Early Wednesday in Tokyo, it was announced that the Sumo Assocation had promoted Terunofuji back to the rank of Ozeki, the second highest in sumo. This achievement crowned one of the most unbelievable come-back stories ever in the world of sports. After becoming injured in July of 2017, Terunofuji struggled. He was battling knee injuries, diabetes, and seemed to have convinced himself that it was over. In September of 2017, he lost his Ozeki rank, and plummeted down the banzuke. With his damaged knees, he could not really compete, and appeared to be on the fast road to retirement.
But all during 2018, he was working, struggling, to rebuild his body and find some way to return. He re-entered competition in March of 2019. By this time his rank was Jonidan 48, a humbling mark for a man who was at one point an unstoppable force of sumo. But he took every competitor, and fought them with strength and skill. It was clear that the revised Terunofuji was more focused, his movements more efficient and careful. His sumo skills were excellent, and improving every tournament. It was plain to see, in spite of his damaged body, the Ozeki fire was still burning. He quickly moved through the lower divisions, capping his return to the salaried ranks with a perfect 7-0 Makushita yusho in November of 2019.
His debut tournament in Juryo, he took the yusho again with a 13-2 record from close to the bottom of the Juryo ranks. He followed that with a 10-5 from Juryo 3, earning his return to the top division. As if to announce he was not even close to done, he took the July 2020 Emperor’s cup with a 13-2 yusho from the bottom of the banzuke. Since that tournament, he has been on an absolute tear, and finished his Ozeki bid with a 3rd yusho this past March. We all know his knees are not going to last. They are scarcely little more than lumps of scar tissue held together with a brace and bandages. But until the day he finally blows his knees up, he’s going to fight like the force of sumo he is. I note with some amusement that Terunofuji has not faced a Yokozuna since his return to the top division. Normally Hakuho makes a point of “breaking in” any upstart. But given their history, he may feel somewhat differently about Terunofuji (9-4 favoring Hakuho, but all matches are prior to his return).
The sumo world tends to take some notice of these promotion moments, and what the newly promoted rikishi say as they accept their new rank. Terunofuji kept it focused and brief, saying “I humbly accept. I sincerely thank you”.
Team Tachiai congratulates Ozeki Terunofuji. A powerful and inspiring comeback under the toughest of conditions.
Its a rare day indeed when one of my “Always regrettable” predictions comes to pass. I had picked Terunofuji for the cup prior to the tournament, and he delivered. This punctuates his climb back to Ozeki in absolutely grand fashion, and probably marks a “top” for his sumo career. I am very happy for him, and hope he gets a chance to savor it with all of his heya-mates who, I think, really did everything they could to help him get to this day of days. There are plenty of fans across the sumo world who are looking for Terunofuji to campaign for the rope. It would be a fascinating development. But we know that during this March tournament, Terunofuji re-injured at least one knee, and has been getting daily medical treatment to keep himself going. As Herouth pointed out when hits all began back in Jonidan. It’s clear that Terunofuji’s fighting spirit would carry on long after his knees has given up. We hope he can heal up and return healthy and strong for May. But for today, it’s celebration at Isegahama, and rightfully so. I hope that they make an exception to the COVID restrictions, and Shunba can attend the party.
Tokushoryu defeats Kotoshoho – Well, Kotoshoho did manage to get one win by coming back form kyujo. Also, Tokushoryu minimized his make-koshi to 7-8. The match was traditional Tokushoryu, giving way following the tachiai, and dumping his opponent at the edge. I guess Kotoshoho did not practice that one. Go get healed up, Kotoshoho.
Hidenoumi defeats Hoshoryu – This is possibly some of the best sumo of the entire basho. Hidenoumi stayed calm, absorbed everything Hoshoryu tried, and just wore him down. Both are kachi-koshi, so complimented to them for a solid tournament and some great sumo.
Tobizaru defeats Kaisei – Well, mini-henka from Tobizarum gets him enough leverage to get control of Kaisei’s big body. Tobizaru gets a bit of a spin going and rolls Kaisei to the clay to improved to 10-5. Tobizaru has a fair amount of potential. He just needs to be careful with the gimmick sumo, as it can rob you of the fundamentals.
