Takakeisho is out of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament after sustaining a neck injury in his Day 2 bout with Ichinojo.
The withdrawal brings a swift end to fans’ hopes of seeing the elevation of two new yokozuna after the meet.
For Takakeisho, his promotion dream has turned into a relegation nightmare, as the ozeki now faces a fight to hold on to his rank in September. Spinal injuries have a nasty habit of lingering, and despite the initial one-month time frame given for recovery, it remains to be seen if the Tokiwayama stable man will be able to make it back for the next tournament.
With the burly ozeki out, all eyes now turn to Terunofuji and his own bid for promotion to yokozuna.
The 192-centimeter Mongolian has been impressive thus far, handling difficult situations with ease and pulling off an outstanding technical move to beat Takanosho on Day 3.
Even with the return of nemesis Takayasu — against whom he has a 2-9 record over the past five years — and a Hakuho who is working himself back into top form day by day, Terunofuji’s chances of becoming the sport’s 73rd yokozuna remain high.
A lot can happen between now and July 18, but if Terunofuji manages to get the championship (or equivalent) needed to earn the white rope, he’ll find himself in one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sport.
The rank of yokozuna is utterly unique. Promotion to its rarified status elevates a man from wrestler to living embodiment of sumo.
It’s an honor that can never be taken away — even grand champions who have been forced from the sport in disgrace are still commonly addressed as yokozuna.
Terunofuji, of course, is no stranger to glory. The Mongolian already has four Emperor’s Cups to his name and has reached sumo’s second-highest rank. He has also achieved arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the sport and is currently a match for anyone on the dohyо̄.
Being an ozeki confers many of the same privileges on a rikishi as the rank of yokozuna. Everything from underground parking spaces at the Kokugikan to the respect of being addressed by your title rather than name.
Even so, if Terunofuji fails to make yokozuna, it’s likely something that will gnaw away at him for the rest of his life — no matter what he might say in interviews.
Former ozeki Konishiki admitted as much in 2017 when he said, 20 years after retiring, that he still felt some regret about not being promoted and compared it to having reached the Super Bowl or NBA Finals but come away without a victory.
If we’re using American sports as a comparison, it wouldn’t too much of a stretch to say that reaching yokozuna is akin to being elected to the hall of fame while still active — with the proviso that if you aren’t reaching at least the conference championship game every year, you must retire.
Given his age and the path he’s taken to this point, Terunofuji is unlikely to be bothered by the perform-or-quit pressure that comes with the rank. The Isegahama stable man has stared into the abyss on several occasions over the past few years. Were his career to end tomorrow, relief would undoubtedly be one of his main emotions.
He’s also one of only two men to have experienced full ozeki promotion twice, so he’s well prepared for the virtually identical yokozuna announcement.
Choosing ring attendants is a straightforward process and, with his stablemaster having been a grand champion himself, Terunofuji has someone to teach him how to perform the yokozuna ring-entrance ceremony.
Shiranui is almost certainly going to be the style chosen if the Isegahama man makes it to the top of the sumo pyramid. Assuming Terunofuji follows in the footsteps of Harumafuji and Asahifuji, he’ll be the 13th yokozuna to perform the shiranui style of ring-entrance ceremony. Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the two most recent yokozuna, went with the much more popular unryu, used by 41 men to date.
Even if the 29-year-old doesn’t achieve promotion this time out, Terunofuji can remain in the hunt with a solid record. A minimum of 12 wins is likely needed to ensure he stays in contention for elevation in September.
If injury or a loss of form scuttles his chances, then sumo could be looking at a historically long gap between the creation of grand champions.
On average, sumo sees someone get the white rope just over once every two years. There is a huge variance in the numbers, however, and sumo has gone through both periods where several yokozuna were promoted in quick succession and times when it seemed as if no one was capable of reaching the peak.
In the modern era, the 31 tournaments between the promotions of Hakuho and Harumafuji are the most without a new yokozuna being promoted.
It’s 25 tournaments and counting since Kisenosato reached the rank of grand champion. If sumo makes it to September 2022 without a new yokozuna, it would become a new all-time record drought.
Hakuho is back and doing well but everyone understands that the greatest rikishi in the history of the sport is essentially taking a curtain call.
Injuries, suspensions and loss of form are also stymying most of the G.O.A.T.’s natural successors.
In the current environment, Terunofuji making yokozuna would hold an importance far beyond simple personal glory.
After all, sumo without a grand champion simply isn’t a palatable notion.
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