He’s back!

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.

  1. 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.

The never ending bout: Terunofuji v Ichinojo in January 2015

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.

A great bout between Terunofuji and ozeki Kotoshogiku (Osaka 2015)

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:

Zabuton fly! Yokozuna Hakuho v Terunofuji, Osaka 2015

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:

The first injury. Terunofuji v Kisenosato, Aki 2015

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.

Not looking good. Terunofuji v Kyokushuho, January 2016

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:

Terunofuji woes continued during his bout against yokozuna Kakuryu. Osaka 2017

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?

What next for Terunofuji?

Next months will provide us decisive answers. But, for once, the horizon is looking a bit brighter.

Banzuke prediction for Haru 2020

The first basho has been pretty eventful, with a yusho deciding bout on senshuraku, a surprise winner, and, unfortunately, injuries and a big name retirement – Goeido.

The dust has vanished by now, so this should be a good opportunity to try to guess next basho’s banzuke !

First of all, let’s have a look back at last basho’s banzuke:

Who will drop out ?

How to demote an injured rikishi hasn’t always a clear-cut answer. However, having seen Tomokaze demoted to juryo in January hints at subsequent demotions for Kotoyuki (M3, 0-0-15) and Meisei (M5, 1-7-7). Apart from these inevitable downfalls, everybody looks to have hold up his own, except Kotoeko, whose 2-13 record asks for an obivous demotion – let’s hope he can bounce back.

Who will join maku’uchi ? Lower maegashira issues

Firstly, it’s important to note that, due to Goeido’s retirement, another slot will be opened at maku’uchi’s bottom. I wonder when’s the last time we had a maegashira 18 in the top division…

Just retired: former ozeki Goeido, now Takekuma

It means that the three demotions and Goeido’s retirement will provide four spots. I think the solution is quite easy this time – Nishikigi and Daimami’s impressive 11-4 records will bring them back to maku’uchi, whereas Kotonowaka and Hidenoumi’s 8-7 at juryo 2 has brought uncertainty, but they seem the ideal candidates to complete our banzuke. Kotonowaka would then be shin-maku’uchi.

Set for his maku’uchi debut ? Kotonowaka

Chiyoshoma (J1, 7-8), Wakatakakage (J5, 9-6), Daishoho (J5, 9-6) and Terunofuji (J13, 13-2) all seem to have narrowly missed their chance. But they will all be in good position to storm back to maku’uchi in May.

The middle of the pack – mid maegashira issued

Having determined who will (most likely) be demoted and promoted, let’s not see how our banzuke should shape up:

Our answers about promotions have settled a few spots at the bottom of the banzuke.

The middle of the banzuke has been pretty hard to draw. If you acknowledge Ryuden, Yutakayama and Kagayaki are due to fill some upper spots, and seeing a bunch of make-kochi starting from M9, the result looks a bit artificial.

I surprised myself, in particular, moving Aoiyama down to quite a few slots, despite an afwul 4-11 record at M8 – he finds himself no lower than M12.

Some rikishi (Takanosho, Sadanoumi, both 7-8) haven’t lost a single rank – they’ve just been moved from East to West.

Anyway, I think the banzuke has a pretty decent configuration.

The san’yaku battle – upper banzuke issues

Let’s finish our topic in original fashion – with the top ranks !

Both yokozuna, having won just one bout, should just retain their ranks. As a consequence, Kakuryu, the west yokozuna, will be marked as both yokozuna and ozeki – Takakeisho is the only remaining ozeki after Goeido’s retirement.

Asanoyama failed to get ozeki promotion but has secured his east sekiwake slot with a 10-5 performance.

The debate on who will fill the remaining places is wide open, and guessing right is no simple task. Three candidates are needed after Takayasu, Abi and Daieisho’s make kochi. All three are easy guesses, would I say – Endo (M1, 9-6), Hokutofuji (M2, 11-4) and Shodai (M4, 13-2).

Some believe Tokoshoryu will reach san’yaku. However, I’m quite certain he won’t be promoted that far. Remember Kyokutenho, back in 2012 ? He won the yusho at M7, with a 12-3 record – and ended up at maegashira 1.

