He played baseball and judo in his junior high school years, but on transferring to an industrial and science high school in nearby Ōita Prefecture he joined the sumo club after being scouted by the coach at the school. In his second and third years he participated in two annual regional tournaments. In these tournaments, he managed to reach the best eight, but was beaten both times by future ōzeki Kotoshōgiku. In Komazawa University, he was a regular on the sumo team and managed to be runner up for the championship at a national competition.
His successes at this level garnered him many invitations from various sumo stables but chose to enter Matsugane, the stable that first approached him (it has since changed its name to Nishonoseki). He entered the professional ring in May 2006, fighting under his own surname of Matsutani. He was not able to achieve makushita tsukedashi status as he had never managed to win a national tournament before turning pro. He posted a decent jonokuchi debut with a 5-2 record. In the next tournament, he took the jonidan championship with a perfect 7-0 record and a playoff victory over fellow up-and-comer Sakaizawa. Three strong tournaments in sandanme got him promotion to the third makushita division in March, 2007. He had had a very strong showing up to this point, and had claimed he wanted to make makushita before the time for his hair to be tied up in a topknot came. He did achieve this goal, and though he started out strong with two consecutive 6-1 tournaments, as is often the case with wrestlers trying to advance through makushita, this is where he began to have trouble. He would struggle in the division for exactly three years. He began to find his stride in July, 2009. He achieved a 6-1 record and had a playoff bout against the future Akiseyama, which he lost. His sumo would grow more consistent from this point and after four more tournaments in makushita in which he had only one losing tournament, he finally qualified for the second tier jūryō division for the May 2010 tournament. He was only the second wrestler in thirty-three years from Komazawa University to achieve promotion to jūryō.
In his sekitori debut he won 9 of 15 bouts and was promoted to jūryō #8 for the following tournament, but only managed a 6-9 record. His losing tournament would be the least of his concerns though. It was revealed on August 12, 2010 in a follow up to the June investigation into baseball gambling, that Matsutani, along with a sandanme wrestler from his stable had also been involved in gambling, but had not come forward, and had participated in the July, 2010 tournament while other wrestlers who were implicated or who admitted involvement had been suspended. He, along with his stablemate and his coach, apologized to the public in a press conference soon after. In September, the Japan Sumo Association handed down the decision not to dismiss the wrestlers, but to suspend them for two tournaments (September and November).
Upon his return in the first tournament of 2011 he had fallen to makushita #51. Seemingly burning to redeem himself, Matsutani pulled off a perfect 7-0 championship, and even with the turmoil due to the following tournament being cancelled due to the match-fixing scandal he still pulled off another perfect championship in the succeeding May tournament. In many ways, this would mirror sekitori Toyonoshima's feat in previous months of bouncing back from a demotion to jūryō for baseball gambling by pulling off a championship in that tournament and almost pulling off a makuuchi championship in a playoff loss to Hakuhō in the following tournament. Matsutani would attain re-entry to jūryō at a career high #3. He only managed a 7-8 record, but in the following September tournament at jūryō #5 would bounce back with a convincing 11-4 winning tournament.
On his November 2011 tournament top tier makuuchi debut he changed his shikona from his surname to the current Shōhōzan and achieved a 10-5 record. He reached what was at that time a career high of maegashira 1 in the September tournament of 2012. He had his best tournament to date in the following tournament in November, scoring ten wins and defeating three ōzeki. This earned him his first special prize, for Fighting Spirit. He was promoted to komusubi for the January 2013 tournament, becoming the first man from Matsugane stable to reach the san'yaku ranks since its establishment in 1990. He has since been re-promoted to komusubi three times, though he has never held the rank for more than one tournament. He won his second Fighting Spirit prize in September 2013, and also earned his first kinboshi for an upset of a yokozuna while ranked as a maegashira, defeating Harumafuji.
After a disastrous 1-14 performance in the March 2015 tournament, he was demoted to jūryō, and was unable to get a winning record in the next tournament to return immediately to the top division. In September however he won the division with a 13-2 record and was promoted back to the top division for the next tournament. In November he produced his best performance in the top division, winning twelve matches and finishing in a three-way tie for second place: only a defeat by Aminishiki on the final day prevented him from reaching a play-off for the championship. His efforts saw him being awarded his third Fighting Spirit award.
In January 2016 he defeated Harumafuji again to win his second kinboshi, but he otherwise had a relatively quiet year, and was not able to put together enough consistent performances to earn promotion back to san'yaku. In the January 2017 tournament he earned his third kinboshi, once again beating Harumafuji.
He had become known for having a very stern, almost scary visage, but in his jūryō entry interview people were surprised to learn he had a very expressive smiling face and a friendly way of talking. He even admitted to being sensitive enough to cry when he first heard of his jūryō entry.
Shōhōzan specialises in pushing and thrusting techniques, or oshi-sumo. His most common winning kimarite is oshi-dashi, or push out, followed by yori-kiri or force out.