Things We Learned That Don’t Really Mean Much

Veterans at the ready. Photo credit @nicolaah

In some ways, Wacky Aki lived up to its name. Not because it was a see-saw title race until the end or because there was some kind of crazy left-field title challenger. Indeed, all of the “dark horses” were more or less known entities, or people that could have been expected to run up a double digit score from their respective ranks.

Maybe you’ll say Myogiryu or Onosho aren’t expected to contend, but they’re not Kotoeko or Tsurugisho, or, dare I say it, Tokushoryu. None of the contenders were strangers to the musubi-no-ichiban. There were a few other talking points from the basho though that might fly under the radar, so I’ve assembled some of them here:

Shodai’s kachikoshi

This may not seem like much, but while the Ozeki was maddeningly inconsistent and underwhelming, this kachikoshi means that Shodai will officially have a longer tenure as Ozeki than either recent Ozeki Tochinoshin or Asanoyama.

Tochinoshin is of course in the decline phase of his career and won’t be returning to the rank, and Asanoyama can make it back to Ozeki in 2024 at the earliest following his suspension and fall down the banzuke. While Terunofuji has taught us not to rule anything out, that ain’t likely (even if it does happen, it will likely take more time).

So, Shodai will soldier on. Among other “recent” (last 25 years or so) Ozeki, he can topple Miyabiyama with another kachikoshi in the next tournament, and if he can hang around for another year at the level he can attempt to surpass the likes of Takayasu and Baruto. This is where it’s worth reminding you: we’re talking about Shodai here. He’s always had the talent, but his top division career – including his Ozeki stint – (apart from that magical 12 month run from November 2019 to November 2020, before which he was a .500 rank and filer) could be best described as mediocre.

Takasago beya

Feast or famine for the beleaguered heya. With the former stable master now gone and Asanoyama in the midst of a suspension that eventually will punt the former Ozeki down to Sandanme, there was yet more bad news in the form of shin-Juryo Asashiyu (moto-Murata)’s debut which went all wrong in the form of a 1-14 record. At least it wasn’t as bad as Shikoroyama’s Oki, in his recent Juryo bow. But it continues a worrying trend for in this particular stable, after Asagyokusei similarly not being able to manage a kachi-koshi in the penultimate division in three attempts, and veteran Asabenkei’s last four attempts at the division all ending in double digit losses. At least if you’re a tsukebito, your servitude may not last particularly long.

We shouldn’t feel too bad though. Asashiyu-Murata’s debut itself was something of a feat. Having reached the edge of heaven at Makushita 1, injuries knocked him all the way back down to Jonokuchi where he was forced to restart his career. Now 27, he’ll need to regroup if he’s going to shift through the gears once more, but you suspect having a top heyagashira with something to actually fight for (as opposed to a suspended heyagashira still miles away from his return) might be helpful for the whole stable.

The stable might have a new heyagashira before long though, and it could be one of Asanoyama’s old tsukebito. The rikishi formerly known as Terasawa will make his sekitori debut in the next basho, and as Takasago beya normally gives its rikishi their morning shikona following Juryo promotion, I’m disappointed he hasn’t got Asanousagi. Having instead curiously taken the name Asanowaka, Terasawa was one of two success stories for Takasago in makushita last tournament. You might remember him as the guy who had his practise mawashi stolen with the remains of his dead rabbit inside.

Finally, that second success story would have been the makushita yusho of Fukai, the former Sandanme Tsukedashi debutant who’s made solid if unsteady progress over the past year and a half. Fukai’s yusho sensationally denied the much vaunted Kitanowaka of an automatic promotion (and it was a nice looking win at that, with one of those very satisfying endings that see everyone crash down the side of the dohyo), and the two will hopefully duke it out again next basho from the makushita joi, where they will both be ranked, presumably with promotion on the line.

Oldies Keep Swinging

While recent generations had their one-offs who performed well into their late 30’s (Terao, Kaio, Kyokutenho), one could be forgiven for thinking that the time would come when the current crop of vets would start to get pumped.

Eight participants in the top division are aged 34 or over (including last week’s birthday man Tochinoshin – happy birthday!). Those eight rikishi combined for a record of 59-61.

For sure, this number is propped up by Myogiryu’s championship challenge, but the only really poor result was Tokushoryu’s 4-11 which isn’t all that unexpected from anyone who’s spent part of the year in Juryo.

That almost-.500 record for the vets is reflective of the current mediocre top division quality and it means their decline – which is certainly evident relative to their younger selves in terms of the eye test – has more of a flatline.

As Andy teases a new “birthday” feature for the site, it will be curious to watch the average age of the top division continue to get ever older. You’d think that subtracting a 36 year old retiring yokozuna might help this, but while Hakuho will remain on the November banzuke if not the dohyo, the top division will likely be joined by a trio of 30+ veterans in Akua (30), Sadanoumi (34), Shohozan (37!!), and the 27 year old Abi.

