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.