Ōzeki (大関) – September’s Great Barrier


For the upcoming September tournament, the status and disposition of the 3 Yokozuna is well known and predictable. It’s in the champion, or Ōzeki ranks, where the drama unfolds this fall. First, let’s deal with Japan’s great Yokozuna hope – Kisenosato

As the Japan Times writes,

The 30-year-old ozeki enters the 15-day Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament knowing his first career title will mean promotion to sumo’s most exalted rank. If he does win a championship, Kisenosato will become the first Japanese-born wrestler to take the big step up from ozeki since Wakanohana became a yokozuna in 1998.

In sumo, the highest rank (Yokozuna) is completely owned and operated by a trio of very talented athletes from Mongolia. This has been a sore spot for Japan, and Sumo fans are eager to see someone from the native home of Sumo once again in the top tier.

The big problem being; Kisenosato is a great guy and a solid Ōzeki, but he cannot seem to overcome the current crop of Mongolian wrestlers and take a tournament championship. At age 30, he is quickly running out of time where he can remain healthy enough to seriously compete for Sumo’s top rank.

Kisenosato is a strong Ōzeki, and in a prior age he would have easily made Yokozuna. But he competes in a period that has the strongest Yokozuna in history – the great Hakuho. Hakuho is the “Michael Jordan” of sumo. There has been no wrester so dominant before, and may never be again for many decades to come. Simply put, if Kisenosato can defeat Hakuho and Harumafuji to win the championship in Tokyo, he deserves Yokozuna.

Kadoban Twins

When an Ōzeki has a losing tournament record, he is not automatically demoted. Instead they require two consecutive losing tournaments to lose their rank. After the first loss, they are labeled “Kadoban” – a term I interpret as “on the bubble”. In the September tournament, both Goeido and Kotoshogiku are kadoban. This translates into a decent chance that at least one and maybe two Ōzeki will open should either of these men fail to rescue their rank by pulling off a winning record. Both men have never had a firm grip on the Ōzeki rank, with Goeido having been in peril 3 times prior to September, and Kotoshogiku having been at risk 5 times before this tournament. Clearly both men are playing a losing game, and it’s only a matter of time before more dominant wrestlers take the Ōzeki billets they currently enjoy.

Contender – Takayasu

There is no shortage of Sumotori who could become Ōzeki within the next year. The strongest among these is rising star Takayasu, who proudly wears the Sekiwake title this September. If one takes the guidances of 33 Makuuchi wins in the last 3 tournaments, Takayasu would need 13 wins to reach the magic 33. It’s possible, but he would need to have the performance of his career. A strong 12 or 11 wins in September would put him in position to reach 33 during the November Kyushu tournament. One benefit in Takayasu’s favor – as Kisenosato’s stable mate, he does not have to face Kisenosato (and defeat him) to reach his needed win goal. Bad news, he will face all 3 Yokozuna.

Grand Sumo Summer Tournament - Day 10
TOKYO, JAPAN – MAY 19: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Takayasu (R) throws Mongolian wrestler Kyokushuho (L) to win during day ten of the Grand Sumo Summer Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan on May 19, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Contender – Takarafuji

Takarafuji is fresh to the San’yaku ranks, having performed well as West Maegashira #2 at Nagoya. Sekiwake is a notoriously tough rank to hold, and it could be a hard, long tournament for man from Aomori Prefecture. His score is not yet strong enough to give him a shot at Ōzeki, but if he can hold Sekiwake, he has the skill and power to rise. To his credit, he has 2 Kinboshi wins to his record – he has proven he can defeat a Yokozuna.

Contender – Kaisei

Brazilian Rikishi Kaisei is an outside chance to eventually rise to Ōzeki. September will be his 3rd tournament at the top tier San’yaku ranks, after falling from Sekiwake in Nagoya. He has the size and power to make a play for the champion role, but injury has kept him from top form.

