OSAKA – Ozeki Kotoshogiku will be out to prove his first Emperor’s Cup win in January was no fluke when the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament begins on Sunday.
To say that his championship win at the New Year Basho was a major surprise would be something of an understatement, given that it was only the eighth time that Kotoshogiku had posted double-digit wins in 26 tournaments at sumo’s second rank of ozeki.
Kotoshogiku, who has milked his win for all it is worth and has enjoyed numerous championship parades, will now at the age of 32 be up for a tsunatori challenge, meaning he will be promoted to sumo’s top rank of yokozuna with a second-consecutive title win at the March 13-27 tournament in Edion Arena Osaka.
That will prove to be a tough ask, but sumo elder Tamanoi, who as ozeki Tochiazuma was the most recent Japanese-born wrestler to win a championship back in 2006 before Kotoshogiku’s shock title win, has given him a “50-50″ chance.
“I never thought (Kotoshogiku’s win) would generate so much excitement, the mood is fantastic,” said Tamanoi.
“Obviously it would be best if he could wrestle the way he did at the last tournament. But I don’t think his opponents are going to let him do that. The key will be how well he comes through the first half of the tournament.”
Asakayama, or former ozeki Kaio, who like Kotoshogiku hails from Fukuoka Prefecture, said, “I think a lot of people thought it (the New Year win) was just a fluke, myself included.
“The possibility (of reaching yokozuna) will come if he can consistently post solid results.”
In 1991, former ozeki Kirishima won his only career title at the New Year meet at age 31, only to post a 5-10 mark in his next tournament.
Some sumo elders have said that like Kirishima, Kotoshogiku is “blooming out of season” in the twilight of his career.
Still, Kotoshogiku’s showing at the New Year meet has given sumo a welcome boost and advance tickets have already sold out for all 15 days in Osaka.
Kotoshogiku will try to become the first Japan-born yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998.
“Sometimes you can’t get what you want even when you go for it and I am keeping my feet on the ground,” he said.
Harumafuji, Hakuho and Kakuryu are the three yokozuna who will likely be taking a backseat 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 in his right shoulder and left knee.
Toyonoshima, who had 12 wins at the New Year tournament, returns to the ring as a sekiwake, the third-highest rank, for the first time in 23 basho.
Two new faces join the top-tier makuuchi division — Daishomaru, an Oitekaze stable wrestler who made his professional debut only two years ago, and Akiseyama, a former collegiate sumo wrestler who belongs to the Kise stable.