Sekiwake Mitakeumi upset grand champion Terunofuji on Sunday, January 23 to win the Emperor’s Cup on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament and take a giant step toward promotion to the sport’s second-highest rank of ozeki.
In the day’s final bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Mitakeumi went on the attack from the face-off and got an inside grip of the lone yokozuna before shoving him out with a frontal force-out to improve to 13-2 and secure his third career championship. Terunofuji dropped to 11-4.
Once Mitakeumi got a double inside grip on the belt of Terunofuji it was all but in the books. Terunofuji couldn’t mount a counterattack and stepped out of the ring.
“I knew that all I needed to do was to focus and stay true to my sumo,” Mitakeumi said. “I just tried to go in straight with all my might and keep moving. I felt if I could just keep moving, I would win.”
Mitakeumi, who was born in 1992 to a Japanese father and Filipino mother, has wrapped up 33 wins in the past three tournaments and will garner consideration for promotion to ozeki.
An extraordinary board meeting of sumo officials will be held over the next several days and an official decision will be made on Wednesday, January 26.
“I know there are high expectations around me and I want to live up to those expectations,” Mitakeumi said. “I’m very happy to be considered. It’s been a long road.”
The 29-year-old Mitakeumi went 11-4 in the 2021 November tournament and 9-6 in the September tournament.
“My goal was to get double digits wins in two tournaments in a row,” Mitakeumi said. “I was fighting under pressure but was also able to enjoy myself. My sumo was better in the second half of the tournament.”
Mitakeumi previously won the Emperor’s Cup in July of 2018 and September of 2019.
Terunofuji was 12-4 against Mitakeumi in previous bouts.
Terunofuji’s quest to become the first wrestler in 103 years to win the first three tournaments in a row after becoming a yokozuna came up short.
Hobbled by bad knees, Terunofuji just ran out of steam over the final week of the 15-day basho, losing three of his last four bouts.
In other bouts, No. 6 maegashira Abi stayed in contention in an earlier showdown when he hauled down Kotonowaka to improve to 12-3 and claim the tournament’s Outstanding Performance award.
If Terunofuji had beaten Mitakeumi, Abi would have been part of a three-way playoff but it wasn’t to be.
Abi will likely be moving up to the sport’s sanyaku ranks, which includes komusubi and sekiwake.
Kotonowaka, a No. 14 maegashira, dropped to 11-4 and was awarded the tournament’s Fighting Spirit prize.
Mongolian Hoshoryu used an under-arm throw to send 183-kilogram Aoiyama sprawling to the dirt surface.
Eighth-ranked maegashira Hoshoryu improved to 11-4 while No. 16 Aoiyama finished with an 8-7 record.
Top maegashira Wakatakakage displayed impressive footwork on the straw bales when he swatted down Onosho to finish with nine wins and six losses. Fifth-ranked maegashira Onosho dropped to 10-5.
No. 2 maegashira Ura, who entertained fans with his unorthodox sumo, wrapped up a winning record when he overpowered Chiyomaru to improve to 8-7. No. 13 maegashira Chiyomaru fell to 7-8.
Shodai restored a small measure of ozeki pride when he used an impressive arm throw at the center of the ring to send Chiyoshoma toppling to the dirt surface.
Shodai, who will face demotion in the March tournament unless he posts a winning record, finished with a disappointing 6-9 record. Fifth-ranked Chiyoshoma was handed his 11th defeat against only four wins.
First Star: Mitakeumi. By beating Terunofuji on the final day and winning six of his last eight matches, Mitakeumi silenced his critics and was rewarded for his efforts with a third career title.
Second Star: Abi. After being suspended for violating COVID-19 protocols, Abi has completely turned his career around and is now one of the sport’s most promising wrestlers.
Third Star: Hoshoryu. With a spectacular arm throw of Aoiyama, Mongolian Hoshoryu finished with an impressive 11-4 record after winning his last five bouts.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.