Don’t Pin The Blame On Alcohol

On the third day of the Kyushu basho, when the news hit us that Harumafuji had beaten up Takanoiwa, I – like many sumo fans around the world – was shocked to the core.

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There are not many rikishi at the top of the sport whose perceived character is so far away from “violent drunkard” as Harumafuji’s was. This man was known for helping old ladies with their baggage, for being nice to children, for making himself available to fans. He was known for his habit of embracing his opponents after a yori-kiri, to prevent them from injuring themselves falling off the dohyo, and for being generous with his advice to young wrestlers as well as tough opponents. And he was also known for his responsibility to his rank, as demonstrated when he persisted in the Aki basho despite injuries and serial losses, because he was the sole Yokozuna in attendance.

How does one reconcile this image with that of a violent rampage in a bar? Many of us assumed that it was the alcohol. It’s not unheard of for people with good self-control to become violent under the influence. In one of my comments, I compared Harumafuji to Hercules: Hercules, who was a strong but gentle person, was struck by madness and killed his wife and kids. When the madness left him, he had to face what his own hands had wrought.

This was a fine picture to paint, but it left us with the puzzle of why the Yokozuna did nothing once the hangover was gone. Where was that famous sense of responsibility? How could he proceed in doing Yokozuna dohyo-iri while he knew that he committed an act of violence that was no less severe than the one that caused Asashoryu to retire? Was Harumafuji really such a cynical hypocrite?

Bruce suggested that the Yokozuna offered to resign but was denied until the NSK could think of the best solution. This, too, didn’t feel right to me. The worst time for any scandal to break is in the middle of a basho. If he had reported it at the end of the Jungyo, I would have expected the NSK to handle matters at least partially before the basho, and to at least instruct him to go kyujo and make himself scarce from the beginning to the end of the basho.

Another puzzling aspect was that it seems his answers to the police questioning were detailed and coherent. To me that seemed beyond the capability of a brain soaked in so much alcohol as to cause a man to entirely forget his values.

Earlier today, the Yokozuna and his visibly weeping stablemaster held a press conference, which shed some light on some of these questions.

When asked about the reason for the violence, Harumafuji said: “I feel that it is the duty of a sempai and a Yokozuna to correct low-ranking rikishi’s manners and conduct. In scolding him, I injured him, and this brought mayhem and trouble for everybody involved.”

When asked why he then continued in his daily life as if nothing has happened, he replied “I didn’t know that this would get to the papers. Takanoiwa came later to apologize. I told him to be thankful he has a big brother to guide him, and told him to take care and work hard, and we parted with a handshake. I didn’t think the matter would go any further than that.”

Both Isegahama and Harumafuji stressed that this was not caused by drunkenness. Isegahama said that he has never seen or heard rumor of Harumafuji being violent when drinking. Harumafuji repeated the same: “I have never hurt anybody or acted violently when I drank, and I have never been told that I act badly when drunk.”

Later the same day, Demon Kakka was asked to comment to the press about the Harumafuji resignation.

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Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure) is this flamboyant rocker, who is known for always being in character, and for being a huge sumo fan. He is a popular sumo commentator. Some of you may have seen him in various sumo TV shows, including the “Sunday Sports” program in which he interviewed Harumafuji after the yusho he won in the last Aki basho.

Kakka gave the press the straight dope:  After saying that in his personal opinion, he would have preferred Harumafuji not to retire, he then continued: “In the sumo world the tradition of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is still entrenched. Harumafuji must be thinking: ‘Why am I being singled out about something everybody is doing’? The fact that this tradition is considered obvious in the sumo world makes the current problem a structural issue. Times have changed. The Yokozuna’s retirement is not going to solve the problem. The sumo world needs to think up ways to bring up its rikishi other than the current merciless system”.

Kakka has a point there. Take the case of Kasugano oyakata, who disciplined Tochinoshin and two other wrestlers by beating them with golf club in October 2011, for repeated violations of the dress and curfew code. After matters became public (because of an anonymous tip to the police), he admitted to “going to far”, apologized, got severely reprimanded by the NSK… And Tochinoshin and the two others apologized and were disciplined (in a more humane manner). He now serves as the head of the NSK public relations department.

Why should Harumafuji have thought that he would end up any differently? The picture now becomes much clearer. He didn’t actually think he did something as bad as Asashoryu. Asashoryu attacked a man who was not related to the sumo world. This is something that Harumafuji would never do. But Harumafuji thought that he was “doing it for Takanoiwa’s own good”. It’s not violence if it’s education, and it’s not education without violence, as Kakka said. And apparently Takanoiwa also accepted those terms. The Yokozuna did not think he did something a Yokozuna shouldn’t do until the matter hit the papers. Even after that, he was quoted as saying that “the one thing that he didn’t want to do was to retire”, continued to practice every day, and even announced that he will be kyujo for the jungyo. These are the acts of someone who believes he has at least some hope of keeping his rope and his hairdo.

It was not until the YDC made its “dealt with with utmost severity” statement that the Yokozuna realized that his act is not going to be treated like the Kasugano case, and had to offer his resignation hurriedly before the deliberations of the Banzuke committee.


