Rank-and-file grappler Wakatakakage delivered an outstanding performance to upset ozeki Takakeisho at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on Tuesday, but the result was overshadowed by the withdrawal of yokozuna Hakuho earlier in the day.
The 36-year-old grand champion told the Japan Sumo Association he was pulling out of the 15-day tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan because of problems with his troublesome right knee.
The winner of a record 44 top-division titles will have surgery to repair his patella and swelling around the joint later this month, followed by an expected two-month rehabilitation.
With the other Mongolian-born grand champion, Kakuryu, having already pulled out before opening day, the ozeki trio of Asanoyama, Shodai and Takakeisho once again share top billing at a grand tournament.
All three have 2-1 records following Takakeisho’s defeat in the final bout of Day 3.
No. 2 maegashira Wakatakakage neutralized Takakeisho’s powerful pushing and thrusting by parrying the demotion-threatened kadoban ozeki’s opening blows before staying low and tight to his body.
Having denied Takakeisho his preferred method of attack, Wakatakakage (1-2) was able to yank him off balance and forced him over the edge.
“I’ll keep moving forward. I’m pretty happy about the result,” said Wakatakakage, who missed the New Year meet after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“All I’ve been thinking about is getting back to the tournament. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received.”
Shodai improved to 2-1 by outmuscling No. 1 Takarafuji (0-3). The September grand tournament winner delivered a less-than-perfect opening hit, but still managed to drive his rank-and-file opponent straight back and out.
Asanoyama bounced back from his Day 2 loss to komusubi Takayasu with a decisive push-down win against No. 2 Hokutofuji (1-2).
Sekiwake Terunofuji (3-0) moved another win closer to the 10-plus he needs for ozeki promotion, crushing out winless komusubi Daieisho, champion of the New Year meet.
The 29-year-old Mongolian is aiming to regain the sport’s second-highest rank, which he last held in September 2017, before injuries saw him drop down to the lower divisions.
Sekiwake Takanosho (2-1) recovered from his Day 2 loss by overpowering komusubi Mitakeumi (2-1).
Hakuho is eyeing a make-or-break comeback at the July tournament, with his results there to determine whether he continues wrestling, according to his stablemaster Miyagino.
After winning his first two bouts at the ongoing tournament, he forfeited his Day 3 match with No. 1 maegashira Onosho (1-2) and will finish the tournament with a 2-1-12 record.
Both he and Kakuryu, who is out with a hamstring injury, have withdrawn from five straight grand tournaments. The JSA warned both over their repeated absences in November.
No. 11 Kotoshoho (0-3) withdrew on Day 3 with an ankle injury, handing No. 10 Ryuden (1-2) his first win of the meet by default.
The March tourney is traditionally held in Osaka, where it opened a year ago — the first grand tournament behind closed doors. But amid the difficulties posed by the ongoing pandemic, the Japan Sumo Association chose to stage its fifth straight tourney in Tokyo.
A total of 28 lower-ranked wrestlers have been ruled out from the meet for coronavirus-related reasons, compared to 65 sidelined in January.
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