Sekiwake Mitakeumi won the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday, beating yokozuna Terunofuji to capture his third career championship and earn consideration for promotion to ozeki.
Needing a win to avoid a three-way championship playoff with the yokozuna and No. 6 maegashira Abi, Mitakeumi defeated Terunofuji (11-4) for just the fifth time in 17 career bouts, forcing him out for his 13th win in the 15-day tourney at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The yokozuna, dealing with more pain than usual in his surgically repaired knees, charged forward for a left-handed grip on his opponent's belt but came up empty, only for the sekiwake to latch onto his right arm.
Terunofuji wriggled away but Mitakeumi grabbed a belt hold once more and the yokozuna offered little resistance as he was forced backward out of the ring.
"My focus was on executing my style of sumo today," said Mitakeumi, whose last title came in September 2019. "I wanted to go forward and give my best."
"It's been a long time, and it's great to hear the response from the crowd. This tournament seemed particularly long. My goal was to win 10 bouts for the second straight tourney. All in all, it was really fun."
With 33 wins over three tournaments, Mitakeumi achieved one benchmark for promotion to ozeki, although he only won nine bouts in September, something that has scuttled past promotions.
An official announcement would come Wednesday when the Japan Sumo Association discusses the ranking for the March tourney and holds a board meeting.
The 29-year-old, who was born in the Philippines but grew up in Nagano Prefecture, was also awarded with a coveted Technique Prize, the third of his career.
Abi had earlier kept himself in contention for a playoff spot by pulling down another title hopeful No. 14 Kotonowaka, who also entered the day with three defeats.
After a fierce shoving and thrusting battle in which both wrestlers missed opportunities, Kotonowaka (11-4), pressed back to the straw for the third time, tried to evade his pursuer but lost his balance going forward and tumbled.
"I needed to do a better job of going forward," said Kotonawaka after he overshot his opponent with his opening charge.
The 24-year-old was still awarded his second Fighting Spirit Prize. His first came in July after he went 12-3.
Abi, who in the summer of 2020 was on the verge of quitting, has now gone 12-3 in two consecutive tournaments and was awarded with an Outstanding Performance Prize.
He only returned to the elite makuuchi division last November after his offer to resign for breaking coronavirus safety rules was rejected by the Japan Sumo Association in 2020. He instead served a three-tournament suspension before he climbed his way up from the third-tier makushita division.
"This tournament I was able to do all the things I'm capable of," Abi said.
Ozeki Shodai salvaged a sixth win on the final day of his disappointing tournament, absorbing the charge of No. 5 Chiyoshoma (4-11) and throwing him down to defeat.
Daieisho gave himself a slight chance of retaining his spot at the lowest of the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna by beating fellow komusubi Meisei (5-10) to finish with a 7-8 record.
Sekiwake Takanosho also avoided a ninth loss by shoving out No. 7 Takarafuji (9-6).
Former sekiwake Ichinojo, now wrestling as a No. 2, earned his eighth win by forcing out No. 15 Tochinoshin, consigning the Georgian former ozeki to his eighth loss and a losing record.
Entertaining No. 2 Ura earned his eighth win. The 1.76-meter dynamo won an unusually straight-forward battle with No. 13 Chiyomaru (7-8), pressing him back with a swift, low charge until his opponent's knee buckled and he collapsed.
No. 11 Sadanoumi earned a winning record at the expense of makuuchi debutant Oho. The No. 18, the grandson of iconic yokozuna Taiho and the son of former sekiwake Takatoriki, fell to his eighth loss.