Details of the press conference: NHK (Japanese)

Demon Kakka interview: Sponichi

 

Harumafuji Retirement – Early English Media Coverage

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Following Bruce’s post earlier today, it has been confirmed that the 70th Yokozuna Harumafuji has submitted his resignation, which has been announced by Isegahama-oyakata and the Yokozuna himself, in a press conference at 2pm Japan time today. While undoubtedly more coverage and analysis will follow here at Tachiai, the news has already received worldwide coverage, and so here is a quick round up of English-language media announcing the end of the 9-time yusho winner’s storied career:

NHK World has been running a one minute segment every hour as part of their NHK World Newsline coverage. This segment was online but has since disappeared from their general online statement, which can be viewed here. NHK World also covered the Press Conference with live translation for 15 minutes of the 2pm hour of Newsline and we can expect that coverage to repeat in edited pieces throughout the coming hours (Edited to add – the 15 minute segment is now viewable by clicking here).

NHK World added a second press hit within the last hour linking the news to the past abdications of Asashoryu and Futahaguro. Additionally they have coverage of the timing of the retirement as well as a chronology of the incident.

The Japan Times have also updated their article announcing the retirement, within the last few hours, which is running on their front page.

The Guardian (UK) is running a piece, quoting from Isegahama-oyakata’s announcement that Harumafuji has “caused great trouble” to the NSK and the sport. Fox Sports, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and more are also running coverage, largely syndicated across Associated Press outlets.

Yokozuna Harumafuji To Announce Retirement

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It has been reported in the Japanese press that embattled Yokozuna Harumafuji will hold a press conference Wednesday, and it is assumed that he will be announcing his intention to retire from sumo. While his fans all hoped that he would find a way to weather the controversy around his drunken beating of Takanoiwa, it was clear following yesterdays meeting of the YDC that he was not going to be given any quarter.

Should he retire, as is now expected, it will resolve the Sumo Kyokai’s involvement in the matter. His intai represents a significant loss for the sumo world, as Yokozuna are rare, and Harumafuji has been willing to do whatever it takes to support sumo and uphold his rank on the dohyo.

Check back with Tachiai, as we will bring you further details as they develop.

Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Post-Kyushu Meeting

The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee (or Council – YDC in short) convened earlier today for its regular post-basho meeting. The meeting took place in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

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The meeting was longer than the usual, and included a briefing from the head of the NSK (Hakkaku) and other attending oyakata about the state of the Harumafuji investigation currently being conducted by the NSK’s crisis management committee.

Concluding Statements

Following the meeting, the head of the YDC, Masato Kitamura, held a press conference, and made the following statements:

  • Regarding the kyujo Yokozuna, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the YDC wishes to see them take care of their health and attend the next basho in good form. Although Kitamura said that continuing the current situation casts doubt on their ability to maintain their status as Yokozuna, many voices in the YDC said that the Yokozuna should be allowed to rest as much as they need and that they should not need to end their reigns. (Edited to include the two conflicting messages).
  • Kitamura was very critical of Hakuho’s yusho “interview”:
    • The three “banzai” cheers were uncalled for. In the middle of a crisis in the world of sumo, and after his behavior in the match vs. Yoshikaze, there was no occasion to cheer.
    • Implying that there was a festering wound in the sumo world that “needed to be cleansed” is “strange”, and not something that a Yokozuna should say.
    • Promising to bring back Harumafuji and Takanoiwa as if it’s something within his power is also uncalled for.
  • Although it is not within the scope of the YDC’s responsibilities, he decided to comment about Takanohana’s behavior: “It is inexplicable. What is he trying to do? It seems as if he is trying to throw a spanner into the NSK’s investigation.”

Of course, the main issue of the press conference was the Harumafuji affair. Regarding that, Mr. Kitamura explained that as the NSK has not completed its investigation, the YDC is deferring its official recommendation until that investigation is done, at which point they will convene an irregular meeting to deliberate and make a recommendation.

However, he added that as it was undeniable that a violent act did take place, all the members of the YDC were unanimous in their outrage, and said that Harumafuji should be “dealt with with utmost severity”. He added that the YDC has several possible recommendations in its arsenal, from warning through an advice to retire, but “currently we do not know which level we will choose”.

Analysis

In theory, the YDC does not have any real power. It makes recommendations to the management of the NSK, and the NSK can decide whatever it wants.

However, other than general, non-actionable advice such as “get well and come back quickly” such as they have given above to Kisenosato and Kakuryu, the YDC’s “action item” recommendations are generally respected.

Of course, most of the precedents involve recommendations regarding promotions to Yokozuna rather than retirement advice. The YDC has blocked some expected promotions in the past for various reasons and those blocks have been respected.

There have not been many precedents for retirement deliberations. Sponichi (a Japanese news outlet) came up with only three precedents, two of which are not really pertinent:

  • Onokuni, in 1989, was make-koshi in the Aki basho. This is considered to be a cause for retirement for any Yokozuna. However, the recommendation they gave his stablemaster was that he should “get himself together, concentrate on practicing, and become a strong Yokozuna”.
  • In 1999, the third Wakanohana was makekoshi in the Aki basho. Again, the YDC did not recommend retirement but called him in and asked him to take care of his injuries and come back to the dohyo for a decisive basho. Following two kyujo he decided to participate, and retired after losing going 2-4.
  • Asashoryu’s drunken violence was the first and only time the YDC has decided to issue a recommendation of retirement to a Yokozuna. However, Asashoryu handed his resignation on his own initiative before that recommendation was made official.

