Is a professional sumo wrestler, or rikishi, born 1991, and Grand Sumo's 73rd yokozuna. Like four of the last five yokozuna, Terunofuji is Mongolian. He currently as at 2024 is the sole yokozuna following the retirement of Hakuho (who is the undisputed GOAT of the sport), and of Kisenosato, the unluckiest man ever to take the rope, winning the Emperor's Cup convincingly in his first tournament at yokozuna but suffering a career ending injury in so doing. Teru wrestles for Isegahama stable, and made his professional debut in January 2011.

Terunofuji is a really big man. He's 6' 3" tall which is a very good height to be as that's how tall I am and people who are 6' 3" are universally known to be trustworthy, competent, and good in bed. He weighs 170kg, and he's one of the few people on the planet who is statistically obese but who can truthfully say is mostly muscle. He is fantastically strong. In the ring he is good at both pushing matches and at belt sumo but his preferred technique seems to be to wrap up the opponent's arms at the outset and then drive them out or shove them to the deck with an uwatenage or overarm throw. He also has been known to make use of his massive strength simply to lift opponents up and physically carry them out the dohyo. This gives you some idea of how strong the man is. However, while I could give you a load of dry facts and statistics about "Kaiju" as he is nicknamed, that would be kind of boring. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the rocky road he took to become yokozuna, which is a story that I personally find inspiring and worthwhile.

So. Teru joins Grand Sumo in 2011 and already things go a bit Pete Tong. 2011 was the year that a massive match fixing scandal brought professional sumo as a whole into disrepute, and though he went through his preliminary maezumo bouts in January 2011, the March 2011 basho was cancelled amid waves of firings and resignations in the Sumo Association of the jumping before pushed variety. The May 2011 basho took place but without an audience, without prizes, and without any real prestige, and as such he had to do his maezumo bouts again to get onto the banzuke. Eventually, though, in July 2011, he firstly appeared in professional sumo proper. Things seemed to go swimmingly well after that, and he blasted his way up the rankings, making the salaried ranks (sumo wrestlers below the second highest division, juryo, don't really get paid other than a monthly allowance, and have to do scutwork in the stables for the higher ranked sekitori wrestlers) in September 2013. From there, he continued his meteoric rise with in March 2014 making it into the top division, makuuchi. He lifted the Emperor's Cup for the first time in May 2015, at the third highest rank of sekiwake, and was made up to ozeki, the second highest rank. It seemed that finally Hakuho, who was at yokozuna (the top rank) and dominating, may have finally found a worthy opponent who could possibly break his hold on the world of sumo. However, Terunofuji just couldn't seem to advance or win the top division championship. It was frustrating. He would consistently gain more wins than losses through 2015 and 2016, but not manage to challenge for the yusho for some time.

Then, 2017 happened. This was not a good year to be a Mongolian sumo wrestler ranked at ozeki.

In the July and September bashos, he suffered knee injuries and had to withdraw partway through. During the November basho, in Fukuoka, he withdrew with a meniscus tear to his knee. Now it should be explained here that Grand Sumo is a brutally zero sum game, and as far as the Sumo Association is concerned you are only as good as your last tournament result. There are no draws. You either win a bout or you lose it. If you cannot compete due to absence, this is scored as "kyujo" or absent, and your opponent that day is credited with a win by default. Now absences are not losses, but when determining the banzuke for the next tournament, and when determining whether or not you are kachi-koshi (mostly wins) or make-koshi (mostly losses), absences count at losses. While at the very highest ranks there are some special rules for demotions (a yokozuna is never demoted but encouraged to retire if they start losing a lot, and an ozeki is allowed one make-koshi to remain at the rank but consecutive make-koshis will see them automatically fall to sekiwake), this only lasts a short time. Terunofuji's multiple knee injuries therefore led to him sitting out multiple tournaments. Even when he did compete, he was clearly struggling but wanted to preserve his position as long as he could. In hindsight this may have been a mistake as it aggravated the already parlous state of his knees. But there was a reason he did it. You know how I mentioned that wrestlers below the second highest juryo division are considered mere trainees and are paid only a small monthly allowance, and live a semi-monastic existence in the stables where they have to do chores for the higher ranked wrestlers? In practice, this means falling to makushita and below is financially ruinous. It is equivalent to a pay cut of over 95% in fact. And no, exceptions are not made for former ozeki who collapse to such a lowly state.

