Bruce’s Aki Basho Follow Up

Day 15
The Day 15 Group Cheering Like Mad For Takarafuji

Hello dear readers, I am back from Japan and the amazing action that concluded the Aki basho. I must thank the rest of Team Tachiai, including Herouth, lksumo, Liam, Pink Mawashi and Andy for the great coverage while I was in Tokyo. I will work to put together a trip report in hopes of helping others should they choose to travel to Tokyo to watch sumo live. It’s an experience I strongly recommend to any fan.

For fans who only recently started following sumo, the events of Aki 2018 may have been quite a thrilling surpise, as all of the top rikishi were competing, relatively on their sumo, and stayed in the competition for all 15 days. The result was an absolute make-koshi machine that butchered the ranks of many solid performers. Up until recently, this kind of basho was the norm, where the Yokozuna and Ozeki harvested win after win at the expense of the lower ranks of the joi-jin. As we are currently in a transition period, this kind of “strong” basho may not happen every time, but it was quite refreshing after an extended period of declining participation by the top two ranks.

Some short comments coming out of Aki

Hakuho – He is not what he once was, but it’s clear that he can still dominate every other man in sumo today. I am fairly certain we may not see anyone successfully bid to become Yokozuna as long as he remains active.

Kakuryu – Faded in week 2, but turned in a solid performance. If I had to guess he may have re-injured his hand. This also explains the odd ending to his day 15 match.

Kisenosato – He surprised me by getting his 10. The sumo fans in Tokyo adore this guy, and from what I understand some fans were in tears when he picked up his 8th win.

Goeido – Maybe he finally has his health under control, but he looked consistently good throughout the basho. I am delighted to see him in his best form, he’s kind of terrifying when he can do this.

Takayasu – For a man who started with performance limiting injuries, he gamberized his way to excellence.

Tochinoshin – I was really worried he was going to have to fight as an Ozekiwake at Kyushu. I think he has a lot of work to do to strengthen his injured feet.

Mitakeumi – He exited the basho with his kachi-koshi, but he was wholly unprepared for this basho. He consistently came up about 10% short, but it was enough to cost him the 2 wins he needed for an Ozeki bid. I am sure he will improve.

Ichinojo – The big Mongolian continues to be a puzzle. One day he is a teddy bear, the next an unstoppable force of nature.

Tamawashi – Solid, strong sumo, but totally obliterated. Everyone was taking his lunch money, daily. I expect him to be a terror in the mid-Maegashira for November.

Takakeisho – He matched Mitakeumi’s schedule, with nearly the same opponents. This guy is the real deal, and I expect him to be a san’yaku regular.

Ikioi – He had nothing to show for Aki until he blasted Mitakeumi off the dohyo. But is 3-12 record kicks him far down the banzuke

Kaisei – Sometimes being freaking huge can work as a sumo strategy.

As already noted in previous posts, there is going to be a mega-tsunami scale churn in the banzuke for Kyushu. If the top 6 are genki once more, it could be as high-energy and exciting as Aki turned out to be.


21 thoughts on “Bruce’s Aki Basho Follow Up

  1. By my projections, Tamawashi will still be in the joi despite his 4-11 record—there simply aren’t enough candidates to fill out the upper maegashira ranks.

    • Am I correct that your projections are based on how low on the banzuke the rikishi with winning records are currently? Sure, those rikishi should get a promotion, but high in the joi seems too big of a jump in rank for a lot of them.

      • Correct. I’ll have the full post up with my projections and the thinking behind them in the next few days, but after the KK trio of Myogiryu, Tochiozan, and Hokutofuji, who have current rankings and Aki records compatible with joi promotions, the next-best KK candidates are Nishikigi, Ryuden, Takanoiwa, and Yoshikaze, all ranked between M12 and M15, and none having put up truly exceptional records. This quartet will be ranked at levels that are nearly unprecedented for their current rank and record as it is…

  2. In thinking about when a new yokozuna might emerge, I got to thinking: While surely there’s a future yokozuna somewhere in the present banzuke, how long will it be until we get another Hakuho? Now, given Hakuho’s stratospheric achievements, the answer may well be “never.” But for fun, I looked at what Hakuho had accomplished at the time he was the same age as some of our favorite up-and-comers.

