FUKUOKA – The announcement of Kisenosato’s imminent promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank came even before the sekiwake stepped in the raised ring for his final match of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.
For sumo fans who hoped to witness the sekiwake battle it out with ozeki debutant Kotoshogiku for one more “crucial” victory at a basho where yokozuna Hakuho had secured his 21st career title on the 13th day, the decision by the Japan Sumo Association was a letdown to say the least.
Hakuho, who won back-to-back titles, made up for the damper mood with a mouthwatering showdown against Estonian big man Baruto in the final bout of 2011 — a year in which the national sport was brought to its knees due to a match-fixing scandal that surfaced in February, resulting in the cancellation of the spring basho in March.
Hakuho jumped the gun in his hurry to topple Baruto and was instead swatted forward by the ozeki to suffer his only defeat of the tournament, ending his campaign on 14-1. Baruto ended on 11-4.
“I might have let my guard down somewhat after securing the title on the 13th day,” Hakuho said with a wry smile. “I want to apologize to the fans for that. But I am happy that I was able to win five straight titles here in Kyushu.”
Despite all the pre-match hoopla, Kisenosato (10-5) was a disappointment in his final bout in a lopsided defeat to Kotoshogiku, who quickly shoved his opponent over the edge with a thigh-grabbing pushdown to finish on 11-4 at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
Ringside judges called a short conference to check video footage in what turned out to be clear victory for Kotoshogiku.
Under the JSA’s loosely defined guidelines, a total of 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments is the minimum requirement for a move up to ozeki. Kisenosato, who won his first Technique Prize, had only reached 32 ahead of his bout against Kotoshogiku.
The JSA officiating committee, nevertheless, decided to make an exception based on Kisenosato’s consistently strong performances and his future potential. Kisenosato will become the second wrestler in as many tournaments to gain promotion to ozeki following Kotoshogiku who got the nod after the autumn meet in September.