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.