Kisenosato ready to begin bid for third straight title

Kyodo

Yokozuna Kisenosato will be looking to shake off recent injury concerns and win his third straight title at the upcoming Summer Grand Sumo Tournament as the head-to-heads for the event’s first two days were announced Friday.

Should he make a similarly risk-free performance as at the last two meets where he posted 14-1 and 13-2 records, Kisenosato, who sits atop the prestigious east slot, is once again the odds-on favorite to win the 15-day meet at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

In the last bout of the top makuuchi division on opening day Sunday, Kisenosato will face komusubi Yoshikaze, against whom he has a 15-4 head-to-head record.

His scheduled opponent for the following day is second-ranked maegashira Okinoumi, to whom he has lost only three times in 20 bouts.

The Tagonoura stable wrestler will hope to show fans that the upper left arm and chest muscle injuries he suffered late in the previous Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March in Osaka are behind him and will not affect his prospects of retaining his top rank.

“As soon as I started training I felt I’m ready to go. Everyone is hurting somewhere. I’m not the only one,” said Kisenosato.

“I just have to focus and take one day at a time,” he said.

Kisenosato sat out the regional spring tournament in April, but his stablemaster Tagonoura said Thursday that the 30-year-old is fit enough to compete for “fans who come to watch grand champion-level wrestling.”

Kisenosato, who fought through injury on the last two days of the spring event, was hailed for his grit after he became the first newly promoted yokozuna to win a championship in 22 years.

Having missed only one day of tournament in his 15-year career, Kisenosato has learned to deal with pain and chooses to make progress than make excuses.

“I’m a sumo wrestler. Everyone is hurting somewhere. I’m not the only one. I’ve been doing this since I was 15, and I always feel the same way before every basho,” said Kisenosato.

Advance tickets for all 15 days of the spring meet sold out in two hours, and fans who lined up at the box office at Kokugikan when pre-sale tickets for the May 14-28 meet were made available on April 8 were sent home empty-handed as they sold out online within an hour and a half.

If Kisenosato wins three in a row from with his first career title, it would be the first time in 80 years for a wrestler to accomplish the feat since Futabayama.

While the Japan-born Kisenosato’s popularity continues to rise apace, three other yokozuna — all from Mongolia — will try to steal the spotlight as all four grand champions will be competing in the elite division. The spring tournament was the first time in 17 years that four yokozuna faced off in the same event.

Hakuho, who missed most of the March tournament due to toe and thigh injuries, will be returning to the raised ring and will take on Chiyonokuni in his first-ever matchup against the top-ranked maegashira on the first day.

Kakuryu, who finished the spring meet with a 10-5 record, meets komusubi Mitakeumi, while Harumafuji has a tough road ahead after being paired with sekiwake Kotoshogiku who sits at the sport’s third-highest rank and has a 32-27 winning record over the Mongolian.

Sekiwake Takayasu will meet No. 3 maegashira Daieisho on Day 1 as he bids to secure promotion to ozeki status for the second time, and a day later he meets ozeki Goeido.

At the second-highest rank of ozeki, Terunofuji’s opening-day bout will be against No. 1 maegashira Endo, and No. 2 maegashira Okinoumi is the scheduled opponent for demotion-threatened Goeido, who will start as a kadoban ozeki for the fifth time.

The in-form Terunofuji returns to action after competing in the spring tournament where he lost to Kisenosato in a championship playoff, though at the March event he appeared healthy for the first time in nearly two years.