Will Kisenosato Ever Become Yokozuna?

At the peak of his career, Kisenosato, the ozeki (champion) and Ibaraki Prefecture native, finished the previous sumo tournament in March as runner-up, with a strong 13-2 record. A tournament victory would have guaranteed his promotion to yokozuna (grand champion). The question is whether or not he will ever achieve the top rank of Yokozuna?

The Japan Times has the report about what the hold-up could be for this Japanese-born fighter to take his place on top and be the first Japanese Yokozuna  since Takanohana retired in 2003:

That’s why the media’s attention had been directed at Kisenosato, who got off to a brilliant start in the May tournament. He defeated all comers up to the 13th day, when he was solidly trounced by Hakuho. His hopes of tournament victory and possible promotion were then dashed beyond redemption when he lost to yokozuna Kakuryu the following day. Hakuho, meanwhile, went on to achieve a perfect score of 15 wins, while also extending his all-time record to 37 tournament victories.

Though disappointing to many, Kisenosato’s failure to win the tournament, and thereby gain promotion, should not diminish the fact that his rivalry with Hakuho has become legendary. Flash magazine (June 7) noted that on the second day of the 2010 Kyushu tournament, it was Kisenosato who ended Hakuho’s string of consecutive victories at 63 — just six wins short of sumo’s all-time record set in the 1930s by the late Futabayama. Kisenosato also halted another string of Hakuho’s consecutive victories at 23 in the January 2011 tournament and again, in July 2013, at 43.

The article continued with a quote from the sumo competitor:

“Each tournament, Kisenosato feels ‘This is going to be the one,’ but then suffers a letdown,” sumo critic Kiyoshi Nakazawa told Friday. “He goes all-out during practice, but the workouts are mostly with lower-ranked wrestlers in his own stable, which is no good. He won’t be able to defeat yokozuna unless he works out with stronger wrestlers. He needs to work out with stronger partners, to give him the self-assurance and mental strength; otherwise, he’s not going to win a tournament.”

Tokyo resident David Shapiro, a long-time sumo commentator and author of “Sumo: A Pocket Guide,” disputes the notion that the powers that be in sumo are under that much pressure to bend the rules on the basis of nationality.

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“They’re not all that concerned with the birth of a Japanese-born yokozuna,” Shapiro told The Japan Times. “The gate at all of the annual tournaments is once again quite strong. Daily TV ratings during said tournaments are equally so. Applications to host the jungyo (provincial tours that take place between the tournaments) are coming in left, right and center.

“A Japanese-born yokozuna would be nice, but one is not absolutely essential as far as the greater good goes,” Shapiro said. “Is Kisenosato close to promotion? Absolutely. Will he make it? As improved as he is over the past two tournaments, it still remains a 50-50 proposition. As yokozuna Hakuho so aptly put it, ‘Those who are strong, become ozeki. Those who are destined, become yokozuna.’ “

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