When they say that “Harumafuji should be dealt with with utmost severity”, the YDC does not leave much room to believe that once the investigation is over they will be lenient. In fact, it sounds as if they have made up their minds already, and are only waiting for the NSK’s conclusions out of politeness.

And once that recommendation is formally made, if the NSK ignores it, it will be unprecedented and extraordinary. The NSK has the power to expel, dismiss, suspend or warn a rikishi. But if the YDC decides that a Yokozuna no longer has the “hinkaku”, if he does not hand in his resignation on his own as Asashoryu did, I cannot see how the NSK could justify keeping him as Yokozuna.

What about Hakuho’s vow, then? He wants to keep Harumafuji around. But I can hardly see how he can achieve that. I cannot see him convincing the members of the YDC to be less harsh, as you can see in the statements above he does not have any friends there. It’s an arch-conservative body, and one not known to be very friendly to foreigners, no matter how many yusho they have won.

In the NSK the situation is not much better. There are many conservatives in the NSK, and there was even a quote today from a “veteran oyakata” saying that there should not be Mongols in sumo. If Hakuho wants something unprecedented and extraordinary like ignoring the YDC to be done, the “reformers” may be his only potential allies. Only… the head of the reformers is Takanohana. Exactly the wrong man.

In western sports we might have expected him to try and arrange a wrestler strike or something similar. But this is unheard of in sumo.

In summary, I believe that the statement “to be dealt with with utmost severity” has pretty much clinched Harumafuji’s fate. The results of the investigation may be less severe than we thought at first. He may not face charges if he only used his bare hands. The fans may be able to forgive him. But the chances that we will see him on a dohyo ever again are vanishingly small.

Sumo’s Coming Changes

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What’s below is Bruce’s post-Kyushu commentary on the state of sumo. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own views on how our beloved sport will overcome the challenges before it.

With Kyushu now behind us, sumo inches closer to a reckoning. The basho ended in a somewhat predictable style, with a few compelling story arcs that kept fans satisfied – for now. But in this blogger’s opinion, long overdue changes are continuing to unfold, and will possibly pick up speed into 2018.

The first signal of change will be the resolution (or not) of the Araujo incident.  As we suspected when news broke on day 4 of the basho, there was a complexity to the story that did not fit the template initially forwarded by the media. In fact, we suspect there is a multi-party agenda at work, and Harumafuji’s drunken actions at the bar in Tottori were simply the spark that may burn through the Sumo Association.

Let’s look at what kind of changes might be loaded and ready:

Takanohana – The oyakata of the eponymous heya seems to be using the Harumafuji incident as a vector to change or influence the Kyokai.  He has said in the past that it is his goal to reform sumo, and make it a 21st century sport. Of course, this was not a welcome opinion from the sumo traditionalists, and since then there has been a back-channel low grade struggle on whose vision of the future will eventually prevail. There have been reports that his position as head of the Jungyo PR tour will be forfeit because of his role in airing a normally private matter of rikishi discipline in public, but many think his position in the Kyokai is unassailable.

Jungyo – As discussed in the past on the pages of Tachiai, the Jungyo has grown to proportions where it is negatively impacting rikishi training, discipline and overall athlete longevity. This rests squarely on Takanohana’s shoulders, and John Gunning’s timely article for the Japan Times served to bring to light the toll it was taking on the rikishi. I continue to predict that Jungyo will undergo changes, probably slowly at first, to reduce schedule and intensity, and perhaps total rikishi roster. Rather than “Everyone all the time” there may be a rotating roster of who has “Jungyo Duty” for each period.

Kadoban Rikishi – The name brands of sumo are changing, but the ranks are yet to reflect that.  Since the start of 2017, with Kisenosato’s elevation to Yokozuna, the winds of change have been blowing in the face of the great and the famous. With each basho, the participation of sumo’s top men has been in decline. We have lost 2 Ozeki due to promotion, and as of today, the majority of the Yokozuna are absent in most tournaments. By the numbers:

  • Hatsu 2017 – Harumafuji & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Osaka 2017 – Hakuho kyujo
  • Natsu 2017 – Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Nagoya 2017 – Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Aki 2017 – Hakuho, Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo
  • Kyushu 2017 – Harumafuji, Kisenosato & Kakuryu kyujo

Much as everyone loves these guys, the Kyokai has a slate of grand champions that are perpetually too banged up to compete. Personally, I would love to see them all healthy and bashing the daylights out of the tadpoles, but that’s not going to happen, is it?

Kisenosato – Tore his pectoral muscle, and lord knows what else since. Had he gone for surgery right away, and stayed kyujo until now, we might be getting ready to see him back for Hatsu. Instead that damaged muscle is possibly little more than scar tissue now. Furthermore, by limping along he has de-conditioned the rest of his body to the extent that he struggles to win against mid-Maegashira opponents.

Kakuryu – Chronic back problems that cannot be corrected to the extent to ever make him competitive again.  When the guy can manage his pain and injuries, he’s a fantastic sumotori. As frequently stated on these pages, his approach to sumo is somewhat unique and can dismantle any rikishi, including Hakuho.

