Aki Fallout – Kisenosato 稀勢の里

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He Had Much To Gain, And Much To Loose

Heading into the Aki basho, all of Japan was riveted to Ozeki Kisenosato, and his perpetual bid to be promoted to sumo’s highest rank, Yokozuna. As any sumo fan knows, his much hyped bid failed. Worse still, a rival Ozeki, Goeido, was able to achieve a perfect record, win the tournament, and set himself on a fast track to the very promotion Kisenosato has worked so hard chasing.

The Yokozuna Run

Kisenosato has been sumo’s second highest rank, Ozeki, since 2012. He was elevated without a single tournament victory, by maintaining a steady record of second place finishes (Jun-yusho) and special prizes. For the three tournaments before his promotion, he racked up 32 wins with a 10-12-10 record, with 2 special prizes.

From here he settled into a pattern that made him a fairly solid Ozeki, only being kadoban once, and racking up several back-to-back Jun-yushos, and frequent double digit winning records. This is what an Ozeki should be doing, and he did it well. Starting in 2016, there seemed to have been a public cry that for too long there were only Mongolian Yokozuna, and the Sumo Association came under pressure to find a Japanese sumotori to wear the rope.

At the conclusion of the May 2016 tournament in Tokyo, Kisenosato had two back to back Jun-yusho, and people were starting to suggest he would become Yokozuna soon. As the meme spread, everyone associated Kisenosato with the goal that he would become the champion of Japanese sumo, the first native Yokozuna in more than a decade. The pressure on him was immense.

Nagoya

With all of Japan watching, Kisenosato went to the summer tournament in Nagoya. He defeated most of his opponents, who were surprisingly light on the Ozeki count, facing only 2. In truth, his schedule in Nagoya was very light.

He defeated an injured Hakuho on day 14, but lost badly to Harumafuji on day 13. The video below shows how little defense he was able to mount against the Yokozuna’s attack.

He also lost to two rank and file Maegashira, Tochiozan and Shohozan. While his sumo was good (he finished with a 12-3 Jun-yusho), he proved once more that he did not really have the versatility and mobility needed to handle the tough matches.

Summer Jungyo

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With the hopes of Japanese sumo fans rising over the chance of a native Yokozuna, the Sumo Association held a massive summer tour. The Jungyo take sumo to the people to raise the profile and interest of sumo among the broader population. In general they are in a different city each day, holding a full day’s worth of events from practice bouts, to singing, to explanations of sumo’s traditions and techniques.

As it has in the past, the hot summer and the constant grind degraded the performance of the rikishi on tour. This was evident during the first 3 days of Aki, when many of the best from Nagoya seemed slow, rusty and off their game. Clearly it’s impact on Kisenosato – the great Japanese hope who was on the road almost every day from early August – was significant.

Soken -Yokozuna Deliberation Council

The first sign that the Yokozuna bid was in trouble came at a closed training session in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, called a Soken. During this session, the council invites up and coming rikishi, Ozeki under consideration for promotion, along with current Yokozuna to practice and hold bouts for review.

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During this session, Kisenosato horribly underperformed expectations. Harumafuji and Kisenosato fought eight matches, Kisenosato lost every one of them. He cited being exhausted from participating in summer jungyo tour.

The chairman of the council was reported to have said: “His performance was unacceptable, we really don’t expect anything from him with that kind of performance.”

But they left the door open, stating that with a tournament win (Yusho), he would be promoted.

Aki Analysis

Days before the September tournament began, news rippled across the sumo world that Yokozuna Hakuho would sit out the basho. Hakuho is one of the greatest Sumotori in history, and his presence at each tournament had prevented Kisenosato from, in the minds of most fans, from winning. With him out of the picture, Kisenosato’s backers were certain, this would be their time. Their champion could finally win a tournament and claim his tsuna.

From the first bout, it was clear that Kisenosato was not up to form. He lost his first match to Okinoumi, a rank and file Maegashira. The crowd was clearly amped up to see him start his historic run, and the shock when he lost was palpable.

