Former ozeki Terunofuji made a stunning comeback to the top division by clinching the July Grand Sumo Tournament with a final-day victory over sekiwake Mitakeumi.
By winning the penultimate bout on Day 15, the 28-year-old, fighting as a rank-and-file No. 17 maegashira, finished with a 13-2 record at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan and avoided a tiebreaking playoff, reports The Japan Times.
A loss would have seen the Mongolian fall into a three-way tie with Mitakeumi (11-4) and ozeki Asanoyama (12-3), winner of the day’s final bout against sekiwake Shodai (11-4).
After missing four straight grand tournaments, he began his comeback last year in March’s Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in the sumo world’s second-lowest tier, the jonidan division, where he had bottomed out at No. 48.
The newly crowned champion gave credit to his family, stablemates and stablemaster Isegahama for their encouragement during his long climb back through the ranks after he had considered retiring on several occasions.
“When I went down the ranks, there were people who were rooting for me: my family, my stablemaster, and all the members of my stable. Thanks to their support I was able to come back,” he said.
“So many things have happened, but at the very end, I finally faced this day. I believed this day would come where I could smile, that if I worked hard, I would be rewarded.”
Following the injury withdrawal of yokozuna and one-time tournament leader Hakuho after Day 12, the title had looked like a two-horse race between Terunofuji and Asanoyama.
The July meet was the first grand tournament held in four months following the cancellation of May’s event due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It was moved from its traditional location in Nagoya to cut down on travel during the pandemic.
Ryogoku Kokugikan had been kept to a quarter of its capacity to prevent the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.