Welcome to Part 4 of Tachiai’s conversation with Moti Dichne, aka Kintamayama. Moti is well known in the online sumo community for his tireless coverage of all things sumo through his newsletter, his presence on SumoForum, and of course, his exhaustive YouTube channel.
Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3 of our conversation, if you are catching up. The interview took place during this year’s Natsu basho, and as such predates some current sumo events (such as the retirement of Aminishiki) and has been edited only for clarity and length. This segment touches on the state of some current rikishi and the ongoing transition in the sport.
Tachiai: A lot of people are very interested in debating Takakeisho’s ceiling. What are your thoughts on Takakeisho? What can he be? He’s got one trick, but it’s a weird trick.
Moti Dichne (Kintamayama): Listen, Chiyotaikai was not much better. He had the windmill thing, and it worked for him for 60 bashos! In the meantime, Takakeisho is looking really good, you can’t argue with that. [edited to add: this interview took place before Takakeisho’s injury caused him to at least temporarily lose his ozeki status]
I personally am a belt person, but [yotsu-zumo rikishi] are becoming like dinosaurs. Look at Makuuchi… out of 42, maybe 32 are slappers! You’ve got Tochinoshin, and Hakuho and maybe 3 more [who are yotsu-zumo rikishi]. But Asanoyama was down where all his opponents are slappers and he’s had a difficult time getting the belt.
I [now] think Takakeisho is the real deal for sure, and I didn’t think so. I was happy they didn’t promote him when they didn’t promote him [the first time he met the informal qualification]. I said, “let’s wait a minute and see how he does mentally.”
Kisenosato would be devastated [in that situation], and it would take him 3 bashos to get over it. Takakeisho got over it very quickly. He’s a cool cucumber. He has a mission, and everyone forgets that he’s a young guy.
Personally, Onosho was the guy that I was rooting for. He started off well, but I hope that his whole setback lately comes from an injury and not from that being how good he is. I’m looking for a reason, because he came up and was killing everybody. Even Takakeisho. Even Hakuho [couldn’t deal with him].
That’s an interesting point. One thing that we’ve been talking about the last several years is that sumo is in a transitionary phase.
But I think that when people hear that, what they expect to see is the Kisenosatos of the world retire – and he did, as did Harumafuji, but Harumafuji retired in a freak situation. It wasn’t like, “we’re in a transitionary period, and all the top guys are going,” what we’re actually seeing is the Takekazes of the world and the guys who are the long serving veterans who are starting to work their way out, but I think it’s happening slower than people really expect. Is it because these veterans of that last period… Takekaze, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Aminishiki – are they that good that they’re able to hang around or is it because this new generation – Onosho for example – hasn’t been good enough to be able to push on?
A little of both. It’s very difficult to know. There’s one thing that foreign fans will never understand: It’s not yaocho when the young guys have respect. When they were five years old, they used to watch [the older guys] on TV. That has to factor in somewhere, on the dohyo, that “I don’t want to hurt the old guy. I don’t want to be the one who caused the old guy to retire.”
I’m not saying that they’re giving them the wins, but I think they are being extra careful. Nobody will tell you that, but I am pretty sure. And I can tell by the bouts, I can see, the younger the guys are more reluctant to go all-out against Aminishiki, against Toyonoshima. That’s my feeling. Toyonoshima a bit less because when you look at him, you don’t see him as that old. Aminishiki on the other hand, you see an old guy. [He’s] like an oyakata having fun.
The Japanese are very rooted in kohai and sempai. It has power when you were 10 years old and you adored [a rikishi], and suddenly you’re fighting him and you’re saying somewhere, “I don’t want to kill this guy, I don’t want to hurt him.”
There’s a totally different thing happening right now. I think for the first time, since I don’t know when… if Hakuho goes, we have no responsible adult. There’s no name. The minute Hakuho goes, we’re doomed. Kakuryu and Mitakeumi?
Always there’s a void. Takanohana came after Chiyonofuji. The Americans came. There were never 4… 5… 7… 8… 10 bashos like that, and if Hakuho goes…
Dominance is good and bad but it’s good for knowing there’s a responsible adult.
It’s also a society that’s dominated by the concept of eras. We’re talking right now at a time when the change to the Reiwa era has just happened. It’s an appropriate time for this discussion. You can bank on Hakuho, even if he’s kyujo 2 times a year, to get up to 50 to 60 wins a year. I think an issue if he leaves is that usually in that vacuum, someone will go, “ok, I’m going to take those 60 wins.” But right now, we’re seeing six guys taking ten of those wins apiece over the course of the year.
That’s what I’m saying! It’s not going to happen. In the NBA, you have your LeBrons and your Michael Jordans. In baseball you have [dominant] guys. Here, suddenly, there’s nobody. Because Kakuryu does anything but show leadership, you don’t know what’s going to happen with him. He has no charisma.
Do you think the next Hakuho is in the sport now?
I don’t think there’s going to be a “next Hakuho” for quite a while. I’m not sure about Naya either. I have no idea. None from whoever’s in Makuuchi today. Maybe Takakeisho, but I doubt it if he’s going to be one dimensional. Somewhere along the line, but I don’t see anyone right now. I thought Goeido at some point, but he’s getting old. I think he’s going to win another yusho. I have a feeling that this is his basho [Natsu 2019], but we’ll see.