Contender – Yoshikaze

Yoshikaze has been San’yaku in the past (end of 2015) but was unable to keep his ranking due to injuries. With a dynamic and aggressive rikishi like Yoshikaze, they are prone to getting banged up and injured on the grueling schedule of tournaments ever other month. It’s clear given his “heathy” record, his history of defeating Yokozuna and his relentless drive to win, he could easily make Ōzeki in the next year. If and only if he can keep from being injured and remain healthy.

Banzuke Out! Look out for Ura v Osunaarashi to battle for Juryo Yusho!

The Sumo Kyokai has released the banzuke for September’s tournamentAs Bruce predicted, Takayasu jumped to top sekiwake  after his strong July but Kaisei stays in the sanyaku, dropping only to komusubi. My matchup to watch this basho is Ura v Osunaarashi as both exciting wrestlers are ranked at the top in Juryo, provided they’re both healthy.

The yokozuna and ozeki ranks are pretty well known; the fun really is guessing how the rest of the makuuchi pans out. Next tournament, I’ll also put out a mock banzuke. If other readers are interested we could try scoring them and see who comes out on top.

Sumotori Checkup Time!

It seems the time has come for all of the mighty Rikishi of Grand Sumo to undergo their periodic check ups. The sight of dozens of burly men in yakuta queued up for blood draws, weigh ins and general medical ephemera creates an environment ripe for photos, selfies and general wackiness. Fortunately, everyone posted things to twitter, and Tachiai is here to bring it to you, sumo fans.


More needles, scales and hijinks after the jump.

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Sumo Track & Field – A Sport Too Far?

The modern age of Sumo is both strange and wonderful. With so many Rikishi on social media, you get a flavor that these guys train hard, play hard, and frequently do the kind of fun and wacky stuff that everyone assumes takes place in Japan.

With the summer Olympics now complete in Rio, take a look at what happens when 3 sumotori decide to hold a foot race, courtesy of RocketNews24.

Looks like Amakaze and Takatenshu. I was hoping Amakaze would win!

Full story can be found here

Hakuho’s Health & Aki Basho (白鵬 翔)

As I have stated before, in my opinion Hakuhō Shō (白鵬 翔) is the most dominant Yokozuna in Sumo, possibly ever.  His record is unmatched, and when he is healthy there is really no stopping him from winning any tournament.

Hence the big question for the upcoming Tokyo Aki Basho.  Hakuho was clearly injured somewhere around day 9 in Nagoya, and was at quite a bit less than full form.  While a toe injury was publicly cited, it seemed he was having problems with a knee as well.

Now the following from Hokuho’s twitter account

Clearly showing the champ’s toe healing from whatever happened to it.

There are a lot of elements of the upcoming tournament that pivot on Hakuho’s health.  If he is at full strength and fighting form, I expect him to sweep the ranks as he normally does.  If he is still injured, or is forced to withdraw as he did September last year, it opens a lot of doors, especially for Kisenosato.

Countdown To Banzuke (番付) – Fall 2016 Projected Rankings

Fall 2016 Sumo Rankings

Having recapped Nagoya, handicapped demotions and promotions, it’s time to feed all of this into the giant spreadsheet of love and come up with what we think the Banzuke / ranking sheet for the fall will show.


I have Harumafuji switching to East as the winner of Nagoya, and Hokuho moving to West. Only a prestige move, but reflecting Hamumafuji’s Yusho. Hokuho looked very banged up at the end of Nagoya, and I will be interested to see if he can bounce back and return to his normal form. I consider him to be the “Michael Jordan” of Sumo. He’s so dominant that when he is healthy and in his grove, he has been basically unstoppable.


Kesenosato maintains a Ozeki 1 east rank, with Terunofuji, who saved himself from kadoban and demotion in Nagoya (in part by a henka move against Yoshikaze) in Ozeki 1 west. The two Ozeki who are on the bubble fill in below them. The odds predict that one of them will not survive as Ozeki, and we will have a new Ozeki come the winter ranking sheet.


