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The Sumo scene / Makuuchi’s amazing title run as he braves injuries evokes images of Kisenosato’s ‘Miracle’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takerufuji celebrates with supporters on March 24 after overcoming an ankle injury at the Osaka Spring Tournament to become the first makuuchi division debutante to win a tournament title in 110 years.

Takerufuji earned a place in the annals of sumo history when he won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament last month, becoming the first wrestler to win a championship in his debut in the makuuchi division in 110 years.

The image of the young wrestler lifting the Emperor’s Cup after defying all odds will be vividly remembered for years to come.

The fact that many believed he would miss the final day of the tournament due to a serious injury, which would see him enter the ring alone and emerge victorious, added to the high drama of the occasion.

Takerufuji entered the 14th day of the tournament with a two-win lead over the nearest competitors. A win would have clinched the title with a day to spare. Instead, he lost to Asanoyama – and suffered an injury to his right ankle in the process.

He was taken from the arena floor in a wheelchair and taken directly to a hospital by ambulance. Few believed he would be back in action the next day.

But there was Takerufuji, who bravely entered the ring on the final day with the title on the line.

Opposite him stood Gonoyama, a product of the university sumo system like Takerufuji.

There’s no denying that Takerufuji fiercely pushed his opponent out of the ring to deliver a feat not seen in over a century.

“I didn’t want everything I had built to be lost,” Takerufuji said, adding that if he had withdrawn, “I would have regretted it forever.”

Hearing such comments brought back memories of a “miracle” I witnessed exactly seven years ago in the same ring in Osaka.

That 2017 tournament marked the yokozuna debut of the newly promoted Kisenosato (currently Nishonoseki stablemaster). After racking up twelve straight wins to start the tournament, Kisenosato suffered a defeat to Harumafuji, suffering a left pectoral injury that necessitated a trip to the hospital.

He put the pain aside to perform on the 14th day, but Kakuryu was handed a one-sided loss. His planned opponent on the final day was the then Ozeki Terunofuji, who sat alone in the lead. Most gave Kisenosato little chance.

But against all odds, the weakened Kisenosato not only managed to defeat Terunofuji in the regular bout, but also again in a play-off for one of the most remarkable come-from-behind championships in history.

“I felt something like an invisible force,” Kisenosato said as he wiped away tears of joy, an indelible image that remains fresh to this day.

It’s true that getting hurt is largely out of control.

But coming so late in the same spring tournament at the same location in Osaka and playing a role in creating two historic championships, I wonder if the sumo gods are fooling us.

The fact that dramatic outcomes that seem too unrealistic even for Hollywood actually come to life is precisely what makes sumo interesting.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.


Sumo Scene Kisenosato
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kisenosato wipes away tears after his dramatic victory during his yokozuna debut in Osaka in March 2017.
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