Daiamami defeats Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka worked hard to make this an oshi-zumo match, but Daiamami would not follow suit. Under a series of Kotonowaka thrusts and hits, Daiamami kept working that right hand inside. That Daiamami right hand was the key to the win, and he improves to 9-6 to finish Haru.
Kagayaki defeats Kotoeko – Kagayaki wrapped Kotoeko early, and then kept his feet wide, bracketing Kotoeko’s stance. With Kagayaki in solid sumo form, Kotoeko did not have many options, and was forced out. Kagayaki improves to 6-9 to end Haru.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Tamawashi – Terutsuyoshi hops to the side at the tachiai, and engages laterally and low. Tamawashi has few defensive options, and not nearly enough room on the dohyo to implement them. It was a rapid trip to the tawara, as Terutsuyoshi picks up his kachi-koshi win on the final day.
Midorifuji defeats Okinoumi – When Okinoumi is hurt, he really can’t do much with his sumo. Today it was Midorifuji to show us some really good sumo, and put Okinoumi for a win. The oshidashi lifts Midorifuji to a final score 5-10.
Myogiryu defeats Ryuden – I look at Ryuden, and just hope he can get healed up and come back strong in May. Myogiryu was absolutely solid today, and lost no ground to Ryuden in spite of Ryuden’s repeated attacks. Myogiryu improves to 7-8.
Chiyotairyu defeats Shimanoumi – Another traditional Chiyotairyu bout, strong opening blast with the cannonball tachiai, into an immediate slap down. Chiyotairyu improves to 6-9.
Meisei defeats Tsurugisho – Surprisingly good mawashi battle, which netted Meisei the kanto-sho (fighting spirit). Once Meisei got him upright, Tsurugisho could not apply much pressure to stop Meisei’s slow advance to the bales. Meisei ends March 10-5.
Wakatakakage defeats Hokutofuji – Wakatakakage’s hit and shift sent Hokutofuji most of the distance to the west side bales, and a quick body shove followed up to send Hokutofuji out. Wakatakakage gets the gino-sho (technique), thought I did not think of much of today’s technique. He finishes March 10-5.
Chiyoshoma defeats Onosho – Chiyoshoma did not get a Darwin match, even though he was eligible. Instead he got to fight a very poorly performing Onosho. As a long term sumo fan, I am not used to seeing this kind of sumo from Chiyoshoma. No tricks, no henka, just straight ahead sumo. With the win today he is kachi-koshi, and I am happy he could do it with good form.
Kiribayama defeats Takarafuji – I am certain that Takarafuji is delighted this basho has ended. He sometimes has real performance problems, and suffers double digit losses, such as this March. As the two were fighting, they became a tangle of arms and legs at the bales, and Takarafuji dropped backwards to the clay. Kimarite was reported as okurihikiotoshi, or the seldom seen “rear pull down”. Kiribayama improves to 7-8.
Daieisho defeats Akiseyama – The first Darwin match goes to Daieisho, who completes a pretty impressive recovery to kachi-koshi from a cold start of 1-5. Daieisho kachi-koshi, Akiseyama make-koshi.
Mitakeumi defeats Ichinojo – Second Darwin match! Ichinojo goes soft as soon as Mitakeumi gets the advantage, and hands the Original Tadpole his 8th win for kachi-koshi.
Aoiyama defeats Takayasu – Takayasu finishes with a 1-4 record for act 3. He did, in essence, throw away the yusho. I have had some fans on Twitter and here on Tachiai suggest he just “choked”. I think we may come to find out that he re-injured either the elbow or the knee in the day 10 to 12 range. Aoiyama improves to 11-4, wins the kanto-sho (fighting spirit) prize, completes a very genki Haru.
Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Takanosho wins the final Darwin match, and all of the san’yaku who were “on the bubble” lock down their ranks on the final day. Tochinoshin got the better of the tachiai, but left his body wide open. Takanosho counter attacks straight at center-mass, and Tochinoshin is out 3 steps later. Takanosho improves to 8-7 and is kachi-koshi. Tochinoshin down to 7-8 and is make-koshi.
