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Sumo wrestler Terunofuji aiming for 1st comeback in history from jonidan to ozeki rank

Sekiwake sumo wrestler Terunofuji expresses his resolve ahead of the March tournament during an online news conference on March 1, 2021.(Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Former ozeki-ranked sumo wrestler Terunofuji is preparing for the March Grand Sumo Tournament with the aim of becoming the first grappler in history to return to the sport's second-highest rank from the fifth-tier jonidan division.

    In the Japan Sumo Association's new ranking announced on March 1, Terunofuji, 29, stands at the third-highest "sekiwake" rank. In an online news conference, he commented, "Finally I'm approaching it (the ozeki rank). I have to secure it in this tournament. I have to fight hard."

    If his record in the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament is good enough to be promoted to ozeki, he will be the first sumo wrestler to make a comeback to the ozeki rank from the jonidan division.

    Terunofuji stayed at the ozeki rank for 14 tournaments from the July 2015 meet, but he later dropped to the depths of the fifth-tier jonidan division following a long absence from the clay mound due to injuries and sickness. However, after getting back in the ring with his sights on a comeback, he was promoted up the ranks again. In the November 2020 tournament, when he stood at the "komusubi" rank one notch below sekiwake, he clinched 13 wins. He went on to win 11 bouts as a sekiwake wrestler in the latest tournament in January this year. If he registers nine or more wins in the March tournament, he will meet the rough requirement to be promoted to ozeki -- namely, a total of 33 wins in the latest three tournaments at one of the three highest ranks below the top rank of yokozuna.

    Isegahama, former yokozuna Asahifuji and current head of the Japan Sumo Association's refereeing body, is in charge of creating the "banzuke" ranking lists and is also Terunofuji's stablemaster. He has not revealed specific requirements for promotion at the upcoming tournament.

    Two yokozuna wrestlers, Hakuho and Kakuryu, are set to make comebacks in March after periods of absence. The bouts among high-ranked wrestlers will therefore likely play an important part in determining Terunofuji's prospects.

    "Consideration of my promotion won't even start unless I achieve 33 wins (over three tournaments)," Terunofuji said. "I'd like to do my best and fight good bouts."

    (Japanese original by Masaru Kurokawa, Sports News Department)

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