Door open for Terunofuji to celebrate yokozuna ascension with Emperor’s Cup at Autumn Basho

A lot of the atmosphere has been removed from the upcoming September tournament by the decision of the Japan Sumo Association to sit as the defending champion. yokozuna Hakuho and all of his Miyagino members are stable due to COVID-19 infection in lower ranked wrestlers.

After July hosted one of the most thrilling tournament endings in recent memory, sumo fans were seething at the prospect of a rematch between the sport’s greatest ever tennis player. this sport, and Terunofuji, the first real opponent Hakuho has faced since Kakuryu’s retirement.

The two yokozuna that face off on the last day of the autumn encounter will also be the first yokozuna duel in 553 days.

While that horrifying clash is unlikely to happen, there’s still plenty at stake as sumo returns to the capital and there’s no shortage of compelling storylines that run through the top tournaments.

Terunofuji’s rise to the top of the leaderboard completes the greatest comeback story in sumo history. However, even without Hakuho, the newly naturalized yokozuna is unlikely to rest on his laurels, as he is looking to claim that important first title as a yokozuna.

As with his inspiring journey, Terunofuji will be well aware that only two of the 28 yokozuna have been promoted since the introduction of the six-a-year system in 1957 that failed to lift the Emperor’s Cup. after wearing the white rope.

Wakanohana and Futahaguro left sumo for very different reasons but lacked titles while yokozuna diminished their legacy in the eyes of many.

The good news for Terunofuji is that, while the injury is an ever-present phantom threatening to derail him, he’s far ahead of all the other championship contenders right now that even without being in a bad mood. At best, Isegahama’s stable is the overwhelming favorite going into the September tournament.

Long-standing problems haven’t stopped the Ulaanbaatar-born player from hitting the best numbers of his career at the age of 29, but groans of pain as he bowed his head and stood up during the promotion announcement. himself, and the scene in which his knee was splinted at his first yokozuna ring in service, are stark reminders of the fact that Terunofuji has to fight his own body every day just to get into the ring. .

It’s impossible not to marvel at how Terunofuji fights through the pain and reaches the top of the violent and harsh world of sumo while being held together by duct tape.

Of course, that admiration comes with the understanding that he will pay for those efforts for decades to come, but if he does, it only adds to his appreciation of what he is. is being achieved.

Part of the reason Terunofuji was favored to lift the Emperor’s Cup in September is because his recent performance stands in stark contrast to what everyone else in the premier league has shown.

Yokozuna Hakuho will miss September Basho because of a COVID-19 infection among lower-ranked wrestlers in his cage.  |  KYODO
Yokozuna Hakuho will miss September Basho because of a COVID-19 infection among lower-ranked wrestlers in his cage. | KYODO

Aside from the two yokozuna, only three times in the past 18 months have any rikishi won 13 wins.

Daieisho, Shodai and Takakeisho all took home silver medals with that record, but the latter is the only one to reach 12 wins in any other tournament during the same period.

Terunofuji, meanwhile, has combined two 12-3, and two 13-2 tournaments since last November before notching a career-high 14-1 mark last time out. In fact, his worst attempt so far in 2021 was 11-4 in January, a score that Takayasu – one of his supposed challengers for the title – failed to manage. even once since the beginning of 2019.

The floor for sumo’s newest yokozuna is similar to the ceiling for most of his championship opponents. With Hakuho not in contention, it seems like Terunofuji could suffer two or even three losses and still have a chance of winning.

With question marks also placed over the successes that have worked against him in the recent past, injury seems to be the only thing that can detail the Terunofuji train this time around.

While the giant yokozuna is clearly a class above all others competing in September, he doesn’t quite have the fear factor as other yokozuna have recently.

Over the years, it seemed that all Hakuho and Asashoryu needed to do was show up at the arena and their opponents on that day were defeated.

Terunofuji with all his size and strength does not frighten opponents in the same way.

With an incredible eight men having tasted championship success for the first time in their careers since the start of 2018, Hakuho’s absence is seen by many as an opportunity to claim glory.

Takakeisho (left) defeated Daieisho on the opening day of Nagoya Basho in July.  |  KYODO
Takakeisho (left) defeated Daieisho on the opening day of Nagoya Basho in July. | KYODO

Black horse candidates are many, but it is one ozeki who has attended the tournament before with his own ability to promote yokozuna (fragile), is seen as the main threat to Terunofuji this time – with one major caveat.

Takakeisho reached the second highest ranking in sumo at the age of 22 and has five runner-ups along with his two Emperor Cup winners. The young Ozeki has also proven himself capable of defeating Terunofuji in head-to-head matches when the title is at hand.

Tokiwayama’s stable of men has also shown the ability to recover from serious injuries in the past, but what happens in July could have serious and lasting consequences for his career and quality of life. his life. Takakeisho suffered a herniated disc in his neck during the first clash of day 2’s match in Nagoya. In the face of pain and clarity, he was forced to miss the rest of the tournament.

Ozeki told reporters this week that the injury has healed and that he has resumed training and will start training in September.

Optimistic and all like that, neck injuries have a habit of quickly ending sports careers. Of course, anyone who participates in sumo has the high pain tolerance needed to deal with the brutal physicality of the Japanese national sport, but even if Takakeisho is ready to break through the ring, sumo style his put a lot of pressure on the naturalness of the body. shock absorbers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the same or worse neck injury happened again.

Even assuming the 25-year-old is willing to give up the spirited style that has brought him so many flourishes, Takakeisho still lacks the physical tools for sustained success on the belt. At just 173 cm tall with relatively short arms and a large chest and belly, locking down an opponent, in most cases, results in a postural disadvantage.

Unfortunately for the Kansai native, continuing with his current approach seems like the only option. If luck is on Takakeisho’s side and he avoids further damage, then he is the most obvious threat to Terunofuji’s title hopes. Apart from those two, finding reliable championship contenders is a difficult task.

Tamawashi and Tokushoryu have shown that winning the Emperor’s Cup out of the blue for veterans is a real possibility in an era where there isn’t a significant difference in capacity between the majority of the top leagues. Daieisho, Shodai and Mitakeumi may have performed better before winning the title, but those victories were also unexpected.

The three then still vie for glory – especially if Terunofuji or Takakeisho fails to perform – but the possibility of a veteran like Endo, Meisei, Takayasu or Onosho lifting the silver trophy cannot be ruled out.

Hoshoryu and Kotonowaka look like a good bet for sustained success over the next few years, but the two rising stars are at the high end of their careers in September and will be the toughest opponents they face. face so far. Managing 12 or 13 wins against the best in the sport on their debut is probably a step too far at this stage.

With Hakuho gone, Terunofuji is the favored chance to win a third championship in four tournaments, but if the new yokozuna stumbles, there will be a whole host of rikishi waiting to rush in and challenge for the title.

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