Lone yokozuna Terunofuji completed a triumphant comeback from injury Saturday at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, outlasting title rival Kiribayama to clinch the championship with a day to spare.
Returning from dual knee surgeries in October, the 31-year-old grand champion claimed his eighth Emperor's Cup by improving to an insurmountable 13-1 with victory over sekiwake Kiribayama (11-3) in the final bout of Day 14 at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The two Mongolian-born wrestlers went toe-to-toe in an epic battle that saw them lock into a long stalemate before Terunofuji used an outside grip to force Kiribayama over to the edge and off the dohyo.
"His (Terunofuji's) mental strength is on another level from that of ordinary men," said sumo elder Fujishima, the subdirector of the Japan Sumo Association's judging department. "He's magnificent."
Despite the disappointment of missing out on a second straight championship following his maiden Emperor's Cup in March, the 27-year-old Kiribayama can take consolation knowing his promotion to ozeki is all but guaranteed.
The judges department will meet Sunday to decide on his promotion, with a knowledgeable source indicating there appear to be no objections.
Kiribayama has 34 wins over his past three tourneys as either a komusubi or sekiwake, with the standard promotion benchmark being 33.
No. 14 maegashira Asanoyama, who started the day as the only other title contender, improved to 11-3 by crushing out komusubi Shodai (6-8) in a battle of former ozeki.
Fighting in the top division for the first time since his suspension for breaking coronavirus safety rules, Asanoyama briefly stayed in the race with the win, but his title hopes rested on Kiribayama beating Terunofuji.
Sekiwake Hoshoryu (10-4) reached 10-plus wins for the second straight meet by dispatching No. 15 Tsurugisho (9-5) with a beltless arm throw.
Newly promoted sekiwake Wakamotoharu (10-4) endured a flurry of face slaps from Takakeisho (8-6) before pushing down the ozeki and ensuring a double-digit win total in his debut at sumo's third-highest rank.