Mongolian grand champions Hakuho and Kakuryu will both withdraw from the upcoming Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament due to injuries, their respective stablemasters announced Thursday.
Following surgery on Hakuho's right ankle and right knee last month, his stablemaster Miyagino said the 33-year-old yokozuna lacked sufficient preparation for the Nov. 11-25 tournament at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
"He hasn't recovered yet (from the knee surgery). He says it's still painful," Miyagino said.
"I'm sure he wanted to compete in the last Kyushu meet of the (current) Heisei era. It can't be helped. He's getting better," he added, but Hakuho did not speak to reporters after a morning training session.
(Hakuho (C) pictured at practice)
Kakuryu is sitting the tournament out due to pain in his right ankle and right knee. It will be his 11th withdrawal and first since pulling out partway through the July meet in Nagoya with a right ankle injury.
Their absence puts pressure on Kisenosato, the remaining grand champion, to perform well over the full 15 days and ensure there is at least one yokozuna competing. It is the first time Kisenosato will open a tournament as the sole grand champion.
A spate of injuries has swept sumo's top rank in recent times, robbing fans of the opportunity to see the sport's biggest names.
It will be the 10th time in Hakuho's career that he has missed part or all of a basho, and first since he pulled out on the fourth day of the 15-day Nagoya tourney in July. He has only gone the full distance in two of the six grand tournaments this year.
Hakuho had a procedure to remove bone fragments from his knee and fluid from his ankle joint shortly after he experienced pain and left the 24-day autumn regional tour on Oct. 12.
(Kakuryu (R) performs a ring-entering ritual at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Fukuoka)
Miyagino revealed that Hakuho can barely execute a shiko, a basic sumo warmup movement, and will remain in Fukuoka for rehab.
But he also said he is optimistic for Hakuho's comeback in the New Year meet in January and expects him to join the promotional tour which starts Dec. 2.
With his likely withdrawal from all 15 days of the Kyushu tourney, Hakuho will finish the year with 31 wins, eight losses and 51 rest days.
His sole overall victory this year came at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September, when he secured his record-extending 41st championship with a perfect 15-0 record.
If, as expected, he does finish 2018 with only one tournament victory, Hakuho will see a run of 11 straight years with at least two grand sumo championships end. The last time he won a single title in a year was in 2006 when he took his debut crown at the summer meet in May.