Sumo

Kisenosato breaks even in practice with fight for career looming at New Year Basho

Kyodo

Yokozuna Kisenosato broke even over six practice bouts on Monday as he prepares for the fight of his life at the upcoming New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Kisenosato won three and lost three of his practice bouts, which were overseen by the yokozuna council, going 1-3 against fellow yokozuna Kakuryu and winning both of his matches against ozeki Goeido.

The session at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan saw all three grand champions — Kisenosato, Kakuryu and Hakuho — showcasing their recovery from the injuries that prevented them from completing last year’s November tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho said he is in “good condition” after skipping the Fukuoka meet due to surgery on his right knee and ankle. He posted a perfect 5-0 record against November meet champion Takakeisho.

The 32-year-old Kisenosato showed a decent range of motion throughout the practice, but lacked speed breaking into his initial charges. His sixth bout was terminated early to take extra precaution when his left leg was driven into the straw.

“My movement wasn’t bad. I thought I was attacking,” Kisenosato said, looking relaxed after practice.

With his career likely on the line in the 15-day tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan starting Jan. 13, Kisenosato said “I have to fight with confidence, one step at a time.”

Yokozuna council chairman Masato Kitamura said, “I felt (Kisenosato’s) mental strength. What he needs next is sumo intuition. I want him to regain those kinds of things.”

Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku said the yokozuna was still light on his initial charge, adding he assumes Kisenosato is irritated by his condition.

The council issued Kisenosato a notice to show its dissatisfaction with his performance after he became the first yokozuna in 87 years to post four straight opening losses at a 15-day tournament.

Before withdrawing from the Kyushu Basho in November, he went 10-5 in September after missing all or part of a record eight-straight meets, the most by a yokozuna.

Kisenosato sat out the winter regional tour but indicated his intent to compete from opening day at the New Year meet amid renewed talk of his impending retirement from the sport.

Kakuryu went 7-3 in his bouts against Kisenosato and the ozeki duo of Takayasu and Goeido. Ozeki Tochinoshin, who struggled to win eight bouts in Kyushu, did not participate due to pain in his right thigh.