Terunofuji Gunning for Quick Ozeki Promotion

According to Nikkan Sports, Terunofuji has expressed a desire for a rapid rise to Ozeki. Full of confidence from his 13-win Spring tournament, including a win over superzuna Hakuho, Terunofuji said that “When I go up [to Ozeki], I want to do it quickly. A slow rise doesn’t make sense.” The general guidelines for ozeki promotion are 33 wins over 3 tournaments. They’re also talking about a potentially faster rise if he’s able to win the next tournament or get at least 14 wins.

It should be noted that these guidelines are flexible as we saw with Goeido’s promotion last year. Goeido had 32 wins in the three tournaments prior to his ozeki promotion. The fact that he had two jun-yusho gave the Sumo Kyokai the impression that he could be promoted despite being one win shy of the 33 win mark. However, Goeido’s performance at the ozeki rank has been less than stellar. He’s already faced demotion and is so far yet to break 8 wins in four tries with a record of 29 wins and 31 losses. The period spanning Day 8-Day 12 has been particularly rough. Of the 20 bouts during those days, during these four tournaments, Goeido’s only managed 3 wins.

I note Goeido’s challenges because he faced a fairly long spell at sekiwake, 14 tournaments or more than 2 years at the rank. It’s now possible that Terunofuji can be promoted after just 2 tournaments at that rank and I doubt the Sumo Kyokai is eager to have more lackluster performances out of another ozeki. However, in this case I do not think that Terunofuji will be a bust at ozeki but a two tournament promotion is jumping the gun. I think he’ll need at least two more tournaments at sekiwake.

Yes, he was dominant this tournament but the question is whether he can keep it up, particularly facing two yokozuna instead of one. He never had more than 8 wins in the top maegashira ranks, he doesn’t fight stablemate Harumafuji, and next tournament he will face both Hakuho and Kakuryu. The two-tournament promotion will be very tough but the three-tournament promotion is definitely within reach. He definitely needs to find an answer for Kaisei, that’s for sure. He’s lost to the Brazilian in two straight basho. Anyway, we shall see.

Analysis: Kinboshi Rates for Current Yokozuna

*Update 6 (7/12/16): Okinoumi defeated Harumafuji. Tochiozan defeated Kakuryu.

*Update 5 (5/10/16): Ichinojo defeated Harumafuji again. I will recalculate the totals. He faces Myogiryu tomorrow, another maegashira who already has a gold star, so another update may be coming tomorrow.

*Update 4 (3/24/16): Several tournaments of updates. He gave up another kinboshi to Osunaarashi in November but still won the tournament. Another kinboshi to Shohozan in January and Kotoyuki in March. I still hope to expand this analysis but I need to figure out a way to automate these updates.

*Update 3 (8/6/15): Tochinoshin’s default win over Harumafuji does not count as a kinboshi but I wanted to make a note.

*Update 2 (5/19/15): I tried to go to sleep but had to wait to see if Gagamaru would get a gold star. Surprise, surprise! I’m trying to also keep the numbers in the article below up-to-date. Harumafuji was at almost 1 gold star per 10 bouts but after this streak it’s almost 1 every 9 bouts!
*Update 1 (5/18/15): Harumafuji has given up 2 more kinboshi in the May tournament…and counting. I will try to update this article to keep it current. The latest recipients are M5 Tamawashi and M3 Sadanoumi.

After Harumafuji gave up 3 gold stars in the Haru basho, I wondered how many he’d yielded overall and how his rate compared with the other active yokozuna. I found out Harumafuji is quite prone to losing to maegashira, yielding one for every 9.1 bouts. He’s given up 26 in all, in about 209 bouts as yokozuna. The kinboshi seem to come in spurts. Also, Takayasu and Toyonoshima have been particularly effective against Harumafuji, winning 3 gold stars each. However, against Toyonoshima Harumafuji still holds a big 35-10 lead in their rivalry but he’s lost 3 of their last 9 bouts. Against Takayasu he’s only lost 3 of their 12 bouts.