Harumafuji – We have frequently mused that they would have to drag him out of sumo, in a body bag.  But sadly, there is now a threat that he may not be able to overcome. I expect the Kyokai to move to resolve their involvement in the matter within a few weeks, as they want to put this in the past. Even if he can survive this incident, he is a walking bundle of pain and injury, and we believe he completed Aki by sheer force of will alone.

Hakuho – Sumo fans around the globe revel in “The Boss”, and the reality that he seems strong, fit and committed to a few more years of sumo.  But he is one big injury away from pain and suffering. Everyone hopes we never see the day when the greatest Yokozuna of our age is wheeled away from the dohyo in agony, but we worry that with inter-basho time almost completely consumed by Jungyo, it’s just a matter of time before de-conditioning sets in, and the risk is realized.

I am sure the Sumo Kyokai realize all of this to be true, and they also know that over the next several months they will need to clean up their roster. Sadly, this will likely include Yokozuna intai sooner rather than later. Sumo needs a quorum of the top men each tournament, and if those men can’t fulfill that schedule, we will likely see new top men.

Sumo fans stay sharp, changes are coming soon. While it may be sad to say goodbye to long serving favorites, we have seen first hand that the next generation is strong, ready and already taking their place in the top ranks.

What the Kyushu Results Mean for Hatsu

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The Kyushu basho has concluded, and while the Yusho race was largely a one-man affair, the rest of the proceedings were filled with unanticipated results. At the end of each basho, the banzuke gets reshuffled for the next one, and this is the most complex and unpredictable reshuffling I’ve seen. I will have a full banzuke forecast post once I’ve digested the final results, but here are some initial thoughts.

What makes the task difficult for the banzuke makers?

I’m glad you asked. We have a confluence of unusual events.

  • Below the Yokozuna ranks, we had three rikishi who missed all or most of the tournament, ranging in rank from Sekiwake Terunofuji to M8 Takanoiwa to M16 Ura. Where should they be ranked in January?
  • We have a 14-1 Juryo champion, erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay Sokukurai, who needs to be worked into the banzuke much higher than usual for rikishi promoted from Juryo.
  • We have several 7-8 rikishi whose make-koshi records warrant demotion, but there is a dearth of rikishi with kachi-koshi records to place ahead of them.
  • Several rikishi near the bottom of Makuuchi have records that aren’t quite good enough to make them safe from demotion to Juryo. Conversely, several rikishi near the top of Juryo have records that aren’t quite good enough to guarantee promotion to Makuuchi.
  • Perhaps the greatest complication is that we have 5, count them, 5 rikishi whose records would usually warrant Sekiwake rank, and only 4 “normal” San’yaku slots to accommodate them. This doesn’t even include Ichinojo, who will miss out on San’yaku promotion despite accumulating double-digit wins at M4.

Who will be in San’yaku?

We already knew that Kotoshogiku will vacate his Komusubi slot; with today’s loss, Yoshikaze will drop from Sekiwake all the way into the maegashira ranks (I expect to see him at maegashira 1). We also know that Mitakeumi will retain his Sekiwake 1e slot by virtue of his 9-6 record.

Beyond that, things get complicated. Our shin-Komusubi, Onosho, turned things around in a big way and ended the basho with an 8-7 record that guarantees a second tournament in San’yaku. Normally, this record would also ensure a promotion to the open Sekiwake slot, but this time we have another strong contender in former Sekiwake Tamawashi, who went 11-4 from the M1e slot. In the past, there have been a couple of cases of an 8-7 Komusubi and a 10-5 M1 competing for a Sekiwake slot, and it’s played out in different ways. Going 11-4 makes Tamawashi’s claim stronger, but I’m not sure how this will play out.

Onosho’s friend and fellow rising star Takakeisho also went 11-4 from the M1w slot. Being on the West side puts him in line behind Tamawashi, and 11-4 is not strong enough to force an extra Sekiwake slot to open, so he will be shin-Komusubi at Hatsu. This fills up four San’yaku slots: S1e Mitakeumi, S1w/K1e Onosho/Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. So what to do with M3 Hokutofuji, who also delivered an amazing 11-4 performance? My guess is that this record is good enough to force the creation of an extra Komusubi slot, and that he will be K2e at Hatsu, but it’s not guaranteed. Having all four of the promising youngsters—Mitakeumi, Onosho, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji—in San’yaku, plus the formidable veteran Tamawashi, with Ichinojo knocking on the door, makes me really look forward to Hatsu. It’s going to be a long wait until January 14th!

Who will be in the joi?

The joi is a somewhat nebulous category of the top 16 or so rikishi who battle each other. In addition to the upper named ranks, it includes a number of the highest-ranked maegashira. How many? Well, that varies from tournament to tournament depending on the number of San’yaku members participating, and as we’ve seen recently, it can change during a tournament following withdrawals of upper-rank rikishi. In Kyushu, the line fell between M5e Takarafuji, who faced a number of the upper-rankers, and M5w Arawashi, who made only a couple of cameo appearances.

