUMO ABC (41) / Diminutive Ishiura wins Fighting Spirit Award for gutsy performance in Kyushu tournament

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yokozuna Hakuho performs his ring-entering ritual at Sumiyoshi Shrine in the city on Nov. 2, with Ishiura, right, serving as the attendant role of tsuyuharai.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterNo. 15 maegashira Ishiura, the lightest among the top-tier makuuchi wrestlers, displayed a spirited performance at the recent Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, highlighted by 10 straight wins amassed from the second day of his debut tournament in the top division.

When the selection committee for the three prizes given to top-tier wrestlers held a meeting at the end of the 15-day tournament, multiple members recommended Ishiura for the Fighting Spirit Award. After discussions, the panel unanimously decided to give the prize to the 26-year-old wrestler, who is 1.73 meters tall and weighs only 114 kilograms. The diminutive maegashira’s energetic actions, such as bewildering his opponents with sharp moves after the jump-offs, were highly praised by the committee members.

Ishiura faced the heaviest makuuchi wrestler on the fifth day of the tournament. At 212 kilograms, No. 13 maegashira Ichinojo was almost 100 kilograms heavier than Ishiura, but the up-and-coming wrestler skillfully sent the giant into the dirt. Ishiura continued to excite the crowd at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in early makuuchi bouts as he extended his winning streak.

Another highlight came on the 11th day, when Ishiura faced No. 9 maegashira Myogiryu, a skilled wrestler who has served in the ranks of sekiwake and komusubi — the two positions under ozeki — many times. Ishiura broke Myogiryu’s rhythm with a sharp move after the jump-off and crushed him into the ground, notching his 10th straight win to rapturous cheers from the crowd in the packed venue.

“I don’t think it’s real,” an elated Ishiura said. “A miracle is happening.”

Before the Kyushu tournament, with a new banzuke ranking in his hands, Ishiura talked about how he had imagined wrestling in the top division. “This is beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “I hope I am able to notch at least one win.”

Despite these remarks, during the tournament Ishiura never backed down against wrestlers bigger than him. Such a strong mentality has been an advantage for his performance.

Ishiura decided to become a pro after being inspired by yokozuna Hakuho. Ishiura graduated from Tottori Johoku High School, a sumo powerhouse in his hometown of Tottori. He is wrestling with his real family name — his father is Tokiyoshi Ishiura, the coach of the high school’s sumo club.

The younger Ishiura enrolled at Nihon University, but as a wrestler he was unable to achieve pronounced results. After graduating from the university, he flew to Australia to study English, hoping to work by helping run international sumo tournaments in the future. However, he couldn’t shake his desire to partake in bouts in the ring, nor his aspiration to become a pro. He eventually decided to enter the Miyagino stable, and made his professional debut at the New Year tournament in 2013.

Ishiura served as Hakuho’s attendant through his time in the third-tier makushita division. When he became a top-tier wrestler in the Kyushu basho, Hakuho picked Ishiura as his tsuyuharai, or dew sweeper, a wrestler who precedes a yokozuna in the ring-entering ritual undertaken by the highest-rank wrestlers. Ishiura debuted as a tsuyuharai at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Fukuoka before a crowd of 4,700 on Nov. 2 ahead of the tournament.

“He seemed to be nervous,” Hakuho said of Ishiura during the ceremony. “I’m sure he will get accustomed to the role,” added the yokozuna, who was pleased with the rapid promotion of his junior stablemate.

Considering his size, Ishiura’s weakness lies in his jump-offs. It will be important for him to make more efforts in practice so that he can acquire sharper charges at jump-offs. This will be the key for him to continue his success into the next tournament, as rivals will likely study his performance.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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