Thanks to Herouth for Tweeting out this good/bad news about Wakatakakage. Readers may recall that he was injured entering the final weekend of Haru basho when his knee hit the tawara resulting in an ACL tear. He has had surgery and begins the long road to recovery. He’ll likely drop only to Komusubi for May, but deep into Makuuchi for Nagoya, Juryo for Aki, and Makushita by Kyushu. If he comes back in January, he’ll likely still be in Makushita but maybe Sandanme if recovery takes until Spring. There’s the bad news.
The good news here is in the sentiment expressed by Arashio-oyakata (moto-Sokokurai). “He says he does not want to come back before he is fully healed, and I’m not going to make him.”
"He worried about such a long kyujo, but there was nothing else to be done, so better get it over with as quickly as possible. He says he does not want to come back before he is fully healed, and I'm not going to make him".
— ヘルット (@SumoFollower) April 13, 2023
Obviously, Terunofuji and his storybook comeback stands as a reference point. His rise culminated in not only multiple yusho but promotion to Yokozuna. Tochinoshin and Ura were also able to come back from serious injuries which resulted in substantial demotions. More recent comeback stories have been of a disciplinary nature as Abi and Ryuden successfully re-established themselves in Makuuchi and Asanoyama is on his way back up. We see here multiple recent examples of rapid, successful comebacks and wonder if there’s been a change in the calculus of how to manage serious injury.
That said, along with Terunofuji’s comeback we have to remember, and question, the wisdom of his slow fall. He was obviously hurt as Ozeki but continued to try to compete, basho after basho. Always the competitor, it’s got to be hard to admit that you have to sit on the sidelines — especially when it’s for multiple tournaments. Even now, with the fact that he is safe from demotion, is a May return too soon? We can’t question Isegahama’s commitment to Terunofuji as he stuck with him through that comeback. But with the statements from Wakatakakage and Arashio-oyakata, we see a stark contrast with the actions of Terunofuji and Isegahama-oyakata and can’t help but wonder whether Terunofuji’s rise may have been faster, and if his Yokozuna reign would have been longer, if they’d shared a similar point-of-view.
There’s certainly risks, though, and we cannot downplay them. Hokuozan’s injury in Naruto-beya was re-aggravated in training and he has fallen completely off the banzuke. Hokuozan, however, never reached the heights of Makuuchi. The real contrast is in Ishiura’s neck injury has taken him from heyagashira and likely ended his career. A neck, though, is not exactly a knee-ligament, though. So there is the chance that Wakatakakage will not be back but it is refreshing to see a commitment from both the wrestler and the oyakata to give this route a try, rather than to tough it out and witness the alternative of another slow, painful decline.