NAGOYA – Kisenosato will be looking to turn pressure into power when he takes his first crack at promotion to sumo’s top rank of yokozuna at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament getting under way at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium on Sunday.
The surly ozeki, who turned 27 on Wednesday, had an outstanding Summer Basho, remaining unbeaten until the penultimate day, when he fell out of his dead heat with yokozuna Hakuho, the eventual champion. Kisenosato’s other defeat was on the final day, to rival ozeki Kotoshogiku.
The two consecutive defeats notwithstanding, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, a powerful advisory body to the Japan Sumo Association, has deemed him worthy of a shot at yokozuna, though he is expected to face a rigorous test that might require him to win the title, or at least come very close.
That would mean seeing off yokozuna pair Hakuho and Harumafuji in addition to taking care of the rest of his business in the upper echelons of the elite makuuchi division.
The enormity of that task is not lost on the rosy-cheeked Kisenosato, who is also aware he does not have a great deal of time.
“In society in general you have still got shelf life at 27 (years old), but in the sumo world you are already getting on,” said Kisenosato.
“I guess there is a part of me that feels pressed, but unless I can suppress that feeling, I won’t be strong.”
Despite defeat at the Summer Basho, Kisenosato has been something of a thorn in Hakuho’s side in recent years and famously ended the Mongolian’s record-chasing winning streak at 63 bouts at the 2010 Kyushu meet, wrecking the yokozuna’s hopes of matching and surpassing Futabayama’s record of 69 set from 1936-39.
“He has taken his chances up until this point and has built up a great deal of experience,” Hakuho said of Kisenosato. “I think he can wrestle with the right intensity.
“I want him to understand the heavy burden being a yokozuna brings and so in that sense it means I myself have to keep on giving it my best shot.”
Hakuho is currently on a 30-bout winning streak and 10 more wins in succession would make him the first wrestler since the beginning of the Showa Era to register two 40-win streaks
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Hakuho, who is also looking to become the first foreign-born wrestler with 26 career titles.
Harumafuji, inconsistent since his yokozuna debut at last year’s Kyushu meet, will be looking to improve on an 11-4 showing in May, starting with a win against komusubi Shohozan.
Further down the rankings, a ghost from the past has found his way back onto the raised ring in Chinese national Sokokurai, who was fired due to accusations of bout rigging in 2011 but reinstated in April of this year after a court ruled his dismissal invalid.
Sokokurai will be fighting in his first major tournament since the 2011 New Year Basho as a 15th-ranked maegashira, the same rank he held before his expulsion. He meets 16th-ranked Tokushoryu on Sunday.
“I will be going all out for it,” said Sokokurai. “I’m in OK condition and don’t have any concerns. I have done everything I can to get prepared.”