Terunofuji fell to juryo, the second division, in March 2018. He went make-koshi. He stayed in juryo (and thus earning) the next basho, but injuries meant he had to withdraw. Add to persistent knee troubles kidney stones and the dreaded beetus. He sat out the next four tournaments in their entirety while recovering from surgery on his knees, and fell through the divisions accordingly. When he was finally cleared fit to compete seriously again, in March 2019, he was ranked Jonidan 48 West. That's around the middle of the second lowest division. In football terms, this is as if Manchester United collapsed from the Premier League, through the whole of the Football League, through the Conference, then into the murky realms of semi-professional football where it splits by region, and even then not onto the top flight of such competition. It was the biggest fall in the recorded history of Grand Sumo. It was catastrophic. Within two years he had gone from challenging for the cup on the semi-regular to battling it out in the meatgrinder of the lower divisions. And it is a meatgrinder, because there are only 28 spots in juryo and 42 spots in makuuchi, which means of all the wrestlers in professional sumo , only 70 actually make a living out of it. Therefore competition is fierce. Just to get to sekitori or salaried status once is a fairly major achievement, because, as I said above, as far as the JSA is concerned, you're only as good as your last tournament, and Terunofuji having posted 60 consecutive L's in effect, was not good.

A lesser man would have hung up his mawashi and quit while he still had his health.

Terunofuji is not a lesser man though. He thought, "fuck this for a game of soldiers," and threw himself back into it. He swept the jonidan (5th division) championship in an almost contemptuous manner. I've seen some of his bouts from this period. It's not even fair half the time. There's this massive 170kg wammicker just ragdolling youngsters out the dohyo. He battled up through the trenches of sandanme (the 4th division), passed the makushita (3rd division) meatgrinder in two tournaments, and was back into the land of oicho-mage hairdos, silk mawashis, and being paid properly by the start of 2020. The January 2020 basho, he won the 2nd division championship, and again in March, and was back into makuuchi, the top division, in May 2020. He's ranked at Maegashira 17 East, which is the very bottom of the top division, in what in football terms would be called the relegation zone. And then...

COVID-19 has entered the chat

And the May 2020 basho was cancelled because of the Chinese Batclap. The path of Terunofuji's life is strewn with cowpats from the devil's own satanic herd.

LOL JK. The July tournament goes ahead as normal albeit to mostly empty arenas with social distancing gaps between seats. And what does our intrepid Mongolian hero do? Why, he lifts the Emperor's Cup a second time, that's what. As well as win two of the three special prizes for Outstanding Performance and Technique. This is a man whose knees are probably made of broken glass, woodchips, and sandpaper, who pisses razors, and who everyone thought was past it, blitzing the competition on sheer willpower and grit. His next tournament was less dominant, but it was good enough for him to enter the sanyaku, or titleholders. Then, a combination of running up twice in the next two tournaments, and two more Emperor's Cup wins thereafter led to him regaining his former rank of ozeki. But this wasn't enough. And in the July 2021 tournament, he was in the running for promotion to the ultimate rank of yokozuna. There was only one obstacle in his way.


