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Terunofuji Beats Kotonowaka in a Playoff to Win New Year Basho and Ninth Emperor's Cup

With a spectacular comeback at the New Year Basho, grand champion Terunofuji proved to his doubters that he is still capable of dominating sumo.



New Year Basho
Yokozuna Terunofuji receives the Emperor's Cup from Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku after winning the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on January 28 in Tokyo. (KYODO)

Yokozuna Terunofuji capped a successful return to competition on Sunday, January 28 when he defeated rising star Kotonowaka to win his ninth Emperor's Cup in a winner-take-all playoff at the New Year Basho.

In the playoff at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, Kotonowaka got an inside position after the face-off, but Terunofuji used an effective makikae, changing his left-hand grip from outside to inside and then shoving the sekiwake out.

"It's been quite a while since my last championship," Terunofuji said. "Before coming today, I was thinking I might need three bouts but I finished in two. So that was good."

New Year Basho
Terunofuji forces Kotonowaka out of the raised ring in their playoff match to win the New Year Basho. (KYODO)

Terunofuji Revives Career with New Year Basho Title

It was a triumphant return for Terunofuji, who missed all but one tournament in 2023, May's Summer Basho, which he won. His prolonged absence due to back and knee injuries had some in sumo questioning if it was time for the 32-year-old Mongolian to retire.

But Terunofuji responded in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament with an emphatic statement that he is not ready to call it quits. He has spoken of his desire to win at least 10 Emperor's Cups and that now seems well within reach.

New Year Basho
Terunofuji salutes the crowd after his victory over Kotonowaka. (KYODO)

"Since my last championship, my injuries didn't feel good but I worked on my mental toughness," Terunofuji said. "I was able to overcome my injuries so that was very satisfying." 

Terunofuji said he welcomes the competition from younger wrestlers like Kotonowaka, who is 26.


"The young wrestlers are all moving up and getting stronger and I really enjoy facing them," Terunofuji said. "He (Kotonowaka) is getting stronger, I was able to feel that today. I hope he can train well and seek further promotion."

Kotonowaka Shifts Focus to Spring

While it was a disappointing result for Kotonowaka, his record of 13-2 almost ensures he will be promoted to ozeki for the next tournament in March.

"I just want to prepare for the next tournament," Kotonowaka said.

He added, "I am happy hearing I might get promoted but I think you have to focus on the results. I still have a lot of work to do."

New Year Basho
Kotonowaka (left) outwrestles Tobizaru on Day 15. (ⒸSANKEI)

Kotonowaka and Terunofuji Force a Playoff

In his next-to-last bout of regulation, Kotonowaka got a left-hand outside grip and deployed an arm throw to take down No 4 maegashira Tobizaru (7-8) and improve to 13-2.

That meant Kirishima had to beat Terunofuji in the final bout of the day to give the championship to Kotonowaka, but that didn't happen. 

New Year Basho
Terunofuji (left) grapples with Kirishima in the final bout of regulation on Day 15 of the New Year Basho. With the win, Terunofuji stayed in the title hunt and then faced Kotonowaka in a playoff. ⒸSANKEI)

Terunofuji picked up ozeki Kirishima and tossed him into the front row of seats in a display of absolute power to force the playoff with Kotonowaka, who took home the Technique Prize.


That gave Terunofuji his 13th win against two losses. Kirishima fell to 11-4.

Kotonowaka was supposed to fight Mongolian Hoshoryu on the final day, but the ozeki was forced to pull out of the tournament on Saturday with an injured knee.

New Year Basho
Onosato defeats Tamawashi to finish the New Year Basho with an 11-4 record. (ⒸSANKEI)

A Strong Debut for Onosato as a Makuuchi Division Rookie

In other major bouts, rookie Onosato, a No 15 maegashira, hauled down veteran Tamawashi to finish with a very solid record of 11-4 while taking home the Fighting Spirit Prize.

"I was able to get double-digit wins so I'm very happy," the 23-year-old Onosato said. "It was a very fulfilling tournament for me. I will just keep working hard and trying to improve."

Onosato is a native of Ishikawa Prefecture, which was hit hard by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake on New Year's Day. He spoke of the support of the fans in the area.

"The tournament is over now but I could feel their support every day," Onosato said. "I hope even in some small way I was able to bring them some happiness."

No 10 Tamawashi, who will turn 40 in November, closed out with a respectable 8-7 record.

Also Sunday, No 14 maegashira Onosho shoved out 10th-ranked Sadanoumi (6-9) to complete the tournament at 10-5. 


No 12 maegashira Takanosho also wracked up his 10th win when he used a thrust-down technique to defeat third-ranked Gonoyama, who finished at 5-10.

New Year Basho
Utilizing an unorthodox move, Ura (right) closes in on a victory over Ryuden. (ⒸSANKEI)

Komusubi Ura used a rare and highly unorthodox under-arm forward body drop to defeat Ryuden at the edge and give the fans a thrill while improving to 6-9. No 5 maegashira Ryuden (3-12) toppled off the raised ring and was slow to get up.


Follow sumo news coverage throughout the year on SportsLook.

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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