With each methodical victory, ozeki Terunofuji continues his relentless but calm race to promotion to the rank of yokozuna, which would complete the most extraordinary comeback in the history of the sport.
The 29-year-old Mongolian never panicked on Matchday 12 of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament on July 15 against komusubi Meisei, even though his opponent in the past has caused him trouble by hanging on to his belt.
After Meisei first freed himself from Terunofuji’s attempt to stop his movement, the ozeki wrapped his right arm in a noose-like manner around the left arm of the komusubi, who was trying to grab the mawashi from the ‘ozeki.
With his opponent firmly within reach and no chance of escape, Terunofuji casually threw him out of the dohyo.
The 12 consecutive wins to start a tournament are a first for Terunofuji, who said after the game: “I was able to handle the fight calmly. I only trust all the efforts I have made so far.
He added that he takes each fight one day at a time, a mantra often recited by sumo wrestlers on a roll.
Terunofuji added that he did not feel any additional pressure to get promoted to the rank of yokozuna. This is remarkable, given that it would complete his Cinderella story, as he once looked set to lead the sport in 2015 after quickly reaching his second place.
But the injuries forced Terunofuji into a long absence from the dohyo and sent him diving from ozeki to the lowest second Jonidan division.
He even considered retiring before embarking on an emotional comeback that culminated in his return to ozeki in March after winning the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
He followed that up with a triumph at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May, putting him in contention for promotion to the sport’s highest rank with another Emperor’s Cup in Nagoya, which would be his fifth.
Two factors work in its favor.
One is the formidable presence of Yokozuna Hakuho at this tournament, which was considered to be do or die because he had been absent for so long. With Hakuho also racking up the wins at the same rate as Terunofuji, the ozeki couldn’t get ahead of himself when thinking about promotion.
The second factor is linked to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Normally, an ozeki looking to be promoted to yokozuna is harassed daily by reporters after morning practice and continues to the locker room where the wrestler prepares for the day’s match.
Journalists necessarily want to know the physical and mental state of the ozeki and what he thinks of a possible promotion.
But due to COVID-19, strict restrictions were placed on the media, and Terunofuji only had to face online press conferences after each daily fight. This clearly took the pressure off the ozeki and apparently made it easier for him to maintain his daily routine and pace.
Terunofuji said he wanted to experience a scene that only those who have become a yokozuna can relate to. With only three days remaining in the Nagoya tournament, it looks like no one stands in its way.
Takahiro Takezono has written on sumo for The Asahi Shimbun for many years.