For some readers, you may not be happy with this post. Feel free to skip it – it’s Bruce’s opinion only.
Tachiai has been writing for at least 2 years about the trouble sumo has with kanban rikishi and injuries. When we first started, it looked bad, but we had no idea how ugly it would get at the end of 2019. We have 6 top division rikishi who are out of the the tournament, including 2 members of the OZeki corps, a Yokozuna and a handful of fan favorites. Some of these men are going to be out for medical treatment for months.
Worse still, the two remaining Ozeki are both hurt to the point where they are not doing sumo worthy of the rank right now, and are clearly degrading day after day of competition. I also suspect that Hakuho is banged up, but his ego will keep him in the tournament no matter what now. He knows the fans deserve to see the top men of sumo compete, and with Kakuryu out, it’s up to his leadership to show the lower ranks: no matter how much they hurt, that the top guy is willing to suck it up and compete.
The result? The sumo in Kyushu is thus far average at best. Even Hakuho hit the clay on day 2 against a delighted Daieisho. Where does this go now?
Kakuryu – I am sure the calls for him to consider resignation will start up again now. Last time he faced lower back problems, it lead to an extended series of kyujo absences that went on for 4 tournaments. That was when Kakuryu was 31, he is now 34. In broader context, I am expecting Kakuryu to try to stay engaged until such time as he can try to take up the Izutsu kabu, and succeed his Oyakata, which I suspect was Izutsu Oyakata’s wish when he passed away this year. This is a long shot for Kakuryu, but I would be delighted to see it.
Goeido – Once he went kyujo, he entered the traditional wall of silence that surrounds rikishi not competing during honbasho. But its known that he re-injured the ankle that underwent reconstruction in 2017. Now 33 years old, he is in a tough spot in orthopedic terms if the pins and screws that held that ankle together have come undone. Going into Kyushu, he was seen by everyone as the “stable one”, the foundation of the Ozeki corps for this tournament.
Takayasu – Its clear he’s still in bad shape with regards to his left arm / elbow. Everyone knows it, his opponents are exploiting it, and I would guess its getting a bit more injured every day he fights. Readers may note, that he was considered the next “hope” for a Japanese born Yokozuna, but the time for him to make that move was really this year. Now that his sumo is constrained by that elbow, those possibilities are now most likely lost. I find it a pity that Kisenosato’s promising understudy is now facing a similar outcome: an attenuated career due to an injury to his left upper body.
Takakeisho – Takakeisho was not ready to compete, we can now declare. While he has tried to bring his body back into fighting form, he’s not even fighting at Komusubi level now for most of his matches. Points for giving it a try, but now the question must be: what will it take for him to return to form? I worry that he’s not going to get that range of motion or power back from that damaged pectoral muscle, and this is more or less it for one of the most promising young rikishi in a while.
Tochinoshin – As we sadly noted on his ascendancy to Ozeki, Tochinoshin has been a glass cannon for years. When he is healthy he is unstoppable, but when he is not he’s a paper tiger, and it was really only a matter of time before that injured knee failed again, which sadly it has. He’s out now with a rib injury, which is quite debilitating, but the reason he was pushed down to Ozekiwake was that knee. With his withdrawal from Kyushu, he is now assured to plummet down the banzuke in 2020.
Yep, it’s a grim picture at the top. But what’s really going on here? We see injuries hitting the top division quite hard right now, and frankly for most of this year. Is it the jungyo schedule? Is it the training? Something is wrong in sumo, and some great competitors are paying the price. As a fan it’s heartbreaking, but we know that as our favorites succumb to injury, a new generation of heroes will rise. But will they face the same fate?