Takayasu moves up to Sekiwake, and is my statistical leader for the next Ozeki should one of the two kadoban Ozeki fall. His performance at Nagano was fantastic, and if he continues strong in Tokyo he has a path to promotion. Tochiozan moves up from Maegashira 1 in Nagoya to Sekiwake for the fall. Good luck to him in a really tough rank.


Enjoying promotion from Maegashira to San’yaku we find Takarafuji, who scored a kinboshi against Hakuho in Nagoya along with Kantō-shō along with Okinoumi who scored a kinboshi against Harumafuji.

Maegashira Notables

Yoshikaze moves to Maegashira 1, as a fan I would have loved to see him back in San’yaku, but crunching the numbers can’t get him higher than M1e. He shares the top rank and file slot with a descending Tochinoshin who falls from Sekiwake. Kaisei falls from Sekiwake to Maegashira 2, which he shares with a promoted Shodai.

Former Juryo rikishi Amakaze, Ura, Gagamaru and Homarefuji fill out the bottom of the ranks.

That’s my guess, the real Banzuke will be out Sunday August 28th. It’s still at least 3 long weeks until Sumo returns, and Tachiai will be covering the action in Tokyo.

Fall 2016 Sumo Rankings

Countdown To Banzuke (番付) – Handicapping Promotions


As grim it is to talk about all the great Sumotori who are facing a lowered rank, the fun part is talking about how those who excelled at Nagoya are set to rise in rank with the arrival of the Banzuke for the Aki Basho in Tokyo, starting September 11th. Although the ratio of winning records to losing records was 2 winners for ever 3 losers, some great wrestlers are going to find new rankings come August 28th.

San’yaku (三役)

The upper levels of the top Makuuchi division are the toughest and most competitive. Wrestlers who achieve Komusubi (小結) or Sekiwake (関脇) frequently lose that rank on their first tournament, as they must face all the other San’yaku wrestlers and all Yokozuna. It’s a tough slot. Coming out of Nagoya, the only San’yaku Rikishi with a winning record was Takayasu who went 11-4, who also took home the Ginō-shō (技能賞) / Technique Prize. We can expect him to go from East Komusubi to East Sekiwake in the Aki Banzuke

Noteworthy Predicted Promotions – (Nagoya) East

  • Okinoumi – At Maegashira 2, he turned in a minimal winning record of 8-7. But it may be enough to move him into San’yaku as Komusubi
  • Shodai – Great to see Shodai get his kachi-koshi (winning record) at Nagoya. Expect to see him towards the top of the Maegashira ranks (1 or 2) from Maegashira 5 at Nagoya.
  • Chiyonokuni – Came to Nagoya as Maegashira 9 for the East team, and withdrew after day 13 due to injury. Be he did so with a winning record. He looked in good form and had some great moves in Nagoya, I expect him to be Maegashira 5 or so if he is healthy enough in September
  • Takanoiwa – As Maegashira 10 at Nagoya, he was nearly in a 3 way playoff for the wining record (Yusho) of the tournament. He was awarded the Kantō-shō (敢闘賞) / Fighting Spirit Prize. I would expect him also to be around Maegashira 5 in September, where he may find the competition much more intense.

Noteworthy Predicted Promotions – (Nagoya) West

The west had a very ugly record in Nagoya, but there were a few bright spots, all of whom will rise for the September tournament:

  • Tochiozan – A solid kachi-koshi at 8-7, look for him to also be elevated to San’yaku, possibly as Sekiwake
  • Takarafuji – In addition for a kinboshi for dropping Hakuho, he turned in an impressive 10-5 performance an took home Kantō-shō / Fighting Spirit Prize. He will likely show up in the San’yaku ranks as a Komusubi for September
  • Yoshikaze – I have made it clear just how impressive Yohsikaze’s performance was at Nagoya. He was unstoppable. His problem of course is injury. It’s unknown if he will be back for September, but we can hope he is all patched up and ready to go. While I would like to see him at Komusubi, Maegashira 1e is more likely.
  • Nishikigi – An up and comer at Maegashira 14 in Nagoya, he was 9-6 and will likely be Maegashira 5 or 6 in the September tournament.

