Ozeki Takakeisho captured his fourth top-division title Sunday by winning a championship playoff against 21-year-old rank-and-file sensation Atamifuji at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.
Having entered the 15-day tournament as a demotion-threatened "kadoban" ozeki, Takakeisho finished in a two-way tie for the lead at 11-4 with sole overnight leader Atamifuji, who was beaten by former ozeki Asanoyama on the final day.
Takakeisho advanced to the playoff at Ryogoku Kokugikan with a victory over sekiwake Daieisho (10-5) that knocked the winner of a single Emperor's Cup out of contention.
Both No. 7 maegashira Takayasu and No. 11 Hokuseiho also started the final day one win back at 10-4, but were unable to keep their title hopes alive with victories.
In a clash of powerful pusher-thrusters, Takakeisho met Daieisho head-on at the jump and traded heavy blows with the sekiwake before knocking him off balance and shoving him out from behind.
Then, in a somewhat anticlimactic ending to the competition, Takakeisho avoided the full force of Atamifuji's opening charge in the playoff, shifting to the side and slapping the No. 15 to the clay.
"I'm just happy I won," said Takakeisho. "I didn't anticipate ending in that way. I just wanted to do my job."
Takakeisho said the victory vindicated his decision to skip the July tournament in Nagoya in order to recover from knee problems.
"I know I didn't waste my time sitting out that tournament because I was able to come back here and win," he said. "I have to really train myself to be injury free."
The 27-year-old Hyogo Prefecture native described Atamifuji as a "young, wonderful talent." The youngster had held a two-win buffer heading into Day 12 before back-to-back losses to Daieisho and Takakeisho brought him back to the pack.
Bidding to return to the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna, No. 2 Asanoyama (9-6) delivered a strong opening hit and kept the momentum as he drove Atamifuji over the straw bales from a low attacking angle.
Had he prevailed, Atamifuji would have become the third-youngest Emperor's Cup winner since sumo adopted its current format of six grand tournaments per year in 1958.
The Shizuoka Prefecture native, making just his second appearance in the elite makuuchi division, will instead take home a Fighting Spirit Prize for his efforts.
New ozeki Hoshoryu (8-7) earned his all-important eighth win by tossing Hokuseiho out of the title race. The July champion took a double-handed grip at the jump before sending the powerfully built youngster to the sandy surface with a skillfully executed thigh grabbing push down.
Ozeki Kirishima (9-6), who also started the meet with kadoban status, pulled down Takayasu, consigning the former ozeki to yet another near miss in his pursuit for a maiden Emperor's Cup.
Sole yokozuna Terunofuji sat out the entire 15-day meet while treating a herniated disc and symptoms of diabetes.