With injury forcing two yokozuna out of the upcoming November Grand Sumo Tournament, the three ozeki wrestlers will take the spotlight in the final 15-day tournament of the calendar year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the six grand tournaments, the summer tournament normally held in May, was canceled over infection fears, while March's event in Osaka was held behind closed doors.
The November tourney, normally held in Fukuoka but set to take place from Sunday at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan to reduce travel, will be the second staged in the capital instead of its traditional home city since the Japan Sumo Association decided not to fight in Nagoya in July.
With Hakuko and Kakuryu missing from the start, Shodai, Takakeisho and Asanoyama will be the top-ranked wrestlers in the competition before crowds as large as 5,000 after the July and September events were limited to 2,500.
Ozeki Shodai, who earned promotion with a 13-2 title-winning performance in September, has remained healthy and has a good chance of becoming the first newly promoted ozeki since Hakuho in 2006 to win a makuuchi-division title.
On Sunday, Shodai faces No. 1 maegashira Wakatakakage, who won a career-high 11 bouts in September.
"I haven't looked at the bout list. I'm trying not to think about it until opening day," Shodai said.
"My first goal is to get a winning record, then think about the next goal (of winning the championship)," he said.
Also predicted to be in contention for an Emperor's Cup is ozeki Takakeisho, who is gunning for his first title in 11 tournaments and second of his career, but he is suffering from bad knees.
Takakeisho's first-day opponent is former ozeki and current komusubi Takayasu, and his second-day opponent is Wakatakakage.
Ozeki Asanoyama must regain his feel for elite competition after only training against lower-tier wrestlers in his preparations for the 15-day meet. Asanoyama is pitted against rank-and-filer Kiribayama in Sunday's penultimate bout.
Asanoyama said he is motivated to claim the title for his stablemaster Takasago, who will retire after the tournament as he reaches sumo's mandatory retirement age of 65 in December.
At the sekiwake rank, one below ozeki, are Mitakeumi and Takanosho.
Komusubi wrestlers Terunofuji and Takayasu return to the sanyaku ranks, the three ranks below yokozuna, and both former ozeki are eager to climb even further. Terunofuji, the July champion, fought as a No. 1 maegashira in September, pulling out with an injury after securing a winning record.
Among the makuuchi division's rank-and-filers, fans expect up-and-coming wrestlers like Tobizaru and Wakatakakage to offer excitement as they cling to the hope of a surprise championship. Tobizaru entered the ring on the final day of the September tourney with a chance at a historic championship in his upper-division debut.
Fan favorite Ura makes his comeback to the juryo division for the first time in 16 tournaments.
In addition to Hakuho and Kakuryu, 15th-ranked maegashira Kotoyuki has also withdrawn before opening day.
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