The Japan Sumo Association announced the rankings for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Monday, and ozeki Kotoshogiku will aim to become the first homegrown yokozuna in 18 years when he returns to the prestigious east side.
The 32-year-old Kotoshogiku will be up for a “tsunatori” challenge, meaning he will be promoted to yokozuna with a second-consecutive title win at the March 13-27 tournament in Edion Arena Osaka.
“I’m more motivated than ever. I’ll give my best every day and every bout,” said Kotoshogiku.
“I’ll strategize and prepare well in advance so that I’ll be able to focus once I’m in the ring. It’s important to me that I’ll be able to fight my own fight,” he said.
The spring tournament will be the 27th basho of his career as an ozeki, and the Sadogatake stable wrestler will be fighting on the east side for the first time in eight basho.
Kotoshogiku won the New Grand Sumo Tournament with a 14-1 record, becoming the first Japan-born wrestler since retired ozeki Tochiazuma in 2006 to claim an Emperor’s Cup.
This time, he will try and become the first Japan-born yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998.
Harumafuji, Hakuho and Kakuryu are the three yokozuna who will likely be taking a backseat despite being at sumo’s highest rank, while Kotoshogiku steals the limelight.
In addition to Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, Goeido and Terunofuji fill the ozeki slots. Both Goeido and Terunofuji are ozeki kadoban, needing eight wins to avoid demotion. Terunofuji withdrew from the last tournament due to injuries to his right shoulder and left knee.
Toyonoshima, who had 12 wins at the New Year tournament, returns to the ring as a sekiwake for the first time in 23 basho.
Two new faces will join the makuuchi division —Daishomaru, an Oitekaze stable wrestler who made his professional sumo debut only two years ago, and Akiseyama, a former collegiate sumo wrestler who belongs to the Kise stable.
Hidenoumi, Daieisho and Satoyama return to the makuuchi division.