OSAKA - Kisenosato will start life as sumo’s 72nd yokozuna on the west side as the Japan Sumo Association on Monday released the rankings for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.
Kisenosato, after winning the New Year Basho with a 14-1 mark last month, became the first Japanese-born wrestler to be promoted to yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998.
“On the one hand I am pleased but on the other hand I am bracing myself,” Kisenosato told a packed press conference in Osaka. “I really feel that it (the challenge) starts here and so I kind of can’t truly feel joy in my heart.
“I have to place importance on practice and want to get myself well prepared. My mission is to always be involved in the championship title race. That is an absolute must.”
Kisenosato’s promotion means there will be four yokozuna competing in the elite makuuchi division for the first time since the spring meet in 2000.
“When I used to watch a lot on television, there were four yokozuna and the sumo at that time felt really special,” said Kisenosato.
“Hopefully I can help create a similar sort of atmosphere.
Kisenosato is the first homegrown yokozuna on the banzuke list since 2003, when Takanohana, one of sumo’s most popular grand champions, retired.
Pre-ordered tickets for the spring tournament have already sold out ahead of Kisenosato’s yokozuna debut.
But he said, “This is not just down to me. It is up to all of us to wrestle with every ounce of strength we have.”
Sumo’s most successful wrestler with 37 Emperor’s Cups, Hakuho, who went 11-4 at the last tournament, returns to the prestigious east yokozuna slot for the first time in four basho.
Fellow Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu and Harumafuji both return to the raised ring after pulling out during the New Year meet with injuries.
Ozeki Goeido also withdrew during the New Year Basho. Mongolian giant Terunofuji, who finished the last tourney with a 4-11 record, will need at least eight wins to stay at ozeki.
Kotoshogiku, who became the first Japanese-born wrestler to win a championship title in a decade at the 2016 New Year meet, finds himself at sumo’s third-highest rank of sekiwake, dropping down from ozeki after double-figure losing records from his last two outings.
He is the first wrestler to be demoted to sekiwake since Kotooshu at the 2014 New Year meet and will need 10 wins in Osaka to return to sumo’s second rank.
Ura is the only newcomer to the makuuchi division.