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Heading into the Spring Basho, Terunofuji Has His Eye on the Prize

The lone yokozuna will be bidding for his 10th Emperor's Cup at the Spring Basho, but he will have to contend with new ozeki Kotonowaka.

Lone grand champion Terunofuji will be determined to win a coveted 10th elite-level championship title when the Spring Basho kicks off in Osaka on Sunday, March 10.

The 32-year-old Terunofuji tops the rankings for the March 10-24 tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Terunofuji captured his ninth Emperor's Cup in the January tournament when he went an impressive 13-2 and defeated then-sekiwake Kotonowaka in a playoff.

The Mongolian grappler has made no secret of his desire to win 10 championships in the elite makuuchi division, which would cement his place as a highly regarded yokozuna.

Spring Basho
Terunofuji (right) and Shodai participate in a training session on March 6 at Tokitsukaze stable in Osaka. (©SANKEI)

Given his history of injuries, which forced him to sit out all but one tournament in 2023, Terunofuji will be eager to secure his 10th Emperor's Cup sooner rather than later.

"I will compete with all my strength each day," Terunofuji said at a press conference ahead of the 15-day basho. 

He added, "I want to do my best one more time as I try to win back-to-back championships."

Spring Basho
Newly promoted ozeki Kotonowaka holds the banzuke, the chart showing the official rankings for the Spring Basho, on February 26. (KYODO)

Kotonowaka to Wrestle as an Ozeki for the First Time

The other big storyline of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament will be the ozeki debut of Kotonowaka, the son of former sekiwake Kotonowaka Terumasa and grandson of former yokozuna Kotozakura.

Kotonowaka's 33 wins in his previous three tournaments proved he was worthy of promotion to sumo's second-highest rank where he will join Takakeisho and Mongolians Hoshoryu and Kirishima.

"I will do my best to fight a brand of sumo that will make my supporters happy," said Kotonowaka, a 26-year-old native of Chiba Prefecture.

Hoshoryu and Kirishima will both be strong title contenders after solid performances in the previous tournament in January. 

A Goal for the Spring Basho: Kirishima Targeting His Third Emperor's Cup

Kirishima, who will be bidding for this third Emperor's Cup,  went 11-4 while Hoshoryu, a one-time championship winner, went 10-4-1 after pulling out with injury on the final day.

Takakeisho withdrew on the fourth day of the New Year tourney and goes into the Spring Basho as a kadoban ozeki, meaning he needs at least eight wins to maintain his rank. It will be the eighth time in his career that Takakeisho is relegation-threatened.

Spring Basho
Wakamotoharu (KYODO)

Fighting as a top maegashira, Wakamotoharu notched a 10-5 record in the January meet and took home the Outstanding Performance Award. 

For his efforts, Wakamotoharu has been promoted to sekiwake for the March tourney where he joins Daieisho.

Wakamotoharu previously held the sekiwake rank in November 2023. It took him two tournaments to return to sekiwake and the sanyaku (three-highest) ranks.

Spring Basho
Makuuchi division debutant Takerufuji (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Takerufuji Awaits Makuuchi Division Debut

Further down the ranks, sumo fans will be keen to watch the makuuchi division debut of up-and-coming grappler Takerufuji.

The Isegahama stable wrestler will be fighting as a No 17 maegashira. A native of Aomori Prefecture, Takerufuji took only nine tournaments since his professional debut to reach the top division.

That ties the record for speed with former komusubi Jokoryu, who also reached the elite division in November of 2012 after just nine tournaments in the lower ranks.

Tamagaki to Oversee Miyagino Stable

Off the dohyo, it has been announced that sumo elder Tamagaki will take over the running of the Miyagino stable after former yokozuna Hakuho was penalized for repeated acts of violence by his protege Hokuseiho, who was forced to retire.

The 59-year-old Tamagaki fought as Tamanohana and reached the rank of komusubi back in the 1990s.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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