As we speak, Goeido is on his longest run of staying out of kadoban that he’s ever been on in his entire Ozeki career. [edited to add: he’s since gone kadoban again]
See, this is what we’re talking about: an Ozeki who’s 30 years old and been kadoban every 2-3 [basho]. Guys like Hakuho breeze through Ozeki, [not] stuck in Ozeki for 30 bashos. They just walked over Ozeki, except for Musashimaru, who stayed on for a long time.
I made a poll, a hundred years ago on the mailing list: “Who thinks Musashimaru will become Yokozuna?” Out of about 100 responses, three people. Because there was no way. He seemed to be a happy go lucky guy, content with a 9-6. 10-5.
We all were laughing, saying “he’s going to have to learn the dohyo-iri, just for that he won’t be come Yokozuna!” And then suddenly out of nowhere, he made it in. Everyone was healthy, it wasn’t like it was something that he picked up off the floor. And he was a great Yokozuna.
And Musashimaru was in an era where it was difficult to do that, with Takanohana still being in the sport. Whoever does it next may have a free run at it.
That’s what we’re saying, exactly! It’s going to be easy! That’s why I have a feeling that even though he’s one dimensional, maybe Takakeisho will be able to do it. He just needs two [consecutive] yushos! And in this atmosphere at this moment, who knows.
It could happen. I think the biggest issue with the current crop is consistency.
Listen, not only could it happen, it has to happen, because there’s going to be a void.
There was the period in the early 90s before Akebono, where there was nobody for about a year. There were 4 Yokozuna, and then Asahifuji and Hokutoumi retired, having mostly been kyujo just before they retired. I think we may see that again, where there were 4, and then none.
I missed Chiyonofuji and all of that era! The internet brought me back to sumo. Between ’67 and ’90, that’s 23 years I was totally out of sumo. There was no other way [to see sumo]. I had to go back and study everything and see what happened, for my own information and my own curiosity.
It’s a weird parallel because you had this period where you had Onokuni, Hokutoumi…
Onokuni was a lousy Yokozuna also! He should keep on making cakes. He’s a baker!
They all kind of flattered to deceive a little bit, and it’s kind of like the current period, where you had Kisenosato with two yusho, injuries, and he’s out… and maybe the end of Hakuho’s career is similar to the end of Chiyonofuji’s career. Maybe there will be a year break with no Yokozuna because nobody can win two in a row, or the equivalent?
I think it’s going to be interesting. Because the fans now, for the first time, are coming in – not for the Yokozuna. I don’t remember that happening since I got interested in sumo.
It was always the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, these guys [who attracted fans]. Any time they were injured, the attendance went down. In those days, the basho wasn’t sold out in advance.
You look around the arena and see what things people hold up and who they are cheering for, and while you do get a lot of fans for Ozeki Tochinoshin now, a lot of people love Mitakeumi, Endo, Enho…
They’re Japanese! Endo, always! Of course it also depends which tournament it is, the local people always [get support]. Mitakeumi is very well liked, and I don’t understand why! Maybe he’s a nice guy. But his sumo…
He has consistency problems.
And he has training problems, which is worse. He trains [poorly], then he loses and everyone is on his case. He’s one of those guys that he comes on during the basho.
He’s kind of the opposite of Goeido, who trains very hard, but then falters during the basho.
Yeah, exactly. The oyakata are already making jokes about Mitakeumi, that he loses all the time in training, and they’re saying he’s not going all out and that’s why he’ll never amount to anything. That used to be the case with Robocop (Takamisakari). He would never win a single bout in keiko! It was like he was scared. During the basho he had no choice, but in training he used to be scared!
He was a character that was great for the sport.
Oh, for sure! A character you need. The way they cut Kotoyuki down… what the hell do you care?! Now, Kotoyuki has this new thing going, his helicopter move [before the tachiai]. Nobody cares. Nobody notices, nobody gives a shit, nobody laughs or claps. In his prime, everybody was waiting just for that! Now, you have the Takayasu “Gorilla.” The crowd goes crazy [for that].
I think Kotoshogiku needs to bring his back bend move back. He stopped when he fell out of san’yaku. Do you think if he goes back to san’yaku he’ll bring it back?
He stopped his back bend and I didn’t even notice! I read somewhere that someone told him it’s not good for his back. Which sounds like total nonsense. Maybe it’s a san’yaku thing, like the change of names where when they drop out of san’yaku and go back to their real name.
Maybe he feels he’s not a top level guy anymore so he hasn’t earned the right to make a big show?
K: Well, knowing Kotoshogiku, that’s very possible.
The rumour on the street is that he wants to renew his rivalry with Toyonoshima. Do you think that’s ever going to happen?
Toyonoshima looks good. He looks like he has a lot of years in him, in contract to Aminishiki who doesn’t [edited to add: and has since retired]. But Aminishiki has been looking that way for the last five years… so what do I know! I’m telling you the factor is the guys are afraid to injure him and they’re not going all out.
Find out more from Kintamayama and subscribe to his mailing list at dichne.com, and keep an eye out for the final part of our conversation, which will run soon on Tachiai.