Survival of The Flexible.
Ura Kazuki easily divides sumo fans world wide. Almost everyone who follows sumo knows of him, and those that love sumo either love him or hate him. He is unorthodox, unconventional, unpredictable and undoubtably amazing to watch in action. Since his professional debut February 2015, he has been on a nearly unstoppable march to the higher ranks.
Ura (his actual name), came to sumo during his college studies, where he was a member of the sumo club at Kwansei Gakuin University. Rather than start at Makushita, as many college sumotori do, he was started at the bottom and had to fight his way up. He promptly won the Jonokuchi yusho with a blistering 7-0 record. He followed that up with another 7-0 Jonidan debut, losing the yusho in a playoff. His hot streak continued through Sandanme and Makushita, only slowing down once he reached Juryo.
Ura’s style is highly improvisational, and he will intentionally do things no other rikishi would ever consider. One of my favorite is his “reverse tachiai”, where he intentionally moves backwards at the initial charge. His unorthodox moves have at time infuriated sumo leadership, but its nearly impossible to fault Ura for much. He seems to truly love sumo, and he appears to be a genuinely nice guy. Though it is seldom shown on the highlight show, his manners on and around the dohyo are exemplary, and he conducts himself with great dignity and humility. I sometimes refer to him as a “rikishi from the future”, as I think that strong, fast, flexible and unpredictable is the way forward.
To be clear, in my opinion no one in sumo has tried to make life easy for Ura, in fact it could be said he is given a hard road whenever possible. But he continues to grind on, more or less always enthusiastic and optimist. Moreover he seems to be having a lot of fun.
Nagoya represents a new chapter in Ura’s career. Ranked at Maegashira 4 East, we will at long last get Ura face some of the top men in Sumo. While the results of an Ura vs Harumafuji match up might be painful to watch, it is a necessary stage in Ura’s continued evolution. As an Ura fan, I would be surprised if he can finish with a kachi-koshi, but I am eager to see how he can adapt to the challenges of sumo’s upper ranks.
Some highlights of Ura’s amazing performances from prior tournaments below: