With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.
From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.
Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.
Let’s take a look at the rikishi:
Yokozuna Kakuryu Genki: ✭✭✭ Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.
Yokozuna Hakuho Genki: ✭✭ Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.
Yokozuna Kisenosato Genki: ✭- Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?
Ozeki Goeido Genki: ✭✭ Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.
Ozeki Takayasu Genki: ✭✭ Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.
Ozeki Tochinoshin Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭ Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.
This morning in Tokyo, officials from the Nihon Sumo Kyokai brought official word that Georgian sumotori Tochinoshin had been promoted to Ozeki. After an amazing 37 wins over the last three basho, the former Sekiwake had over-achieved almost every promotion criteria. As is customary for these announcements, the officials from the NSK take one side of the raised platform, with the promotee, his Oyakata and his wife take the other.
As far as I could tell, Tochinoshin did not utter a traditional 4 glyph motto, but did state “I will follow and revere my Oyakata’s instructions, and act as a role model for other rikishi. I will train hard.”.
With the official promotion, and acceptance, expected later today (Wednesday morning Japan), the press is starting to cover Tochinoshin’s imminent promotion. The Mainichi article includes some great background on his friendship with Hiromitsu Munakata, which is something new to me. Feel free to read up while we wait for the big ceremony to welcome the new Ozeki.
Tochinoshin has secured his promotion to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. He did this through hard work, grim determination, and focusing with overwhelming intensity to training his body, his mind and his reflexes. As a result he has an astounding 37 wins over the past 3 tournaments, with double digits in each of the last 3. He greatly exceeds the 33 wins / 3 basho guideline, and is one of the strongest men in sumo for 2018. Much has been said, and still more will be said about his work ethic, his rise from ruin following knee surgery, and his drive to win.
But looking at Tochinoshin, I worry there is a chance for heartbreak in the near future. While I think he has potential to be a great Ozeki, I also see the seeds of misfortune on the path ahead.
Please keep in mind, I am one lone armchair sumo fan in the wilds of Texas. I have as much influence on the world of sumo as any of the readers of this site – almost none. So this represents one fan’s opinion only.
1. Age – Tochinoshin has been a part of professional sumo since 2006. He is currently 30 years old. His physical condition exceeds most 30 year old men (or 20 year old men for that matter) that you could ever meet. But sumo is a physical sport, and the damage can be cumulative. While his Ozeki career may be outstanding, it may also be short. He is the 4th oldest promotee in the modern era.
2. Injury – Tochinoshin has already sustained, and boldly battled back from a significant mechanical injury. The massive bandage he wears on his knee is testament to that battle, which he has won for now. We dearly hope he stays free from further injury, but fans should note we are in a transitional period in sumo. Many of our old favorites are reaching the end of their workable careers in the top division, and will soon be demoted down the banzuke, and retire. As a result we will see young men soon pressing harder for top rank. These youngsters will be fast, strong, aggressive and possibly less injured that our favorites. This includes Tochinoshin. Sumo is a pure zero-sum sport. If the rikishi of the future overwhelm stalwarts like Tochinoshin, so be it. But someone like Onosho or Takakeisho, or perhaps a stronger version of Abi could, through no malice, re-injure him. But this is sumo, and it’s a chance everyone takes.
3. Consistency – My biggest concern about Tochinoshin is consistency. Looking at his last 3 basho he’s been an overwhelming powerhouse of sumo. But if we take a longer look, the view is a bit cloudy. Let’s look at the past 2 years.
The chart below to compares his ranking in the past 2 years to a set of san’yaku mainstays including Tamawashi, Mitakeumi and Takayasu
It’s a see-saw trip up and down the banzuke. He has shown no ability to hit and hold San’yaku rank in the past. This is in contrast to Mitakeumi, Tamawashi and Takayasu.
The guy gets hurt, and he can’t fight for beans when he’s hurt. Sumo is a combat sport, people get hurt. But I worry that we will have another frequent kadoban Ozeki, who fights with gusto when his health is good, but spends about half of the tournaments trying to scrape by.
But only time will tell. I am eager to see what Ozeki Tochinoshin can do.
Kakuryu added to his Yokozuna bonafides with his second consecutive yusho, his 5th overall. He has to be the early yusho favorite going into Nagoya. Hakuho showed some rust and was clearly fighting at less than 100%, but nevertheless stayed in yusho contention until the penultimate day. I hope that we see a stronger and more motivated dai-Yokozuna in Nagoya. Whither Kisenosato? Who knows.
Both of the current Ozeki will be kadoban in Nagoya, Takayasu after sitting out the entire tournament and Goeido after withdrawing on Day 9 with a 3-5 record. We can only hope that they will be sufficiently recovered from their injuries to attempt to achieve the 8 wins they need to maintain their rank. And of course, the big news of the basho is that we will have a third Ozeki, Tochinoshin!
Ichinojo did just enough to defend his Sekiwake rank, and Mitakeumi will join him after recording 9 wins. Nagoya will be Mitakeumi’s 9th consecutive tournament in San’yaku, and will mark his return to sumo’s third-highest rank, which he held for 5 straight basho before Natsu.
The Komusubi ranks were determined on the final day, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan. Tamawashi has been a San’yaku regular in recent years, and only bad banzuke luck kept him in the maegashira ranks for Natsu. Shohozan will match his highest career rank, which he previously held 4 times, most recently in 2014. Both men had to overcome tough starts, which is typical for the upper maegashira ranks: Tamawashi needed to win his final 5 bouts to achieve kachi-koshi, while Shohozan won 6 of his last 7.