Last basho’s surprise winner: Tokushoryu (left)

I might have promoted him a bit too shily, though…

Anyway, the order of Endo, Hokutofuji and Shodai’s promotion is anyone’s guess. I believe the key here is to have in mind that the board is looking for ozeki candidates – the sooner, the better. And I tend to believe Hokutofuji, of the three, will be first on their minds – hence, he’ll grab the second sekiwake slot. And finally, Shodai’s impressive 13-2 record should outclass Endo’s 9-6 result at M1.

What’s your opinion on this banzuke ?

Christmas quiz – the answers

1. How many honbasho have been won by a foreign-born rikishi ?

d. Four : Tamawashi in January, Hakuho in March and November ; Kakuryu in July.

Tamawashi was the surprise winner in January

2. Nobody won more bouts than Asanoyama in 2019. Who finished runner up ?

a. Abi, with 55. Hakuho and Hokutofuji finished with 51 wins, Mitakeumi with 48.

3. And many wins have notched all three yokozuna combined ?

c. 92.  Kakuryu managed to get 41 wins (one yusho), and Hakuho 51 (two yushos). Kisenosato announced his retirement after losing the first three bouts of the January tournament.

49 yusho combined: yokozuna Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

4. How many shin-makuuchi rikishis (newly promoted wrestlers to the top division) have we seen in 2019 ?

c. Eight : None in Hatsu ; Tomokaze, Terutsuyoshi and Daishoho in Haru ; Shimanoumi and Enho in Natsu ; Takagenji in Nagoya ; Tsurugisho in Aki ; Wakatakakage in Kyushu

Wakatakakage Atsushi

5. How many rikishi have made their san’yaku debut in 2019 ?

Note : we’re only talking about rikishi who have never, ever been in san’yaku before 2019 !

b. Four : Hokutofuji in March ; Abi and Ryuden in September ; Asanoyama in November.

6. What has been Enho’s record in makuuchi ?

d. 7-8 ; 9-6 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

Answer A is Shimanoumi’s record. Answer C is Terutsuyoshi’s record. Answer B is fictional.

7. Abi had a fine year 2019. Which of these statements is true ?

d. He managed six kachi koshi in 2019. He is the only makuuchi wrestler who achieved that.

8. Takakeisho had a mixed year 2019, having to cope with serious injuries. He did so quite impressively, however, going to a playoff in September, where he lost to Mitakeumi. Who was the last rikishi to lose a playoff in makuuchi ?

d. Goeido. Kakuryu lost a playoff in January 2014. Terunofuji lost a playoff in March 2017 for Kisenosato’s yokozuna debut. Ichonojo came close to winning in March 2019 with a 14-1 record but couldn’t match Hakuho’s 15-0 perfect record. Goeido spoiled a three wins lead to surrender the Aki 2017 yusho to Harumafuji, in a playoff. The yokozuna defeated the ozeki twice on senshuraku to leapfrog him.

Ozeki Goeido

9. Terutsuyoshi luckily escaped juryo demotion after the Natsu basho 2019. Sumo gods’ lenience paid off as he produced an astonishing 12-3 result in Nagoya, finishing runner up for his third makuuchi appearance. Who did better ?

d. Ichinojo

Goeido started his makuuchi career with an impressive 11-4 record in Aki 2007, but wasn’t runner up of the event. Hakuho finished runner up four tournaments after his debut, at the end of 2004. Terunofuji finished runner up in March 2015, a year after his debut.

Ichinojo famouslu finished runner up for his makuuchi debut. He produced a fearless 13-2 record, not without henka-ing Kisenosato and Kakuryu in the process.

10. How many foreign rikishi have made a makuuchi appearance in 2019 (having fought in at least one bout) ?

a. Ten : Hakuho, Kakuryu, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, Ichinojo, Aoiyama, Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Daishoho, Azumaryu. Takanoiwa was on the January banzuke but, having retired, did not compete in makuuchi in 2019.

11. Ishiura usually bounces from juryo to makuuchi, and from makuuchi to juryo. If M symbolizes makuuchi and J symbolizes juryo, how can one represent Ishiura’s year ?

a. J – M – M – J – M – M

12. What about Chiyomaru ?

d. J – J – M – M – J – M

Chiyomaru Kazuki

13. Azumaryu made a makuuchi return during the Aki basho. He last appeared in makuuchi in…

b. 2014. He also made one appearance during the Natsu basho 2013.

