Sekiwake Terunofuji defeated Aoiyama and captured his first career title at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday, thanks in part to a late meltdown by yokozuna and fellow Mongolian Hakuho.
With the 23-year-old Terunofuji having taken care of his Bulgarian opponent to score a 12th win, all the pressure was on joint overnight leader and all-time record title-holder Hakuho in the final bout of the 15-day meet against yokozuna rival Harumafuji.
But Hakuho (11-4), seeking his seventh straight title, choked yet again and suffered his third defeat in four matches as Harumafuji came back from the brink, leaping at his opponent and turning the tables to barge him out and hand Terunofuji the title.
“After I won my match, I wanted (Harumafuji) to win and (if it had gone to a playoff) I was waiting and ready to fight and win my next bout. I was almost in tears (when Harumafuji won),” said Terunofuji.
“When I was 15 years old I watched sumo (in Mongolia) and wanted to become a sumo wrestler and so came to Japan. It was a dream of mine to win the championship. To actually win it is (also) like a dream.”
Terunofuji’s championship has all but earned his promotion to the sport’s second-highest rank of ozeki with Japan Sumo Association chairman Kitanoumi saying he would give it the green light.
“My goal for this year was to become an ozeki and I think I was able to get close to that and I will keep trying hard from here onward,” said Terunofuji.
The sekiwake had seized a share of the lead with Hakuho at 11-3 on Saturday after the yokozuna was stunned by ozeki and nemesis Kisenosato, a defeat that also threw a championship lifeline to six other wrestlers one win back including Kisenosato and Harumafuji (11-4).
Terunofuji showed nerves of steel in his bout, soaking up Aoiyama’s attack and surging forward to send the No. 6 maegashira packing to a sixth defeat.
“Obviously I was feeling nervous but overcame that and tried to change my attitude and was able to fight with determination,” said Terunofuji.
That victory wiped out Kisenosato’s hopes of a first Emperor’s Cup, but he still put his heart and soul into his all-ozeki match against Kotoshogiku and deservedly closed with an 11th win.
For the third basho in a row, Terunofuji was awarded the Fighting Spirit prize, one of three prizes given to makuuchi wrestlers by the JSA on the final day of a grand tournament.
At March’s spring meet in Osaka, the sekiwake also won the Outstanding Performance prize.
Yoshikaze, a 14th-ranked maegashira, saw his outside chances of a championship end early after being shoved out to a fifth defeat by sixth-ranked Georgian Gagamaru (7-8) before the other lower-ranked title hopefuls all choked.
Tenth-ranked Ikioi (10-5) was next to exit the race when he was bundled off the ring by top-ranked maegashira Takarafuji (9-6).
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