Narrowly missing out on promotion in a final-day de facto play-off with Tamawashi was Shodai, who should hold the top maegashira slot in Nagoya. He will be joined in the joi by M11 Chiyonokuni, who’ll make a huge leap up the banzuke after his best-ever 12-3 tournament. His previous trip to the top of the maegashira ranks resulted in a 2-13 implosion, so hopefully he’s better-equipped to handle that level of competition. Despite their losing records, Abi and Kaisei acquitted themselves well enough for another turn in the meat grinder, and while Kotoshogiku and Ikioi got roughed up after being pressed into joi duty at M5, and did not quite do enough for promotion, their 8-7 records will place them firmly in the joi in Nagoya. With the San’yaku ranks being replenished to ten, the joi line might not extend as far down the banzuke, but standing ready to take their turns if injury strikes are the top performers from the mid-maegashira ranks: Kagayaki, Takakeisho, and Daishomaru.
Makuuchi newcomer and special prize winner Kyokutaisei fought his way out of the M12-M16 danger zone, as did Aoiyama and the habitual basement-dwelling duo of Myogiryu and Nishikigi, who both uncharacteristically earned double-digit victories. Taking another turn in the lower portion of the banzuke are Arawashi, Asanoyama, Sadanoumi, Tochiozan, and Ishiura. They’ll be joined by the worst performers from the mid-maegashira ranks—Okinoumi, Ryuden, and Hokutofuji—as well as by M3 Yutakayama, who predictably got pummeled after jumping 8 ranks into the joi, and who’ll continue his roller-coaster ride by dropping about 10 ranks. Yutakayama fought well despite the heavy loss total, and we can expect a much better performance from him in a more comfortable region of the banzuke.
Promotions and Demotions
Ishiura saved himself with his final-day victory, while Takekaze’s win was too little, too late, and he’ll be returning to Juryo. Daimami lost the elimination bout to Ryuden, and will also be going down. And Aminishiki will be seeing more of today’s Juryo opponent, Takonosho, in Nagoya.
Juryo yusho winner Onosho and runner-up Kotoeko should be ranked fairly high for Juryo promotees on the Makuuchi banzuke in Nagoya, while Meisei should occupy the very last M16w rung (Tochinoshin’s promotion eliminates the M17e rank). Just missing out is Akiseyama, who will have the opportunity to earn his second trip to the top division from J1.
With the final day in the books, we have already covered some of the big news of the day. But before we can consider Natsu complete, there are a few other topics to bring up.
There was a flurry of special prizes awarded today, in fact more of them than I can remember in recent tournaments.
Shukun-Sho (Outstanding Performance) went to Shohozan, for being the only rikishi to beat the yusho winner, Kakuryu. The prize was dependant on Kakuryu winning the final match. In his sansho interview, you actually get to see Shohozan smile! Nah, it’s still moderately scary.
Kanto-Sho (Fighting Spirit) went off in cluster-bomb fashion to: Tochinoshin, Chiyonokuni and Kyokutaisei. Tochinoshin because he was some kind of European winning machine, Chiyonokuni because he seems to have finally found his sumo at his higher weight, and Kyokutaisei because he went double digits in his first top division basho, and he was a movie star.
Gino-Sho (Technique) went to Tochinoshin, as it seems the NSK want to load him up with sansho before his Ozeki promotion, as a way of saying “Nice work you big bear!”.
There were also a handful of matches that were worth note
Ishiura executed some actually solid sumo against Juryo visitor Kyokushuho for a win. That win may have saved him from relegation back to the farm division, and we may get to see him occupy the Nishikigi memorial “last slot on the banzuke” position for Nagoya.
Speaking of Nishikigi, he went double digits and handed Asanoyama his make-koshi. For a man who has struggled much the last couple of years, I was impressed to see Nishikigi that genki. I just worry he may get over-promoted.
Takakeisho sounded the call heralding Nagoya’s tadpole march, by racking his 10th win of the basho against Sadanoumi. Takakeisho closed out the basho with 8 continuous wins, after having a very rough start that made his fans worry that he was not going to get his sumo back after going kyujo in Osaka. Never fear, he’s back and he’s ready now it seems. Nagoya will see ur-Tadpole Onosho rejoin the crew, and it’s tadpole sumo once again. Frankly, I can’t wait.
Chiyonokuni put Kagayaki away by controlling the form and pace of the match. With Chiyonokuni hitting 12 wins, he’s going to get a huge promotion for Nagoya, and I am going to guess he is going to suffer much like Natsu of 2017 where he was promoted to the joi, and it took him months to recover. Kagayaki will escape a disastrous promotion velocity and have time to patiently continue to incrementally improve. This guy is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy.
Yoshikaze got a first hand look at Abi-zumo, and shrugged. Abi was all over the place, doing all kinds of things that don’t normally work in sumo. He’s up on his toes, he’s leaning far forward, and his balance is shifting moment to moment. But hey, it got him 7 wins in the joi, and a kinboshi. But honestly the veterans are starting to deconstruct his attacks, and he’s going to be bottled up soon enough. Hopefully he learns some new tricks, because I think he has a lot of potential.
Tamawashi really needed the win he grabbed over Shodai, he scoped by into kachi-koshi territory, and will likely be back in san’yaku for Nagoya. If he can keep his injuries under control, he will have a chance to dislodge the likes of Ichinojo from his transitional Sekiwake rank.
With Natsu done, all of the rikishi have about 60 days to train, seek treatment for injuries, fly off to Europe to see family or just generally carry on with sumo functions. Big events will come next week, as we are expecting to see at least a handful of retirement announcements, announcements of shin-Sekitori coming from Makushita into Juryo, and the announcement of a new Ozeki in the world of sumo. I will write more later about Tochinoshin, as there is much to examine.
But for now, thanks for reading Tachiai, we have had a great time covering the Natsu basho, and we hope you have enjoyed our site.