Terunofuji’s lifting of the Emperor’s Cup within the just-finished July event accomplished what often is the impossible comeback within the historical past of sumo. It’s not so way back that former ozeki who confronted demotion from the game’s high tier usually opted to retire moderately than undergo the ignominy of toiling away in a decrease division, whereas the notion of maintaining going after dropping to the unsalaried ranks was one thing not even price contemplating.
Terunofuji although not solely fell out of the paid divisions, after a sequence of accidents and diseases, however plummeted all the way in which right down to sumo’s second lowest tier. Having been near the massive Mongolian since he joined the skilled ranks, the query I acquired most frequently in 2019 was, “Why does he hold going?”
To be trustworthy it’s one I requested myself at numerous factors over the previous few years, particularly when watching the Isegahama secure man in ache and struggling to cope with the younger children and lifelong journeymen who populate ozumo’s decrease reaches. Comparable ideas went by the thoughts of Terunofuji as nicely and he advised reporters that he had broached the subject of retirement along with his stablemaster on 5 separate events — just for Isegahama to refuse the request every time.
After all, on the finish of the day, each rikishi in sumo is free to depart if he needs and had Terunofuji demanded to be allowed to retire, then that’s what would have occurred. The truth that he allowed himself to be dissuaded so usually nonetheless — particularly when retiring would have put an finish to numerous ache — isn’t all that stunning to those that know him nicely. The Ulaanbaatar native has displayed psychological fortitude all through his time in Japan, however the cheery, and at instances mischievous, character that he displayed when youthful usually served to cover the metal hiding beneath.
Ideas of quitting the game that got here within the wake of his disastrous plunge from superstardom to obscurity weren’t his first brush with retirement. Terunofuji initially joined sumo by Magaki Beya — a secure that had been struggling by years of scandal and misfortune, and was in severe decline. Previous to the secure closing down, issues had gotten so dangerous that Terunofuji on a couple of event discovered himself alone within the observe enviornment with out coaching companions or coaches. Evidently, his progress stalled and Wakamisho (as he was then identified) turned so demotivated that one night time when simply sitting on a park bench close to the secure he advised me that he was most likely going to stop sumo and return to Mongolia.
He caught issues out, although, and shortly discovered himself in Isegahama secure with yokozuna Harumafuji and several other different excessive stage rikishi. That soldiering on when issues look bleak has been an indicator of Terunofuji’s make-up so long as I’ve identified him. Whether or not on the dohyō or exterior the ring, he has at all times been capable of buckle down and combat again. His very first combat in sumo’s lowest division led to an “inadvertent stepout” loss and the then-19-year-old used the embarrassment of that as motivational gasoline for a very long time.
Simply after his promotion to jūryō, I jokingly advised him that whereas he could have moved forward of me in sumo, I nonetheless had the sting in pool. That prompted a showdown at an area bar. Within the first sport I broke, potted seven balls and left the black hanging over a pocket. I began trash speaking the brand new sekitori solely to have him stroll over and clear the desk. When Osunaarashi evened the pair’s face to face file at 2-2, Terunofuji appeared on the verge of being eclipsed by his shut pal and rival, particularly because the latter was making his top-division debut, whereas he was nonetheless caught in sumo’s second tier. The Egyptian would by no means win one other one in all their bouts, nonetheless, as a extremely motivated Terunofuji ripped off six straight.
Digging deep when the chips are low is one thing that has outlined sumo’s latest champion all all through his profession. The most important distinction from his early days within the sport is the relative scarceness of his trademark smile and playfulness. The Terunofuji of 2020 has the look of a person who is aware of what it’s wish to get knocked down a couple of times. Those that hadn’t seen him interviewed shortly had been stunned by his low-key response to profitable a second championship.
That shouldn’t actually come as a shock once you learn by the checklist of accidents he has needed to cope with over the previous few years. In distinction to the cocky and at instances overconfident teen that stormed to the highest of the sumo world 5 years in the past, the brand new Terunofuji additionally is aware of that he can’t do it alone, and he spent numerous time in post-tournament interviews giving because of his oyakata and stablemates for his or her help by the troublesome instances.
He’s older, wiser and extra weathered however Terunofuji retains what makes him particular — a capability to return again stronger from just about any defeat. Ideas flip now to September and a slate that might be crammed with opponents from the highest of the rankings. Some individuals are already writing off Terunofuji’s probabilities of making it again to ozeki and even managing a profitable file within the Autumn event. I’m not one in all them.