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Sumo's 'iron man' Tamawashi welcomes 1st tourney win, newborn son on same day

New Year Grand Sumo Tournament champion Tamawashi, front center, holding a sea bream, a good luck fish, appears at a celebration after his tourney victory on Jan. 27, 2019, in Tokyo's Sumida Ward. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

TOKYO -- Sumo wrestler Tamawashi, who made his professional ring debut at the 2004 New Year tournament, has finally blossomed in a big way. The 34-year-old Mongolian, dubbed the "iron man" for never once missing a tourney over his 15 years as a grappler, took home his very first Grand Sumo championship on Jan. 27.

Tamawashi claimed the title by defeating a lower-tier rikishi Endo, who is ranked No. 9 as a maegashira wrestler. The day turned out to be special for Tamawashi, a sekiwake third-tier grappler, in more ways than one; the morning of his final bout of the New Year tournament, his wife gave birth to their second child, a son. "It's just wonderful," said a happy Tamawashi.

The journey to this day was a long one. It began when a young man in Mongolia studying to go into the hotel business decided to put that on hold and try his strength in Japan's sumo world. It was a gamble; he arrived here with exactly zero sumo experience. Despite this, Tamawashi managed to stick, and then some. He has now appeared in 1,151 straight bouts, the most of any current wrestler. He is also the first rikishi from his Kataonami stable to win a grand tournament since yokozuna grandmaster Tamanoumi, who also never missed a tournament before his sudden death in 1971 at age 27.

"His never-give-up spirit resembles that of a yokozuna," said stablemaster Kataonami, formerly sekiwake grappler Tamakasuga. "I guess that linkage is in his consciousness."

At 188 centimeters tall and 172 kilograms, it is hard to imagine Tamawashi as anything but sumo's most powerful current practitioner of the push-out win, repeated to great effect from bout to bout. However, he has a delicate side. In his spare time, Tamawashi enjoys making sweets, and treats people to slices of homemade cake at his stable around the New Year. He also makes small decorative items such as accessories.

His sensitivity is also evident in how he treats those around him. The Kataonami stable's accommodations for the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament are in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, in southwestern Japan. The area was hit badly by the July 2017 torrential rain disaster, and Tamawashi dove right into connecting with local residents, especially children. When he secured more wins than losses at the Kyushu tourney later that year, he broke down in tears, saying he had "promised everyone" a successful tournament.

On Jan. 27, Tamawashi met his newborn son for the first time a couple of hours after the baby's 4 a.m. birth.

"It was just a few seconds, but he was so cute," the grappler said of this first encounter. It seems very likely that this new addition to Tamawashi's family will spur him to try for yet greater feats in the ring. "I want to do sumo to my heart's content, and give everyone a good time," he said.

(Japanese original by Masataka Tanaka, Sports News Department)

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