Following his brutal injury in March of 2017, the then-freshly-minted Yokozuna Kisenosato faced a difficult choice. Nursing a torn pectoral muscle and a host of other secondary injuries, he looked a possibly career-ending surgery in the face and blinked. Instead, hoping to “heal naturally”, he contributed weakly to the remaining four tournaments of the year. Though he had been repeatedly urged by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council to take his time and recover to full strength, time and again Kisenosato returned to the dohyo and languished.
During the Kyushu basho, he allowed his record to drop to 4-5 before he faced the facts and withdrew, but not before giving up an alarming five kinboshi. Even Maegashira 5 Takarafuji was able to defeat the first Japanese Yokozuna in a generation. Clearly, Kisenosato was still significantly impacted by his injuries, and in no condition to return.
At the time of his injury, the Tachiai crew remarked that Kisenosato would never be considered “ready” until we once again saw him sparring against Takayasu and able to hold the upper hand. Truth be told, the endless, relentless training sessions with Takayasu is what drove both of them to higher performance. Since Kisenosato’s injury, Takayasu’s performance has plateaued or even declined.
Now, reports from training leading up to January’s Hatsu Basho state that Kisenosato is back to battling Takayasu in bout after bout, sometimes for an hour or more at a time, and winning a comfortable majority. While it may be too optimistic to hope for the return of Kisenosato, we believe he may be able to execute Ozeki level sumo for the upcoming tournament.
Like Kakuryu, Kisenosato has been warned that the next time he steps onto the dohyo, he must compete at Yokozuna level, or retire. While I was not originally a fan of “The Great Pumpkin”, his fighting spirit and his commitment to his sumo have earned my respect. In my heart, I am eager to see him once again fight with vigor and purpose.