Drawing the line in the same place for Hatsu, the 9 rikishi projected to make up the joi include 4 current members and 5 wrestlers from lower down the banzuke who separated themselves from the rest. The returnees include the two demotees from San’yaku, Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, M2 Chiyotairyu, who fought his way to a respectable 7-8 record after a rough start, and Ichinojo. These four should make up the M1/M2 ranks. Rounding out the M3-M5e slots should be Tochinoshin, Arawashi, Shodai, Okinoumi and Endo; none are newcomers to this part of the banzuke.

Where will the Makuuchi/Juryo line fall?

Barring unusual circumstances (e.g., multiple retirements, court orders…), Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Takanoiwa, and Ura will be demoted from Makuuchi. Sokokurai and newcomer Abi have definitely earned their promotions from Juryo. I think Asanoyama and Nishikigi did just enough to avoid demotion by the skin of their teeth, and Ishiura and Yutakayama did just enough to return to Makuuchi after a one-tournament absence (but not enough to convince us they can make it an extended stay). The bubble is made up of Daiamami and Ryuden, who may or may not exchange spots in what would be a Makuuchi debut for Ryuden. Ryuden would have made this decision a lot easier had he defeated Daiamami head-to-head when they met on day 14.

I don’t envy the banzuke makers (or your humble prognosticator). If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer.

Kyushu Day 15 Highlights

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It’s going to be light for the commentary today, as I am traveling to faraway lands on business. There was some fantastic action today, including a great yusho speech from Hakuho. Scandal hounds are, however, locked to the pounce position waiting for the post-basho fireworks.

As I am sure lksumo will describe in due time, there is another San’yaku log-jam, with a crowd of high-performing rikishi all clamoring for a pair of vacated slots. While it’s great to see so many press for higher rank, this is a function of the devastated Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. Had the full roster been present and healthy, many of these men would be lucky to eke out an 8-7 kachi-koshi. Instead, we have, once again, significant score inflation due to a lack of top predators culling the herd. When there is Hakuho with his overwhelming sumo, and a crowd of everyone else, you have a rotating list of who gets to lose to Hakuho, and then everyone else slugging it out on more or less even footing. This makes the yusho race predictable, but it makes for exciting times lower down the banzuke.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Chiyoshoma – Uncle Sumo defeats the increasingly annoying Chiyoshoma to secure a storied kachi-koshi on the final day. Aminishiki was visibly emotional, and the Fukuoka Kokusai Center erupted in joy to see the veteran succeed in his quest. With his victory, he picks up the kanto-sho special prize.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takekaze – Takekaze delivered a brutal tachiai, but Chiyonokuni seems to fear no pain and blasts Takekaze over the edge. Sadly Chiyonokuni appeared genuinely injured after the match. The loss leaves Takekaze make-koshi.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Shohozan has fought well this basho, but he achieved an absolutely miserable 3-12 record. The win by Aoiyama in the final match may slightly cushion the man-mountain’s fall down the banzuke.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – The match itself was quite straightforward, as there was really nothing left for Okinoumi to push for. Takakeisho’s oshi-zumo is quite impressive, and the team at Tachiai are waiting to see if he broadens his sumo to include more mawashi attacks as he strives for higher rank.

Tamawashi defeats Hokutofuji – Tamawashi made short work of Hokutofuji, and both men finish the basho with impressive 11-4 records. As with the prior bout, neither rikishi was going to push too hard and risk an injury, as both had achieved much and secured healthy promotions for Hatsu.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – The red mawashi once again activated in a moment of need, powering Onosho over Takarafuji to place the mighty tadpole in competition for Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot. Onosho had this match at the tachiai and easily picked up his kachi-koshi win. Takarafuji battled well this tournament but leaves with a 7-8 make-koshi. Scoff at the red mawashi superstition, but after starting the basho 1-6, Onosho reverted to his red mawashi and racked up 7 wins over the final 8 matches. It may have been as simple as a physical change to allow Onosho to emotionally re-focus his sumo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – In spite of a matta and re-start, the tachiai was mistimed and sloppy. Fans of local rikishi Kotoshogiku were thrilled to see the “Kyushu-bulldozer” lower the blade and push the Mongolian giant around the dohyo and into the abyss. Ichinojo finishes 10-5 and is at long last looking to be a serious competitor once more.

Mitakeumi defeats Yoshikaze – The all-Sekiwake bout was all Mitakeumi. With Yoshikaze injured, he picked up his 9th loss, and will likely be out of San’yaku for Hatsu. Mitakeumi improved to 9-6 after struggling with injuries to his foot at the start, but is still under-performing to launch an Ozeki campaign.

Hakuho defeats Goeido – Goeido put a strong effort into his sumo today, but Hakuho has been unstoppable this tournament, and after going chest to chest, the Yokozuna dispatched Goeido with his preferred uwatenage.

Sansho Special Prizes Awarded for Kyushu Basho

With senshuraku underway, the sansho selection committee has announced the special prize recipients for the 2017 Kyushu basho. Unsurprisingly, both Hokutofuji and Okinoumi received awards for their tremendous performances, taking home the technique and fighting spirit prizes respectively.

The outstanding performance prize was awarded to Takakeisho for defeating two Yokozuna and one Ozeki. Takaksisho now has three sansho to his name, as he won his first outstanding performance prize in September and the fighting spirit prize in March.