In comparison, Kakuryu has given up 5 gold stars in the 74 bouts he’s had as yokozuna – a rate of 1 per 14.8 bouts, or about one per tournament. *(3/24/16) He’s given up 2 more in the past year, one to Aminishiki and another to Yoshikaze.

However, superzuna Hakuho has an amazing record against maegashira. He’s given up half as many gold stars as Harumafuji has but he’s fought in about 700 bouts as yokozuna. That’s an astonishing rate of 1 gold star every 70 bouts, or 1 gold star in just under 5 tournaments. I hope to expand this analysis to look at where these yokozuna fit in with other yokozuna through history.

Plainly, if Harumafuji is going to win another tournament soon, he can’t give up any losses in the first 10 days. *update, not only did he lose on Day 2 and win the Kyushu basho, he gave up yet another gold star to Osunaarashi.

Here’s a list of the gold stars Harumafuji has given (up-to-date as of 3/24/16):
Okinoumi (2),
Ichinojo (2),
Toyonoshima (3),
Takayasu (3),
Yoshikaze (2),
Osunaarashi (2),
Shohozan (2),
Chiyotairyu (2),

Endo Shooting for July Comeback

According to Yahoo! Japan, Endo is shooting for recovering by July’s Natsu Basho. Any later and he would likely be demoted from Makuuchi into Juryo. However, his oyakata does not want to rush things so if he’s not 100% he will not compete.

update* I think Endo will be ranked M12 or M13 in May and he’ll need to go kyujo for the whole tournament. The article says they don’t even know yet if he’ll need surgery. They haven’t assessed because of the swelling. Going kyujo in May will drop him into Juryo already for the July tournament. This is what happened to Homasho last year. He was M2 with one win when he was injured. Next tournament he was M13 and kyujo. Then he was demoted all the way to Juryo 9, going kyujo again dropped to Makushita 7 and announced his retirement. Endo has a bit of an advantage since he had 4 wins when he was injured but he was also ranked lower at M5.

Sumo in The Economist

The website for The Economist had a little article about sumo last week. Their “Economist Explains” series focused on the rise of foreign wrestlers in sumo’s upper divisions.

The past basho had mixed results for native Japanese wrestlers. Though yusho in the lower divisions were won by Japanese, Hakuho dominated the makuuchi and his only competition (and sole loss) was from Mongolian compatriot, Terunofuji. Also, all Japanese ozeki had lackluster performances, squeaking by with winning records. Further, Endo, Aminishiki, and Chiyootori had devastating knee injuries.

Anyway, interesting article. It doesn’t go much into the recent rise in the sport’s popularity nor does it really compare Mongolian wrestling to sumo which would help explain why Mongolian wrestlers feature so prominently. Personally, I think the foreign competition is making the sport more exciting.

Knees: Endo, Aminishiki, Chiyootori

Chiyootori’s knee buckled as he tried to get the special prize today. His injury adds to Aminishiki and Endo. None of the three could walk away from the dohyo under their own power. Endo seemed in the least pain of the three but all of these cases show how the Kyokai needs to make a change in the way it handles injuries. These wrestlers need medical attention quickly and they should not be walking after these injuries. After seeing what Homasho and Tochinoshin went through, and how he battled back from the lower ranks just last year, I’m not sure Aminishiki will have that much time to battle back.

Chiyootori makes it three
Chiyootori makes it three

Georgian Battle 2015

The build-up during the tachiai was certainly more dramatic than the actual bout. Tochinoshin dominated early, going for a quick throw which was rebuffed. But the momentum was clearly against Gagamaru. Once Tochinoshin had Gagamaru on the edge, he displayed his prodigious strength by lifting his 200 kilo compatriot over the straw bales. It’s always painful to watch him do this against Ichinojo but he’s certainly capable with those massive thighs. With this critical win securing a winning record he’ll probably jump a spot or two to M1 or M2 next tournament. Much hay was made of Robert Myers’ massive quads during the NFL combine but those writers have never seen the likes of Tochinoshin or Kotoshogiku.

