Ozeki Kisenosato is looking for his elusive first championship and another chance for promotion to sumo’s highest rank, with injured yokozuna Hakuho not standing in his way, at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament which begins Sunday.
Hakuho, who boasts a record 37 championships, is sitting out the entire 15-day tourney at Ryogoku Kokugikan after he was ruled out for four weeks with left knee joint derangement and injuries also to his right big toe and calf, according to a medical certificate submitted to the Japan Sumo Association.
The development could prove crucial for Kisenosato’s aspirations.
The 30-year-old was heading for his first silverware in March, with 10 straight wins, before Hakuho beat him and went on to snatch the trophy. He was again thwarted by the Mongolian in May, when a 12-day winning run came to a halt with a loss to the also undefeated yokozuna, who clinched that title with a perfect record.
Kisenosato has nonetheless posted 13-2, 13-2 and 12-3 records in the last three tournaments and is hanging on for another shot at promotion to yokozuna, for which two consecutive titles, or records equally as good, is normally required.
But prospects for a walkover by Kisenosato, who faltered in his first two tsunatori attempts in July 2013 and January 2014, with early losses to lower-ranked opponents, are looking grim.
After missing the early part of the summer regional tour through the end of August with a right foot injury, Kisenosato lost all eight bouts against July tourney champion Harumafuji before the Yokozuna Deliberation Council on Sept. 2.
Harumafuji, who won the previous meet in Nagoya with a 13-2 record, is eyeing his first back-to-back title and ninth championship overall.
The Mongolian is set to provide Kisenosato with a major challenge for the title in Tokyo, looking lively and unperturbed in training sessions.
Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu, who withdrew from the Nagoya Basho with lower back pain, has been mediocre at best since reaching the exalted rank in May 2014, with just one title to his name since, but is also more than capable of troubling Kisenosato.
Among ozeki, Goeido has his rank on the line for the fourth time, a losing record would see him demoted to the third-highest rank of sekiwake, but has been bright in the run-up to the upcoming meet.
Kotoshogiku, another kadoban ozeki and in the tight spot for the sixth time, will be eager to get a winning record at the earliest opportunity, while Mongolian ozeki Terunofuji is still nursing injuries to both his knees.
New sekiwake Takayasu is struggling with neck pain, but another sekiwake debutant Takarafuji is tuning up nicely after winning 10 bouts in July as a No. 2 rank-and-file maegashira.
Making their first appearances in the elite makuuchi division are 25-year-olds Amakaze and Chiyoshoma, the former fighting as a No. 13 maegashira after winning the second-tier juryo division in July.
Mongolian Chiyoshoma is the first new wrestler to enter the top flight since his former stablemaster Kokonoe, formerly known as the legendary yokozuna Chiyonofuji, passed away on July 31.