Sumo

Kisenosato is gone, but his impact lives on

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

The current boom in sumo popularity is a product of many factors.

Increased exposure through various media channels is one reason, as is the fact that a host of camera-friendly up-and-coming wrestlers rose to prominence at roughly the same time.

The No. 1 cause of the massive upswing in interest, however, was the promotion of Kisenosato to yokozuna.

Having a native-born grand champion on the banzuke for the first time in 14 years led to a surge in the number of people buying tickets, and that has continued even beyond his retirement.

The only disappointing element of Kisenosato’s promotion is that it came so late.

After being a complete ironman over the first decade and a half of his career — just one missed bout out of 1,123 — the veteran suffered a serious pectoral tear in his first tournament as yokozuna.

Despite an incredible effort in managing to get up into the ring on the final day and defeat Terunofuji twice to claim his second title, Kisenosato was never the same again. He completed just one of the following 11 tournaments before finally deciding to call it quits in January 2019.

It was a sad end for a man who had reached the top division at age 18, and whose early career had promised so much.

Kisenosato had the physical tools and sumo skills needed to utterly dominate, but was guilty of overthinking things and letting the pressure get to him on numerous occasions.

Still though, reaching the rank of grand champion and lifting the Emperor’s Cup twice puts him in very select company.

While his 16-45 head-to-head record against Hakuho is lopsided, one of those wins is among the most significant of all time.

Kisenosato’s defeat of the yokozuna in November 2010 stopped Hakuho’s win streak at 63 (six short of Futabayama’s record) and prevented him from owning every single sumo record of note.