Tochinoshin Gives Me a 2nd-Hand Hernia
Tochinoshin Gives Me a 2nd-Hand Hernia

This loss for Gagamaru ended a four-bout winning streak which began with an impressive win over Osunaarashi and continued through Ikioi, Kaisei, and Kyokutenho – certainly not cream puffs. I’m glad to see Gagamaru back and on form. He’ll be back in the mid-maegashira next tournament. As he’ll be battling more upper-maegashira and even sanyaku wrestlers, he’ll likely not get double-digit wins but he’s back where he belongs. In the meantime, he’ll be joined by Osunaarashi and Chiyootori who also had excellent tournaments…but will face stark reality in May.

Hakuho’s 34th Emperor’s Cup!

It’s good to have a tournament be decided on the last day during the last match between the yokozuna. Today, Terunofuji did his part. After the big win yesterday against Ichinojo to keep the pressure on, he was able to throw Goeido, setting up Harumafuji. Harumafuji needed to beat Hakuho to force a play-off between Terunofuji and Hakuho but he couldn’t seal the deal. With a yorikiri pushout victory over his yokozuna compatriot, Hakuho notched another tournament victory.

For the outstanding efforts of the tournament, during his sanyaku debut, Terunofuji secured two special prizes: Outstanding Performance and Fighting Spirit. It is his first Outstanding Performance award but his second Fighting Spirit prize. I’m just still a bit sad that Aminishiki couldn’t get the Technique prize as he’d had to pull out of the tournament with injury.

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March Tournament 2015: Day 13 – Terunofuji Beats Hakuho

Terunofuji beat Hakuho in a pretty evenly contested bout. If anything, Terunofuji was the dominant wrestler, able to control position and pace. Each had a one-handed belt grip but in the end, he was able to use his size advantage to force out the yokozuna. The crowd erupted, and Hak just looked stunned.

Hakuho returns to the dohyo among flying zabuton
Hakuho returns to the dohyo among flying zabuton

Terunofuji came to ball. He still needs help though, to compete for the yusho as Hakuho sits on a one-win lead going into Day 14. Also, if he wins, I think there will be an asterisk next to the yusho as he does not compete against Harumafuji and other wrestlers from his heya and Kakuryu is out. However, in the head-to-head match, there’s no denying his strong victory.

The leaderboard:
Hakuho: 12-1
Terunofuji: 11-2
Harumafuji: 10-3
Gagamaru: 10-3

Yes, that’s Gagamaru tied with Harumafuji, 2 wins off pace. He’s been able to use his girth to dominate the lower ranks of the maegashira. It will be great to see him get a special prize after having been in Juryo for much of the last year.

Thanks to Kintamayama for the videos!

March Tournament 2015: Day 12 – Hakuho Still Unbeaten

Hakuho remains unbeaten. Terunofuji is still the closest competitor, the only one with any hope of challenging, two losses back. He faces Hakuho tomorrow in a big showdown. With a win tomorrow, Hakuho will secure his 34th yusho and extend his lead to 3 bouts with 2 remaining. Even with a loss, though, Terunofuji will need help from either Harumafuji or Kisenosato to force a playoff. The only way to avoid the playoff is if Hakuho loses all three bouts and Terunofuji wins out.

In the meantime, one wrestler just behind Terunofuji with 9 wins is Ga-ga-ga-ga Gagamaru! Tied with Chiyootori and Harumafuji, Gagamaru has been very strong this tournament. I don’t know what it is but something seems to have clicked with him. He’s been using his size to his advantage and has only stumbled a few times so far.

Osunaarashi has also been very impressive. Though he lost today against Chiyootori, he’s found a variety of ways to get wins this tournament, especially on the belt. For the last few tournaments it seemed like his knees were gone and he had those big Aminishiki-like wraps. Without the ability to grapple, he was becoming one dimensional with an admittedly fierce slap attack that cost at least one opponent a broken nose. But this basho has seen a much more authoritative Osunaarashi. Having secured a winning record yesterday, it would be good to see him garner double-digit wins.

Ichinojo secured his winning record today along with Sokokurai. Tamawashi is going the other way, and with his losing record will drop from the sanyaku.

