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Kisenosato heads into Summer Basho as top-ranked fighter

Kyodo

Having waited years to reach sumo’s pinnacle, Kisenosato enters the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament looking for his second championship as yokozuna and his third in a row.

The 30-year-old enters the May 14-28 tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan holding the top east slot among the four-man yokozuna corps. It is the first time for a Japanese wrestler to enter a grand tournament in pole position since 2001 when then-yokozuna Takanohana was named to the top east post for the Nagoya tourney.

“I’m not straining or rushing myself, but just thinking about what to do with the May tourney in mind. I hope to do well there,” said Kisenosato, who is recovering from injuries to his left upper arm and chest muscles suffered late in the previous meet in March.

“I almost have no pain,” he said. “I’m 100 percent fit in terms of my lower body, and I’ll work gradually on my upper body . . . I’ll go back to the basics in training and hopefully things will go in a good direction.”

Bringing up the rear of the yokozuna cadre is Mongolian master Hakuho, who missed most of the last tourney in Osaka due to injury. The record holder for career tournament wins with 37, Hakuho will be taking part in his 59th grand tournament as a yokozuna, tying him with Chiyonofuji for second most in history.

His countrymen, Kakuryu and Harumafuji, fill the other two spots in the upper echelon after matching 10-5 records in March.

Terunofuji, who spectacularly lost twice to the injured Kisenosato on the final day in Osaka, enters as the top east ozeki. His partner at sumo’s second-highest rank is Goeido, who missed nine bouts in March due to injury and will need to win eight this month or be dropped to sekiwake.

For the second straight tournament, the same three wrestlers will be fighting as sekiwake. Kotoshogiku is back after failing to win the 10 bouts needed to earn a get-out-of-jail card and reclaim his ozeki status. He is joined by Tamawashi, 8-7 in March, and Kisenosato’s impressive Tagonoura stablemate Takayasu, who was 12-3 in March.

Takayasu, whose mother is from the Philippines, is in the hunt for the ozeki post. With 11 January wins, 10 more in the upcoming meet would boost him to 33 wins from three consecutive tourneys — a benchmark required by the Japan Sumo Association to attain promotion to ozeki.

“I’ll try to be imposing from the first day and aim to win all 15 bouts,” said the 27-year-old, who failed in his first promotion bid in November last year with a losing record but secured another chance at the earliest possible opportunity.

“I shouldn’t rush things. I can have good bouts if I’m healthy mentally,” he said. “I want to be greedier and be the one to catch people’s attention this time.”

At the other end of the spectrum are 23-year-old Yutakayama and 20-year-old Onosho, who will be making their debuts in the top-flight makuuchi division.

Yutakayama, who had been wrestling under the name of Oyanagi, and Onosho both went 9-6 in the juryo division in March. Also earning promotion to the top flight are former makuuchi grapplers Toyohibiki and Chiyotairyu.