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With Some Top Sumo Wrestlers Sidelined, the Summer Basho Title is Up for Grabs

Rising sumo star Takerufuji was forced to pull out of the 15-day Summer Basho in Tokyo with an ankle injury, and komusubi Asanoyama is also sidelined.

With injury concerns hampering some of the favorites, the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament, which kicks off on Sunday, May 12 at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, should be wide open.

To the disappointment of many, rising star Takerufuji was forced to pull out of the tournament on Thursday. On the same day, komusubi and former ozeki Asanoyama also announced he can't take part due to injury.

Takerufuji overcame the odds and an injury to win the Spring Basho in March. He became the first wrestler since Ryogoku in 1914 to win a championship in his top division debut with a stellar 13-2 record.

What made the win for the native of Aomori Prefecture all the more impressive was the fact that he suffered a severe ankle injury in his loss on the penultimate day.

After he was taken to the hospital, many felt he wouldn't be able to compete. But the 25-year-old brushed aside the injury concerns to defeat fellow rank-and-filer Gonoyama in the final to take the historic title.

Spring Basho
Takerufuji receives the Emperor's Cup from Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku after winning the Spring Basho on March 24 in Osaka. (KYODO)

For his efforts, Takerufuji has risen all the way up to a maegashira No 6 rank from his previous position of 17, the lowest in the elite division. 

But unfortunately, recovery from the ankle injury hasn't gone as well as hoped, forcing him to sit out at least part of the 15-day basho.

"It still hasn't healed, he can't compete in this condition," his stablemaster, former yokozuna Asahifuji, said, according to Kyodo News.

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Yokozuna Terunofuji (right) trains with Hakuoho at Isegahama stable in Tokyo's Koto Ward on May 9. (Representative photo/via SANKEI)

Can Terunofuji Win Another Sumo Tournament Title?

Another grappler dealing with injury issues is grand champion Terunofuji.

The yokozuna pulled out of the previous meet with an injury and ended up with a record of two wins, five losses and eight absences.

Terunofuji, a Mongolian grappler, is currently on nine championship titles and has said he wants to win 10 but the problem is he is running out of chances.

Grand champions, who can't be demoted, are expected to live up to certain standards. Terunofuji has been largely absent from recent tournaments and that's something that sumo officials will only tolerate for so long.

At the age of 32, Terunofuji will have to win that coveted 10th championship soon. Another withdrawal will be frowned upon and lead to calls for his retirement.

Does he have what it takes to pull off another championship? It should be evident in his first several bouts.

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Kirishima (left) and Kotozakura work on their sumo techniques on May 2 at Ryogoku Kokugikan, venue for the Summer Basho. (©SANKEI)

Likely Contenders for the Emperor's Cup

So with health issues surrounding these three wrestlers, who emerges as the favorite to lift the Emperor's Cup? One man to keep an eye on will be ozeki Kotozakura, formerly known as Kotonowaka.

Kotozakura finished with an impressive 10-5 record in his ozeki debut in the Spring Basho and then announced he was assuming the ring name that his grandfather used when he was a yokozuna.

The 26-year-old had planned to change his ring name upon promotion to ozeki but decided to keep it for one more tournament.

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Newly promoted komusubi Onosato (rear), seen in action on January 21 against Endo, had back-to-back 11-4 tournament records at the New Year Basho and March's Spring Basho. (©SANKEI)

Meanwhile, rising star Onosato, who challenged Takerufuji for the Emperor's Cup last time out,  has been promoted to komusubi for the upcoming meet.

Onosato went 11-4 in the previous tournament as a No 5 maegashira. 

He comes into the Summer Basho with a bit of a cloud over his head as he was forced to apologize after it was revealed he went drinking with an underage fellow Nishonoseki stablemate in September 2023. 

Onosato has apologized over the incident. The former amateur standout reached sumo's top flight after only four tournaments for one of the fastest ascents in the modern era.

Kirishima, one of four ozeki for May's tourney, will be out to restore his pride after a subpar 5-10 record last time out.

Mongolian Hoshoryu should be a strong contender for the Emperor's Cup after an impressive 11-4 record in the last tournament.

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Hoshoryu prepares for the Summer Basho during a May 3 workout in Tokyo. (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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Summer Basho Tournament Records

Day Opponent Result