Finally, everyone’s favorite uncle, Aminishiki, can earn a fighting spirit prize if he gets his kachi koshi in his day 15 match with Chiyoshoma. This would be his tenth career sansho prize and his second in the fighting spirit category. It has been a pleasure to watch Aminishiki perform his crafty brand of sumo at the ripe old age of 39, and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping he can get his eighth win and take home the hardware!

Update:
Uncle Sumo has his kachi koshi and will receive the kanto-sho prize for fighting spirit!!! Viewers can look forward to more of Aminishiki at the 2018 Hatsu basho.

Matches to Watch on Senshuraku

Today’s results drained some of the drama from the final day, but there are still several bouts with a lot at stake, as well as ones with high entertainment value.

At the top of the torikumi, Goeido faces Hakuho. This bout is for pride, as Goeido already has his kachi-koshi and Hakuho has clinched the Emperor’s Cup. Goeido is fighting to reach double-digit wins, and seeks to improve on his 6-35 lifetime record against Hakuho, while the Boss surely wants to punctuate his unprecedented 40th yusho with a victory on senshuraku.

Given today’s results, MitakeumiYoshikaze is not the “there can be only one (Sekiwake)” clash it might have been, as Mitakeumi earned his kachi-koshi and will remain S1e, while Yoshikaze was handed his make-koshi and will give up his rank after two tournaments. What’s at stake? With a win, Yoshikaze should only be demoted to Komusubi, while with a loss, he’ll drop out of San’yaku altogether.

KotoshogikuIchinojo could be a great bout from an entertainment standpoint, but there’s not a lot at stake. Even with an 11-4 record, Ichinojo is unlikely to get a San’yaku promotion, something that has never happened before to an M4 rikishi with that record, but the logjam ahead of him is also unprecedented.

Onosho, on the other hand, probably has the most at stake of any rikishi tomorrow when he faces Takarafuji. Both men are 7-7, so it’s a straight kachi/make-koshi playoff. For Onosho, the difference between outcomes is stark: win, and he probably gets Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot; lose, and he drops out of San’yaku altogether.

San’yaku promotion supremacy comes down to two bouts: TamawashiHokutofuji and OkinoumiTakakeisho. Right now, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji are essentially tied, and their pecking order is determined by their current rank. With a win, Tamawashi will claim the highest promotion slot. If Hokutofuji wins, then Takakeisho needs to win to stay ahead of him. However things play out, all three should be in San’yaku for Hatsu.

In addition to Onosho and Takarafuji, 3 others will have their make/kachi-koshi fate determined on the final day. Takekaze will look to earn his kachi-koshi against Chiyonokuni, while Chiyoshoma and Aminishiki go head-to-head. I hope Uncle Sumo has one last good trick left for this bout.

In what can’t have happened very often, Endo goes from his cameo at the very top of the torikumi to the very bottom, where he will try to achieve double-digit wins against Kagayaki.

The battle for Makuuchi remains a muddle, and may do so even after tomorrow’s matches. Nishikigi (against Daishomaru) and Daiamami (against Shodai) are fighting to avoid demotion; to a lesser extent, so is Asanoyama (against Chiyomaru). Their fate rests partly on the men down in Juryo, where Ryuden, Ishiura, and Yutakayama each need a senshuraku win to have a credible promotion case.

Hakuho Wins 40th Career Yusho

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With losses by both Okinoumi and Hokutofuji during day 14, Yokozuna Hakuho won his 40th Grand Sumo championship. He won his first yusho in 2006 at the Natsu basho in Tokyo and has been on a massive winning streak ever since. No rikishi in history has been this dominant in sumo, and few professional athletes have ever been this dominant in any sport.

Tachiai congratulates Hakuho on his 40th yusho, and look forward to his continued reign as “The Boss”.

Kyushu Day 14 Highlights

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Day 14 saw a conclusion to the battle for the Emperor’s Cup, with Yokozuna Hakuho winning his 40th career yusho among a decimated field of upper ranked rikishi.

Some fans are already complaining that the Kyushu basho was somehow boring or anti-climatic. True, there were few legitimate challengers to Hakuho, but then again that would likely be true no matter what. Out of the 8 rikishi in sumo’s two highest ranks, only two men are able to mount the dohyo on the final day of this tournament. Some readers took exception to Tachiai’s early forecast that the relentless Jungyo-Honbasho schedule currently in force was crushing sumo as a marketable televised sport, but now with a string of basho piling up where the top men are not present, that prediction may be worthy of examination.

The good news is that a large, vigorous crop of young men are ready to fill the gap, but first, the Kyokai will need to nudge several long-suffering athletes into retirement. Thus far it has not happened, but we may see that change in the next few months.

Sumo has enjoyed a rather welcome revival in its home country of Japan. First and foremost, Grand Sumo is a business, and we can trust the Sumo Kyokai to do what it thinks is best to keep sumo’s revival healthy and growing.

Highlight Matches

Kotoyuki defeats Asanoyama – Kotoyuki went straight for a nodowa and marched the struggling Asanoyama backward off the dohyo. After a terrible start in Kyushu, Kotoyuki rallied and is now kachi-koshi.

Ikioi defeats Kaisei – A power sumo battle dominated by Kaisei who landed a left-hand outside grip early. Ikioi was able to pivot at the tawara and land the Brazilian out and down to pick up his 8th win.

