A major theme of early 2018 has been Tochinoshin’s surge into a successful Ozeki promotion bid. Always a large, powerful rikishi, the stars aligned for Tochinoshin’s body, his fighting spirit and his competition to present him with a narrow but workable path to sumo’s second highest rank. On his way to that achievement, he racked up a yusho in January followed by two strong double-digit tournaments. At the time of his much heralded promotion, Tachiai warned fans that Tochinoshin has a history of mechanical injuries that – more so than some other rikishi – significantly degrade his sumo.
Tochinoshin’s sumo approach is largely based on immense, overpowering brute strength. This is evidenced by his displayed tendency to lift any opponent he can land his preferred grip against (even Ichinojo). While there is little defense against being lifted from the clay, raising and carrying up to 200kg of fighting sumotori is loaded with risks.
In the heat of Nagoya, during his first basho as Ozeki, Tochinoshin sustained a toe injury. Some fans may wonder why injuries to a rikishi’s toes seem to have such an impact, but fighting in their bare feet, the contestants transmit the power of their bodies into the clay through their toes. It gives them the leverage to push, the agility to maneuver, and in the case of Tochinoshin, the stable platform to sky-crane his opponents out of the match. After starting Nagoya with 5 straight wins, this injury knocked him out of the competition and left him kadoban in his first Ozeki tournament.
This put enormous pressure on him for Aki, as a make-koshi would have seen the shin-Ozeki demoted back to Sekiwake after only a single full tournament. He started 3-2 for the first act, and it was clear he was still struggling with his feet. Act 2 saw him improve to 6-4, and on day 11, he managed to hand Yokozuna Kakuryu the first of what would become 5 consecutive losses to end Aki.
With consecutive losses against Hakuho and Shodai going into the final weekend, fans were rightly worried that he might not find his 8th win. But persistence paid off, and his day 14 match against Abi featured Tochinoshin quickly landing his preferred grip, completely shutting down Abi’s double-arm tsuppari sumo.
Tochinoshin finished Aki with a respectable 9-6 record, clearing his kadoban flag and buying him 4 months to get his sumo back in order. We suspect his toes were only 70% back in working order prior to Aki, and the strains of the impressively fierce competition during September may have complicated the injury.