The youth movement that had threatened to wash away the detritus has so far failed to really materialise. Credit must go to Hoshoryu and Kotonowaka for consolidating their positions in the top division for now, but Kotoshoho and Oho haven’t been able to break through or stay through doing to injury or ability respectively, and Onoe-beya’s once heavily hyped 23-year old Ryuko has just sadly announced his intai after a couple of injury plagued Juryo appearances.

The Kyushu basho will, at least, provide some looks in Juryo for Kotoshoho, Hokuseiho and Hiradoumi to hopefully show that there are youngsters who have got what it takes to keep moving up into the top division and establish themselves.

And this may actually be the more telling thing. We know that the age at which a rikishi can break into and stick in the top division is often an indicator of their ultimate final destination in the sport. That inability recently of many to skip through Juryo also owes much to an aged veteran presence in that division. The Mongolian duo of 33 year old Kyokushuho and 34 year old Azumaryu continue to rack up enough wins to hang around the place, and will be joined by Tokushoryu next tournament as he replaces the tricenarian trio who look likely to head up.

Or, it may not be that telling. These are, after all, things that don’t really mean much.

10 thoughts on “Things We Learned That Don’t Really Mean Much

  1. No doubt the average age of top division competitors may reflect mediocre competition. On the other hand, we’re seeing this phenomenon throughout the sports world, where better diet and conditioning is leading to longer careers. I hope that’s at least some of the reason we are seeing longer careers in top Sumo.

    • That’s true and could be part of it.

      It’s less me lamenting that “we’ve got a bunch of old guys so the top division must be crap” and more that the folks coming up who are younger are just not as good. There aren’t a lot of young talents who are able to manoeuvre their way through, and I think there are a handful of names in the top division now who 5 years ago would never have made the top division, and some other names who are ranked or have reached ranks way beyond their level.

      So without better competition, the much more talented older rikishi are able to hang around regardless. Tamawashi had a poor basho but I still don’t think it looks like anyone’s going to be pushing him or Okinoumi towards the exit, those guys look like they can decide their own exit timeline, and why not?

  2. But hope springs eternal. The expanded makushita promotion zone for November will included new faces like Atamifuji, Ishizaki, Oshoumi and Kanno as well as Kitanowaka and Otsuji so my glass of sparking cliche is half full. Mind you, the grumpy little devil on my left shoulder thinks that Ryuden will probably wipe the floor with the lot of them.

  3. Power vacuum at the top… Elderly demographic in the makuuchi division… The conditions are aligning for… Abi’s imminent Ozeki run!!

    [I realise that my feverish fantasy would, to many people, seem like confirmation of the diminished era we are entering…]

  4. One thing to note is there are several pretty astounding looking talents either in Makushita or right below that. It’s entirely possible that they’ll get caught in the meat grinder that is Makushita but I’d expect we’ll see Ishizaki, Kanno, Fukai, Nishikawa, etc, etc in Juryo pretty soon given their career success and how strong they look. Roga and Shishi if they can figure things out are up there too.

    We also don’t know how fast Hokuseiho will go up the rankings in Juryo given he had to sit out this tournament.

    • Most talents with college pedigree should be able to zoom to Juryo – that’s usually when we start to see what they are actually made of. So if you’re 23, 24 with a college background as those guys have (all starting Sandanme TD based on their high level of college performance) and dominating the lower divisions, it doesn’t tend to tell us a whole lot. Those guys have more or less done what’s been expected of them, and I’m sure they will all be sekitori by the end of 2022.

      I think most people would say Hokuseiho is a little clumsy but developing quickly. For him to be 19 in Juryo is a big story. Wouldn’t be a surprise for me to see him go 6-9 or 11-4 in this upcoming tournament. We’ll learn about his coaching/development. He could be in Makushita or Makuuchi on his 21st birthday… if he can stay fit, smart money suggests the latter.

  5. Did some “figurin” and may be off a bit but I think I’m close.

    The numbers are based on the September 2021 banzuke and final results and exclude both Hakuho and Asanoyama as neither competed thus the total number of active rikishi in September was 40 including Takayasu.

    Rikishi 30 and older in Makuuchi for September –
    Active rikishi = 20 (50.00%)
    Average age 32.55
    Winning record in September = 9 (45.00%)
    Career yusho won = 3 (one each Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, Shodai)
    Oldest = Tamawashi, 37
    Highest rank = Ozeki (Shodai)
    Lowest rank = M17 (Chiyonokuni)
    Average September 2021 record – 7.15-7.7-0.15
    Average career Makuuchi record – 279.4-295-24.15

    While the numbers aren’t overly impressive I think they show that the old guys are hanging in there and we don’t currently have a serious crop of young hard charges in Makuuchi. Time will tell if the likes of Hoshoryu, Wakatakakage, and Takakeisho will step up.

    On the flip side I’ve given up on Ichinojo as he appears to be content to mail it on most days.

  6. To see Shodai mentioned in the same paragraph as Baruto and Takyasu is quite a shock….

    For me, the distinguishing feature of Shodai’s Ozeki efforts is the dearth of double digit wins.


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