Aki Story 3 – Fallen Heroes

We are now deep into a transitional period in sumo. The cohort that had been dominant for 10 years or more are finding time catching up to them. Their sumo is not as sharp, their bodies can no longer endure the punishment of the fight, and they are staring down a significant change in their careers. It’s heartbreaking to watch great rikishi close out their careers, and I suspect Aki is going to be the finishing stroke for more than one storied rikishi.

Yoshikaze – Fans who have been reading the blog know Yoshikaze is my absolute favorite, and has been for years. The guy has been an absolute giant-killer, and has been able to sumo a nearly demonic fighting spirit at times. Because of this, and his willingness to sacrifice his body to the fight, I nicknamed him “the Berserker”, which at least a couple of fans though of as an insult. For those who have studied Nordic history, we know that being called a Berserker is a high compliment. But Yoshikaze has been suffering a variety of physical problems for most of the last year. He had a mystery rash for a time, and in May he damaged a knee, which saw him seek surgery. He did not compete in Nagoya, and dropped to Juryo 7. Yoshikaze last competed in Juryo in 2007. There is also word from the Japanese sumo press that he has not recovered, and is unlikely for Aki. Failure to start in September would surely mean a demotion to Makushita. At 37 years old, he probably would rather not break back into Sekitori status. The good news for Yoshikaze fans – he has an oyakata slot waiting for him upon retirement. Already heavily involved with youth sumo, I think the future Nakamura oyakata is going to be responsible for bringing sumo to new generations of people in Japan.

Ikioi – Ranked at Juryo 12w for Aki, fan favorite Ikioi’s heart is still in the fight, but his body is too broken to really continue. His last kachi-koshi was at Hatsu of 2019, and there has been no sign that his injuries are actually improving. He continues to rack up double digit losses, in spite of being reduced to a lower division. While the full extent of Ikioi’s injuries are probably not published, we know that he has taken many blows to the head, suffered with cellulitis, and has ankle and knee problems. Each time the man steps on the dohyo, you want to call an ambulance. But the warrior spirit in him refuses to relent, and each bought he leaves just a bit more damaged. Like Yoshikaze, he has a oyakata slot waiting for him (Kasugayama). I think that if he gets his 8th loss in September, we may see him take a hair cut and put on a nice suit sooner rather than later.

Kaisei – The picture around Kaisei is less clear. As a foreigner (Brazil) he has no access to an oyakata slot. He is also quite banged up, ranked Juryo 8, and I think he is in serious peril of being demoted to Makushita with a losing record. He has managed only 7 wins over the last 3 tournaments. Ouch! He’s a fan favorite, and a real sweet heart in real life, so we can only hope that he can either rally in September, or he can find something to pay the bills if he is demoted further down the banzuke. At 32, he may only have 1 big campaign up the banzuke left, if any.

Arawashi – This guy is a mess. His sumo skill is fantastic, but he has been walking wounded since last year, and has struggled to hold onto a Juryo rank. Now 33 years old, and at Makushita 1, he has more or less one shot to get 4 wins against the brutal Makushita joi-jin to regain a salaried rank, or face a long, unfunded road to the exit. Like Kaisei, he is a foreigner and has no access to buying his way into a kabu.

A reminder to fans – sumo is a combat sport, and a literal zero-sum game. It is by its nature brutal and elminationist. It’s Darwin in action, and only the fittest of the pack can survive each new tournament. While we love our aging heroes, their slow fade makes room for new rikishi to leave their mark on the sumo world.

17 thoughts on “Aki Story 3 – Fallen Heroes

  1. Ikioi would certainly be able to stay in Juryo for another basho if he were to go 7-8 at Aki. I’d say a drop to Makushita is 50-50 if he goes 6-9, and a certainty at 5-10. Kaisei has a little more room for error, and should be safe if he is able to compete and rack up 5 wins.

    • At their ages and injury levels, I am thinking that they are at or near the finish line in September. Sure they can mathematically hang on. I hope they do. But for Yoshikaze specifically, it looks like it’s time to take up his kabu.

  2. Going by the angle of the shot and the varying reactions of Yoshikaze and Hakuho in the photo, I would say that it is Hakuho who requested and took a selfie with Yoshikaze.

    • Yes, but it’s not such a big surprise. I believe this photo is from the Hakuho Cup, where Yoshikaze has been one of the team leaders. Hakuho was taking selfies with people who helped him make it a memorable event.

  3. It’s a bit telling that Shotenro, who has borrowing Ikioi’s elder stock, just switched to Endo’s.

    Kaisei has become a Japanese citizen, but I don’t know if he has his eyes on elder stock. He doesn’t strike me as the type.

  4. “I get knocked down but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down. I get knocked down but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down” — Chumbawamba channeling their inner Yoshikaze.

    • well said Maya. I look forward to the next evolution of this combat sport i love so much, but to never see my beloved Yoshikaze in berserker mode, sigh/shoulder-slump…. know it has to happen but aaargh… this wonderful man was born the year i lived in Sapporo (showing my age now) so that makes him extra special to me. the only upside is his full recovery and then going into oyakata mode and mentoring/teaching the next waves of kidlets right through to the top. what a heya that will be!

  5. I hate to say it, but Kotoshogiku is headed down this path as well. He was lucky (IMHO) not be demoted further down the Maegashira ranks this last time around but to see him slip from Ozeki down to his current position is rather sad.

    I feel pretty much the same way as the article – Yoshikaze and Ikioi will be greatly missed. If Kaisei is a Japanese citizen, does that give him access to becoming an elder or having a further place in the sport outside of the dohyo? I hope so.

    • Wait, how far do you think Kotoshogiku should have been demoted on his 7-8 record?

      In any case, he’s been a solid upper-mid maegashira for the last couple of years with little more than the kind of ups and downs that apply to everyone in that ranking range, so putting him on the road to oblivion seems a bit premature at this stage.

  6. Worth bearing in mind of course that if any of the foreign contingent were able to take Japanese citizenship that might change the picture regarding a career as an elder – although also there would need to be a kabu available (and there’s probably a crunch coming up) as well as a desire from their end to do so, and the ability to actually purchase it.

    Re: Kaisei – I think like Sokokurai or Gagamaru – who are both a little bit older, if he can come to grips with what his body can do he can probably get back into the salaried ranks even if he dropped into Makushita. There’s an argument to be made he should have just taken the 0-15 last time, been kyujo for longer, and potentially be starting from a better place health-wise this time while he’s still salaried, but hindsight is always (usually) 20/20. Obviously Akiseyama was never in his league but he’s another rikishi older than Kaisei who managed a recent late resurgence, to say nothing of the Toyonoshimas of the world.

    • Also worth noting – with a hat tip to Asashosakari – that Kaisei was apparently naturalised a few years back and is now a Japanese citizen.

      • Hat tip to yohcun above, really – I had completely forgotten about it, the Sumoforum post I presume you’ve seen was a by-product of tracking myself back to the info.

  7. The kabu list on http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Kabu.aspx?sort=3 seems to be out of date compared to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sumo_elders).

    Currently, the only “free” kabu belong to Ikioi and Yoshikaze (who are both banged up and might retire soon), and to Tamanofuji Shigeru (who retired at 65, was re-hired as a consultant for the better part of five years, and has now retired at about seven months shy of 70).

    Arashio Oyakata is due to retire in March 2020 aged 65, but may, of course, be re-hired as a consultant for up to five years.

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