When A Man Wants Takarafuji to Win The Yusho

OK, so I’ve said it, and it’s out there. There’s no taking it back now! Look, it even makes me uncomfortable. I’m normally a fan of rikishi who do exciting sumo, going flying around the dohyo, nobody knowing where they may end up, even if it’s all the way to the cabaret club. Takarafuji, at face value, is sort of the antithesis of that.

It’s not that I dislike his sumo style, in the way that I do someone like Aoiyama’s: a one dimensional, aesthetically displeasing, attack. It’s more that on the surface, it’s just kind of the equivalent of Al Gore’s macarena. Normally, if asked if you’d like to see him do it again, you’ve already forgotten what it was and moved on to the next bout.

But that line of thinking ignores the deft art to the Aomori man’s defensive sumo. A lot of times, to the untrained eye, he’s just standing still, eventually suffocating or draining the life out of his opponents. He’s raised his level this tournament, and what has heretofore appeared to be the stalemating of any and all comers has transformed into an anti-terror bomb disposal unit. It’s the Isegahama veteran, in these crazy pandemic times, methodically clipping the wires, defusing, and safely disposing of any dangerous materials between him and the kensho. Perhaps no win summed this up as much as Day 9’s stunning reversal of Okinoumi’s seemingly unstoppable advantage at the tawara.

He’s a big man, not in the category of an Ichinojo, who you think of when you consider a rikishi who can rely on being “immovable object” as a strategy. In the absence of one defining all-around physical characteristic, he’s just strong all over.

Why do I want him to win? Without question it’s been a strong couple of years in terms of veteran journeyman yusho champs. While Takarafuji has never excelled in the san’yaku ranks, certainly there’s an argument to be made he brings more to the table than a Tokushoryu, and while other one-note rikishi have proven triumphant with their one-great skill – see Tochinoshin, Takakeisho – those Ozeki past and present have done so offensively. It’s arguable that we haven’t really seen a yusho champ who can lay claim to being a defensive specialist of any type since Kisenosato (there’s an argument for Kakuryu, but I see him less of a defensive specialist and more of someone with a good counterattacking Plan B). While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – attacking sumo – like in many sports, it’s more thrilling and attractive – there’s a place at the top table for technicians as well.

The other element is: who else? Sumo does not need another Maegashira 17 yusho champion, so someone please take care of Shimanoumi – or at least stop giving him Juryo 4 ranked opponents. Takakeisho has been impressive, but I still feel it’s too early and too unlikely that he can mount the run that would lead to him becoming a convincing Yokozuna, and I’m hopeful someone (anyone) can step up to be a worthy challenger in that race in the meantime. If he does become Yokozuna, I want it to be because he actually had to take down Ozeki and Yokozuna in consecutive basho… not because literally all of them were kyujo.

As for Terunofuji, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t be a more thrilling victor than Takarafuji. While there are the inevitable fitness-derived weaknesses in his sumo, there’s no question he has been overwhelming when he’s been on. And either would be a credit to their mutual stable master.

Isegahama himself (former Yokozuna Asahifuji) has proven more than adept at scouting and developing waves of successful rikishi. We’re about to see yet another makuuchi debutant from the stable next basho, as Midorifuji prepares to make his bow. And yet, despite the incredible work he’s done over the years, as he enters his final act as an oyakata it would be some achievement to see him also develop a champion of yet another style. One that in contrast to Harumafuji’s energy and chaos, and Terunofuji’s power, simply displayed unbeatable fundamentals.

Now that I’ve said it, he’ll probably lose today and lose out. But for once, I’m cheering for Takarafuji.

23 thoughts on “When A Man Wants Takarafuji to Win The Yusho

  1. Very interesting article Josh. I have also gained an appreciation for Takarafuji’s style of sumo, a bit like moving on from jäger bombs to enjoying a nice glass of red. I used to think he pretty much just held his ground in the middle of the dohyo waiting for an opportunity but on closer inspection his defensive sumo is something of an art, subtlety shifting and blocking his opponent before exploiting any opening that arises. And of course he’s demonstrating that more effectively than ever before. Never had him down as a yusho winner as he’s normally been and 8-7 / 7-8 type of guy, but in this crazy year, why not!

    Re Terunofuji through his latest stints in makuuchi and Juryo he’s looked unbeatable in the first week but I really think his injuries are preventing him from maintaining that standard for the two full weeks. I could even see him going kyujo again once he gets his 8.

    Until yesterday Takakeisho had looked completely invincible. Tobizaru did a great job rendering his attacks completely ineffective so it will be interesting to see if that’s a one off blip or not. I’d still have Takakeisho down as a big favourite.

    • Oh…I thought jäger was for sipping and enjoying on its own, like a fine mezcal. 1000x better than any Merlot. Don’t tell me it’s yet another thing I’ve been doing wrong.

      Takakeisho’s wave action didn’t have much push in it again today. I gotta keep an eye on that.

    • Glad someone appreciates the sentiment!

      I think this time Terunofuji will hold the full 15 days, but I’ve been wrong before….

      The main reasons for that are that with him being in san’yaku, he now has the opportunity to run the numbers up in support of his stated desire of reclaiming Ozeki before he retires. He has said he knows the clock is ticking on those knees. In any case, like last time I wouldn’t expect a kyujo before he’s eliminated from the yusho race, but I think he’ll be in the hunt until close to the end. With January being a do-or-die basho for 2 yokozuna and 2 kadoban Ozeki, he can probably skate by with a 9 win tournament there sandwiched in between two big results in order to get his old rank back.