    Among the ozeki ranks, the youngest is Takayasu, at 28 yrs and 7 mos old. When Hakuho was Takayasu’s age, Hakuho had won 27 yushos and 16 jun-yushos. Takayasu is still chasing his first emperor’s cup.

    Mitakeumi, the leader of the tadpoles and still on an ozeki run, is 25 yrs and 9 mos old. Compared to Mitakeumi’s 1 yusho, Hakuho had 17 yushos and 11 jun-yushos at that age. Let’s go down the list of the next youngest guys in makuuchi. At Ichinojo’s current age, Hakuho had 15 yushos. At Yutakayama’s age, Hakuho had 13. At Asanoyama’s, 11. Same for Abi.

    Takanosho did well for a shin-nyumaku, and he’s a promising prospect if he can put on some more weight. But while he’s one tournament into his makuuchi career, Hakuho had 9 yushos at his age.

    The youngest tadpoles in the makuuchi division are Onosho (22 yrs, 2 mos) and Takakeisho (22 yrs, 1 mo). At Takakeisho’s age Hakuho had 2 yushos and 5 jun-yushos. A month later, when he reached Onosho’s age, he had picked up his third yusho.

    How about the youngest sekitori, 21 yrs and 4 mos old Takagenji, you may ask. Well while the now oyakata-less Genji toils in juryo, Hakuho had already picked up 1 yusho and 5 jun-yushos in makuuchi at the same age.

    In case you were wondering, Enho is 23 yrs and 11 mos old. If he’s going to emulate his mentor, then he better catch up fast, because he’s 9 yushos behind.

    For another Hakuho to emerge, he’ll not only have to be dominant over a long stretch, but he’ll also have to be precocious, picking up yushos early in his career. Seems like the top two division rikishis are already far behind. Maybe some of the younger rikishi, like Hoshoryu or Naya can get there, but the odds are heavily stacked against them.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer – the great Chiyonofuji didn’t win his first yusho until he was 25 yrs and 7 mos old. The key to Chiyonofuji is that he stayed great until he was 35, which is a lot older than most rikishi, and so he got a 10 year window of greatness to amass his 32 yushos. Hakuho, having started early, has already had a 14 year championship window, and if he remains healthy until the age in which Chiyonofuji faded, he’ll have had an unprecedented 16 year window to amass emperor’s cups.

    Maybe everyone else should aim for being the next Kakuryu instead.

    • I think what Hoshoryu is aiming at is, naturally, to be the next Asashoryu (with lessons learned). Anyway, I think it’s a general consensus that the next Hakuho is as yet unborn.

      Most Yokozuna are Kakuryu-style, not Hakuho or any other dai-Yokozuna style. We have been spoiled by having two consecutive dai-yokozuna, shortly following Takanohana’s age. It’ll be a stretch to find Harumafuji-style Yokozuna any time soon.

      BTW, Enho a Yokozuna? I don’t think he is aiming there, and really, with his height, if he makes a sanyaku regular it will be an amazing achievement. The much celebrated “Technique Department Store” Mainoumi only made Komusubi once.

      Anyway, University wrestlers start late. They miss about 5 years compared to the Hakuho type of early start. They do develop their talent in those 5 years, but they can’t develop records in a league they don’t belong to.

      • On the point about University wrestlers missing 5 years of experience, here are the debut ages of the recent (since 2000) yokozuna and ozeki:

        15 Kisenosato, Takanohana, Takayasu, Kaio, Takanonami
        16 Hakuho, Harumafuji, Kakuryu, Chiyotaikai
        17 Wakanohana
        18 Asahoryu, Akebono, Musashimaru, Tochinsoshin, Goeido, Kotoshogiku, Tochiazuma
        19 Terunofuji, Baruto, Kotooshu
        20 Miyabiyama, Musoyama
        21 Dejima
        22 Kotomitsuki

        Median age is 18.
        The message is that wrestlers who finish a four-year Japanese university course and enter the pro ranks at 22 or 23 are most unlikely to make it to the top. Good luck Mitakeumi!

      • Hakuho had to face a dominant Asashoryu at the peak of his powers when he started winning yushos. Several of his jin-yushos were playoff loses to Asashoryu in his early career. At Onosho’s age, he won his 3rd yusho and was promoted to Yokozuna and from that point, he simply took off. He drove Asashoryu to distraction and retirement. Another thing to be mentioned about Hakuho is that he has never had a make-koshi tournament in which he has not gone kyujo due to injury. All other modern greats going back to Futabayama had at least one make-koshi basho.

