• Kyodo

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Injury-hit yokozuna Kakuryu's career in the sumo ring inched closer to the precipice Friday, when his stablemaster said he will miss the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament due to lower-back issues.

The Mongolian-born grand champion's withdrawal from the meet starting Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan means he will have pulled out hurt from four straight grand tournaments. In November, he received a stern warning from the Japan Sumo Association over his absences from the ring.

Kakuryu has already missed all or part of 17 of the 39 tournaments since his promotion to sumo's highest rank.

The 15-day grand tournaments are held every two months from January to November. Like fellow yokozuna Hakuho, who was also warned, Kakuryu missed part of the July grand tournament, and all of the last two.

A six-time grand tournament champion, Kakuryu has long been dealing with elbow and lower back pain and has not fought since the second day of the July meet. The 35-year-old was eager to make his return this month but this setback casts further doubt over his future in the ancient sport.

"He said he will be putting his career on the line at the next tournament (in March) and is working to regain his fitness so he can resume training as early as possible," said stablemaster Michinoku, former ozeki Kirishima.

Kakuryu, who won his last championship in July 2019, pursued his goal of being fit for the January meet, but was limited to basic exercises and unable to train enough. He informed the stablemaster of his decision Thursday night.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kakuryu's road to fitness for the March tourney is going to be a lonely one.

"Since inter-stable training (due to the pandemic) is prohibited, it will all come down to how much he can get out of training and workouts of his own design," Michinoku said.

And failure to be ready for March could mean more than just a warning, since the admonition the two yokozuna received in the fall was the harshest the JSA's Yokozuna Deliberation Council can issue — short of recommending retirement.

Hakuho, who has won a record 44 championships, has not fought since he withdrew on the 13th day of the July meet after winning 10 of his first 12 bouts. He too will miss the New Year tourney after testing positive for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday.

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