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.
Some quick hits from twitter to finish off!