OSAKA – Taped-up yokozuna Kisenosato came from behind to win the Spring Grand Sumo tournament in dramatic fashion, defeating in-form ozeki Terunofuji twice on Sunday.
After suffering a fall on his left shoulder on Friday, Kisenosato was ineffective the following day, when his second straight loss allowed Terunofuji to take the lead. Needing a win on Sunday to even their records at 13-2 and force a championship playoff, Kisenosato somehow survived while his opponent slipped to the surface.
The new yokozuna tried to dodge the ozeki’s charge and failed, but showing more strength in his left arm than the day before, he made a match of it before Terunofuji slipped down and Kisenosato was credited with the crucial win.
After Kakuryu dispatched fellow Mongolian yokozuna Harumafuji to end the tournament’s regularly scheduled bouts and leave both men with 10-5 records, Terunofuji and crowd favorite Kisenosato returned to the ring.
The first Japanese to be promoted to yokozuna since 1998 with his championship in January, Kisenosato surrendered a solid belt hold to his opponent. But Terunofuji clung to his grip and it proved his undoing as the yokozuna tipped him over to earn the victory.
“I’m speechless,” Kisenosato said. “There was something at work that was more than my own strength. My only thoughts were on concentrating and executing.”
The crowd, firmly behind him from Day 1, erupted when Kisenosato locked onto Terunofuji’s arm and threw him for the final victory, and the emotion was not limited to the spectators.
“I was on the verge of tears,” said sumo elder Tomozuna, the sub-director of the Japan Sumo Association judges department. “To come out on the 14th day in pain, that was huge because he never let up (by forfeiting that match and resting). His posture in both bouts (on Sunday) was bad, but his body never stopped.”
Kisenosato became the first newly promoted yokozuna to win a championship in 22 years since Takanohana, while putting a damper on a fine tournament from the ozeki who appeared healthy for the first time in nearly two years.
The 25-year-old Mongolian, whose real name is Gantulga Ganerdene, had struggled since a four-tournament stretch in 2015 when he went a combined 48-12. During that period, he won his first grand tournament and was runner-up in another, falling in a championship playoff to yokozuna Kakuryu in September.
In the following tournament, Terunofuji posted a 9-6 mark, but had failed to match that win total for seven straight tournaments in which the lack of strength and flexibility in his legs often made him vulnerable. He sat out the final six days of the 2016 New Year grand tournament and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee soon after.
Terunofuji entered this tournament with his ozeki ranking in jeopardy after going 4-11 in January. But instead of capitulating, Terunofuji conquered. He bludgeoned his way past his first five opponents before falling to in-form sekiwake Takayasu on the sixth day.
For earning 10-plus wins and being the only wrestler to stop Terunofuji through the first 14 days, Takayasu earned the third Outstanding Performance Prize of his career. Takayasu, who went 11-4 in January, improved to 12-3, forcing out fellow sekiwake Tamawashi (8-7).