Longtime readers will be familiar with our 20-year addiction to the sport of sumo. Since at least 2012, I have been following and cheering on a Japanese rikishi called Kisenosato.
As background, the highest ranks of the deeply Japanese sport of sumo have been dominated for twenty and more years by rikishi from Mongolia and eastern Europe, including the current, and possibly greatest ever, yokuzana (or Grand Champion), Hakuho. The young Kisenosato was promoted as the latest and greatest hope for a Japanese to regain the top spot.
Unfortunately, there were times in Kisenosato’s career when he just didn’t seem to focus and it took him many years to finally reach the highest ranks. By then his body was beaten up and he has fought very little over the last eighteen months, withdrawing from several basho (tournaments) in a row through injury.
Yesterday was day four of the January basho, which Kisenosato had chosen as his comeback tournament. He was welcomed with open arms by the Japanese crowd but, unfortunately his sumo was not good enough and he lost the first three days’ bouts.
Sumo is a sport of very strict tradition, there are rules both written and unwritten that must be followed. Grand Champions are expected to win a very high percentage of their fights. If they do not, the weight of tradition begins to pressure them into retirement. After his year out with injury, Kisenosato had to immediately re-establish his position in the hierarchy. He couldn’t do it and so today he announced his immediate retirement. It is, I think, a sad end to an unfulfilled career.
Luckily, as we have seen in this basho and the previous one, there is a batch of young Japanese rikishi who are just bursting through: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Abi and several others are capable of beating anyone on their day. The first four days of this basho have witnessed the defeat of most of the upper level rikishi by up-and-comers: It makes for a great tournament.