Terunofuji defeats Takakeisho – The big match, it was Takakeisho who took the early advantage. Terunofuji looked to my eye to set up to take the first step back, in exchange for landing a hold anywhere on Takakeisho’s body. It was only successful for a moment, but it was enough to open Takakeisho’s body. Terunofuji attacked center mass and drove Takakeisho back, and on the second shove, out. Terunofuji finishes Haru 12-3, takes home the Emperor’s cup, wins the shukun-sho (outstanding performance) priz, and a promotion to Ozeki. Not sure what else they could award the man, but I am sure he deserved it. He finished the ultimate sumo comeback story strong, and was utterly victorious.
Asanoyama defeats Shodai – Oh, one last matter to conclude while Terunofuji has his hair re-built. It was Asanoyama’s job to send Shodai home kadoban, and he made it happen. Again we saw Asanoyama pass on 2 chances to dominate the match, as he was solely focused on getting his preferred grip. Once Asanoyama’s left hand was in place, he was in business. His finishing uwatenage sealed the deal for Shodai, and the tate-gyoji who took a fall. Asanoyama finishes Haru 10-5.
Thus ends our coverage of the Haru basho action. Thank you, dear readers, for sharing your time with us, reading our posts, and taking the time to comment. Team Tachiai does this for the love of the sport, and we appreciate you coming along with us for this March tournament.
Day 14 was quite the gift to sumo fans. Just about everything that needed to happen to set up a chaotic and high-stakes final day came to pass. Terunofuji has sole possession of the lead, followed by 3 strong contenders. Should Terunofuji win his day 15 against Grand Tadpole Takakeisho, he takes home the cup. If he falls, there could be some kind of wild playoff. It is certain that the yusho winner will have no higher than a 12-3 record this March, and possibly a rare 11-4, should Terunofuji lose on the final day.
In addition to the yusho race drama to be settled in the latter half of the final day, there are 3 Darwin matches, where two 7-7 rikishi face off. The winner finishes kachi-koshi, and the loser make-koshi. There could have been 4, but the schedule just did not work out to set it up.
Yutakayama finally owned up to the severity of his arm injury and went kyujo. He will finish March 4-11, and be punted well down the banzuke deep into Juryo.
Kotoeko defeats Akiseyama – Kotoeko barrows Kotoshogiku’s gaburi-yori to belly-bump Akiseyama over the bails, and send him to a day 15 Darwin match. Kotoeko improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi.
Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Kaisei avoids the Darwin match by taking Chiyotairyu into a belt battle, and wearing him down. Chiyotairyu had superior hand and body position through most of the match, but there was just too much Kaisei to move. There are in fact times when being enormous is a valid sumo strategy. Kaisei improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi for March.
Chiyoshoma defeats Kotoshoho – Chiyoshoma kept his focus center mass, and kept moving forward. Save the first win, Kotoshoho has had no success with his return from kyujo. Chiyoshoma ends 7-7 and will be part of the Darwin match series.
Tsurugisho defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji was able to get a double inside grip, but is too hurt to do very much with it. Nothing Midorifuji tried, including a leg trip, had much of an effect. Tsurugisho’s win improves his score to 9-5
Daiamami defeats Hoshoryu – Daiamami avoids a Darwin match on Sunday. His left hand outside grip was the key to his win, as it shut down a number of Hoshoryu’s attack options. Both end the day 8-6.
Tochinoshin defeats Hidenoumi – Hidenoumi gave it his all, but was out powered by Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin had a solid right hand inside grip, but could not do too much with it, as his damaged right knee prevents him from pivoting with power to that side. He had to settle for a yorikiri, and improving to 7-7 to join the Darwin crew.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Kagayaki – Terutsuyoshi joins the crowd eligible for a Darwin match with his win over flagging Kagayaki. Kagayaki opened strong, and had Terutsuyoshi on the run. But Terutsuyoshi was able to apply just enough torque at the edge to send Kakgayaki to the clay first.
Meisei defeats Tamawashi – Their thrusting battle fell apart when Tamawashi’s volley went wide, and Meisei was able to quickly duck behind and run Tamawashi to the tawara, escorting him out. Meisei improves to 9-5.
