• Kyodo


Late bloomer Kisenosato will be hoping to get off on the right foot when he faces rank-and-file wrestler Takekaze in his debut as yokozuna on the first day of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday.

All four yokozuna — one Japanese and three Mongolian — will be competing in the elite makuuchi division for the first time in 17 years at the March 12-26 meet at Edion Arena Osaka, with stats showing Kisenosato has little to worry about on opening day.

The 30-year-old Kisenosato, the first Japan-born yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998, has a 20-5 record against the 37-year-old Takekaze, a top maegashira and two-time winner of the Fighting Spirit Prize.

The crowd will be expecting nothing less than a repeat of his dominant showing at the New Year Basho in Tokyo in January, when he won with a 14-1 mark and was promoted to become sumo’s 72nd yokozuna.

Kisenosato has it easy on the second day as well, as he is set to face komusubi Shodai, against whom he has won four of five bouts.

“I was thinking that I would be matched with opponents (ranked) around there. I will just focus on each bout each day,” Kisenosato said after training Friday following a day off. “My practice went very well.”

Yokozuna Hakuho, who is looking to secure his first championship in five tournaments and 38th of his career, will take on Shodai in the final bout Sunday.

Kakuryu, winner of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November, was handed a tough draw as his first-day opponent will be komusubi Mitakeumi, whom he was defeated by at the New Year meet before he pulled out due to a right leg injury.

Harumafuji will be greeted by a fierce opponent in his first matchup, facing sekiwake Kotoshogiku, who will be restored to ozeki status at sumo’s second-highest rank with 10 or more wins here in the second of six major sumo tournaments held every year.

Two ozeki will add to the dramatic tension — Goeido on the prestigious east side and Terunofuji on the west.

Goeido, who pulled out of the New Year tourney with a right ankle injury, will meet No. 1 maegashira Ikioi, while Terunofuji will start as kadoban for the fourth time, vulnerable to demotion with a losing record, as he faces second-ranked maegashira Sokokurai.

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