I could talk about Terunofuji the whole year, with no interruption. When I discovered the awesome sumo world, back in 2017, I decided to give myself a (short) background knowledge, and viewed each basho starting from 2015, on our Jason’s great channel. Not long came before I was in awe of Terunofuji’s skills.
The former ozeki is finally back in makuuchi after a long downfall, so this is a great opportunity to look back at his sometimes brillant career.
I would never thank enough Jason Harris’ great videos, from his YouTube channel. Recommending it to all sumo newbies or sumo fans in general is a no brainer.
- The rise
He did not enter maezumo following the makushita-tsukedashi, like Ichinojo did (Ichinojo started his career ranked Makushita 15, and, incredibly, was ranked sekiwake five tournaments later!). He went through the ranks, struggled a bit to pass the upper makushita hills (like youngsters Naya, Roga, Hoshoryu, did or have done recently), but once crossed, Terunofuji did not waste much time in juryo, spending just three basho before reaching makuuchi in early 2014.
That year was very respectable for him, not only adjusting to makuuchi’s demands, but slowly rising through the ranks, too. Actually, he produced a single make kochi, in September 2014, before reaching ozeki status.
The beginning of 2015 coincided with the start of a fine ozeki run, even if Terunofuji’s first basho of the year wasn’t that overwhelming – a respectable 8-7 was produced as maegashira 1.
With fellow Mongolian Ichonojo, Terunofuji produced, however, a very rare occurrence in sumo: a water break on the fourth minute of their endless bout! Incredibly, they repeated that very same feat in March.
Soon after, Terunofuji proved to be a very resilient rikishi, and pushing him out of the tawara was no easy tasks for his opponents. I recommend you to watch his bouts against Tochiozan and Kotoshogiku, from the Osaka basho. Both opponents’ face at the end of the bout are telling much about how stubborn the Mongolian’s defence was.
If Terunofuji’s yusho quest fell short in Osaka, he repeated that effort in May, and a final Harumafuji against Hakuho on senshuraku allowed the young Mongolian to leapfrog the dai yokozuna, and clinch his first – and last – yusho (12-3).
Ozeki promotion made no doubt, thanks, notably, to a great win against Hakuho in Osaka:
John Gunning predicted Terunofuji to be promoted to yokozuna by 2016, and it was hard to see how this could not happen…
2. A painful ozeki career
Sadly, it appeared the young hope’s yotsu sumo style was too demanding for his body, and his knees soon began to falter.
Well on his way to a second yusho in Aki 2015, he received a first blow at the outcome of a bout against Kisenosato. I do not dare imagine the extend of the damage suffered here:
Terunofuji managed to drag yokozuna Kakuryu to a playoff, but the grand champion avoided the embarassment of losing twice on senshuraku, and outclassed the ozeki to clinh the yusho. The year ended for Terunofuji with a somewhat indifferent 9-6 record. Indifferent was not typical for him, but the worst was to come.
2016 was a nightmarish year for the ozeki – not the only one, unfortunately. Basically, Terunofuji was fit every two basho; he ended up kadoban three times, and saved his rank on senshuraku in Nagoya, thanks to an original komatasukui win against Kaisei.
The Mongolian ended up the year with a miserable record of just 30 wins, including horrific 2-13 (in May) and 4-11 (in September) records.
Isegahama oyakata’s advice of not pulling out of tournaments at all, in order to keep good ring sense, was questionable – at best.
Again kadoban come March 2017, Terunofuji’s sudden revival came out of the blue, much to the pleasure of his fans.
Many Japanese fans would mostly remember his infamous henka on Kotoshogiku on day 14 in Osaka. Then 8-5, the native of Fukuoka region, then demoted to ozekiwake, was still in contention to regain his ozeki status, with an affordable last bout against Yoshikaze looming.
It is true that henka’s timing was not ideal, to say the least. “Outrageous” would be a better word. Without trying to excuse anyone, I’d point out the fact that Terunofuji was on course for his second yusho, and, unfortunately, reopened his knee injury while confronting yokozuna Kakuryu at the tachi-ai, on day 13:
The outcome of the basho is known to everyone, gravely injured Kisenosato still managing to defeat Terunofuji twice on senshuraku, and crown up his yokozuna debut. But both men were hurt to the good, and both never recovered.
In fact, Terunofuji’s fine 12-3 record the ensuing tournament was the last tournament he fully completed until… March 2019 – with the exception of a mediocre 6-9 tournament in juryo, in Osaka 2018.
Natsu basho 2017 was the last one where Terunofuji ended up runner up – three wins away from Hakuho’s 15-0 perfect record. Had he managed to seal both yusho in Osaka and Tokyo, the nightmare would have turned into a dream…
3. The fall
Terunofuji’s top career ended up here. His body couldn’t stand the efforts any more – apart from his knees, the Mongolian was reportedly suffering from diabetis and kidney stones.
Terunofuji fell from ozeki heaven, and was promptly demoted to makuuchi altogether. Finally, his oyakata took the decision to give him proper treatment. The Mongolian underwent surgery on both knees, and was allowed to fully recover before competing again.
As a consequence, he resumed his sumo career ranked jonidan 48 (!), in March 2019. Remarkably, it took him just five tournaments to regain the salaried ranks, in juryo – not without losing bouts in the process (three, to be precise), notably against Onojo, where he was fatally caught in a morozashi.
Each step forward inevitably raised questions if it would be the last. But his body hung on.
The real tests came in juryo at the beginning of 2020, though. A perfect start opened the perspectives of an incredible makuuchi return in just one basho, but losses to Nishikigi and Daiamami on days 14 and 15 showed an eventual top division return would be no park walk.
Darker clouds came the next tournament, in Osaka. His knees seemed hurt again mid basho, but Terunofuji showed up afterwards, and managed to secure a sufficient 10-5 record ranked juryo 3, sealing the long dreamed promotion to makuuchi.
Herouth believed his body shape would not guarantee him life in makuuchi. To be fair, Terunofuji is confronted to an unpleasant headhache:
- He struggles against ochi wrestlers – I have no idea how he would survive to dynamic rikishi like Ishiura
- He is way more comfortable when yotsu battles occur, but plays with his health doing so.
Which answers will the former ozeki find, on the way to his remarkable comeback? Will he survive in the top division, and perhaps even get close to sanyaku?
Next months will provide us decisive answers. But, for once, the horizon is looking a bit brighter.