Hokutofuji defeats Ryuden – Hokutofuji set up a strong right hand outside grip, and then used his body as a wall to incrementally reduce the ring for Ryuden, forcing him out step by step. Ryuden avoids Darwin by losing to Hokutofuji, and reaching make-koshi.
Aoiyama defeats Wakatakakage – Wakatakakage came in strong, but ran face-first into Aoiyama’s thrusting attack. Wakatakakage attempted to respond, but found his right arm entangled as Aoiyama pivoted and brought him to the clay. Aoiyama improves to 10-4, and remains in the yusho race.
Takarafuji defeats Okinoumi – Takarafuji set up a right hand frontal grip early, and rather than “defend and extend” he chose to close early, taking Okinoumi immediately out by yorikiri. Both end the day with 3-11 records.
Onosho defeats Shimanoumi – Onosho was again balanced too far forward on the second step out of the tachiai, but Shimanoumi was holding him up in an attempt to move forward. Onosho responded with a solid thrusting attack, and sent Shimanoumi back and out in 4 steps. Both end the day 4-10.
Tobizaru defeats Takayasu – Takayasu continues to crumble, winning just 1 of his last 4. Much as his day 13 match against Wakatakakage, there were multiple spots where he failed to exploit a route to finishing Tobizaru. Takayasu lost when Tobizaru was able to twist just enough during Takayasu’s oshidashi to bring Takayasu down first. Takayasu, man, you could have just kept him in the center of the dohyo and worn his ass down until he begged you to let him drop.
Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Kiribayama was able to take this match chest to chest, shutting down Daieisho’s thrusting attack. The results were a well timed uwatenage that sends Daieisho to 7-7, and into the Darwin crew for day 15.
Mitakeumi defeats Myogiryu – Mitakeumi set up an armpit attack at the tachiai, and it instantly cut at least half of Myogiryu forward power. Feeling a lack of return pressure, Mitakeumi went forward, taking Myogiryu out, improving to 7-7. Mitakeumi gets to join the Darwin match group for day 15.
Takanosho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo, for reasons I am sure no one can explain, immediately tries to pull against Takanosho. Takanosho is Sekiwake for a reason, and reacts to the release of resistance, and rushes ahead, driving Ichinojo from the ring. Both end the day 7-7, and join the Darwin list.
Takakeisho defeats Shodai – Shodai, what the hell? He leaves his chest wide open, inviting Takakeisho to deliver maximum force. Of course, Takakeisho obliges, and the next thing you know, Shodai is tossed like a cork on a raging ocean and finds himself out and down. 7-7 record for Shodai, then. He does not get to join the Darwin group. As an Ozeki, he will determine his fate against Asanoyama on day 15. Good luck.
Terunofuji defeats Asanoyama – In the final match of the day, Terunofuji out-classes Ozeki Asanoyama to take sole possession of the yusho lead. This match beautifully demonstrates not only just how much Terunofuji’s sumo has evolved, but how Asanoyama is highly dependent on a narrow range of positions and grips. True, he is good at getting that set up most days. But Terunofuji overwhelms Asanoyama, and shows him out. With a win like that, there is zero chance they would not promote Terunofuji, he’s the strongest, most capable man in active competition right now.
Of course, the scheudlers will try to push the yusho decision to late on the final day, if possible. For that to work out, we need to have Takayasu and Terunofuji either both win or both lose today. We now know, entering the final weekend, that Takakeisho does in fact clear kadoban in March, and that Terunofuji is likely to resume his Ozeki rank, completing one of the most astounding recoveries in the history of sports. While I doubt that it will get much coverage outside of sumo fandom, a note to our readers – you are watching rarefied history unfolding before our eyes.
The last story line – the yusho, is very much in question now. Both Takayasu and Terunofuji enter day 14 with 10 wins. This means the yusho winner will have a score no better than 12-3, and that’s not overly strong. But hey, it’s a transition period. We have a group of 5 rikishi, including Takakiesho and Asanoyama one win behind. Should the unexpected take place, and both leaders lose on day 14, the final day could be a multi-way barnyard brawl for the Emperor’s cup. Tachiai readers know how much I love a good doom-battle between giant men, each competing for a styrofoam macaron. I know it’s hard on fans of Takayasu and Terunofuji, but as always the strongest man with the best sumo will rise to the top. I have absolute certainty that the best rikishi will carry the day, and hoist the hardware at the end of day 15.
