Terunofuji’s dramatic return makes it a quartet of ozeki for 1st time in 3 years

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Newly repromoted ozeki Terunofuji opens the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament with a victory over No. 2 maegashira Meisei on May 9 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

After a span of 21 tournaments dating back to the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September 2017, Teru- nofuji’s name is back on the rankings list as an ozeki.

It marks the 12th time —and makes him the 11th wrestler — from the Showa era (1926-89) to the present day that a former ozeki worked his way back up to the second-highest rank.

However, nobody before him ever did it after plunging as low as the jonidan division, the second lowest of the sport’s six tiers.

The current system mandating the demotion of an ozeki to sekiwake after posting losing records in two consecutive tournaments came about after a rules revision in July 1969. Prior to that, it took a majority of losses at three consecutive tourneys.

While the revision made the rule stricter, it also included an instant relief clause — the former ozeki could now regain the rank by notching at least 10 wins at the tournament immediately following demotion.

In seven of the 12 demotions so far, the wrestler did just that, earning a quick promotion back to the rank with 10 or more wins as a sekiwake in the next tournament.

The most recent example was Takakeisho, who secured a return to ozeki at the 2019 Autumn tournament when he posted an impressive 12-3 record. He finished tied for the top spot with sekiwake Mitakeumi, but lost to him in a playoff for the championship.

Prior to Terunofuji, there were only two former ozeki who regained the rank after falling as low as the rank-and-file maegashira ranks of the makuuchi division.

Shionoumi dropped down to No. 2 maegashira in January 1950 and took three tournaments to rise back to ozeki. More than a quarter-century later, Kaiketsu capped a seven-tournament quest back to the second-highest rank in March 1977 after dropping to No. 6 maegashira.

Prior to World War II, when there were no rules regarding ozeki demotion, poor performances led to two instances of an ozeki being dropped to sekiwake when the banzuke ranking list was compiled.

One was Noshirogata, who wrestled as a sekiwake for two tournaments before returning to ozeki, and the other was Nayoroiwa, who needed four tournaments to do so.

There are four ozeki on the banzuke at the Summer Grand Tournament currently underway in Tokyo — Asanoyama, Takakeisho, Shodai and Terunofuji — the first time there have been that many since the 2019 Nagoya tourney.

Some observers say that the 29-year-old Terunofuji’s power puts him a notch above his fellow ozeki, and makes him the closest of the four to earning promotion to yokozuna.

Energized by his dramatic comeback, Terunofuji has said he now “aims for greater heights.”

Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Takakeisho, the 27-year-old Asano- yama and the 29-year-old Shodai will all look to make their presence felt at the Summer tournament.

— Shuji Miki is a sumo expert.