The 2018 Hastu basho is less than a week away, and there are a number of important stories that the team at Tachiai will be following throughout the 15 days. For many, the highlight story of this tournament is Yokozuna Kakuryu. After nearly a year of solid injury and kyujo, he faces a career-ending ultimatum: He completes the Hatsu basho, and does so with Yokozuna level performance, or he retires.
2017 was a disastrous year for Kakuryu. He completed only a single tournament: the March basho in Osaka, finishing 10-5, which is a weak performance for a Grand Champion. For September and November, he did not participate at all. During the entirety of 2017, he only managed 18 wins. In a recent meeting, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council declared that their patience had ended with this dismal performance, and that as a result, Kakuryu faced his make-or-break basho.
Kakuryu is suffering from a number of chronic injuries to his feet and his lower back, which have prevented him from executing his trademark reactive sumo. His approach on the dohyo requires flexibility, mobility, and fast reflexes. But since his elevation to Yokozuna, he has been plagued time and again with problems that either kept him from the dohyo or had him under-achieving.
Reports from pre-basho training are a mixed bag. Clearly, he has applied himself with vigor, striving to ensure that he survives this crucial tournament. But as with Kisenosato, it will all be determined by whatever injuries are troublesome on each day. The Tachiai crew will be watching “Big K” with rapt interest, as we love to see him confound and dismantle his opponents. But it seems that, sadly, his time to go may soon be at hand.