Mitakeumi stuns Terunofuji for New Year title, clinches promotion to ozeki

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sekiwake Mitakeumi, left, fights for a belt hold against yokozuna Terunofuji in the final bout Sunday at the New Year tournament in Tokyo.

For sekiwake Mitakeumi, a third career title was certainly a charm, seeing as how it also means a long-awaited promotion to ozeki.

Mitakeumi bulled out yokozuna Terunofuji on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo on Sunday to finish with a 13-2 record and avoid having to go through a playoff for the championship.

“I’m happy to hear the cheers of the crowd,” Mitakeumi said. “It’s been a long time.”

The 13 wins give the Nagano Prefecture native a total of 33 over the past three basho, which, being capped by a victory over a yokozuna for the title, more than fulfills the criteria for promotion to the second-highest rank.

Mitakeumi, who also received the Technique Prize, went into the final day at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan with a one-win lead over Terunofuji and two maegashira-ranked wrestlers.

In the final bout, he and Terunofuji bumped off each other twice before Mitakeumi secured a belt hold. Keeping a low stance, he powered forward to move the yokozuna to the edge, where Terunofuji gave up the fight to finish 11-4.

“I was only thinking of fighting hard,” said Mitakeumi, who won his first title in 13 tournaments dating back to September 2019. “I thought I could win if I went straight at him and kept moving around.”

Terunofuji had been aiming to become the first yokozuna in 103 years to win his first three tournaments following promotion to the highest rank. He had defeated Mitakeumi in 12 of 16 previous career meetings, including the last seven straight.

Mitakeumi had gained a reputation for being consistently inconsistent, managing to stay in the sanyaku — the three ranks below yokozuna — for 10 straight tournaments, but never putting together enough wins to get over the wall to ozeki.

When asked about the promotion, Mitakeumi remained silent for a moment, then said, “It’s a long time coming.”

Waiting in the wings was No. 6 maegashira Abi, who slapped down No. 14 maegashira Kotonowaka in a battle of 11-3 wrestlers, a victory which would have earned him a place in the championship playoff had Terunofuji defeated Mitakeumi.

While missing a chance for a first-ever title, Abi’s exploits did not go unnoticed, as he received the Outstanding Performance Award. For his part, Kotonowaka was awarded the Fighting Spirit Prize.

Finishing up a dismal tournament was ozeki Shodai, who threw down No. 5 maegashira Chiyoshoma to finish with a 6-9 record — even though he didn’t have to face Terunofuji.

Both he and fellow ozeki Takakeisho, who withdrew on the fourth day due to injury, will be under kadoban status for the March tournament, meaning each will need a majority of wins to retain his rank.

Meanwhile, No. 1 maegashira Wakatakakage finished up a significant tournament for his family with a win over No. 5 maegashira Onosho to finish 9-6 — the same record posted by older brother No. 15 maegashira Wakamotoharu in his makuuchi division debut.

The two are the 12th siblings in sumo history to compete in the top division at the same time.

With the two komusubi (Meisei and Daieisho) both posting losing records, Wakatakakage can expect a return to the sanyaku after an absence of three tournaments.

In a match with nothing but pride on the line, Daieisho (7-8) quickly shuffled out Meisei (5-10). The other sekiwake, Takanosho, won his final match to also finish 7-8.