Giving The People What They Want
Prior to the beginning of the January tournament, sumo fans were wondering if this could be the tournament that we finally see the 19 year drought broken, and a Japanese Ozeki elevated to Yokozuna.
A year ago, Kotoshogiku won the Hatsu basho, and broke a multi-year streak of Mongolians winning sumo tournaments. For a long time, both sumo fans and the Japanese public, believed that the Mongolian rikishi were too strong, to fierce to be defeated. Many had believed that Japan could no longer compete effectively in sumo. Kotoshogiku’s win in January 2016 appears in hind sight to have been the start of a change. Since then we have seen each of the Mongolian Yokozuna injured, at times requiring hospitalization, and all of them struggling to recover and maintain performance. As 2016 drove on, the Japanese public and the Yokozuna Deliberation Council increasingly voiced a desire for a Japanese grand champion.
Through a combination of good fortune and skill, Kisenosato finally won a tournament. Good fortune via the continuing injuries and performance problems of the Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. There are times in life where you can win just be showing up, and for Kisenosato, this was his basho. Kisenosato also showed some remarkably solid sumo. He has always been a massive force on the dohyo, and at times displays text book, ukiyo-e worthy mastery of yotsu-zumō.
With Kisenosato supplying a yusho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council had enough of a fig-leaf to act, and just a few hours after the close of the Hatsu basho, they unanimously recommended Kisenosato for promotion to Yokozuna, which the Japan Sumo association accepted.
How Kisenosato will perform as Yokozuna remains an open question. Many of his biggest fans, and some of the sumo press have noted that Kisenosato is not speaking and acting differently. As if some great worry has been lifted from his heart. There has been speculation that Kisenosato over thinks matters, and his achievement of both the Yusho and elevation to Yokozuna may have freed him from his doubts and his demons, and we may see a new vigor to his sumo.
The other hopeful, Goeido, withdrew due to what could be a serious injury. Prior to that, Goeido struggled to deliver the same kind of “bulldozer sumo” that swept him to an undefeated victory at Aki. Readers may have noticed that Andy and I refer to the Aki performance as “Goeido 2.0” and the normal mode of muddling through a basho as “Goeido 1.0“. We have seen in Goeido the seeds of greatness, but something within him holds him back.
Now, if reports in the sumo press are accurate, Goeido may face a career ending injury to his right ankle. But to be clear, there is likely to be at least one or two more Yokozuna slots available within 12 months, as both Harumafuji and Kakuryu seem to be having persistent medical problems. There may still be a chance that Goeido can make his 2.0 upgrade permanent, and become a truly excellent offense driven Yokozuna.