Terunofuji Captures 9th Title With Win in New Year Tourney Playoff

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yokozuna Terunofuji, left, defeats sekiwake Kotonowaka in a playoff to win the Emperor’s Cup on Sunday at the New Year Tournament in Tokyo.

Yokozuna Terunofuji showed there is still a lot of life left in his battered body.

The oft-injured Mongolian showed the power that elevated him to sumo’s highest rank in winning his ninth career title with a victory in a championship playoff over sekiwake Kotonowaka at the New Year Grand Tournament on Sunday.

“After winning the tournament last year, my injuries did not get better, but I worked hard every day to keep my spirits up,” Terunofuji said. “I’m glad I did it.”

Both Terunofuji and Kotonowaka, a third-generation wrestler, finished with 13-2 records after posting victories on the final day of the 15-day tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The tournament title was Terunofuji’s first since May last year and came amid a span dating back to November 2022 that included missing five full basho and most of another because of injury.

The 32-year-old has long seemed on the brink of retirement, only to defy the odds and come back strong, as he did over the past two weeks.

“Each time I win a championship, it has come after awhile,” Terunofuji said. “But I’m getting used to it.”

In the playoff, neither wrestler had an advantage on the jump-off, but the yokozuna sleekly slipped his left hand to an underarm belt hold, giving him the leverage to inch Kotonowaka to the edge and out of the ring.

While denied a first career title, Kotonowaka can find consolation in the fact that he will be promoted to the second-highest rank of ozeki, having met the general criteria of 33 wins accumulated over three consecutive tournaments.

With that development, Kotonowaka surpasses his father, current stablemaster Sadogatake, who achieved a career-high rank of sekiwake as an active wrestler, also named Kotonowaka.

Next up for the son will be matching his grandfather, former yokozuna Kotozakura.

In his final regulation bout, Kotonowaka grabbed the belt of No. 4 maegashira Tobizaru and forced him down by pushing down on his head to notch his 13th win.

Terunofuji needed to follow that with a victory over ozeki Kirishima to force the playoff, and he did it in grand style. Stopping Kirishima’s charge and straightening him up, Terunofuji lifted him up and marched him to the edge before sending him sailing out.

Kirishima, who entered the tournament coming off a victory at the Kyushu tournament in November and with the possibility of earning promotion to yokozuna, finished a disappointing 11-4 and back at square one.

Kotonowaka also took home the Technique Prize, while No. 1 maegashira Wakamotoharu was awarded the Outstanding Performance Prize after compiling a 10-5 record and No. 15 maegashira Onosato won the Fighting Spirit Prize.