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Terunofuji redefines legacy with historic return to ozeki rank

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  1. AugustusFerdinand
    The March sumo tournament just ended and although I hoped for a three way playoff (would have occurred on the last day had Terunofuji lost), because who wouldn't want more sumo, I can't say I'm...

    The March sumo tournament just ended and although I hoped for a three way playoff (would have occurred on the last day had Terunofuji lost), because who wouldn't want more sumo, I can't say I'm disappointed that Terunofuji won as he has been the very definition of a man on a mission.

    Some background/nomenclature. Makuuchi is the top division of sumo, it is comprised of the top 42 rikishi (wrestlers) in the sport, the true pros in the sense that even the worst wrestler of the 42 is miles above the hundreds of others in sumo. Technically everyone that competes in sumo is a professional by definition, but each division of sumo is like moving up from one level to another in any other sport. Makuuchi is the pros (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc), Juryo (one division down) is more akin to minor league sports with wrestlers trying to break into the pros or top division rikishi dropping down to it if they can't perform, Makushita is below Juryo and is similar to collegiate level, and so on.

    The point being that even if you're on an absolutely amazing high school team, you'll get stomped by a college team, and even the best college team would likely be utterly embarrassed by any pro team be it a championship winning one or say the 2008 Detroit Lions.

    Of the top Makuuchi division there is a dividing line between the san'yaku and the maegashira. The sanyaku are comprised of the 8-12 named ranks (in descending order) yokozuna, ōzeki, sekiwake, and komusubi, with maegashira being given numbers to indicate their rank among the rest of the top division. The sanyaku are the titleholders/champions of the division and is filled with rikishi that have won tournaments and/or have long lists of special prizes and awards for their performance. These are the equivalent of the teams that are always in the playoffs. Sekiwake and Komusubi can be reached by merely regularly rising through the ranks by having repeated winning records over the 15 day tournaments, but to reach Ozeki you must win a tournament while at Sekiwake or dominate for three tournaments in a row.

    Ozeki is the hardest rank to keep in all of sumo as it requires you to face all of the other wrestlers in the sanyaku every single tournament, from yokozuna that are expected to win all the time, other ozeki that are aiming for a yokozuna run, sekiwake/komusubi that want to take their spot in the ozeki ranks, plus whatever maegashira that is making a push for a big tournament showing that have to go through the ozeki first to be allowed a shot at the yokozuna.

    Add the difficulty of getting to ozeki, the rikishi gunning for you, and then add the risk of losing the rank you worked so hard to achieve and the greatest amount pressure on a per wrestler basis is on the ozeki. Should an ozeki have a losing record for even one tournament they go kadoban. Which is a special tag on an ozeki that means they are one bad showing away from being demoted and having to put in all the extra work to become an ozeki again.

    Terunofuji reached Ozeki back in 2015 but the wear on his body quickly became apparent at that rank. He had two good tournaments at ozeki then entered a pattern of getting a losing record (going kadoban) then getting the minimum 8 wins to keep rank, a losing record next tournament to go kadoban again, rinse, repeat. Eventually it became too much and over the course of two years he was mostly absent from the tournaments and dropped all the way out of the paid ranks down to Jonidan. Jonidan is the 5th division, one division from the bottom (Jonokuchi) where the wrestlers straight out of school with no high school or college training or tournaments are dumped at the start of their careers.

    Pretty much every rikishi that gets to sanyaku ranks, let alone reaches ozeki, that is injured and drops out of the top two divisions retires before they can drop further, but Terunofuji has heart and a stablemaster that wouldn't submit his retirement papers. In March 2019 he made his debut again and has been nigh-unstoppable since with constant winning records and only two tournaments since his return to the top two divisions where he didn't get first or second place. He is simply a force to be reckoned with and an utterly amazing comeback story that I'm not sure has ever occurred in all of sumo prior to now (still digging).

    If interested here is a translated video of his promotion and interview.

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