NAGOYA (Kyodo) -- Grand champion Hakuho claimed his record 45th Emperor's Cup on Sunday after defeating joint overnight leader Terunofuji in a thrilling winner-take-all finale to the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament.
Coming into the final day at Dolphins Arena tied with ozeki Terunofuji at a perfect 14-0, the 36-year-old great stamped his authority over his younger rival, who this week could join him as the sport's second yokozuna.
Having stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field throughout the 15-day meet, the two Mongolian-born juggernauts started their showdown in an intense staring match before Hakuho opened with a forearm shiver to Terunofuji's face.
Terunofuji slipped away from one attempted throw, but the yokozuna stayed on the offensive, corralling and toppling the ozeki with an arm lock throw. His emotions boiling over, Hakuho let out a triumphant yell on top of the dohyo.
"I feel really great. My right knee was not acting as I wanted, but I just wanted to focus on this one bout," said Hakuho.
"At this age, I didn't think I would win the tournament with a perfect record. I'm just relieved."
The victory marks a stunning return from injury for Hakuho, who missed all or part of the past six meets and, after having knee surgery in March, said he would decide whether to continue his illustrious career based on his performance in Nagoya.
"The reason I lost was that I was not good enough," Terunofuji said. "I did all I could. Going forward I want to get better."
Despite falling short of a third straight championship, Japan Sumo Association President Hakkaku said the ozeki will be considered for promotion on Monday and could receive official confirmation as soon as Wednesday.
Promotion would add another remarkable chapter to Terunofuji's comeback story in a career that once appeared to be lost to injury.
After plummeting down the ranks due to serious health problems, including multiple knee surgeries, Terunofuji began climbing his way back from the fifth-tier jonidan division in March 2019. He came to Nagoya having won three of the six tournaments since his July 2020 return to the elite makuuchi division.
In Sunday's penultimate bout, ozeki Shodai and sekiwake Takayasu went head to head with a winning record on the line. Following a heavy opening collision, Shodai (8-7) spun Takayasu (7-6-2) around and pushed him out from behind.
New komusubi Meisei (8-7) ensured he will remain among the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna by pulling down No. 12 maegashira Kagayaki (7-8) in their battle for a winning record.
"I'm just relieved. I was starting to have some doubts (before the bout) but I was able to move around well on the dohyo," said Meisei.
The other new komusubi, Wakatakakage, improved to 5-10 by beating sekiwake Mitakeumi (8-7) for the first time.
Driven to the edge, the komusubi pulled off an impressive reversal and clinched victory with an overarm throw.
Among the rank and file, No. 5 Hoshoryu (10-5) received his first Technique Prize after toppling No. 3 Hokutofuji (8-7).
"I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but I'm glad to receive it," said Hoshoryu, the nephew of former yokozuna Asashoryu.
No. 2 Takanosho (8-7) gave himself a chance to move back up to the sanyaku ranks with his crucial eighth win against No. 16 Chiyonokuni (7-8).
Young No. 11 Kotonowaka forced out No. 15 Tsurugisho (8-7) to finish with a 12-3 record and earn his first career Fighting Spirit Prize.
No. 17 Ichiyamamoto (8-7) pushed out No. 14 Chiyonoo (7-8) to secure a winning record in his top-division debut and deny his opponent an all-important eighth victory.