Mitakeumi & The Curious Case of the Ozeki Run

Mitakeumi Kensho Stack

With Sekiwake Mitakeumi having deposited himself in pole position for the Nagoya yusho, chatter is already starting to begin about whether the incredibly popular rikishi can follow Tochinoshin and start to mount an Ozeki-run.

As we have often commented on the site, sumo is amidst a transitionary period where new heroes are soon to arrive. Mitakeumi has often been speculated as one of those new heroes, but has struggled to convert momentum into dominance. Yet, he’s been a good san’yaku rikishi, suffering just 2 make-koshi losing records since his initial promotion to Komusubi 18 months ago. But if he could just take the next step, the man with a sizeable cheering section at every basho would possibly inspire the type of fanatic reaction recently afforded to the likes of Kisenosato.

First, the positives: Mitakeumi has done a good job over the course of the past couple years developing his all-around game. While it is true that it is possible to be an incredibly successful rikishi playing often one note – and the “bumpity-bump” hug-n-chug belly bop of yusho-winning Kotoshogiku comes to mind – the chances of thriving at the very top level are often better if one can develop multiple facets to both their pushing/thrusting (oshi) and mawashi (yotsu) sumo. Mitakeumi has taken notable steps forward in this department.

However, the man from the exalted Dewanoumi beya has been somewhat of what we’d call a flat-track bully: he beats up on the weaker competition in what is usually the easier Week 1 of the Sekiwake schedule, but as soon as the calendar hits the halfway mark on Day 8, he stumbles and throws away whatever advantages he has in the yusho race or progress towards putting together a promotion run.

In 6 tournaments as Sekiwake since his promotion to the rank this time last year, Mitakeumi has never ended the first seven days with a negative scoreline, losing as many as three matches in Week 1 just once. However as soon as Day 8 comes, the kuroboshi arrive – the current tournament is actually the first time he’s won on Day 8 as a sekiwake at all, and his overall Week 2 record as a Sekiwake entering the tournament in such conditions was 15-26 (he has obviously since added two wins to this tally). This compares rather unfavorably to the 26-9 record he had in Week 1 conditions entering the current tournament at his level, which has since been improved to a very satisfactory 33-9 record you’d expect to see of someone ready to make the move to the next level. This difference is especially stark considering Mitakeumi’s noted status as the killer of Hakuho’s last great run at Futabayama’s record of 69 consecutive wins, in the second week of last year’s Nagoya basho.

Mitakeumi has won the first two matches in Week 2 in Nagoya, ushering out Daishomaru on Day 9 in particular without seemingly even breaking a sweat in the oven-like conditions of the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. But even if the prohibitive favorite were to go all of the way and finish the job this basho, while we could formally declare this the start of an “Ozeki run” it would feel too soon to do in real terms: one of the questions answered by Tochinoshin during his successful recent run was: “could he do it against the Yokozuna?” In ending Hakuho’s 25 match dominance over him, he affirmed his credentials. Mitakeumi meanwhile, that summer swoon last July aside, should have to consistently answer similar questions in tournaments where a majority of Ozeki and Yokozuna can mount the dohyo.

We must take nothing for granted about what may transpire over the course of the coming days. For many rikishi, there is a yusho to be won. Mitakeumi has the hardest challenge because he is the only man for whom there is presently a yusho to lose. And the cliché that you can “only beat what’s in front of you” is often trotted out – I am certainly guilty of its overuse – but it’s true that any further success for Mitakeumi at the business end of the current honbasho should not be diminished by the composition of his torikumi. When it comes to an Ozeki run however, we must watch the final days of “Act 3” for signs that one of sumo’s up and coming rockstars will be more than a one-hit wonder.

18 thoughts on “Mitakeumi & The Curious Case of the Ozeki Run

  1. Maybe a yusho win will represent a mindset change. I suspect it did for Tochinoshin; prior to January, I don’t know if Ozeki had even occured to him. I can hope… And Ozeki Mitakeumi might take some of the “sting” out of Kisenosato’s eventual retirement, IMHO.

    • I agree that the confidence of a yusho win/challenge would do him a world of good. I think even the confidence of putting up 12 or so wins and being a serious contender will give him the strength to push on.

      It’s also lucky for him that he has a good training partner in Tochinoshin. Kisenosato clearly reaped the benefits of this in his partnership with Takayasu, which made both of them better, and the same is probably happening here. Takayasu has been worse for Kisenosato’s absence in my opinion, so hopefully Tochinoshin’s injury isn’t serious enough to also disrupt Mitakeumi’s training ahead of the Aki basho.

      • How much do they really train together? I mean, I’ve seen some degeiko going on, but not something that measures up to the Kisenosato/Takayasu level, considering that in-heya training is every day, while ichimon joint training and degeiko are less frequent and occur mostly in the weeks preceding a tournament.

  2. For your consideration:

    Goeido at Ozeki has been in 336 bouts, not counting the 18 bouts that he withdrew from. He has won 188 of them, for a winning percentage of 56%. If you include his withdrawals (which you should, since it’s part of a rikishi’s job to show up), his winning percentage drops to 53%.

    Mitakeumi, for all of his perceived faults at Sekiwake, has won 50 of 84 bouts with no withdrawals. That’s a 60% clip. The level of schedule difficulty for an Ozeki is identical to that of a Sekiwake.

