A day after winning the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in a dramatic playoff, ozeki Terunofuji said Monday it took every ounce of effort to claim his second straight championship.
The 29-year-old Mongolian was thrust down by fellow ozeki Takakeisho in the final scheduled bout of the 15-day meet at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday, leaving the pair tied with 12-3 records and requiring a playoff to determine the champion.
Terunofuji turned the tables in the sudden-death decider, keeping his rival at arm’s length before slapping him to the sandy surface of the ring.
The victory earned Terunofuji his fourth Emperor’s Cup and his third since making a remarkable comeback to the elite makuuchi division after plummeting as low as the fifth-tier jonidan division due to a raft of health issues including surgery on both knees.
“The desperate effort that I had been putting out led to the result. I did everything I could,” said Terunofuji, who sealed promotion back to ozeki, sumo’s second-highest rank, by winning the March tournament.
His appearance at the May meet as an ozeki was his first since September 2017, a period encompassing 21 tournaments.
With yokozuna Hakuho recuperating from knee surgery, the tournament opened with four ozeki sharing top billing. Terunofuji clearly outshone the others in the early stages, winning his first 10 bouts.
He hit a hurdle on Day 11 when he was ruled to have illegally grabbed the hair of rank-and-file opponent Myogiryu and incurred his first loss after appearing to win the bout easily.
He suffered his second defeat in a closely contested battle against No. 8 maegashira Endo on Day 14, with the ringside judges overturning an initial declaration of Terunofuji as the winner after both wrestlers tumbled over the straw.
The loss saw him head into a tense final day with a 12-2 record, one win ahead of Takakeisho and Endo.
“I had felt I couldn’t look ahead to the next rank unless I won a championship as an ozeki, so it was good (to win the title in the end),” Terunofuji said. “I just trusted my body in the playoff bout.”
Terunofuji became the first ozeki to win a championship upon his return to the rank since the July 1969 introduction of the current ranking system, under which ozeki are demoted if they post two consecutive losing records.
Following the victory, Terunofuji will head into the July meet with a chance for promotion to the sport’s highest rank of yokozuna. To reach the rank, an ozeki must win two consecutive championships or achieve results deemed to be as good.
“I’ve been working toward that (rank), and I’m one step away. I will be giving everything I have,” he said.
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