(Reuters) - Tochinoshin became the first Georgian to win a grand sumo tournament on Saturday, defeating Japanese wrestler Shohozan for his seventh straight victory at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo.
Tochinoshin, whose real name is Levan Gorgadze, was fighting as a number three 'maegashira', the lowest of the five ranks in the sport's top 'makuuchi' division, and began the day two wins ahead of grand champion or 'yokozuna' Kakuryu.
The 30-year-old recovered from a slight misstep against Shohozan to claim the one victory he needed to win a 15-day grand tournament in Japan's traditional sport.
"This is the greatest. I'm extremely happy," Tochinoshin, who improved his record at the tournament to 13 wins and one defeat, was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.
"Congratulations @tochinoshin! Georgian #Sumo wrestler Levan Gorgadze is the winner of Emeperor’s Cup!" Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili tweeted after Tochinoshin was crowned champion.
Tochinoshin's victory is the culmination of a hard slog back to the upper echelons of the sport after his career was nearly ended by a severe knee injury.
The 177 kg (390 pound) Georgian ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament at the tournament in Nagoya in July 2013 and dropped out of the top division after missing three grand tournaments.
He returned to the makuuchi division more than a year later and revealed how he had toyed with the idea of quitting the sport.
"This is something I never imagined when I dropped from makuuchi," Tochinoshin said. "There were many times I felt like quitting.
"But I settled down, got out of the hospital and even though I had dropped way down the rankings, my attitude changed dramatically. I wanted to give it one more shot."
Miscalculation almost cost Tochinoshin dear during Saturday's contest when he lost balance and nearly landed on the straw after Shohozan ducked out of the way of one of his strikes.
The Georgian recovered, even though his back was briefly turned to his opponent, managing to pivot and lock up Shohozan's arm before going on to claim victory.
Kakuryu slumped to his fourth straight defeat after he was beaten by Takayasu.
(Writing by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)