Chiyonofuji was one of the greatest yokozuna of recent times, winning 31 tournament championships, second only to Taihō. He was particularly remarkable for his longevity in sumo's top rank, which he held for a period of ten years from 1981 to 1991. He won more tournaments in his thirties than any other wrestler and retired in his mid-thirties, in contrast to most recent yokozuna who have tended to retire around 30. He is the only professional sumo wrestler to have scored more than 1000 wins over his professional career, with over 800 of them coming in Makuuchi, sumo's top division.
In a sport where weight is often regarded as vital, Chiyonofuji was quite light at around 120 kg. He relied on a superior technique and muscle to defeat opponents. He was the lightest yokozuna since Tochinoumi in the 1960s.
After establishing himself in the top division Chiyonofuji suffered another injury in 1979 which led to his briefly falling back to Juryo, but he fully recovered by 1980. Encouraged by his stablemaster, he began to rely not just on throwing techniques, which increased the risk of reinjuring his shoulders, but also on gaining ground quickly and forcing out his opponents. Showing much more consistency, he won the prestigious Ginosho, or technique award, in three successive tournaments from July to November 1980. In January 1981 he went undefeated for 14 consecutive days and on the final day of the tournament faced Yokozuna Kitanoumi, who had dominated sumo since the mid-1970s and held an 8-1 head-to-head advantage over him. Chiyonofuji lost the initial match but defeated Kitanoumi in the subsequent playoff. This earned him his first yusho, or tournament title, and also saw him promoted to sumo's second-highest rank of Ozeki. His second title that July, which included another defeat of Kitanoumi, saw him promoted to Yokozuna.
As his rival Kitanoumi went into a long slump, Chiyonofuji dominated sumo in 1982, winning four of the six tournaments. However, over the next two years, another Yokozuna Takanosato, emerged to challenge him, and he also suffered a number of injury problems. He was restricted to just one championship in the nine tournaments held from May 1983 to September 1984. But Kitanoumi retired in January 1985, with the aging Takanosato following a year later, and Chiyonofuji resumed his dominance. In 1986 he won five out of the six tournaments held, the first time this had been done since Kitanoumi in 1978. Despite being older and lighter than nearly all his opponents, his strength, skill, and phenomenal will to win meant he was almost unbeatable.
In 1988 he went on a winning streak of 53 bouts, second in sumo history only to Futabayama's 69. The sequence began on the 7th day of the May 1988 tournament and continued through the July and September 1988 tournaments, ending only on the final day of the November 1988 tournament when he was defeated by Onokuni. Had he won that bout, he would have been the first wrestler ever to win three consecutive tournaments with 15-0 records. Nonetheless, his winning run was the best ever in the postwar period, surpassing the 45 bouts won by Taiho in 1968 and 1969. In July 1989 he took his 28th championship in a playoff from his stablemate Hokutoumi, marking the first time ever that two yokozuna from the same stable had met in competition. Shortly before the tournament began he had lost his youngest daughter to sudden infant death syndrome. In September 1989 Chiyonofuji surpassed Oshio's record of 964 career wins and in March 1990 won his 1000th match. His final goal was Taiho's record of 32 tournament titles, but his 31st championship in November of that year proved to be his last.
In the opening tournament of 1991, Chiyonofuji surpassed Kitanoumi's record of 804 top division wins but injured himself on the second day and had to withdraw. He returned in May, but he lost on the opening day of the tournament to the 18-year-old rising star Takahanada (later Yokozuna Takanohana II). It was estimated that half of the Japanese population watched the match on TV. Ironically Takahanada's father Takanohana I had retired in 1981 shortly after losing to Chiyonofuji. After losing another match with Takatoriki two days later Chiyonofuji announced his own retirement, a few weeks short of his 36th birthday.