Aki 2018 was the most top-heavy basho of the past several years. All of the high rankers participated for all 15 days, and all were kachi-koshi or higher. This created massive pressure on the upper Maegashira, and many of these top rank-and-file rikishi went on to rack up terrible records.
Among the Yokozuna harvesting white stars from the upper Maegashira was a surprisingly genki Yokozuna Kisenosato. Tachiai has written extensively on Kisenosato’s injury, and the unlikely prospects of him ever competing as a Yokozuna again. But he did return, and he competed with strength and fighting spirit, picking up a respectable 10 wins and matching the record of Yokozuna Kakuryu. Kisenosato opened Aki with 5 straight wins, before dropping a surprise kinboshi match against M2w Chiyotairyu, who only managed 5 wins for Aki. From there Kisenosato struggled, finishing acts 2&3 with a 5-5 record.
When it was announced that Kisenosato would compete at Aki, many fans feared the worst – that he would struggle from the start and he would announce his retirement before the end of September. His day 1 match against Ikioi featured him overpowering his opponent, tossing him from the dohyo. There were literally tears in the eyes of many fans all over Japan when the goyji pointed his gumbai East.
His day 10 yorikiri over Endo clinched his 8th win, and sumo fans all over Japan breathed a sigh of relief. kisenosato had safely made it through Aki, and could continue to rebuild and work towards higher performance.
In reality, Kisenosato’s sumo ran out of gas early; even against Shodai on day 4, it was clear that the Yokozuna was struggling. Many of his matches were long running brawls that, in the past, would have been quick toss-out matches featuring his famous “crab walk” mie pose. What was behind this? We can speculate this is the outcome of not competing for 18 months. His stamina was low, is ring-sense was degraded, and his outstanding instincts were dulled.
But his survival at Aki means that we will likely see a significantly improved Kisenosato in November, and we may see something closer to 90% by January. Along with the rest of the sumo world, we are looking forward to an increasingly genki Kisenosato in tournaments to come.