Teru's Mongolian countryman is widely considered to be the GOAT of sumo. You name a record in professional sumo since the modern era (1958 onwards when six tournaments a year was the norm), Hakuho has it, pretty much. Hakuho was 69th yokozuna and widely considered in 2021 to be an even more formidable figure in the ring than when he first gained the rank in 2007. He was suffering from injuries at this point but he had outlasted the next three yokozuna entirely. Harumafuji was his great rival until he was forced to retire due to conduct unbecoming after a reprehensible incident involving beating a lower ranked wrestler with a beer bottle to the point of hospitalisation because said lower ranked wrestler was allegedly being disrespectful by scrolling on his phone in the presence of two current yokozuna. Kakuryu was never on Hakuho's level, and was injury prone. Kisenosato could have been a worthy challenger, but in his first tournament after gaining his rope, he won the tournament but suffered a career ending injury in so doing. Bear in mind that to get to the second highest rank of ozeki requires a rikishi to average 11 wins per tournament over 3 tournaments while in the titled ranks, and then to get to yokozuna requires winning the Emperor's Cup back to back in consecutive tournaments at ozeki, or winning once and running up twice over three tournaments (known as the "equivalent performance" criterion.) Yokozuna are supposed to be the very avatars of sumo as a sport and a cultural product, and getting even in contention for the rank is a serious achievement. You are basically supposed to be as far above the rest of the titled ranks as the rest of the titled ranks are above the maegashira or top division rank and file, and Hakuho was arguably that far above the average yokozuna. However by the middle of 2021 Hakuho was starting to slow down. He wasn't quite as dominant as he had been through the 2010s, and he himself had been off for four months with an injury, but was able to take advantage of yokozuna never being demoted to rest up. Expectations were that he would retire.

In July 2021, the main tournament was held in Nagoya and both Hakuho and Terunofuji won every bout they respectively were involved in. It went down to the final bout on day 15, between them, to decide who would get the yusho. It was pretty much a given that a win for Terunofuji would get him his rope, as he would have won the top division championship three times back to back.

Sadly real life is not Hollywood and Hakuho won. Teru was able to hold off the champion somewhat, but then Hakuho got a deep right grip on Teru's belt and from then on Teru was resoundingly on the defensive. A twist set up a kotenage or arm-bar throw to send Teru tumbling to the clay. Hakuho got his name on the Emperor's Cup for the 45th and final time.

Teru was promoted to yokozuna thereafter under the equivalent performance criterion though. Nobody could say that the man didn't deserve it given that unlike every other rikishi who made it to the peak of professional sumo, he had in effect had to trail his way up the banzuke twice. Hakuho came down with a bout of COVID-19 in September 2021 (the Japanese were strangely slow at rolling out vaccines for same for reasons I can't really understand, given that here in the UK despite having an ineffectual government we beat almost everyone but Israel in the pace of Covid vaccinations; I guess they thought New Zealand like closing the borders would help more than it did) and retired thereafter.

Terunofuji is now the sole yokozuna in Grand Sumo. He has won the Emperor's Cup 9 times to date, most recently in January 2024 when he . Unfortunately the struggle he had to go through to get to this level has taken its toll. He sits out more tournaments than he enters in recent months and when he does fight, his knees are coated in the most enormous braces you are likely to see. He is still as strong as an ox, and quick with it though. The received wisdom in sumo fandom seems to be that he'll retire when he gets his 10th yusho.

I do think Terunofuji is a worthy successor just because of his story. His determination and willingness to never, ever, give up, and to still come out charging against the odds, and completely refuse to be beaten, are admirable. If he retires this year, he will statistically not be in the same league as Hakuho as the most dominant wrestler of his generation. He will not be in the same league as Taiho who dominated in the 1960s, Kitanoumi who dominated in the 1970s, Chiyonofuji who ruled the 1980s, or Akebono who was top lad in the 1990s, or Asashoryu in the 2000s. And regrettably, the fact he got to the top of his field twice will not really be something that the statistics-heavy, only as good as last tournament world of professional sumo records. Maybe there's a parallel universe where he didn't ruin his knees in 2017 and where he and Kisenosato repeatedly threw a spanner in Hakuho's works. But we live in this one. Regrettably.

I don't think I can really add any more to this, so I'm going to leave you with a couple of YouTube videos. Firstly, this, which is a compilation of his rise, fall, and resurgence in a 20 minute digest, no commentary, from his debut in 2011 up to his promotion to the ultimate rank. And secondly, this, which is a commentary more eloquent than I could put it by Chris Sumo, a resident of Japan and a long established English language pundit of the sport, of Teru's final bout with Hakuho that secured his ascension despite his loss. Sumo is, after all, entirely about what you can do in the ring, so I'll let Teru's performances speak for the man here on in.