Despite going 0-5 and quitting November's meet with injuries, Kisenosato was in the top east yokozuna slot on Tuesday when the Japan Sumo Association announced its rankings for January's New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
Sumo finds itself entering 2019 wondering which yokozuna are healthy, and whether the 32-year-old Kisenosato -- who has withdrawn from nine of the past 10 grand tournaments -- will retire if he is unable to deliver a solid performance at the upcoming tournament.
The Japanese grand champion said Tuesday he intends to compete from Day 1 of the Jan. 13-27 meet at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, but questions about his fitness remain after he became the first yokozuna in 87 years to open a grand tournament with four straight losses in Kyushu.
The Japanese grand champion has been focusing on his rehab but as of last Friday had not resumed sparring.
(Kisenosato (R) crashes to his 4th straight defeat in Kyushu)
Grand champion Hakuho, whose 1,095 career wins are the most in history, had surgery on his right knee and ankle in October. Although he appeared in some regional tour bouts in December, Hakuho had refrained from wrestling in his stable's morning workouts until last Friday.
Fellow yokozuna Kakuryu, who won back-to-back championships in March and May, did not compete in Kyushu due to right ankle pain and did not wrestle in the recently completed regional tour.
Among the ozeki trio, Takayasu sits in the top east slot after a 12-3 record in November. However, questions hover over his two rivals after injury and lackluster performances in Kyushu.
Goeido withdrew with pain in his right arm after securing his winning record, while Tochinoshin lacked his usual power in November and barely scraped out an 8-7 record.
Kyushu champion Takakeisho, who joined the Chiganoura stable after his former stablemaster Takanohana abruptly quit the JSA, becomes his new stable's first sekiwake. The 22-year-old went 13-2 in November to earn his first promotion above komusubi.
(Takakeisho receives the Emperor's Cup)
His partner at sumo's third highest rank is 34-year-old Mongolian Tamawashi, who will wrestle as a sekiwake for the first time since the last New Year tourney. His 9-6 November record bumps him up three spots from No. 2 maegashira.
After three straight tournaments as a sekiwake, 26-year-old Mitakeumi drops down to komusubi following his 7-8 November record. By falling only one rank, Mitakeumi will be competing in the "sanyaku" ranks, the three below yokozuna, for the 12th straight grand tournament, a figure matched by only six other wrestlers.
Myogiryu, 32, joins Mitakeumi at komusubi, marking his first sanyaku appearance since November 2015.
The No. 1 maegashira slots have been handed to Tochiozan, promoted from No. 2, and 227-kilogram Mongolian Ichinojo, who went 6-9 in November as a sekiwake.
New to sumo's elite makuuchi division is 24-year-old Yago, who went 10-5 in November as a No. 1 juryo wrestler. He will make his debut at No. 13 maegashira. His opposite No. 13 is former maegashira Kotoyuki, also coming off a 10-5 juryo-division mark.
January's other makuuchi returnee is No. 15 Kotoeko, who earned promotion from No. 1 juryo with an 8-7 record.