Yokozuna Kisenosato, whose career has been threatened by a string of injuries, said Tuesday he intends to return to the raised ring at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament next month.
Speaking to reporters at his Tagonoura stable, the 32-year-old yokozuna said he has not resumed sparring yet but is on track to recovery and putting the “finishing touches” on his preparations for a New Year comeback.
“Of course I plan to (compete). I’m getting into good shape,” Kisenosato said. “I hope to take care of the finishing touches and be ready by opening day.
“This year was a really frustrating year. I desperately want to make the next basho a good one and next year a good one. Now’s it about regaining game instinct, getting back that level of sharpness and remembering my old form.”
Kisenosato is listed alongside Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu and Hakuho in the makuuchi division rankings for the Jan. 13-27 meet at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The Japanese grand champion pulled out of last month’s Kyushu Basho, citing a right knee injury after he became the first yokozuna in 87 years to have an 0-4 start to a tournament.
Kisenosato did not take part in the winter regional tour, which wrapped up Saturday.
Plagued by injuries, Kisenosato has only completed one full tournament since becoming the 72nd yokozuna in sumo history in January 2017.
Though he acknowledged his performance has been far from impressive this past year, Kisenosato said he will try not to repeat the same mistakes in 2019.
“It’s very important for me to achieve good results at the New Year meet,” he said. “I’ve done what I can. I should be okay. It’s looking good.”
Hakuho, whose 1,095 career wins are the most in history, had surgery on his right knee and ankle in October. Although he appeared in some regional tour bouts in December, Hakuho refrained from wrestling in his stable’s morning workouts until last Friday.
Kakuryu, who won back-to-back championships in March and May, did not compete in Kyushu due to right ankle pain and did not wrestle in the recently completed regional tour.
Among the ozeki trio, Takayasu sits in the top east slot after a 12-3 record in November. However, questions hover over his two rivals after injury and lackluster performances in Fukuoka.
Goeido withdrew with pain in his right arm after securing his winning record, while Tochinoshin lacked his usual power in November and barely scraped out an 8-7 record.
Kyushu champion Takakeisho went 13-2 in November to earn his first promotion above komusubi. His partner at sumo’s third-highest rank is 34-year-old Tamawashi, who will wrestle as a sekiwake for the first time since the last New Year Basho.
After three straight tournaments as a sekiwake, 26-year-old Mitakeumi drops down to komusubi following his 7-8 November record. By falling only one rank, Mitakeumi will be competing in the sanyaku ranks, three below yokozuna, for the 12th straight tournament, a figure matched by only six other wrestlers.
Myogiryu, 32, joins Mitakeumi at komusubi, marking his first sanyaku appearance since November 2015.
The No. 1 maegashira slots have been handed to Tochiozan, promoted from No. 2, and Ichinojo, who went 6-9 in November as a sekiwake.
New to the elite makuuchi division is 24-year-old Yago, who went 10-5 in November as a No. 1 juryo wrestler. He will make his debut at No. 13 maegashira. His opposite No. 13 is former maegashira Kotoyuki, also coming off a 10-5 juryo-division mark.
January’s other makuuchi returnee is No. 15 Kotoeko, who earned promotion from No. 1 juryo with an 8-7 record.