In childhood, Ganerdene was coached in judo by the father of yokozuna Hakuhō, but, his coach saw in him a predisposition for sumo and helped arrange for him to move to Japan as a student at Tottori Johoku High School to join its well-known sumo program. Future top division wrestler Ichinojō travelled with him and joined the same school. (He continued his rivalry with Ichinojō into the professional ranks, remarking in 2015, "What matters is who will make it to the ozeki rank first.") As a third year student, Ganerdene's team took the championship at a national inter-high school sumo tournament.
Upon graduating, he chose to turn professional and joined Magaki stable. He entered the ring in the same tournament as soon to be well-known Chiyotairyū and Jōkōryū. Upon entering he was given the ring name of Wakamishō. From his first pro tournament in July 2011 he excelled, posting only three losses in three tournaments and spending only one tournament in each of the lower divisions of jonokuchi, jonidan and sandanme. In his sandanme tournament in November 2011, he had a perfect 7–0 record and participated in a playoff for the championship, which he lost to the aforementioned Jōkōryū, then still known as Sakumayama. From his third division makushita debut in January 2012, he had three consecutive 5–2 records before posting two consecutive losing tournaments in July and September 2012, the only two of his career up to that point. He bounced back from this in the following November tournament, garnering a 4–3 record. For the next four tournaments his success continued and he never had more than two losses in any tournament. During the period, his stable closed, and he transferred to Isegahama stable. He had become frustrated with a lack of training opportunities at the small Magaki stable, and at Isegahama by contrast he was able to practice with many higher ranked wrestlers to improve his technique. His 6–1 record at makushita 4 in July 2013 was enough to earn him promotion to the salaried ranks of jūryō in September 2013.
Upon entering jūryō he changed his ring name to Terunofuji, a combination of two former yokozuna, Terukuni and Asahifuji (his own stablemaster), and a reflection of the high expectations placed on him. He took the jūryō championship in his debut tournament, beating future maegashira Kagamiō on the last day to even their records and forcing a playoff bout against Kagamiō, which he also won. This success followed in the footsteps of the popular Endō who in the previous tournament also took the jūryō championship in his debut in said division. An 8–7 record in the following November tournament and an even more impressive 12–3 record against a host of wrestlers with makuuchi experience in the January 2014 tournament earned him promotion to the top makuuchi division in March 2014.
His debut in the makuuchi division looked to be a disaster, and he had only a 2–7 record on the 9th day. However, from then on he won 6 straight bouts in 6 days to pull out a kachi-koshi or winning tournament. Then in the following May tournament he started out with an unpromising 4–6 record, but then won 5 straight to finish with a strong showing of 9–6. Two tournaments later in the September 2014 tournament at maegashira 1 he was up against top notch competition, including several san'yaku or titled wrestlers, and he only managed to eke out an 6–9 record. This was only his third make-koshi or losing record in a tournament in his career and his first in the salaried rank. He only fell to maegashira 2 though, being helped by bad showings from several other wrestlers. It was in this tournament in November 2014 that he truly began to show his mettle in the top division; after going only 4–6, he beat an ōzeki and two sekiwake in the last 5 days to pull off an 8–7. In the January 2015, he defeated the ōzeki Gōeidō and Kisenosato, the sekiwake Aoiyama and both active komusubi on the way to an 8–7 record. He was awarded the Fighting Spirit Prize, his first special prize.
He was promoted to the rank of sekiwake for the next tournament. In the March Grand Tournament of 2015, he defeated yokozuna Hakuhō (unbeaten in his last 36 matches) for the first time in four meetings, and finished runner-up with a 13–2 record, having also defeated both komusubi as well as the ōzeki Gōeidō and Kotoshōgiku. He received his second Fighting Spirit Prize and was also awarded the prize for Outstanding Performance. After his final contest he said "I’ll shoot for double-digit wins at the next tournament and hopefully that will lead to victory. Now I just want to take a long rest". In May Terunofuji was beaten on the opening day of the Natsu basho by Sadanoumi, but won his next seven including victories over both komusubi and the ōzeki Kotoshōgiku. After defeats by Tokushōryū on day nine and Hakuhō on day eleven he recovered to win his next three matches including victories over Kisenosato and the sekiwake Myōgiryū to enter the final day in a tie for first place with Hakuhō. In his final match he defeated the Bulgarian maegashira Aoiyama by yori-kiri or force-out, and then saw Hakuhō lose to Harumafuji. The result was that Terunofuji, in his eighth top-division tournament, was handed his first championship with a 12–3 record and was awarded the Fighting Spirit Prize for the third time. Terunofuji admitted that he had been "almost in tears" at the conclusion of the tournament and said, "When I was 15 years old I watched sumo and wanted to become a sumo wrestler and so came to Japan. It was a dream of mine to win the championship. To actually win it is like a dream." A few days after the tournament, Terunofuj's official promotion to ōzeki was announced in a press conference.