Readers of Tachiai know that since the day of his injury, I have been warning that Kisenosato might never recover. Odds of a full recovery from a pectoral tear are not good, even if the injured seeks immediate surgery, which Kisenosato did not. For the past 18 months he has struggled to compete, and at times to do any sumo at all. He has completely missed multiple tournaments, and only casually participated in jungyo events. Most sumo fans, myself included, assumed that he would need to make an attempt at a return some time this year, or face mounting pressure to retire.
During the summer jungyo, Kisenosato looked increasingly genki. He took practice matches against Makuuchi ranked rikishi, and found himself winning. This is in contrast to his performance previously this year, where he struggled against even junior opponents. Performance in jungyo is, of course, not indicative of how a rikishi will compete, especially a Yokozuna. Jungyo matches have no ranking impact, and there is no problem losing to a higher ranked opponent as it shows respect and a willingness to be a good member of the sumo clan.
But once jungyo ends, the rikishi begin to train with purpose and conviction. In joint keiko sessions, and at the YDC Soken, Kisenosato has looked surprisingly genki against a range of opponents, including Ozeki Goeido and Komusubi Tamawashi. As mentioned before by Team Tachiai, we would take Kisenosato seriously when he was training with Takayasu daily, and holding his own against San’yaku practice partners. I think we may in fact have reached that point.
As of now, I expect Kisenosato to enter Aki, to unbridled shouts of joy and enthusiasm across the sumo world. Will he compete all 15 days? There is no way of knowing. I would not assume that he would contend for the yusho, but just entering and turning in a set of strong matches would be good enough for the fans, and likely for the YDC. We can assume a positive result would be a 10 day run, with 8 wins followed by a kyujo to avoid injury. Everyone would agree that after 18 months in dry-dock, this would be a successful return.
Video below of Kisenosato at the Nishonoseki Ichimon rengo keiko, today at Nishonoseki heya.
— きょんの里 (@kisetan0703) September 3, 2018