Yokozuna withdrawals open up field for Spring Basho

Kyodo

The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament begins Sunday with a unique window of opportunity for wrestlers to rise in the rankings.

The spate of yokozuna injury withdrawals that has plagued the sport since last May will continue at the 15-day competition at Edion Arena Osaka, with Kakuryu the sole yokozuna set to enter the raised ring.

Even so, the Mongolian is dealing with finger pain in his right hand, and his participation was in question until the last minute.

The yokozuna was in grand form in January’s New Year Basho, winning his first 10 bouts before injury slowed him and allowed Tochinoshin to seize his first career championship.

The Georgian Tochinoshin, promoted from No. 3 maegashira to sekiwake, is now one of the favorites along with ozeki Takayasu, who went 12-3 in January — his best result since being promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank a year ago.

Twelve months ago, sumo was enjoying a huge boost in popularity with Takayasu’s Tagonoura stablemate Kisenosato promoted to yokozuna, becoming the first Japanese wrestler to reach those heights since 1998. And though Kisenosato exceeded expectations last March, when he defied injury to seize his second straight championship, the injuries he suffered have prevented him from finishing a tournament since.

Both he and Hakuho, who has won more grand tournaments than any wrestler in history, failed to finish in January and will miss the entire Osaka tournament. As it did in January, their absence will open up opportunities for some surprises over the next 15 days.

Another wrestler to watch will be the 192-cm, 215-kg Ichinojo, who was promoted to komusubi after going 10-5 as a top-ranked maegashira in January.

Eyes will also be on 23-year-old, No. 7 maegashira Abi, who won 10 bouts in January when he debuted in the elite makuuchi division and earned a fighting spirit award.

In the second-tier juryo division, Takanoiwa is poised to make his return to the ring after suffering a concussion in a bar-room scuffle in October.