Former sekiwake Abi claimed his first elite makuuchi division championship at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday, winning a three-way playoff with fellow rank-and-file wrestler Takayasu and ozeki Takakeisho after the trio finished deadlocked at 12-3.

No. 9 maegashira Abi completed a remarkable turnaround in the 15-day tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center, having been forced to sit out the September meet with knee and ankle injuries.

The sport's sole grand champion, Terunofuji, did not compete in Kyushu after undergoing knee surgery.

Maegashira Abi (R) receives the championship trophy from Hakkaku, head of the Japan Sumo Association, after winning the 15-day Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, on Nov. 27, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

No. 1 Takayasu started the final day with a one-win buffer over Takakeisho and Abi, who was looking to send the championship race into a tie-breaker by beating the overnight leader in their head-to-head bout.

The Saitama Prefecture native achieved that objective by drawing Takayasu into a pushing and thrusting battle, using quick footwork to avoid being driven out before shoving the former ozeki to the clay.

The two faced off again in the first playoff bout, with Abi quickly slapping down Takayasu, who looked disoriented after slamming his head into his opponent's chest.

The No. 9 then sealed the championship by pushing out Takakeisho in the next playoff bout, sending him straight back over the edge with a series of hard shoves to the upper body.

"It seems like a dream, it doesn't seem true," said Abi, who earned his fourth Fighting Spirit Prize and will seek to return to the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna.

Abi was suspended for three grand tournaments and had his pay halved for five months for breaking guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus in a decision handed down by the Japan Sumo Association in August 2020.

Abi (R) defeats Takakeisho to win the championship title at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in Fukuoka on Nov. 27, 2022. (Kyodo) 

Takakeisho booked his place in the championship tie-breaker by overpowering sekiwake Wakatakakage (8-7) in the day's final regulation bout, rocking the March champion with a face slap before slapping him down. The victory broke a four-match losing streak in their head-to-head meetings.

Having let the Emperor's Cup slip from his grasp on several previous occasions, including this March and September, the 32-year-old Takayasu was once again left wondering what might have been.

While he earned his fourth Outstanding Performance Prize and possibly promotion back to sanyaku, it may prove small consolation for the time being.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6-9) finished another disappointing tournament with a force-out loss to No. 5 Nishikifuji (9-6) and faces his second straight demotion after relinquishing his ozeki status in September.

A day after bowing out of the championship race, sekiwake Hoshoryu (11-4) earned his second career Technique Prize by forcing out komusubi Kiribayama (8-7).

The 23-year-old rising star strengthened his bid for an ozeki promotion in the near future with his best result while fighting from sanyaku.

Komusubi Tobizaru wrapped up his first tournament at sanyaku with a 7-8 record after pushing out No. 3 Ura (4-11).

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