After the first day shocker, he dropped a second bout on day 3 to Tochinoshin, who deployed a henka against the Ozeki. At this point, he is nursing 2 losses, and is all but mathematically eliminated from winning the tournament. Unlike Nagoya, he faced a full and fierce card in Tokyo, turning in the following performanceL

Aki Results – Kisenosato

Day 1  Loss  M1e Okinoumi 
Day 2  Win   K1w Tochiozan
Day 3  Loss  M2e Tochinoshin
Day 4  Win   M1w Yoshikaze
Day 5  Win   M3e Takanoiwa
Day 6  Win   M2w Shodai
Day 7  Win   S1w Takarafuji
Day 8  Win   M4e Myogiryu
Day 9  Win   M4w Chiyootori
Day 10 Win   O2w Kotoshogiku
Day 11 Loss  O2e Goeido 
Day 12 Win   K1e Kaisei
Day 13 Loss  Y2e Kakuryu 
Day 14 Loss  Y1e Harumafuji
Day 15 Win   O1w Terunofuji

Expectations For The Future

In failing to win or achieve runner-up status at Aki (that honor went to Endo), Kisenosato’s Yokozuna chase resets to the beginning. That means at least 3 more tournaments of grind. Hakuho is likely to return in November, and how he must contend with Goeido’s Zensho Yusho. That perfect tournament win leaves Kisenosato with the only Ozeki who has never won a tournament.

On the good side, the pressure is now off. All of the hopes of the Japanese fans wanting a native Yokozuna have been neatly transferred to Goeido, and Kisenosato is free to train up and focus on his sumo. One thing that seems to come from his high-intensity training, his stablemate Takayasu has improved greatly over the past year, and looks prepared to attempt the climb to Ozeki rank himself.

Here at Tachiai, we hope the best for Kisenosato. As both Andy and I have remarked, he is a solid Ozeki who delivers a consistent winning record. Through some bad fortune he had one of his worst tournament at the exact time that it would do the most harm to his aspirations. We look forward to see what he comes back with, and November may be the resumption of his dominant ways.

2 thoughts on “Aki Fallout – Kisenosato 稀勢の里


  1. He is such a solid Ozeki. You point to the pressure from 2016 to finally have a Japanese yokozuna. I wonder how much of that comes from the promotion of Kakuryu who has not lived up to the high expectations we have for a successor to Hakuho. He was promoted after one title, has been kyujo several times, and struggles to be “in the running” during the tournaments he has competed, averaging just over 10.5 wins since promotion. This is the solid Ozeki-level sumo we expect from Goeido & Kotoshogiku.

    Harumafuji has been consistently second-fiddle to Hakuho but has been a solid yokozuna. He’d won four titles before his promotion and he’s won four more since, but people are still dissatisfied with his ability to challenge Hakuho. His average wins as ozeki was more than 10 while Kakuryu averaged 9.9 wins over a shorter span.

    Elevating Kisenosato or, heaven forbid, Goeido, would not produce an adequate challenger of his caliber. There should certainly be no shame in having a solid Ozeki career. like Kisenosato. And no shame in a solid Sekiwake career, like Goeido. Disappointment comes from the loosened promotion standards and the resulting inability to live up to the standard of the elevated rank. And we can’t play the game of, “he’d have won if Hakuho weren’t so great.” To play that game is to say that people would rather have a lower standard of sumo than embrace the career of the greatest rikishi ever….though I really would be curious to know how things would have shaped up if Asashoryu had another 2 or 3 years.


  2. Sumo seems to be in a strange state. You have hyper-dominant Hakuho who really casts a huge shadow over everything (more on that soon). Everyone else is typically slugging it out for second place. I think lowered standards would mark the death of sumo in my opinion. Every time they “fast track” or lower the bar, we seem to get a clunker who gets promoted beyond their skill. Apologies to Kakuryū.

    Harumafuji is more or less the backup “real” Yokozuna should Hakuho get injured, but Harumafuji was not even second place in September, which probably bothers him quite a bit. I did see him mature quite a bit with Hakuho out. It’s as if he is aware that there may come a time (sadly, sooner than the fans want) where Hakuho will retire, and the entire sumo world with change dramatically.

    It’s clear from the Japanese press that Goeido has had the fire hose of adoration turned on him as of now. I don’t see stories about Kisenosato any more, but Goeido is everywhere. What he was able to do at Aki was historic and a lot of fun to watch. I like to imagine that anyone who applies themselves can improve, and I wonder if this has happened to Goeido. Proof may come in Fukuoka in about 6 weeks, and frankly I can’t wait to watch. I do hope they don’t fast track Goeido into a Yokozuna slot, it would be better for him, and for sumo to have him brawl his way there.

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