      Tobizaru is a chaos agent having an unpredictable first trip into the joi and I think everything clicked for him. But this is why I’m so upset about them throwing a J4 (Chiyomaru or not Chiyomaru) at Shimanoumi. It’s ridiculous, they could have given him to someone not in the race at all. I get that they won’t bring Shimanoumi properly up the banzuke to face higher rankers until the last 4-5 days, but that doesn’t mean they have to go that low when he’s clearly amidst the top of the leaderboard well into the basho.

      • The match-making makes more sense if we recall that the basho is held primarily to determine the next banzuke, and the yusho is a secondary and historically much more recent consideration.

        • Of course, but it is bordering on criminal to throw a J4 at him when there are so many other options for that consideration. It’s just a total nonsense from the shimpan committee IMHO. It didn’t need to be someone literally 7 places outside the top division when he’s already 8-1 or whatever. Tokushoryu and Terunofuji both never faced anyone below J1 and that was on Day 1 and 4 respectively. Shimanoumi already faced one Juryo rikishi anyway, so them needing to go that far down for the banzuke purpose strikes me as a bit silly.

          You’ll know more about this part than me but I feel like at that stage in the competition, obviously there will be days when a Juryo needs to make up the numbers, but what you end up seeing is more in the way of potential exchange matches?

          • What makes it even more preposterous for me is that they then go out the next day or whatever it was and then put Midorifuji – a genuine promotion candidate going for kachikoshi – and give him to Chiyoshoma. Chiyomaru then shows up on Akua’s card for tomorrow (Day 13), which is the more appropriate match to begin with. I get that the cluster of Kokonoe guys makes it hard to find a dance partner for Chiyomaru but…. they also don’t have to call up Chiyomaru more than once? :)

          • I guess it was too early for the exchange bouts … but I agree of course, I’d pull down-the banzuke contenders up the rankings earlier.

  2. On a side note unrelated to this. The extra round Georgian Gargamaru has officially announced Retirement. Having reached as high as Komusubi, taken 1 gold star off a Yokozuna and won 2 lower division titles. Though he more then qualifies for elder stock, because he is not a Japanese Citizen he will not get it. Isn’t he the only Sekitori to tumble down all the way to division 5 aside from Kaiju? I’m curious what is going to happen to the big man now. It also seems it’s not long before the Golden age of Georgian Sumo will have passed with only Tochinoshin left, and he’s struggling as it is himself.

    All of this info comes from Chris Sumo’s channel as well as the way I worded it.

  3. Well, he did lose today, but he’s still worth cheering for. He was one of the rikishi who made an impression on me when I was becoming acquainted with the sport, simply because his approach and demeanor were so different. I’ve always liked him.
    Another point of note – he’s never taken a day off. (Please don’t let this be a jinx!) Fighting within oneself may be a recipe for avoiding injuries, as unglamorous as that sounds.

    • Considering the leaders are only 1 up on the followers. it’s still anybody’s race. Takakeisho still has to face Kaiju and Mitakeumi.

    • Uncle Sumo made an impression on me too when I first started following the sport, although mainly because he was so easy to recognise 😁. I’ve grown to enjoy his skills over the last couple of years, but these last two bouts – esp. Hokutofuji today – astonishing to witness. I’m not missing the Yokozuna one bit this Basho!

  4. I’ve liked Takarafuji for a while too. Patient, competent, modest, and really funny in those Nippon paint commercials. It’s cool to see him taking off. He seems to have been good at avoiding injury too – hope he keeps that up!

    • I revisit this ditty for fun – “oh, yeeeeeah, c’mon! yeeeeah!”:

      After the first song he comes back at 4:47 for a chat and solo song if the J-Pop girl group is a bit much for you.

    • Yes – and you’d be surprised how far those Nippon Paint ads travel! In the Before times, I would see those ads around Thailand all the time.

      • Would add that it is very surreal to be driving down the motorway outside of Bangkok to see a truck rumble along next to you with a huge photo of Takarafuji – of all people – on the side

        • Ha! I would love to see Takarafuji emblazoned on a truck! Like others have mentioned, he’s quickly recognizable when you start watching sumo and I called him “Pom Pom” for his oicho-mage. Though a hoped for Pom Pom yusho has faded, he’s a favorite and I’m hoping for an excellent January as well.

  5. I was an instant fan of Takarafuji as soon as I started watching Sumo (only a year or so ago) due to his ‘lumbering’ style and his slow ‘plodding’ around the doyho being so recognisable, as well as him being one of the first rikishi I could regularly recognise/remember due to his ‘old man’ looks/no neck.

    Part of my would love him to win as it would be someone nobody would have guessed, but not feel as silly as having a bottom ranker winning again, when they haven’t had to face any/very few high ranked rikishi to get the title.

    On the other hand I’d love to see Takakeisho win, one of the few pusher thrusters I really like, although I feel he’s more recently changed his style to more of a flurry of thrusts instead of his bigger/heavier ‘wave’ style aiming more for the chest I seem to remember being impressed by when I first saw him and again something that put him apart from others like Abi/Daieisho with the rapid attacked focused on the neck/face.

    • Me too. But the reality is he is continuing to do really well, the results just haven’t followed. Fingers crossed he can at least continue to make the last few days interesting. If he loses every single match after I posted this then I accept full responsibility!!!!!

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