The Sumo Scene / Makuuchi Newcomer’s Amazing Title Run While Defying Injury Evokes Images of Kisenosato’s ‘Miracle’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takerufuji celebrates with supporters on March 24 after overcoming an ankle injury at the Spring tournament in Osaka to become the first makuuchi-division debutante to win a tournament title in 110 years.

Takerufuji earned a place in the annals of sumo history when he won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament last month to become the first wrestler to win a championship in his makuuchi-division debut in 110 years.

The image of the young wrestler lifting the Emperor’s Cup after defying all expectations will be vividly remembered for years to come.

The fact that many thought he would miss the final day of the tournament due to a serious injury, only for him to take the ring and emerge victorious, served to add to the high drama of the occasion.

Takerufuji went into the 14th day of the tournament with a two-win lead over the closest competitors. A victory would have clinched the title with a day to spare. Instead, he lost to Asanoyama — and suffered a right ankle injury in the process.

He was taken from the floor of the arena in a wheelchair, and transported directly to a hospital by ambulance. Few, if any, believed he would be back in action the following day.

But there was Takerufuji, bravely stepping up into the ring on the final  day with the title on the line.

Facing him was Gonoyama, like Takerufuji a product of the college sumo system.

Not to be denied, Takerufuji fiercely pushed his opponent out of the ring to achieve a feat that had not been seen for more than a century.

“I didn’t want all that I have built up to go to waste,” Takerufuji said, adding that if he had pulled out of the match, “I would have regretted it forever.”

Hearing such remarks brought back memories of a “miracle” that I witnessed in the same Osaka ring exactly seven years ago.

That 2017 tournament marked the yokozuna debut of newly promoted Kisenosato (currently Nishonoseki stablemaster). After ripping off 12 straight wins to start the tournament, Kisenosato was dealt a defeat by Harumafuji in which he suffered a left chest injury that necessitated a trip to the hospital.

He put aside the pain to perform on the 14th day, only to be dealt a one-sided loss to Kakuryu. His scheduled opponent on the final day was then-ozeki Terunofuji, who was sitting alone in the lead. Most gave Kisenosato little chance.

But against the odds, the debilitated Kisenosato not only managed to defeat Terunofuji in the regulation bout, but again in a playoff for one of the most remarkable “come-from-behind” championships in history.

“I felt something like an invisible power,” said Kisenosato as he wiped away tears of joy, an indelible image that remains fresh to this day.

It is true that getting injured is largely out of one’s control.

But to have it occur so late in the same Spring tournament at the same Osaka venue and play a role in producing two history-making championships, I can’t help but wonder if the sumo gods are playing tricks on us.

That dramatic outcomes that would seem too unrealistic even for Hollywood actually come to life is the very reason that makes sumo interesting.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kisenosato wipes away tears after his dramatic victory in his yokozuna debut in Osaka in March 2017.