Noteworthy Predicted Promotions – Juryo

In addition to a re-shuffle of the Makuuchi ranks, high performing Rikishi from the Juryo rank will be promoted into the top division in September. Some of the great Sumotori I am expecting to see include:

  • Amakaze – Winner of the Juryo division (Yusho) pretty much assures us we will see Amakaze as a Maegashira in September
  • Ura – Really looking forward to seeing Ura in the top division. As mentioned in lower threads, he is exciting to watch.
  • Gagamaru – A winning record as Juryo 1, he is likely to show up lower in the Maegashira ranks. He comes from the former Soviet republic of Georgia
  • Homarefuji – A 10-5 record as Juryo 4 East, he is likely to be promoted to the top division as well

Countdown To Banzuke (番付) – Handicapping Demotions

Hokuho Beat Down

Now that we have had a look at the results of Nagoya, we get a clearer picture of who will rise in rank, and who will fall. As mentioned in Countdown To Banzuke (番付) – September Basho, Nagoya was a blood bath in the figurative and literal sense. For every 2 Sumotori with winning records, 3 had losing records, 5 withdrew from injuries, and practically everyone was banged up by the time it all wrapped with Harumafuji winning the cup.

2 Ozeki Kadoban (角番)

A big story to me is that 2 Ozeki are on the bubble for the September Tokyo tournament. While much of the Sumo world focus on if Kisenosato will make Yokozuna and break the Japanese drought, the far more interesting race is for the next Ozeki or two. When an Ozeki has a losing tournament, they are “Kadoban”, or at risk of demotion. When they have 2 losing tournaments in a row, they drop to the lower San-yaku ranks. This could open an Ozeki slot for some of the hard changing Sumotori to climb in rank. On the bubble for Tokyo are

  • Goeido – Could not pull off a win on the final day for kachi-koshi (勝ち越し)
  • Kotoshogiku – Withdrew due to injuries

Noteworthy Predicted Demotions – East

  • Kaisei – Sadly his 7-8 record means he is going to likely drop a rank
  • Kotoyuki – He had an abysmal tournament going 2-13. The Sen-yaku ranks are tough to hang onto, and he will be back to Maegashira, I would think.
  • Mitakeumi – At East Maegashira 1, he had a tough slot to fill. At 5-10 he will be looking to improve in Tokyo.
  • Osunaarashi – The Egyptian was out early with an injury. If he is healthy and is in the Tokyo September Banzuke, it is likely at a much lower Maegashira rank.
  • Toyonoshima – Did not even make it to his first bout, withdrew due to injuries. He is likely back to Juryo ranks for Tokyo

Noteworthy Predicted Demotions – West

  • Tochinoshin – The West Sekiwake is likely to be demoted due to a 6-9 result on Nagoya. He had some great matches, but as stated above, life in the San-yaku ranks is very tough.
  • Ikioi – A fan favorite, he went 5-10 and is likely to be well down the Banzuke, even though he was able to drop and injured Hakuho with a Slippi-toshi.
  • Endo – Dreadful tournament for this guy. 3-12 he was definitely not on top of his game.
  • Aminishiki – Withdrawing before his first bout, he is back to Juryo for Tokyo in all likelihood.
  • Sadanofuji – at 4-11, he is also headed back to Juryo, which sadly is not part of the NHK feed into America. Hope to see him back in the Makuuchi ranks soon.

