Sumo | INSIDE SUMO

Terutsuyoshi adds flair to makuuchi division

by John Gunning

It’s late February, which means all 650 or so wrestlers of the Japan Sumo Association have decamped to Kansai and are deep in preparation for the upcoming Spring Tournament.

The Osaka Basho holds a special significance for many rikishi, as it’s the meet where the largest number of wrestlers (including 40 percent of the current top division) first set foot in the ring.

This tournament also marks the 33rd anniversary of Hanakaze’s debut.

The 48-year-old, currently ranked at jonidan 56, will extend his record for the longest career in the history of sumo.

He’ll need to stick around for another four years to become the oldest wrestler of all time. That honor currently belongs to Miyagino, who retired at the age of 52, back when George Washington was still president of the United States.

Kansai is, of course, also home to many of sumo’s big names including ozeki Goeido and sekiwake Takakeisho.

Both men have won championships in the past few years, and if one of them repeats the feat next month, it’ll be the first time a wrestler from the Kansai area has lifted the Emperor’s Cup in Osaka since yokozuna Asashio took the title in 1961.

Another native of the region is making his top division debut in the upcoming tournament.

Terutsuyoshi, who hails from Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, is one of three rikishi that have been promoted to makuuchi for the first time.

At 169 cm, the 24-year-old is, along with returning veteran Toyonoshima, the shortest man in the top division by quite a margin.

Not that you’d know it from the way he fights.

Terutsuyoshi pairs all out aggressiveness with excellent technical ability to overcome much larger foes.

Turning a lack of height to his advantage, the Isegahama Beya man often likes to dart in under his opponent’s attack and execute judo-style throws.

The success of that approach can be seen in the fact that Terutsuyoshi wins about 9 percent of his bouts by shitatenage (underarm throw) as compared to the average rate of 2.5 percent.

His victories by isamiashi (inadvertent step-out) happen about 10 times more often than usual as well, illustrating the effectiveness of that fierce never-say-die style.

Terutsuyoshi has compiled numerous standout bouts on his highlight reel to date.

On Day Nine of the 2017 Kyushu Basho, he turned a bad position into a stunning win with a koshinage (hip throw) win.

This past November he used the seldom seen nekodamashi technique at the initial charge to briefly confuse Daishoho, which allowed Terutsuyoshi to shoot in and grab his much larger opponent’s leg for the easy win.

That clapping of the hands in front of the face is something more often seen in movies and manga about sumo than in the real thing.

Terutsuyoshi also makes a splash outside the ring — literally.

Grabbing a huge handful of salt prior to his bouts and launching it skyward in a manner reminiscent of Mitoizumi or Kitazakura, Terutsuyoshi often manages to hit at least a couple of spectators, but that just gets the crowd even more fired up.

With his high-octane style and pre-bout antics, Terutsuyoshi is set to become a star now that he is in the spotlight of sumo’s top division.

The fact that, away from the ring, he is just as interesting will only further that process.

Well used to the glare of the media as a result of being in the same stable as Harumafuji, Aminishiki and Terunofuji, Terutsuyoshi seems comfortable with the attention.

While he doesn’t have the back-flipping exuberance of Pikotaro-imitating stablemate Tomisakae, Terutsuyoshi possess a friendly easy-going manner that plays well on the screen.

Given a choice, though, he’d much rather be in a stadium than a studio.

A huge soccer fan (and a former goalkeeper), Terutsuyoshi often posts photos of himself attending various club and international games, as well as socializing with stars on his social media accounts.

Mainly a fan of Real Madrid, Nagoya Grampus and the Japan national team, the images often show Terutsuyoshi in the shirt of the side he is supporting.

That has gotten him into hot water with the JSA in the past, as rikishi are supposed to wear traditional Japanese attire when away from the immediate environs of their stable.

Terutsuyoshi gets around the rule by wearing his jerseys underneath a yukata and then slipping out of the top layer when in his seat.

It’s a minor infraction of a rule and not one that anyone is going to get too worked up about. After all, if Hitachiyama could take a tournament off 100 years ago to visit America, wearing a three-piece suit and top hat while still an active yokozuna, what does it matter if a wrestler wants to discreetly show his support for the national team?

Terutsuyoshi’s soccer obsession will be treated as an interesting quirk, and such flashes of personality are welcome in a sport where it can often be difficult for casual fans to distinguish one stoic wrestler from the next.

That Terutsuyoshi was born on the day of the Great Hanshin Earthquake (Jan. 17, 1995) is a fact filled with significance, both for the man himself and his supporters in the region.

While he is unlikely to be the one to end Kansai’s 58-year wait for a homegrown champion in Osaka, Terutsuyoshi will provide local fans with plenty of thrills inside the ring and entertainment outside it.