Chiyomaru defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo’s bum legs have a tough time generating too much force, especially when he is facing a hefty rikishi like Chiyomaru. For the 4th straight day, Aminishiki failed to pick up his 8th win.

Tochinoshin defeats Kagayaki – After a somewhat shaky tachiai, both men battled to get an inside grip. Tochinoshin landed his right hand inside and took control of the match. His win gives him a kachi-koshi, while at the same time Kagayaki’s defeat secures his make-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – With Tochiozan seeming to suffer problems with his lower body, this mobile battle of tsuppari favored Chiyonokuni from the start. Both men are suffering painfully disappointing records this basho, and desperately need to regroup.

Tamawashi defeats Okinoumi – Tamawashi has employed the push-then-pull tactic before in this basho, and Okinoumi was on the defensive straight out of the tachiai. Where Okinoumi prefers to get some kind of grip established, Tamawashi was not going to let that happen. Tamawashi is looking like a strong contender to return to San’yaku for January.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyoshoma – From the tachiai, Chiyoshoma started aiming to land blows on Takakeisho’s damaged face and lip. Sadly for Chiyoshoma, this really seems to have gotten Takakeisho very motivated. While Chiyoshoma was focusing on Takakeisho’s face, Takakeisho landed his left-hand grip and quickly proceeded to give Chiyoshoma a vigorous exit from the dohyo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Both men have deep make-koshi records, both are local favorites, and both decided to turn it up to 11. The highlight of the match, and possibly the day: Shohozan uses Kotoshogiku’s solid grip on his body, to lift and swing the former Ozeki around, with his feet flying off the ground. But Kotoshogiku landed both feet back on solid earth and began his hug-and-chug attack. When he can set it up, there are few ways to counter the Kyushu Bulldozer, and it was seconds later that Shohozan was out.

Onosho defeats Hokutofuji – “The power of the red mawashi could not be undone” –  After a matta appetizer, the main event saw Hokutofuji quickly drive Onosho to the edge. But that was all that was needed for the red mawashi to activate, and Onosho basted back, driving Hokutofuji backward and out. After losing 6 of his first 7 matches, Onosho reverted to the red mawashi and has now won 6 of the last 7. A win tomorrow would lock in a great come from behind kachi-koshi. With Hokutofuji’s loss, the door was now open of Hakuho to clinch the yusho.

Ichinojo defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze clearly is having a lot of problem with the foot he injured earlier this week and has very little defensive or offensive push available. Thus Ichinojo only needed to use his massive size and strength to push Yoshikaze out. Yoshikaze is now make-koshi, and will possibly be out of San’yaku for January.

Mitakeumi defeats Arawashi – Mitakeumi locks in his kachi-koshi, overcoming a set of lower body injuries as well. While not yet performing at a level that could indicate a chance at campaigning for an Ozeki rank, his ability to hang onto San’yaku has been worthy of note. Mitakeumi’s 6th winning tournament this year.

Goeido defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji put up great resistance to Goeido’s offense, but the Ozeki carried that day. Goeido was in control of the match from the tachiai, and for a moment both men struggled for grip. Goeido landed a right hand inside early, and proceeded to use that leverage to progressively contain Takarafuji, and force him out.

Hakuho defeats Endo – This was always an odd match, with Endo not in a rank range that would typically face a Yokozuna, especially this late in the tournament schedule. But with so many Ozeki and Yokozuna out with injuries, it was pretty much “anything goes”. The match was over in a flash, with Hakuho’s tachiai blasting Endo completely off balance, and on his way off the dohyo. Hakuho then finished the job but sadly applied one of his dame-oshi at the close.

Wakichiro Loses Day 14

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Texas sumotori Wakaichiro was defeated in his day 14, final match, against Asamorimoto. Wakaichiro finishes the Kyushu basho with a disappointing 1-6 record, and we will likely see him return to the Jonidan ranks for the January tournament. His fans and followers wish Wakaichiro a vigorous recovery, and a renewed fighting spirit in the Hatsu basho, and look forward to his push to return to higher ranks in 2018.

Lower Division Yusho Watch

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Torakio: Foiled again

As we head into the final day’s action, here’s a quick update as to where the yusho results in the bottom four divisions sit:

Makushita

30 year old Tochihiryu of Kasugano-beya has clinched his first yusho at this level by way of a 7-0 record that took him past several veteran and upcoming names: a split of 4 former sekitori looking to make their way back and 3 hot shot up and comers (Wakatakakage, Kiribayama and Chiyonoumi). After 2 years in the wilderness from the professional ranks, he will return to Juryo looking for a 2nd kachi-koshi at the 9th attempt.

Given what was at stake, it was a little disappointing to see his clinching win come by way of a henka against Kiribayama (hat tip once again to Tachiai commenter Asashosakari for the video).

Sandanme

Tachiai “One to Watch” Tomokaze of Oguruma-beya will feature in a playoff against Tsuyukusa of Otake-beya. This will be Tsuyukusa’s second playoff having lost the first in Jonidan earlier this year. Tomokaze, meanwhile, is off to a blistering 20-1 start to his career. He’s one Jonidan loss short of having “done an Enho.”

