Aki Story 1 – The Ozeki Train Wreck

Its a Scratch-And Dent Sale In The Ozeki Aisle

The Nagoya basho is frequently hard on rikishi. The hot, humid conditions and the ramp up to full battle mode after 8 weeks without jungyo can be a trigger for injury, distraction and failure. Nagoya 2019 was especially brutal for sumo’s 4 Ozeki, and the troubles of July will extract a heavy price in September, as sumo returns to the Kokugikan for the Aki basho.

Going into Nagoya, the newest Ozeki, Takakeisho, did not even start. Having withdrawn from the Natsu basho in May on day on day 9, he began the July tournament needing 8 wins to clear kadoban status. But the severity of his injury kept him from training or preparing, and Chiganoura oyakata kept him from entering. Many fans, myself included, widely applauded this move, as the young rising star needed to think about his long term career first and foremost. But this meant that September would find him placed in a hybrid Sekiwake rank (which we sometimes call Ozekiwake) that would return him to Ozeki status with 10 wins.

Takakeisho has been absent from the jungyo, reports of his training are scant, and filtered through Chiganoura oyakata. There are some indications that he is preparing his body through weight training, but has yet to start doing any sumo. For young Takakeisho, there is a lot on the line this September.

Takayasu suffered an arm injury in his day 8 match against “arm-breaker” Tamawashi when a kotenage went wrong. Takayasu being from the Kisenosato camp of “pain is good”, battled on until he picked up his 8th win (against Meisie) and promptly went kyujo. Word is he is still recuperating, and is unlikely for Aki. During his final 2 matches at Nagoya, Takayasu could not really move his heavily bandaged left arm at all. Getting that arm back to “good” is essential for what remains of his career. I also think that it’s the kind of injury that never quite goes away, and any hopes that he might try for promotion to Yokozuna this year (or maybe next) could be off the table.

Tochinoshin went into Nagoya on the heels of a blazing 10-5 record during May, but he faltered in the second week of Natsu, and was clearly hurt. He started Nagoya with 5 consecutive losses, and promptly went kadoban on day 6. Reports were that there were problems with his injured knee, which he keeps bandaged and braced, as well as a shoulder injury. Since then Kasugano oyakata has reported that “Tochinoshin’s shoulder is better, but his knee is still bad. I don’t know when he’ll be able to do sumo.” At Tachiai, we sometimes refer to Tochinoshin as a “glass cannon”, in that he is a powerful rikishi who is always working hard to stay one step ahead of the career ending re-injury to that knee. We hope now is not the time when that bell tolls for him, as he is an exciting and dynamic competitor.

This leaves us with Goeido. Readers of the site sometimes take me to task for being very hard on Goeido, but may have noted that I have eased up on him as he gets closer to the age when his career will begin to wind down. Goeido is hugely talented, and at one point had the potential to beat Kisenosato to the mark of being the first new Japanese born rikishi to become Yokozuna in about 20 years. But his inconsistency was his primary weakness, and he could not seem to muster three good tournaments in a row. Now in 2019, Goeido has endured substantial injury and re-construction to continue fighting at the Ozeki rank, but enters Aki kadoban as well. He started Nagoya well, but seemed to re-injure his damaged ankle in his day 6 fight with Shodai. After losing to Endo on day 7, he withdrew from competition.

With sumo in a transitional period, as the the legendary greats of the prior cohort age out, or retire, we find a great weakness in the Ozeki ranks. This makes the entire upper strata of sumo going into the next decade more or less up for grabs. While many fans will complain that this is “sumo lite”, it’s also the case that with promotion lanes open all the way to the top, any rikishi that has the drive and the skill can find themselves able to climb the ladder. This makes for truly exciting times, and absolute cut-throat competition.

10 thoughts on “Aki Story 1 – The Ozeki Train Wreck

  1. My predictions for Aki are not optimistic to be honest. I don’t think Takakeisho will be able to get his 10 wins if he hasn’t even fought in the ring with just two weeks left to train for the next tournament. Ring rust will take it’s toll.
    Takayasu won’t be competing.
    Tochinoshin will either show a good Ozeki performance or he will show “nothing”…
    Goeido will have a tough road to 8 wins but should make it in the end.

  2. “Ozeki Train Wreck” would be a pretty good band name. We could call the album “Kadoban 2 the Break of Dawn”

    • Love it. Fans could attend concerts wrapped in KT tape and chant “Gambarize! Gambarize! Gambarize!” Their second album could be called “Our Brand of Rock.”

  3. This is should be ringing warning bells in the NSK offices but it won’t be. When you have 4 of your major stars injured, its time to step back and reconsider the workloads of all rikishi coming through the ranks.

    My own opinion (and please remember, opinions really mean nothing, in the end), is that if I were an injured Ozeki, i’d be looking hard at my injury, the actions required to rehab it properly and then weighing up if my finances could take the hit from the possible demotion down into the unpaid ranks. I’d rather be out rehabbing properly for 6-8 months and take the time to come back as a beast, than push on and return to the next tournament as an injured dog.

    Heck, even make a show out of it – press conference and all. Invite a TV crew to document your rehab to give an insight into the struggles of a top rikishi and allow the public to engage in the sport more. Its time for sumo to open itself up to the modern world a little more.

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