    • I would argue that Hakuho had another thing going for him when he came into sumo. He didn’t have to face Hakuho. He had some great Ozeki and Asashoryu at the top, but his ascent to the peak wasn’t stifled by the greatest yokozuna to ever mount the dohyo.

      That said, it seems a dominant force of a yokozuna comes around every 10 years or so and generally gets a head of steam about the time the previous dominant yokozuna retires. We have been blessed to have uninterrupted wealth in dominance with Asashoryu and Hakuho having claimed a massive percentage of all victories from 2003 to now.

      • Facing a dominant Asashoryu who had been winning 4 to 6 tournaments a year when Hakuho was 19-21 years of age is not enough? I would argue that Hakuho taking over at age 22 drove Asashoryu to all his problematic behaviors and ultimately to early retirement.

    • I have to disagree with a lot of comments here. Without any doubt Hakuho is one of the greatest Rikishi of all time (I’m not so much into comparing different eras,because of the different playing field), but in my opinion he had rather favorable circumstances.
      When Hakuho rose to the top division, he did so during a transition period. there was only one Yokozuna and an Ozeki Corpse that was rather mediocre. You can count the number of occasions of Ozeki reaching more than 10 wins from mid 2006 to 2010 on one hand. Asashoryu was also injured or suspended for probably half the yusho he had during their time together and then Ashashoryus career ended prematurely.
      Had he been born 10 or 15 years earlier, he probably wouldnt have near as many Yusho, because the competition was much tougher. Even Asashoryu staying around for longer would have cost him a number of Yusho. Now Harumafuji is gone prematurely too and Kisenosato had a career altering injury just when he reached his peak and was to considered as an even match to Hakuho.
      I hope we get a next Hakuho, but for the moment I would be fine with a next Asahsoryu and a next Taihou as well ;)

  3. I feel that for the future of Sumo, we do not need or want a “new Hakuho”. I prefer a Basho where the outcome and the winner are uncertain and there are many viable candidates.

    While Hakuho is a stellar athlete, his presence made the sport less interesting.

    I am looking forward to the post-Hakuho time.

    • I have to agree. While I have deep respect for Hakuho’s skill and accomplishments, the tournaments I have most enjoyed have been the ones where he was absent, and the mere mortals were left behind to scrap it out on the dohyo.

    • I agree I prefer to see two or more bums seeing who can get twelve or thirteen wins with low quality sumo rather than watch possibly the greatest of all time lay waste to the competition.

    • By viable one could insert mediocre……

      I don’t understand how anyone cannot appreciate Hakuho’s talent and be grateful to have seen him in action. But then greatness always seems to attract more than its share of negativity.

      I agree with someone’s comment from the other day that their idea of a good tournament is not seeing two tadpoles slap it out on the final day.

      Personally I hope that Hakuho continues performing and winning to the 2020 olympics. I’ll be there cheering for him in Fukuoka if he’s healthy and taking part.

    • Volker, you make a fair point, but it’s interesting to look at golf as a comparison. Interest in golf soared with the dominance of Tiger Woods and dropped dramatically when his health and personal issues crippled his game. It took a few years before a new crop of stars generated interest and TV ratings, but it took the surprising return of Tiger to top form for the TV ratings to match what they were when he was in his prime. In short, having a mega-star seems to drive mega-interest.

      • In every sport (tennis, cycling, basketball…), you hear people say they want parity, but superstars and dynasties really drive interest.

  4. When Tachiai coined the phrase “ozekiwake”, how did you resist going with “sekizeki” as an alternative?

    • Probably because it’s the same seki. The “zeki” in “Ozeki” is actually the “seki” in “Sekiwake”. It’s a common phenomenon in Japanese, called “rendaku”, that certain unvoiced sounds become voiced when combined into a word. Thus “kami” (paper) becomes “origami” (folded paper), “hito” (person) becomes “tsukebito” (manservant), and “tsuna” (rope), becomes “yokozuna” (horizontal rope).

      • Ah, you learn something new every day! I did know about that phenomenon in the language but didn’t know it applied there (duh!).

        Must gambarize at Nihongo!


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