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Kotonowaka Promoted to Ozeki After Stellar Performance in New Year Basho

After finishing as the runner-up at the New Year Basho, Sadogatake wrestler Kotonowaka joins three others at sumo's second-highest rank.

Just days after battling yokozuna Terunofuji for the title at the New Year Basho, sekiwake Kotonowaka was confirmed by the Japan Sumo Association as sumo's newest ozeki wrestler on Wednesday, January 31.

Kotonowaka came within one win of securing his first career championship when he took on Terunofuji in a winner-take-all playoff on Sunday, the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

While he was unable to beat Terunofuji in the playoff, his record of 13-2 gave him 33 wins from three consecutive tournaments as a sekiwake or komusubi, the unofficial benchmark for promotion to sumo's second-highest rank.

"With a feeling of gratitude, I will dedicate myself to the way of sumo so that I can live up to the expectations of an ozeki," Kotonowaka said upon receiving word of the promotion.

Kotonowaka comes from a long line of sumo wrestlers. His father is his Sadogatake stablemaster, the former sekiwake Kotonowaka, while his late grandfather was yokozuna Kotozakura.

His promotion was approved unanimously by the JSA's rankings committee at an extraordinary session of its board of governors.

Kotonowaka
Kotonowaka (top) shares a happy moment with other wrestlers after his ozeki promotion ceremony at Sadogatake stable in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, on January 31. (Pool photo/via KYODO)

Kotonowaka Intends to Use Grandfather's Wrestling Name in the Near Future

Kotonowaka said he plans to compete in the Spring Basho in March under the name Kotonowaka but hopes to switch to the Kotozakura moniker his grandfather fought under. 

The newly promoted ozeki also hinted on Wednesday that he plans to reach the pinnacle of Japan's ancient sport.

"I've wanted to compete in my first tournament (as ozeki) as Kotonowaka," the 26-year-old from Chiba Prefecture told Kyodo News.

He added, "I do not intend to remain where I am after ascending to this rank. I aspire to improve even more."

Kotonowaka
Kotonowaka (left) faces Terunofuji in a winner-take-all playoff at the New Year Basho on January 28 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. Terunofuji captured the title. (ⒸSANKEI)

When the rankings for the next tournament in Osaka starting on March 10 come out, Kotonowaka will be one of four ozeki wrestlers, joining Hoshoryu, Kirishima and Takakeisho. It will be the first time since the July tourney in 2021 that four ozeki have competed in the same basho.

Kirishima made his ozeki debut in the July tournament in 2023. His Mongolian compatriot Hoshoryu first fought as an ozeki in the September tournament that year.

Takakeisho was promoted to ozeki in May of 2019.

Shodai was promoted to the rank for the November 2020 tournament and Mitakeumi made his debut at sumo's second-highest rank in March of 2022. Both grapplers have since been demoted.

While sumo has had plenty of ozeki in recent years, none has been able to break through to the rank of grand champion since Terunofuji was promoted in 2021.

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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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