Photo/IllutrationChiyonokuni, left, is pushed out by Ikioi on the 10th day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Jan. 22 in the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, resulting in an injury to his left knee. (Shiro Nishihata)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

With sumo fans still lamenting the early retirement of hobbled former yokozuna Kisenosato, attention is turning to the increasing number of injuries in the sport.

Famed sumo commentator Kitanofuji, a former yokozuna, has long suggested that the cause is the increased weight of wrestlers.

“Sumo wrestlers’ bodies are probably reaching a critical limit,” he said.

Veteran stablemasters commonly utter the trite phrase, “This was caused by a lack of practice,” when one of their wrestlers is injured.

Certainly, there are some types of injuries that can be prevented through sufficient practice and increased flexibility of the body.

However, Japan Sumo Association (JSA) records show wrestlers have packed on weight over the past half-century.

The average weight of those in the top makuuchi division increased from 125 kilograms at the 1969 New Year tournament to more than 150 kg at the 1991 summer tournament. It topped 160 kg at the 2012 autumn tournament.

“There are no effective corrective measures,” a JSA executive said.

Bouts between massive wrestlers and smaller ones are one of the attractions of the sport, which has no weight classifications.

Wrestlers try to put on weight in seeking to attain a body mass that cannot be easily pushed back.

Still, former yokozuna Harumafuji, who weighed only 137 kg and was one of the lightest makuuchi wrestlers before retiring in November 2017, rose to the sport's top rank by beating larger opponents with his speed and superior technique.

“Probably, we have no choice but to wait for another wrestler like Harumafuji to come along,” Kitanofuji once said.

The average weight of makuuchi wrestlers hit a record 166.2 kg at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January, compared with 99 kg in 1909.

In the New Year tournament, injuries played a major role, starting with Kisenosato, who announced his retirement after starting with three consecutive losses.

Kisenosato, the only Japanese yokozuna at the time, never seemed to fully recover from a left arm and chest injury he suffered in the 2017 spring tournament. He subsequently had a string of tournaments he either withdrew from or missed.

Kisenosato, who recently debuted as stablemaster Araiso, weighed 177 kg when he was competing, according to the JSA website.

On Jan. 22, the 10th day of the tournament, two makuuchi wrestlers fell prey to injuries in successive bouts.

No. 15 maegashira Chiyonokuni, at 145 kg, hurt his left knee in losing to 170-kg Ikioi, a No. 11 maegashira.

Immediately after that, 173-kg Kotoyuki, a No. 13 maegashira, sustained an injury to his right knee during his loss to 167-kg Takarafuji, a No. 10 maegashira.

The two injured wrestlers withdrew from the tournament from the following day.

Chiyonokuni, with an 8-2 record, was one of two wrestlers tied in second place behind yokozuna Hakuho, who was undefeated and leading at that point. Hakuho also was forced to drop out on Day 14 with an injury.

In addition, 170-kg komusubi Mitakeumi, who had won on the first five days, got injured in a loss to 155-kg komusubi Myogiryu on the sixth day, resulting in a four-day absence from the competition.