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Sumo: Kisenosato takes spotlight as sole grand champion in Kyushu

Grand champion Kisenosato, right, performs a ring-entering ritual at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Fukuoka on Nov. 2, 2018, ahead of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament from Nov. 11. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- All eyes will be on Japanese yokozuna Kisenosato when he starts the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament on Sunday as the sole grand champion in competition following the withdrawals of Hakuho and Kakuryu.

Kisenosato, entering a tournament as the sole yokozuna for the first time, will start the 15-day meet at Fukuoka Kokusai Center with an early challenge against komusubi Takakeisho on Day 1.

The first wrestler from the now-defunct Takanohana stable to reach "sanyaku" -- the three ranks below yokozuna -- Takakeisho has beaten Kisenosato twice in four bouts. The 22-year-old komusubi has posted winning records at the last three grand tournaments.

Kisenosato, however, appears in good shape following his comeback run at the Autumn tournament in September. He fought his way to 10 wins after withdrawing from eight straight meets, the most by a yokozuna, due to a lingering left chest muscle injury.

The 32-year-old Ibaraki native will face what should be an easier test on Day 2 when he takes on top-ranked maegashira Myogiryu, against whom he holds a 16-4 record. Myogiryu, a two-time kimboshi prizewinner for defeating a grand champion, has yet to beat Kisenosato at the sport's highest rank.

Kisenosato is seeking his second top-division title and first since winning in his yokozuna debut last March, when he became the first Japan-born grand champion in 19 years.

Hakuho, an eight-time winner in Fukuoka and the defending champion, opted out of the final meet of the year as he is still recovering from right knee surgery last month. The Mongolian grand champion secured a record-extending 41st championship with an undefeated run at the Autumn tournament.

His compatriot Kakuryu, who went 10-5 in September after suffering five consecutive late losses, decided to withdraw with renewed concerns about a right ankle injury he sustained at the July meet in Nagoya.

Among other top-ranked wrestlers, ozeki Goeido and Tochinoshin should have straightforward opening bouts against No. 1 Hokutofuji and No. 2 Tamawashi, respectively. Fellow ozeki Takayasu faces a stiffer challenge against Myogiryu, who has won 11 of their 15 match-ups.

Among the three sekiwake, Mitakeumi, whose bid for an ozeki promotion fell short with a 9-6 result following his maiden makuuchi title in Nagoya, will take on No. 2 Tochiozan. Ichinojo, at the third-highest rank for the fourth straight tournament, squares off against No. 3 Nishikigi.

Kaisei injured his left leg in practice on Tuesday and withdrew from the opening matches. His stablemaster Tomozuna said the Brazilian sekiwake plans to enter the tournament after resting for about three days.

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