NAGOYA – Even without rival yokozuna Kisenosato in the mix, Kakuryu is going to be hard pressed to extend his championship streak to three at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament that kicks off Sunday at Dolphins Arena.
The 32-year-old Kakuryu will still have his hands full with fellow Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho and new ozeki Tochinoshin. Since the current format of six annual grand tournaments started in 1958, only seven wrestlers have won three straight meets.
Kakuryu’s first bout of the 15-day competition will be against 141-kg firebrand Shohozan. Although Kakuryu has won 12 of his 14 bouts against the komusubi, the speed Shohozan brings should make their first-day clash a must-watch event.
While Tochinoshin pronounced himself fit on Friday, he also admitted some nerves as he takes to the ring as an ozeki for the first time.
“I’m feeling some pressure,” he said. “But I don’t want to think about it and intend to compete the same way I usually do.”
Hakuho enters the tourney in less than peak form. But needing to win just 17 matches to reach 1,000 victories in the elite makuuchi division, the 33-year-old yokozuna appears burning to get back into the winner’s circle.
Kisenosato, who won back-to-back championships last year in January and March, has not finished a tournament since, and will now sit out his third straight. But the Japan Sumo Association’s director of judging, elder Onomatsu, said Friday that the most important thing is for the yokozuna to return when he is fit and not before.
“As good a sumo wrestler as he is, I’m willing to wait,” Onomatsu said. “Everything will be riding on his next competition, so I want to see him come back in top form.”