Lone yokozuna Terunofuji claimed his ninth top-division title Sunday by defeating joint leader Kotonowaka in a thrilling championship playoff at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

The pair had started the final day tied for first place at 12-2 after promotion-seeking sekiwake Kotonowaka knocked ozeki Kirishima from the top of the leaderboard in their highly anticipated Day 14 battle at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Yokozuna Terunofuji (L) receives the championship trophy after winning the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Jan. 28, 2024. (Kyodo)

Kotonowaka was first to book his place in the playoff with a victory over No. 4 maegashira Tobizaru (7-8), who was picked to face the sekiwake following the injury withdrawal of ozeki Hoshoryu (10-4-1). The result eliminated Kirishima from title contention and halted his bid for yokozuna promotion.

Terunofuji then continued his career domination of fellow Mongolian-born grappler Kirishima (11-4) in the 15-day tournament's final scheduled match, lifting him up and forcing him straight out to improve to 11-0 in their head-to-head meetings.

Having beaten Kotonowaka two days earlier, Terunofuji went straight for the sekiwake's belt in the playoff. Kotonowaka did not give ground easily and jockeyed back and forth with the yokozuna before succumbing to a force out.

"It seems that he is getting stronger. I was able to feel that in the bout," Terunofuji said of Kotonowaka.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on his maiden Emperor's Cup, Kotonowaka will have the consolation of promotion to the second-highest rank of ozeki.

By finishing with a 13-2 record, the 26-year-old son of former sekiwake Kotonowaka and grandson of former yokozuna Kotozakura met the unofficial promotion benchmark of 33 victories over three consecutive tournaments as a komusubi or sekiwake.

"I am happy hearing that I might get promoted," Kotonowaka said. "I have to really focus on the results. I think I still have a lot of work to do for the next tournament."

The 32-year-old Terunofuji's performance marks another triumph against the backdrop of mounting health problems that have severely limited his time inside the ring.

The grand champion won his eighth Emperor's Cup last May after sitting out the three prior tournaments while recuperating from double knee surgery. While his knees appeared to recover well, back pain stemming from a training injury forced his withdrawal from the last three meets of 2023.

Terunofuji (L) defeats Kotonowaka in a playoff on the final day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on Jan. 28, 2024. (Kyodo)

"The injuries simply hurt, but I was able to overcome that," Terunofuji said. "The younger wrestlers are all getting stronger and chasing them is something that I really enjoy."

Sekiwake Daieisho improved to 9-6 by pulling down former ozeki Asanoyama, who logged a 9-3-3 record as a No. 7 despite missing four days with an ankle injury.

No. 15 Onosato collected a Fighting Spirit Prize after finishing his impressive top-division debut at 11-4 with victory over veteran No. 10 Tamawashi (8-7). The 23-year-old former amateur star had been in title contention until the home stretch of the tournament, earning him bouts against top-ranked opponents.

"I was able to get double-digit wins so I was really happy," Onosato said. "I didn't imagine what would happen throughout this tournament, but I was able to get really good experience."

Acrobatic komusubi Ura completed his first basho among the three distinguished "sanyaku" ranks below yokozuna at 6-9 by beating No. 5 Ryuden (3-12) with a spectacular underarm forward body drop.

No. 1 Wakamotoharu received his first Outstanding Performance Award after sealing his return to sanyaku with a 10-5 record including wins against Terunofuji and multiple sanyaku opponents.

Related coverage:

Sumo: Kotonowaka beats Kirishima, stays tied for 1st with Terunofuji

Sumo: Title-chasing ozeki Hoshoryu withdraws from New Year meet

Sumo: Terunofuji beats Kotonowaka, creating 3-way tie for lead