Sumo

Takakeisho set for ozeki debut

Kyodo

Takakeisho’s name was officially placed among the sumo elite on Tuesday when the rankings for next month’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, the first of the Reiwa Era, were released by the Japan Sumo Association.

On the last day of the Heisei Era, wrestlers picked up a copy of the printed banzuke with the new imperial era name at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, while fans lined up before 6 a.m. to purchase the ranking sheets, which went on sale the same day.

Takakeisho, who became the last rikishi to earn ozeki promotion in the 30-year Heisei Era, said in news conference at his Chiganoura stable that seeing his name on the latest banzuke makes him feel both tense and determined.

“There is joy that is different from that which I felt when I moved up to (the second-tier) juryo division and the (top-tier) makuuchi division,” Takakeisho said.

“The (May 12-26) summer meet is going to be the first basho in the Reiwa Era. This is also a new start for me, so I want to give it my all and fight the best sumo I can over 15 days,” he said.

The 22-year-old needed just 28 pro tournaments before being promoted to the sport’s second-highest rank. He only joined the Chiganoura stable after the Takanohana stable folded prior to his maiden championship in November.

Although five wrestlers have needed fewer tournaments to earn ozeki promotion, Takakeisho has the fastest promotion record of any Japanese-born wrestler. His former stablemaster, Takanohana, and his brother Wakanohana are the only other Japanese to crack the top 10.

Though he is aware of the high expectations from fans who want to see him rise to the top yokozuna rank, Takakeisho said he will not let his ego get in the way of his pursuit of sporting greatness.

“There’s still a rank above and an ozeki falls down the rankings if he starts getting defensive. I want to maintain the spirit of a challenger,” he said.

Yokozuna Hakuho is at the top of the rankings on the prestigious East side for the first sumo tournament to be held in the Reiwa Era, although he said Saturday that his upper right arm, where he suffered a muscle tear, is not completely healed, leaving his participation in doubt after he went 15-0 in March.

Fellow yokozuna Kakuryu is on the West side of the rankings after a 10-5 performance last month in Osaka. Goeido, 12-3 in March, leads the ozeki trio as No. 1 in the east, with Takayasu (10-5) in the west, and newbie Takakeisho behind them.

Tochinoshin, demoted to sekiwake after failing to win eight bouts in each of the past two grand tournaments, will have one shot at regaining his status as an ozeki for the next tournament in July but will need 10 wins this month in Tokyo in order to do so.

That seems like an awfully difficult road for the 31-year-old, who has struggled with knee trouble since dominating the raised ring during last year’s first three tournaments.