Kakuryu is Japanese! | Hakuho Challenges Takakeisho

Mongolian-born Yokozuna Kakuryu has attained Japanese citizenship, a prerequisite for holding elder stock in the Japan Sumo Association. He of course has the option to continue competing, but with 15 years worth of professional level wear-and-tear, and pressure from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council to produce results or quit, it seems the main thing holding him back from retirement has now been settled.

Due to various nagging injuries, Kakuryu was absent for 55 out of 75 possible matches in 2020 (73.3% kyujo). Usually there would be 90 possible matches in a year, but 15 of those matches (i.e. Natsu Basho) were canceled. Yokozuna Hakuho did not have much better attendance, with 45 absences this year (60% kyujo). Staggering numbers for the wrestlers who supposedly draw fans to the arena…

Although their 2020 withdrawals did not begin at the July basho, it was the beginning of each of their personal longest kyujo streaks. Kakuryu’s started on day 2 after landing on his right elbow in an embarrassing sweep attempt against Endo. And Hakuho’s shocking day 13 withdrawal came just after devastating losses to Daieisho and Mitakeumi that ended his 10 win streak and the integrity of his right knee.

Just four months prior, the Yokozuna duo put on a thrilling final day grappling match to close out the Osaka tournament amid the echoes of an empty Dolphin’s Arena. With May’s competition having been called off because of the virus, many of us assumed extra rest would aid in another dominant performance for the aging champions. However, time seemed not to have been on their side when July rolled around. While the Yokozuna nursed their battered bodies, emerging (and reemerging) top fighters in the form of Terunofuji, Shodai, and Takakeisho picked up the slack.

Each time another non-Yokozuna trophy was hoisted, two questions rang out: Could they have done it with a Yokozuna present? And, will they come back and fight this time, or retire?

To the Yokozuna Deliberation Council (YDC or Yokoshin for short), the latter question is more concerning. The YDC is a separate entity from the Japan Sumo Association that recommends Yokozuna promotions and retirements. Between this situation and Takakeisho’s Yokozuna run in January, I guess they have their hands full. The Yokoshin’s recent “warning” to both Hakuho and Kakuryu has put the two in check. January is do or die.

After drilling some basic movements on Tuesday, Kakuryu simply told reporters, “I’m just focusing on what I’m doing,” seemingly un-phased by the YDC’s mounting pressure. “It’s important that I stay focused on the sumo in front of me so I don’t let all that get to me.” Leaving out further detail about his feelings on potential retirement, he went on to say of his physical condition, “It’s so-so. I need to get my lower body back.”

Then finally, on Thursday morning he received official word on his long sought-after Japanese citizenship. Kakuryu can now retire from competition with a future in the sumo association. Of course this changes the dynamic for January. Kakuryu’s only real motivation for continuing now seems to be a ceremonial Yokozuna role in the still very tentative Tokyo Olympics next summer. What else could be driving his injured frame forward if he does indeed compete?

Hakuho seems to be taking a more head on approach to the criticism offered by the council. On Wednesday, he acknowledged his absences had been many over the past years, but they’d been broken up; a full kyujo here, a partial kyujo there… “They’re saying this because I’ve been off for two full tournaments in a row this time,” he said in response to the Yokoshin’s warning. “And I understand that. I still think it’s just a response.”

The more successful of the two current Yokozuna, Mongolian-born Hakuho had already achieved Japanese citizenship last year. Now brought much closer to Kakuryu’s level by aches and pains, Hakuho has surely considered retiring in his own mind. Outwardly, on the other hand, he still seems dead set on carrying the Olympic torch and representing his new country as an active Yokozuna. For that, he must maintain his fitness for at least half a year longer.

A typical morning practice at Miyagino-beya

“Still some way to go. Day by day, I guess.” he said after charging practice with stablemate Ishiura on Wednesday. Hakuho’s focus that day was body mechanics while resisting an opponent. Much care was taken to reduce stress on his freshly operated-on right knee. He plans to attend the joint training at the Kokugikan beginning on the 18th, but how much sparring he’ll do, “I can’t say.”

As for Ozeki Takakeisho’s big win in November, the Yokozuna gave his compliments. “I think he gave it his all. I bet he gained a lot of confidence too.” He went on to offer a challenge: “There’s one more rung on the banzuke to climb, so there should be a strong wall there (referring to himself) for him to get past. I don’t know on which of the 15 days we’ll clash, so I want to go into it with all my might.”

In other news: Takekuma-oyakata (former Ozeki Goeido) announced that he is married! Not only that, his wife gave birth to their first child, a boy, on November 1st! Congratulations to them!

Source: Nikkan Sports

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