March Tournament: Day 11 – Hakuho Dominating

With Terunofuji falling to Kaisei, Hakuho has no real challengers in his bid to claim his 34th yusho. Until today, Terunofuji still had the yusho in his hands if he won out, including beating Hakuho – though he’d need to do it twice. Now, however, even if he’s able to beat Hakuho in their meeting, Hakuho will still win. We’re down to the final four days and the superzuna is turning it into a runaway.

March Tournament 2015: Day 10

Aminishiki seems to have gone down with a knee injury. It was heartbreaking to see him be unable to walk under his own power. He’d been having an excellent basho and is clearly in line for the technique special prize. He is assured of a winning record, but healthy he could have gotten 10-11 wins. Hopefully it’s not as serious as it looked but I’ll be surprised if he’s not done. With his knees at his age, this might be retirement if he can’t continue.

Speaking of retirement, it was also good to see Homasho being interviewed but a bit odd to see him in a Western suit.

Hakuho leads, followed by Terunofuji. Terunofuji seemed to wait until Kotoshogiku ran out of steam with his leg thrusts and was able to counter, getting the oshidashi victory. Tomorrow he’s up against Kaisei who lost to Harumafuji but certainly gave him a run for his money in a long, tightly contested matchup. Kisenosato’s victory over Goeido meant he was the only Ozeki to win today.

Osunaarashi got an impressive belt win today. He’s certainly not as one dimensional as he seemed last tournament. His knees are not giving him the same problems and he’s getting great power in his legs to match up with his opponents. Gagamaru dropped his first bout in a week but Ikioi bounced back with a win over Arawashi.

March Tournament 2015: Toyonoshima Gold Star!

Toyonoshima (Harumafuji)

Toyonoshima’s Gold Star was move of the tournament so far. Harumafuji started with a nodo-wa then aggressively shoved Toyonoshima to the edge…but in an instant he had over committed and Toyonoshima deftly spun around, sending the yokozuna flying into the second row. My words don’t do it justice. It was a truly astonishing turn of events. Thanks to Jason for the video.

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March Tournament 2015: Day 8 – Hakuho leads alone

Gold Star for Tochinoshin! Harumafuji has now given up two this tournament…granted they’re to LEGIT wrestlers, Ichinojo and Tochinoshin…but he still needs to get these wins if he’s to get another yusho. He’s a yokozuna so he doesn’t get the luxury of Stay-Puft marshmallow pushovers.

Tochinoshin (Harumafuji)

Hakuho stands alone at the top of the leaderboard. He’s plainly invincible. A few days ago, against Takayasu, he seemed bored – basically inviting the hapless maegashira to try something, anything to take him down. Perhaps afraid of making Hakuho angry, Takayasu just landed a couple limp-wristed slaps to his face before Hakuho finally pulled him down. The next day, against Tamawashi, Hakuho was able to quickly get a right-handed belt grip and he threw the komusubi across the ring. Today, more of the same. He met Toyonoshima with a strong tachiai and then quickly forced him out behind what must be a killer nodo-wa throat grab. Tomorrow, he faces Aoiyama. Someone he’s never lost to in 10 bouts. Also someone who’s looked out-of-sorts for most of this tournament….seems perfect (almost poetic) setup for an upset.

Harumafuji’s loss to Tochinoshin effectively takes him out of contention. After each of his last two bouts, he’s been flexing his right arm in pain. Seems his elbow may be giving him issues and I won’t be surprised if he goes kyujo tomorrow. Meanwhile, the ozeki have been worthless. Goeido went down again today against Aoiyama. I was very disappointed with Kotoshogiku the other day, not being able to just push Ichinojo over the bales. It seemed the Mongolian was inviting him to try a yorikiri win but just leaned on him and then walked him out the other side. Ozeki need to be able to contend for championships. It looks like at this point next year, certainly by summer 2016, there will be a raft of new Ozeki.

Terunofuji (potentially one of the ozeki-in-waiting) and Aminishiki have been providing great story lines with their undefeated runs. Unfortunately, both lost today, several days before we could really start talking about yusho contention. Meanwhile, Osunaarashi and Gagamaru have been looking great among the lower maegashira. Osunaarashi’s been finding different ways to win, mostly on the belt instead of his forceful slaps. It’s been refreshing.