Akiseyama vs Kotoeko – The winner of this match flat out gets their kachi-koshi, the loser gets to be a candidate for a Darwin match on Sunday. Good luck guys, you have both competed well this march.
Chiyotairyu vs Kaisei – A Kaisei win today, and he reaches the safety of 8. A loss to make-koshi Chiyotairyu, and it’s Darwin time for the big Brazilian. Kaisei holds a 15-5 career advantage.
Chiyoshoma vs Kotoshoho – Sucks to be Chiyoshoma today. If you win, you get to join a rather generous group of Darwin candidates, if you lose you are make-kosh, from a guy who was kyujo for most of the basho.
Midorifuji vs Tsurugisho – Man, Midorifuji, will you please just go kyujo and get that back worked on before you end up face down on the clay while they spend time declaring Tsurugisho the winner, then figuring out what to do?
Daiamami vs Hoshoryu – I think we know the theme for today, Daiamami is next in the breech. He either wins against a really genki Hoshoryu, or joins the group headed for Darwin matches.
Kotonowaka vs Yutakayama – This one is likely being used to determine just how far down the banzuke they are going to punt Yutakayama for May. It makes me sad as when he’s healthy he’s a solid rikishi. He could end the day 4-10.
Tochinoshin vs Hidenoumi – Sure, lets throw in a first time match where a couple of older rikishi face off. Its Tochinoshin’s turn in the breech, and he either takes him make-koshi at the hands of a rikishi who has failed to get a winning record in the top division for 52 basho (congrats to Hidenoumi for not making it 53), or he qualifies for a day 15 Darwin match.
Terutsuyoshi vs Kagayaki – Terutsuyoshi’s turn in the breech, a win today over already make-koshi Kagayaki will qualify for a Darwin match on day 15.
Meisei vs Tamawashi – In a break from the theme, we get to see if Meisei can extend his record to 9 wins this March in a match against Tamawashi, who is already make-koshi, and won their only prior contest.
Hokutofuji vs Ryuden – Ryuden looks hurt, and has been struggling all March. He fights a genki, kachi-koshi man 8 ranks higher in the banzuke (Hokutofuji) for a chance to qualify into the Darwin group on day 15.
Aoiyama vs Wakatakakage – This match is to narrow the group 1 win behind the leaders. I would normally pick Aoiyama with ease, but given Wakatakakage’s day 13 performance, I am sure he is still pumped up from beating yusho race leader Takayasu.
Takarafuji vs Okinoumi – Oh man, that an ominous match. Two long serving vets, each with disastrous make-koshi records. I don’t really care who wins this one, I just want them to come back in May in far better form.
Shimanoumi vs Onosho – Almost as grim are these two younger rikishi with disastrous records from the joi-jin. With 19 losses between them before day 14, you know they are in for some serious downward pressure in their Natsu rank.
Takayasu vs Tobizaru – Dear Takayasu, pull it together man. You looked hurt on day 13, and you looked like you were a bit worn out. Two more matches, and you can take your first yusho. Do not underestimate Tobizaru. He seems to have absorbed some Yoshikaze like sumo, and that means he can beat anyone on the right day.
Kiribayama vs Daieisho – At this point, we all want to know if Daieisho is going to be able to rally from that horrible 1-5 start and finish March with a kachi-koshi. A loss today to Kiribayama today means that he too would join the Darwin group.
Myogiryu vs Mitakeumi – Two men in the breech at once! The loser is make-koshi, the winner joins the Darwin group.
Ichinojo vs Takanosho – Great sorting match, with two men in the breech again. It’s either Ichinojo with a kachi-koshi and Takanosho make-koshi, or both men join the Darwin group.
Shodai vs Takakeisho – Shodai in the breech next, if he loses today to Takakeisho (who holds a 7-5 career advantage), he’s in the Darwin group as well. If he wins, he’s safe with 8.
Terunofuji vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama has never beaten Terunofuji. But should he manage to do so today, it would blow the yusho race wide open should Takayasu also lose. A lot hinges on the final bout of today, and the pressure is going to be amazing.