Next up, we will look at which Rikishi are expected to rise when the Banzuke is published on August 28th

Countdown To Banzuke (番付) – September Basho

It’s now less than two weeks until the Banzuke for the Aki Basho in Tokyo is released. For sumo fans, we are eagerly awaiting to see the new ranking, and to begin anticipating 15 days of sumo starting September 11th. Before we get into handicapping who we think ends up where in the ranking sheet, let’s take a moment to look at the outcome of the Nagoya Basho. In short – a bloodbath. There were 14 Rikishi with winning records, 21 Rikishi with losing records (likely demoted), 2 Ozeki went Kadoban (角番), and there were 5 Rikishi out with injuries, including Yokozuna Kakuryu.

Gory details after the jump Continue reading

Where Has Sumo Gone? – Jungyo! (巡業)

For international Sumo fans, it’s a long wait between the end of the Nagoya basho and the September basho in Tokyo. but in the 2 months between tournaments, for those in Japan, Sumo goes on tour! Referred to as Jungyo (巡業 – Literally, to “make the rounds”), each day  consists of exhibition matches, training sessions demonstrating how Sumotori work out, and sessions where local children square off against Rikishi for fun and entertainment.

The schedule includes a slapstick Sumo bout called “Shokkiri” (しょっきり), which seems to be straight out of the 3 Stooges in places.

These tours in between tournaments helps raise public awareness of Sumo and build the audience for the sport.  It appears to be working, as the popularity of Sumo has risen in Japan during the past few years.

Mongolian Economy Tanking

The Mongolian economy is facing crisis. Its currency, the tugrik, has fallen against the dollar for 18 days straight. Given such a high Mongolian presence in sumo, and the fact that former Yokozuna Asashoryu is an active businessman in Mongolia, this will have an effect on the sport. For one thing, there will likely be less kenshokin and sponsorship money coming from Mongolian firms – and that will likely hit the top Mongolian wrestlers hardest. It may turn more Mongolians to the sport, not immediately but down the road, as unemployment increases. Apparently, rather than default on debts, public salaries and investment are on the chopping block.

It’s not a good situation but may be a sign of broader economic issues. The slide comes from Mongolia’s dependence on the Chinese and Russian markets in particular for commodities, like copper. Falling Chinese demand has brought lower global prices, hitting Mongolia hard. Landlocked, there aren’t easy routes to other external markets. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mongolian sumo feed gets cut.

More “Sumopedia” Videos

I’ve gone back to the NHK highlights website and found they’ve uploaded several more Sumopedia videos worth watching. My only gripe is that the videos are 2 minutes when each topic so far is worthy of much longer documentaries. I found the video about gyoji to have several interesting facts that I didn’t know, particularly their role in purifying the dohyo before the tournament. If I were producing these, a video on the dohyo would be the first I’d make since it’s where the fights take place.

Open Thread

Reader Bruce H is right, we’ve got a good three weeks until we even see the new banzuke so I’m going to open this thread to discussion to anything sumo related. Feel free to post gripes and suggestions for the blog, as well.

Homarenishiki Retirement

Homarenishiki retired. In all, 10 wrestlers announced their retirement. Bullying and hazing are serious issues in athletics. I’m a little disappointed that there’s not been much confirmed reporting on what happened at the Nishikido heya seeing as how so many of their wrestlers were suddenly out-of-action. It’s difficult for an observer to understand what’s going on, who may have acted improperly. As fans, we want to know that rikishi are not abused and are in a safe environment (though we’d be silly not to expect inter-personal drama as tight-nit as these heya are). We’d also like to know that if wrestlers or heyas act improperly, they will be removed from sumo.

Bullying and hazing are not issues which are unique to sumo. In the US, it’s also been a big issue in education as well. I’m a board member for my kids’ PTA association and it is a serious concern, even in lower elementary grades. People are best served with an open treatment of the issues rather than sweeping individual instances under the rug. It’s important to be up front with what happened and reinforce that this behavior is not acceptable. Without a clear accounting, people don’t really get that message and the behavior continues under the surface until it blows up in a bigger, wider scandal.

On the other side of the coin, without better information, rumors can blow things way out of proportion for what really happened. It may be a more minor issue but without knowing, we’re left to speculate and either way it taints the sport.