Jonidan

Shoji of Musashigawa-beya continues his perfect career start by way of another final match victory over the big Bulgarian Torakio (pictured above). Their bout was yet another epic between the two, who are really establishing some rivalry early on. Check it out here (thanks again to Asashosakari!). Unlike the title decider from Makushita, it is a match worthy of deciding the championship, although Torakio’s visibly disappointed demeanor after the match is going to need to improve. But as we saw in the NHK World Preview, he’s putting in the long hours in sumo school.

Happily, both of these men were featured as part of our “Ones to Watch” series and we will continue tracking both of their progress. Also happily, Jonidan is a great division if you’re a fan of awkward sumo hairstyles.

Jonokuchi

23 year old Kotoseigo of Sadogatake-beya smashed the competition en route to a zensho. Admittedly we’re a little disappointed, given that he is another rikishi to have been on and off the dohyo for long stretches over the past few years, that he was not matched up at all with another comeback success story in Amatsu. He did however take on much vaunted new boy Hayashi and blasted him off the dohyo (after a matta).

Hattorizakura did not compete for the yusho this time out, however we will cover his travails further of course in the end of basho “Ones to Watch” roundup.

Maegashira 15 Myogiryu Pulls Out of Kyushu Basho

The Kyushu basho claimed another rikishi, as NHK News has reported that Maegashira 15 Myogiryu has gone kyujo after suffering an injury to the meniscus in his left knee during his day 13 match with Daishomaru. Finishing with a 6-8-1 record, Myogiryu will find himself back in the Juryo division for the Hatsu basho.  His day 14 opponent Shodai will pick up a fusen win, giving him his kachi koshi. The Tachiai team hope Myogiryu has a quick recovery, and that we see him back in Makuuchi soon.

Kyushu State of Play Heading Into the Final Weekend

The yusho race

Hakuho leads by one win over Hokutofuji and Okinoumi. Everyone else has been mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. On day 14, Hahuko faces…Endo? Why do the schedulers hate Endo? Sure, he is doing well with 9 wins, but at M9, it’s not like he’s run out of opponents closer to his own rank with reasonable records. Also, why isn’t Hakuho fighting Arawashi, who at M5 is the highest-ranked rikishi he hasn’t faced, and who also sports a very respectable 8-5 record? Or, for that matter, why not Okinoumi?

Hokutofuji faces a resurgent Onosho, who needs to win both of his remaining bouts to maintain his Komusubi rank. Onosho leads the series 4-1.

Okinoumi gets another big step up in the quality of his opposition. He managed to get past a less-than-full-strength Tochinoshin. Now he gets M1 Tamawashi, who is looking genki indeed and who still needs wins to lock down a San’yaku slot (and possibly rise all the way to Sekiwake).


The battle for San’yaku

We know that at least one slot will open up in San’yaku, as Kotoshigiku will definitely drop into the maegashira ranks for Hatsu. Terunofuji will also drop out of San’yaku, but he occupied an extra Sekiwake (or, as we’ve been calling it, Ozekiwake) slot that will not be available to others. The other 3 incumbents are still in limbo. S1e Mitakeumi is 7-6, and a win tomorrow against Arawashi or on senshuraku against Yoshikaze would clinch his kachi-koshi and his rank for Hatsu. Even if he loses both bouts, he shouldn’t drop down further than Komusubi, so he won’t open up another slot—it’s only a question of what flavor the one slot will be. S1w Yoshikaze is 6-7, and needs to win tomorrow against Ichinojo and on Sunday against Mitakeumi to hold rank. If he wins one of the two, he should also not get demoted further than Komusubi, but two losses would drop him out of San’yaku. Finally, there’s K1w Onosho, who needs to win twice to extend his stay at Komusubi. Add it all up, and between one and three slots could be open.

Who are the contenders for these slots? Hokutofuji leads, followed by Tamawashi and Takakeisho, and then Ichinojo. With 11 wins, Hokutofuji may have already done enough to lock down a slot no matter what happens, and a win in the final two days should almost certainly do it. Both Tamwashi and Takakeisho can each lock down a slot with another win; the only way Ichinojo has a shot at getting in is if they both lose twice and he wins out. Tomorrow, Takakeisho takes on the tricky sumo villain Chiyoshoma, who’ll be looking for his kachi-koshi.

Just to recap, the six key bouts that will start to unravel the rather tangled state of affairs at the top of Makuuchi are:

Endo-Hakuho

MitakeumiArawashi

IchinojoYoshikaze

HokutofujiOnosho

ChiyoshomaTakakeisho

TamawashiOkinoumi


The battle for Makuuchi

We know of two definite demotions from Makuuchi: the kyujo Takanoiwa and Ura. After his loss today, Aoiyama also very likely faces demotion. Nishikigi is in a lot of trouble, and Daiamami and Myogiryu are in only slightly better shape. Asanoyama and Takekaze could use another win apiece to be assured of another basho in the top division, while everyone else has done enough to be safe.

How are things down in Juryo? The one certainty is that 12-1 Sokokurai will be back in Makuuchi after a two-basho absence. Ryuden, Ishiura, and Abi each need another win to ensure promotion, while Kyokutaisei and Yutakayama need two apiece to have a claim.