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Terunofuji Avoids a Second Straight New Year Basho Defeat with a Clutch Win Over Abi

The grand champion is bidding for his ninth Emperor's Cup at the New Year Basho after missing most of 2023 with injuries.

Grand champion Terunofuji survived a spirited challenge by No 2 maegashira Abi on Tuesday, January 16 to bounce back from a defeat the previous day with a clutch win at the New Year Basho.

In the day's final bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Terunofuji was pushed back at the initial face-off with a thrust to the neck by former sekiwake Abi.

Terunofuji forced Abi back to the edge with his own powerful arm thrust. But the Shikoroyama stable wrestler somehow broke free before the yokozuna finished him off with an arm-bar throw.

New Year Basho
Another view of Terunofuji's match against Abi on January 16. (KYODO)

Terunofuji, who improved to 2-1, lost a marathon bout to top maegashira Wakamotoharu on Day 2 of the 15-day New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. Abi remained winless.

On Sunday, Terunofuji won his opening-day bout against komusubi Ura but couldn't keep the momentum going against Wakamotoharu on Day 2.

The grand champion is competing for the first time in three tournaments as he looks to bounce back from a back injury on two surgically repaired knees.

A second straight loss wouldn't have dashed his title hopes but would have raised suspicion that he is not up to the challenge.

Bidding for his ninth Emperor's Cup, Terunofuji is attempting a comeback after missing all but one tournament in 2023, the May tourney, which he won.

New Year Basho
Wakamotoharu (left) faces Takakeisho on Day 3 of the New Year Basho. (ⒸSANKEI)

Wakamotoharu Earns Victory Over Takakeisho

In other major bouts, Wakamotoharu made it two big upsets in a row when he used a powerful pushing and thrusting attack to force out ozeki Takakeisho, leaving both grapplers at 2-1.

"I'm just concentrating on things one bout at a time," Wakamotoharu said. "I dropped down the rankings of late so my goal is to improve and move back up by using my lower body."

Ozeki Kirishima got a double-inside grip on Atamifuji and frogmarched the top maegashira out to stay tied for the lead at 3-0 with four others.

Atamifuji, who racked up 11 wins in his last three tournaments, is off to a slow start and fell to 0-3.

Mongolian ozeki Hoshoryu deployed a powerful beltless arm throw to send komusubi Ura toppling to the dirt surface while improving to a perfect 3-0. Ura attempted a leg kick, but couldn't pull it off and stayed winless.

Sekiwake Kotonowaka unleashed an under-shoulder swing-down to defeat winless No 2 maegashira Midorifuji and stay tied for the lead at 3-0. 

No 7 maegashira and former ozeki Asanoyama got a left hand in after the face-off and drove out sixth-ranked Shonannoumi (1-2) to remain undefeated at 3-0.

New Year Basho
Shimazuumi forces Takarafuji out of the raised ring, improving to 3-0. (ⒸSANKEI)

Further down the ranks, Shimazuumi is also at 3-0 after shoving out fellow rank-and-filer Takarafuji (2-1). 

Takayasu Sidelined with Back Pain

In other news from the dohyo, komusubi Takayasu withdrew with lower back pain but hopes to return to competition before the New Year Basho ends.

The komusubi felt pain in his back ahead of Monday's loss to Kirishima, Takayasu's stablemaster Tagonoura said.

Takayasu forfeited his bout on Tuesday against No 3 Gonoyama and exits the tournament with a 1-2 record. Should he not return, he would face certain demotion for failing to get eight wins.

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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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