“He’s Got My Number!”

I’ve got a new book about sumo, specifically sumo terms in Japanese, and I’ve been loving it. One new term for me is “Aikuchi ga warui” (or, conversely, Aikuchi ga ii). In Japanese it looks like this: 合い口が悪い. The term is used for a difficult opponent, one whom at your level you should be able to beat more frequently but you just can’t do it. In English, I think I’d equate it to someone who’s “got my number.” As an example, Kotoeko appears to have Wakatakakage’s number, as we can see in these tweets below:

Their rivalry is pretty young, having faced each other 7 times with Kotoeko winning 5 of their bouts. When I started drafting this article a few months ago, Wakatakakage was down 5-to-1. Wakatakakage actually claimed victory this July. And wouldn’t you know it, he also beat the other example I was going to use, Mitakeumi. Until July, he had gone 0-4. Even with this terrible July, he somehow figured out a way to beat Mitakeumi and Kotoeko, two rikishi he’d had difficulty with previously.

So, what’s another example? Let’s take a look at Shodai. He has beaten Takarafuji 14 times in 17 bouts. But Kaisei, of all people, has his number. Shodai has never beaten Kaisei, not counting fusen. The first visualization that I’m releasing here is the heatmap. The size of the box indicates the number of bouts they’ve faced each other, with the most going from top-left to the least at the bottom right, with a minimum of three bouts. That minimum kicks out a lot of the young guns and low rankers. More red means a worse win/loss ratio (aikuchi warui). Darker blue means a better ratio (aikuchi ga ii). I’m still working on ways to visualize trend or other “rivalry” metrics to see who’s been winning lately, that kind of thing. To prevent having this load every time someone visits the site, continue reading below to see…

I defaulted the visualization to Aoiyama to start because he has a good, contemporary example of someone he owns, and someone he gets owned by. Aoiyama owns Takarafuji and gets owned by Hakuho. Well, that’s not fair, everyone gets owned by Hakuho…well, everyone but Asashoryu. The big surprise, though, among active wrestlers is Hokutofuji. In their 14 bouts, Hokutofuji has won 12, Aoiyama only taking 2. The number after the wrestlers’ shikona in the dropdown is the ID number from the SumoDB. That way it’s possible to distinguish the active Aoiyama from the Aoiyama who was active around 2004.

I hope this gives a bit more interesting insight into the wrestlers. As I play with new ways to look at the data, I will meld these visualizations together into a more comprehensive dashboard. For now, though, I hope you enjoy learning about the wrestlers’ rivalries as much as I have.

9 thoughts on ““He’s Got My Number!”

  1. Thanks for posting. Tableau is fun – which is commentary in itself :)

    Every interview seems to include the mandatory, “I just want to do my brand of sumo.” Some rikishi have, for lack of a better term, more defined brands of sumo. We kind of know what Chiyotairyu is going to do, what Kaisei is going (perhaps not going?) to do, etc. One could postulate that if a rikishi has a very defined brand of sumo that the heat map would be highly polarized since certain techniques are more or less effective against other techniques. A polarized map is common in other sports that feature one-on-one matchups including baseball – change-up pitcher vs. fastball hitter, football – agile receiver vs. speed corner, and tennis – power serve and volley vs. return and rally as examples. Great coaches succeed in part of finding and capitalizing on these kinds of matchups.

    For fun (too much forest fire smoke to be outside) I took a look at the rikishi that competed in 6 of the last 8 basho in makuuchi. I can’t convince myself that there is a correlation between a well defined brand of sumo and a polarized heat map. As your post makes clear there are a lot of rikishi A owns rikishi B situations, but that doesn’t seem to extend to rikishi A owning other rikishi with similar brands of sumo to rikishi B.

    Is it in the head and not physical?
    Do the oyakata or rikishi use (or not use) any matchup data?
    Do the number of keiko/jungyo bouts not in the basho data dominate?
    Do physical attribute matchups count for more than style of sumo matchups?

    I suspect that more than one is in play.

  2. “I’m still working on ways to visualize trend or other “rivalry” metrics to see who’s been winning lately”

    Would be kind of cool to see this weighted for rank somehow. Maybe not necessarily this exact visualisation (which is really cool btw), but more to your larger point about quantifying someone who one “should be able to beat easily” at their rank and/or style of sumo they typically prevail against. For example in the Aoiyama/Hokutofuji case, what’s the typical rank difference compared to someone who Aoiyama typically defeats handily.

    Also – in that first tweet, the Wakakakakakakakakakakakakage… 😂

  3. Hakuho’s chart looks like an ocean with two islands. A big sandy one for Asashoryu and a little grey one for Hayateumi. I’m sure I must have heard of Hayateumi but I didn’t remember anything about him, so thanks to Andy for making this chart. Hayateumi seems to have been a very talented wrestler who could might gone all the way but for a string of injuries. Does anyone know whether he’s still involved in politics?

  4. In every sport there is always someone who seems to have the number of the best out there. Or at least that’s what it seems to me. Or at least a specific style that complicates things badly for the current champ. I remember when Federer was at the top, even when Nadal was younger and up and coming, Federer always struggled with Nadal. Sampras sucked on clay, so the surface itself had his number if you will

    There’s always something, which is why I think Hakuho is a special guy on top of the other things that make him special. As far as I know, no one has a winning h2h against him (unless there are some 1-0’s there that never happened again) I remember abi beat him in his first try so he was 1-0 for a little while there.

    Still, the guy just seems to defy all odds and close any door someone may want to open to establish a debate of him being weaker than “x” rikishi in a specific area. He goes so far to the point that he sometimes beats his opponents at their own style, almost as if to prove himself that is just that good.

    Do you guys think anyone has or has hakuho’s number? Asashoryu started beating Hak early but when Hakuho got better he started turning that h2h around and If the pattern continued that way and asashoryu doesn’t retire that h2h would favor Hakuho by now. Even the , I think it’s a tie atm, so even in that case hakuho doesn’t have a losing record.

    • I wrote this without checking Hakuhos chart before, sorry. Now I see it. Crazy. I almost wish Asa not to have retired at that point just to get hakuho that winning h2h

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