    Given who we have at the Ozeki rank these days, punishing Mitakeumi for not sufficiently dominating at Sekiwake seems odd.

    Also, Mitakeumi is only 25, probably 1 or 2 years away from his athletic prime. If he gets the yusho this time, plus a solid 11+ win tournament in September, he’ll be a more than welcome addition to a beleaguered Ozeki corps. We need new blood at the top, and Mitakeumi has proven that he is the most consistent of the bunch.

    • I fully agree with that. Mitakeumi has dissapointed many times in week 2 and I think this has been more a mental issue than anything else. However, as has been pointed out before, when he bursted into the scene he has been a pure oshi type rikishi and by now he has considerably broadened his repertoire. All he needs now is that little bit confidence.
      Whether or not this tournament is a bit light at the top, I doubt this will change until we get some more fresh blood there. Goeido might avoid demotion once more due to literally everyone dropping out, but this will only postpone the inevitable a few bashos. Takayasu seems to have trouble getting fully healthy and finding his sumo again. Tochinoshin has a track record of inuries and yet he looks like the one stable here. Kisenosato, as much as it hurts me, will probably never be back as his former self and both Hakuho and Kakuryu are frequently injured as well. Maybe the next Ozeki will have to put up 34 or 35 wins, but that looks quite possible.
      There is also not really any other candidate atm. Ichinojo had three 10+ tournaments in makuuchi so far … one in 2014, one in 2016 and the last one january 2017 … none from anywhere near Sanyaku. The young guns like Hokutofuji, Takakeisho or Onosho have to regain their groove after injuries. Endo needs to prove durable at Sanyaku first before one could consider anything more. Shodai … well … maybe he can somehow find a coach to teach him a proper tachiai?

      • If I could schedule one-on-one training time between Kisenosato and Shodai just to work on Shodai’s tachiai, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Shodai would be incredibly dangerous if he simply improved that one aspect of his sumo.

        • Hell, if you have been watching Hokutofuji’s tachiai for the past 3 days – the guy is lethal off the shikiri-sen. Hokutofuji is still not up to Kisenosato-class tachiai, but I see promise there.

    • While that’s true that his current performance would be good enough to MAINTAIN the level required of an ozeki, it doesn’t speak to the level required to BECOME an ozeki and there’s an enormous difference: in order to do that you need to win at least 73% of your bouts over 3 tournaments and that requires the stronger week 2 performance against ozeki/yokozuna that Mitakeumi hasn’t shown yet. Goeido is also kind of skirting the bottom level of results usually required to maintain the rank and I would posit that while you get the “benefit” of kadoban as an ozeki, it’s not the level that anyone would want to see.

      The other thing is that it’s very likely even if he did win the yusho this time that this tournament would be #1 of 3, as it’s not given that he puts up 14 or 15 this time, and thus reaching even as many as 12 next time would require him to achieve the level of performance against higher ranked opposition I have laid out here: surely present conditions mean that a majority of ozeki and Yokozuna will be active at Aki and he will need to beat some of them to hit that level, if indeed he wins enough this time to be considered to be in contention for promotion.

    • What do you mean by punishing? He has to pass the barrier – 33 wins in 3 basho. After that, he can comfortably go back to winning only the first week + 1 lucky one. But he needs to be able to show double digits consistently over three consecutive basho. Goeido did that once, Mitakeumi has to do the same.

      The question here is if he can do it when the top of the chart returns to normal (if it does), not if he is going to be a strong or a lousy Ozeki.

      • Actually, Goido went 12-3, 8-7 and 12-3, adding up to 32 wins. If that was true for Goeido when there was an abundance of Yokozuna and Ozeki I guess it will be doubly so in a time of need. Still holding out hope that Mitakeumi will make Ozeki fair and square, but there´s precedent for going to Oezika wit only 32 wins.

        • Remember that it’s about the quality of the wins, not just their number. That 8-7 basho included one Ozeki and one Yokozuna.

  3. Given the Nokozuna situation and having two Ozeki kadoban and the third one injured, I believe it follows that the next guy who qualifies for Ozekidom will get the nod, regardless of whom he has beaten and the margin by which he cleared the 33.
    For my man Mitakeumi the Magicarp I hope for zensho jusho (and I am fully aware of the performance issues of Mitakeumi in his second week) so he can realize his 33s next basho with a “typical” performance of his.

    • I’ve always called Takayasu Gyarados, but now you’ve got me worried about what to do if/when Mitakeumi promotes! At the very least, I’d want to see him get even a fraction of Takayasu’s dark-thunderclouds war-face.

      I agree, I think they promote Mitakeumi without speed bumps assuming he puts up the basic numbers.

      • No debate here that he will get promoted if he gets the numbers – it’s just that what it will take to get those numbers is going to require another step up in performance even if he runs the table this time.

  4. One should not forgot either that he had entered professional sumo only 3 years ago. As I understand he had a rather illustrious amateur career, being both university yokozuna,and amateur yokozuna.
    If time let it i would appreciate if someone could write an essay on amateur sumo. Or perhaps someone could indicate a source where i could read about?

    • College rikishi seldom get to Ozeki, not sure why but the statistics back this up. If Mitakeumi were to untie that knot, it would be a rarity.

      • Is it because they’re not in the stables living “stable life” from 15 like other wrestlers are? Or is that not how the setup works?

        • Its a very good question, I think in part because the college guys have a more compact pro-sumo life span, starting in their early 20s, as you state.


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