14. Which one of these rikishi have earned two kinboshi in 2019 ?

b. Tomokaze

Nishikigi defeated Kakuryu in January. He had a fusen-sho win over Kisenosato, which does not count as a kinboshi. Asanoyama defeated Kakuryu during the Aki basho. Myogiryu defeated Kakuryu during the Natsu basho. Tomokaze defeated Kakuryu in Nagoya and Aki.

Tomokaze Yuta (right)

15. Which one of these wrestlers have produced six make kochi this year ?

c. Nishikigi, with 7-8, 4-11, 5-10, 6-9, 6-9 and 4-11 records. As a consequence, he’ll be demoted to juryo in January 2020.

Kagayaki had two winning in March and November, while Tochiozan ended up in Juryo in November, where he bounced back with a 10-5 record. Kotoshogiku had just one kachi koshi, in March when he ended up 11-4.

Christmas quiz !

We’d like to greet our great readers with a quiz focusing on the 2019 year in makuuchi. I hope everybody will enjoy it and that this thread will remind us some of the best moments in a tormented year 2019.

Good luck to all, and Merry Christmas !

1. How many honbasho have been won by a foreign-born rikishi ?

a. One

b. Two

c. Three

d. Four

2. Nobody won more bouts than Asanoyama in 2019. Who finished runner up ?

a. Abi

b. Hakuho

c. Hokutofuji

d. Mitakeumi

Asanoyama Hideki

3. And many wins have notched all three yokozuna combined ?

a. 72

b. 82

c. 92

d. 102

4. How many shin-makuuchi rikishis (newly promoted wrestlers to the top division) have we seen in 2019 ?

a. Four

b. Six

c. Eight

d. Ten

5. How many rikishi have made their san’yaku debut in 2019 ?

Note : we’re only talking about rikishi who have never, ever been in san’yaku before 2019 !

a. Two

b. Four

c. Six

d. Eight

6. What has been Enho’s record in makuuchi ?

a. 10-5 ; 8-7 ; 5-10 ; 6-9

b. 8-7 ; 7-8 ; 10-5 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

c. 6-9 ; 6-9 ; 12-3 ; 4-11 ; 8-7

d. 7-8 ; 9-6 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

Enho Akira

7. Abi had a fine year 2019. Which of these statements is true ?

a. He made his makuuchi debut in March 2018

b. He managed double digits once in 2019

c. He made his sekiwake debut in 2019

d. He managed six kachi koshi in 2019

Abi Masatora

8. Takakeisho had a mixed year 2019, having to cope with serious injuries. He did so quite impressively, however, going to a playoff in September, where he lost to Mitakeumi. Who was the last rikishi to lose a playoff in makuuchi ?

a. Kakuryu

b. Terunofuji

c. Ichinojo

d. Goeido

Takakeisho Mitsunobu

9. Terutsuyoshi luckily escaped juryo demotion after the Natsu basho 2019. Sumo gods’ lenience paid off as he produced an astonishing 12-3 result in Nagoya, finishing runner up for his third makuuchi appearance. Who did better ?

a. Goeido

b. Hakuho

c. Terunofuji

d. Ichinojo

Terutsuyoshi Shoki

10. How many foreign rikishi have made a makuuchi appearance in 2019 (having fought in at least one bout) ?

a. Ten

b. Twelve

c. Fourteen

d. Sixteen

11. Ishiura usually bounces from juryo to makuuchi, and from makuuchi to juryo. If M symbolizes makuuchi and J symbolizes juryo, how can one represent Ishiura’s year ?

a. J – M – M – J – M – M

b. M – J – J – M – J – M

c.  J – M – J – M – J – M

d. M – M – J – M – J – M

Ishiura Masakatsu

12. What about Chiyomaru ?

a. J – M – J – J – M – M

b. M – M – J – M – J – M

c. M – J – J – J – M – M

d. J – J – M – M – J – M

13. Azumaryu made a makuuchi return during the Aki basho. He last appeared in makuuchi in…

a. 2013

b. 2014

c. 2015

d. 2016

14. Which one of these rikishi have earned two kinboshi in 2019 ?

a. Nishikigi

b. Tomokaze

c. Asanoyama

d. Myogiryu

15. Which one of these wrestlers have produced six make kochi this year ?

a. Tochiozan

b. Kotoshogiku

c. Nishikigi

d. Kagayaki