NAGOYA – Ozeki Kisenosato takes center stage as he launches his latest bid for an elusive first championship title, and with it, promotion to yokozuna at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament starting on Sunday.
Kisenosato will be attempting to become the first Japanese-born wrestler in 18 years to win a place at sumo’s ultimate rank, and to achieve that goal he will need to at least match his impressive 13-2 showings at the last two meets.
Under the Japan Sumo Association’s loose guidelines, Kisenosato will have to win his first title at the 15-day meet at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium or at worst finish runner-up to have a realistic shot at yokozuna promotion.
The 30-year-old will require the mental fortitude that has deserted him so often in the past when he has been in title contention, and he can ill-afford any early slip-ups if he is to join the Mongolian trio of Hakuho, Harumafuji and Kakuryu at sumo’s summit.
“My sleeves are rolled up. I know I have to give something back to the people who have supported me,” said Kisenosato.
Kisenosato has a potentially tricky opener on Sunday against an opponent he has never faced. The Tagonoura stable star is taking on 23-year-old top-ranked maegashira Mitakeumi.
Mitakeumi is a former amateur yokozuna and posted an impressive 11-4 mark at the Summer basho in May.
“The young wrestlers have vigor and I have to be properly focused right from the first day,” said Kisenosato, who turned 30 last Sunday.
“My body is fit and (becoming 30) is just a passing point. This is where it all starts,” he said with smile.
Wakanohana was the last Japanese wrestler to win promotion to yokozuna, in 1998.
Tournament favorite Hakuho presents the biggest obstacle to Kisenosato. The Mongolian won his second straight championship at the Summer meet with a perfect record.
Chasing a record-extending 38th career title, Hakuho is on a 29-match unbeaten streak and has no fitness issues going into the Nagoya meet.
Hakuho needs 13 wins to become only the third wrestler in sumo history to post 1,000 career wins, while seven victories will see the 31-year-old from Ulan Bator become the first to post 900 in sumo’s elite makuuchi division.
“I have generated momentum from the Spring and Summer meets and hopefully I can keep that going,” said Hakuho.
Elsewhere, Mongolian giant Terunofuji, who has been hampered by problems in both knees, will be fighting with his rank on the line as a kadoban ozeki in Nagoya. He started with two wins at the summer meet before losing 13 straight.
Brazilian grappler Kaisei and Georgian born Tochinoshin will both be wrestling at sumo’s third-highest rank of sekiwake for the first time.
Kitaharima is the only makuuchi-division newcomer, while Chiyonokuni, Toyohibiki, Kagayaki, Sadanofuji and Arawashi all return to the top flight.