Birth Name: Toshiki Sawada
Home Town: Iga, Japan
Highest Rank: Maegashira 1
Chiyonokuni Toshiki was born the son of a Buddhist priest in the city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, Japan. As a child, he had a keen interest in martial arts and dreamed of becoming a professional rikishi. After graduating high school, Chiyonokuni entered Kokonoe Beya and began learning the art of sumo from former Dai Yokozuna turned Oyakata, Chiyonofuji. His first official tournament was the 2006 Nagoya Basho, where he recorded an impressive 6-1 record and secured a promotion to the Jonidan division. His Jonidan debut would have to wait, however, as an injury sidelined the young rikishi right before the Aki Basho, costing him his promotion. Returning to action in time for the 2006 Kyushu Basho, Chiyokuni won back his spot in Jonidan with another kachi-koshi and was well on his way to the Makushita division in mid-2007 when he was injured again and missed the Nagoya Basho. This would become something of a pattern for Chiyonokuni; getting ever so close to a promotion only to get hurt and have to start over again.
His fortunes changed in March of 2009 when Chiyonokuni returned from injury for the fourth time in his young career and took the Jonidan yusho. This victory marked the beginning of a hot streak for Chiyo, who quickly rose up through the ranks and established himself as a Makushita mainstay by March 2010. Following the match-fixing scandal, Chiyonokuni was elevated to the upper ranks of Makushita and eventually the Juryo division in early 2011, despite not posting spectacular records. Like many rikishi in his generation, he had become a benefactor of several top spots being vacated by rikishi involved in the scandal. One such disgraced rikishi was his fellow stablemate, Chiyohakuho. When asked about Chiyohakuho’s expulsion from the sport and his subsequent promotion as a result of the scandal, Chiyonokuni remarked that he didn’t know how to feel about the situation. Taking full advantage of the circumstances, the young man from Iga put together an impressive string of winning records that saw him break into the top Makuuchi division at the 2012 Hatsu Basho. His stay in the top division was short-lived, as a dislocated shoulder forced him to miss parts of Hatsu and Haru and all of the Natsu tournament. Chiyo returned to Juryo for the 2012 Nagoya Basho, where he took the yusho and soon won his way back to Makuuchi by November. Chiyonokuni spent the next two years in and out of the top division, until an injury at the 2014 Aki basho saw him withdraw from competition on day 8. This injury caused him to miss the following two tournaments, plummeting Chiyonokuni all the way back to the Sandanme division.
Unperturbed by this massive demotion, Chiyonokuni began his treck back to Makuuchi by taking the Sandanme division yusho with a perfect 7-0 record at the 2015 Haru Basho. This marked the beginning of an impressive comeback for the young rikishi, which culminated in his second Juryo championship in May of 2016 and a return to the Makuuchi division, where he has remained to this day. At the 2017 Natsu Basho, Choyonokuni debuted at a career-high rank of Maegashira 1. Despite picking up his first kinboshi victory over Yokozuna Kakuryu, the rest of the tournament was a disaster for Chiyo, and he finished with a dreadful 2-13 record. He bounced back from this poor performance with two consecutive kachi-koshi in July and September but failed to secure eight wins November. 2017 also marked a significant milestone in the life of Chiyonokuni, who married his longtime girlfriend Ai Hayashi, whom he met seven years prior. Chiyonokuni is primarily an oshi-zumo or “pusher-thruster” practitioner. Because of his relatively small size, he employs tsukiotoshi thrust downs and hatakikomi slap downs to take his larger opponents off their feet.
Chiyonokuni (left) vs. Kaisei (right), Aki basho, 2017.