Underdog Meisei upset grand champion Terunofuji on Thursday, January 20, a result that left the leaders of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament locked in a three-way tie with just three days remaining.
Komusubi Meisei stunned yokozuna Terunofuji with a powerful thrust to the neck at the face-off in the day’s final bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
As Terunofuji desperately tried to push back, Meisei grabbed his arm and executed a perfect under shoulder swing down to send the surprised grand champion toppling out of the raised ring.
Terunofuji, who is aiming for his third straight Emperor’s Cup, dropped to 10-2 and is now tied with Mitakeumi and Abi in a 15-day basho that is all of a sudden wide open.
“I just tried to concentrate,” said Meisei, who improved to 5-7. “I used every ounce of energy I had to knock him off balance at the face-off and will just try to do what I need to do for the rest of the tournament.”
Terunofuji appeared to favor his knee after the bout but limped off the dohyo under his own steam. He has had surgery on both knees so any problem there is going to garner a lot of attention.
In other major bouts, Mitakeumi was outmaneuvered by Onosho to suffer his second loss of the tournament.
Fifth-ranked maegashira Onosho came bursting out of the face-off to stun the sekiwake wrestler then deftly stepped to his side before swatting his opponent down.
With the upset win, Onosho secured a winning record in the 15-day basho with a record of 8-4.
Mitakeumi could never get his thrusting technique in gear and paid the price.
No. 6 maegashira Abi used his two-arm thrusting technique to knock sekiwake Takanosho off balance and improve to 10-2. Takanosho was handed his sixth loss against six wins.
The two huge upsets on Day 12 coupled with Abi’s clutch win set up a thrilling finish to the tournament in which any of the leaders could take home the silverware.
Terunofuji takes on Takanosho on Day 13 while Mitakeumi and Abi will square off.
Even lower-ranked wrestler Kotonowaka, who won in an earlier bout to improve to 9-3, is not out of the title chase.
Ozeki Shodai, looking to avoid finishing the tournament with a losing record, swatted down Hokutofuji to improve to 5-7. Shodai needs to win his remaining three bouts to prevent himself from becoming a “kadoban,” or relegation-threatened, ozeki in the next tournament.
Fourth-ranked maegashira Hokutofuji improved to 5-7.
Sixth-ranked maegashira Hoshoryu wrapped up a winning record when he turned Tamawashi around at the edge and shoved him out to pick up his eighth win against four losses.
Tamawashi, a No. 3 maegashira, fell to 7-5.
In one of the more impressive displays of sumo, Endo deployed a spectacular arm throw in the center of the ring to send top maegashira Kiribayama head over heels.
No. 3 maegashira Endo improved to 5-7 while Kiribayama also stands at 5-7.
In a marathon bout that lasted almost three minutes, Mongolian Ichinojo outlasted Takarafuji to level his record at 6-6. Seventh-ranked Takarafuji fell to 8-4.
Further down the ranks, Kotonowaka toppled Sadanoumi to improve to 9-3. No. 11 Sadanoumi fell to 7-5.
The 24-year-old Kotonowaka, a No. 14 maegashira, is the son of former sekiwake Kotonowaka and the grandson of the 53rd yokozuna Kotozakura.
First Star: Meisei. With a huge “kinboshi” win over Terunofuji, komusubi Meisei sent the New Year tourney into a state of flux with three days left.
Second Star: Onosho. In upsetting co-leader Mitakeumi, the fifth-ranked maegashira did his part to ensure the final three days will be full of drama.
Third Star: Abi. The No. 6 maegashira posted a clutch win while all others around him were losing their heads and is now in the thick of the title chase.
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.