Kirishima put a bow on his second top-division championship and left himself on the yokozuna-promotion track Sunday by defeating fellow ozeki Takakeisho in the final bout of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament.
The race for the Emperor's Cup was sealed earlier on the last day at Fukuoka Kokusai Center thanks to sekiwake Kotonowaka's victory over Kirishima's only remaining title challenger, No. 8 maegashira Atamifuji.
Kirishima (13-2) started the day alone on the top rung following his victory over Atamifuji (11-4) the previous day. The overnight leader was not to be denied in his final outing of the year, knocking four-time grand tournament winner Takakeisho (9-6) off balance and thrusting him to the clay.
"This was the last bout of the year, and I wanted to end the year with a win," said the Mongolian ozeki.
Atamifuji came in low with his opening charge and was easily swatted down by Kotonowaka (11-4), who earned a Fighting Spirit Prize for his performance at the tournament.
The 15-day meet took place without sumo's injury-plagued sole yokozuna. Terunofuji completed just one of six grand tournaments this year, but Kirishima could join him at the top of the wrestler hierarchy with a strong effort in January.
The head of the Japan Sumo Association's judges division, sumo elder Sadogatake, indicated the ozeki would be a candidate for promotion in January's grand tournament, where another championship or a record worthy of a title will likely see Kirishima ascend to sumo's highest rank.
The 27-year-old Kirishima won his first Emperor's Cup at the March tournament in Osaka as a sekiwake under his previous ring name, Kiribayama. He adopted his stablemaster's former name upon his promotion to ozeki following the May tournament.
He posted a losing record in his ozeki debut in July, while hampered by bruised ribs, and subsequently contested the September tourney while in demotion-threatened "kadoban" status.
"It was tough at the time, but it turned out to be a wonderful year," said Kirishima, who led all top-division wrestlers with 62 wins in 2023.
The 21-year-old Atamifuji is set to continue his climb up the rankings after finishing runner-up for the second straight tournament. He made a surprise run at the title from the bottom half of the draw in September, tying for the best record at 11-4 before losing the championship playoff to Takakeisho.
"I'll come back stronger next year," said Atamifuji, who also received a Fighting Spirit Prize.
Hoshoryu (10-5) notched his first double-digit win total as an ozeki, forcing out sekiwake Daieisho (9-6).
No. 1 Ura could be set for his first promotion to the three "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna after finishing at 8-7 with a frontal push-down against No. 7 Hokuseiho (7-8).
No. 14 Ichiyamamoto, who spent time on top of the leaderboard before running out of steam, earned his first Fighting Spirit Prize by finishing 11-4 with a slap-down of No. 7 Kinbozan (8-7).
"This tournament is one thing, and the next tournament is another. I hope to keep winning and moving up the ladder," he said.