On a day when yokozuna Hakuho all but sealed his 43rd Emperor’s Cup, the biggest news out of Fukuoka concerned a man in sumo’s third division.
Terunofuji clinched the makushita title with a perfect 7-0 record and will be back in the salaried ranks in January for the first time in over a year and a half.
After missing four straight tournaments through injury from July 2018 on, the former ozeki had fallen all the way down to the second-lowest division (jonidan).
Given how poor his physical condition looked, both prior to, and immediately after the drop, many fans were calling for the massive Mongolian to quit the sport out of concern for his health.
Apart from torn ligaments, Terunofuji battled diabetes, cellulitis, organ problems and kidney stones.
Still relatively young though at 26, the Ulan Bator native decided to soldier on and after a very tough 18 months finally got his reward.
Terunofuji’s sumo life has never been anything but difficult.
Magaki beya, his original stable, seemed snakebitten, with wrestlers being kicked out of the sport for match fixing and drug use, as well as the stablemaster suffering a stroke and his wife and another rikishi dying.
Things got so bad that prior to the stable closing down Terunofuji spent many mornings training alone in the practice arena with no other rikishi or coaches present.
Wakamisho, as Terunofuji was known then, became so demotivated that he talked regularly with friends about quitting the sport altogether.
When the Magaki stable shut down, however, he was transferred to Isegahama and under the tutelage of yokozuna Harumafuji he bloomed.
Terunofuji won the May 2015 title and seemed set to be the sport’s next yokozuna before injury struck.
That’s likely a dream that is no longer feasible, but given the way Terunofuji has performed and improved over the past few months, reaching the top division again is certainly achievable.
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