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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.