NAGOYA - Newly promoted ozeki Terunofuji will be out to prove his stunning championship victory in May was no fluke when the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament gets underway on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Mongolian whose real name is Gantulga Ganerdene, earned promotion after a 12-3 mark at May’s summer tourney in Tokyo, clinching the title thanks in part to a late meltdown by yokozuna and fellow Mongolian Hakuho.
“He has built up days of hard training and I think he will respond to expectations by having a good record (in Nagoya),” stablemaster Isegahama said of Terunofuji, who has recovered from a calf problem sustained in the middle of June.
Terunofuji is the first wrestler in 64 years to be promoted to ozeki after spending just two tournaments as a komusubi or sekiwake and the first since the season went to six meets in 1958.
He is the second wrestler from the Isegahama stable to reach the ozeki rank following Harumafuji — whose breathtaking win over yokozuna Hakuho on the final day in May clinched his stablemate’s championship.
Provided he is fit, Terunofuji could be the first ozeki debutant to win a championship since Hakuho achieved the feat at the summer meet in 2006.
Despite Terunofuji’s surprise win in May, Hakuho, with 34 championships to his name, will be the favorite to cart home the hardware again.
Harumafuji, who underwent surgery on his right elbow after the summer tournaments, has not provided much title competition to Hakuho since being promoted to yokozuna, while yokozuna Kakuryu is making his return after missing both the spring and summer tournaments with a left shoulder injury.
“As long as I don’t get a serious injury (between now and the start of the tournament) I will be fine,” said Kakuryu. “The opening day is important first of all. I want to enjoy wrestling again.”
Four wrestlers are competing at the sport’s second-highest rank of ozeki for the first time in 10 grand tournaments.
Kisenosato, who has just turned 29, was in title contention for much of the summer meet and finished one win behind Terunofuji at 11-4 and is likely to be there or thereabouts in the run-in this time too.
“I am an old geezer now,” Kisenosato, who has come up short of winning the title time and again, despite being regarded as the best shot Japan has of one of its own wrestlers winning the Emperor’s Cup for the first time since 2006, said with a laugh.
On a more serious note he added, “I’ve never felt like I am weakening. I still have a future. Every day (at the tournament) is a battle and you have to go out there with the intention of winning every single bout.”
Kotoshogiku is facing demotion from ozeki for the fifth time in his career following a makekoshi 6-9 record in May and will need to win at least eight bouts to avoid the drop.
Goeido pulled out of the summer meet with two days left owing to a fractured left shoulder and said Wednesday he was lacking match fitness.
“Sitting out the tournament is not an option but I have not got my match fitness back,” he said. “Since I am going to appear at the tournament there cannot be any excuses and I am just going to have to go for it once it starts.”