Mitakeumi has been tough on his fans since he rose to prominence in July of 2018, taking the Nagoya basho cup in front of a raging crowd of home-town supporters. After attending Toyo University, he entered professional sumo as Makushita 10, and promptly began stomping the daylights out of just about everyone. He has always been above average, quickly rising to the san’yaku in 2016, and more or less staying there.
For years, his supporters were sure he would be Ozeki “any basho now”, but he was dependable to undergo a week 2 fade, and could not really keep his week 1 intensity into week 2. His second yusho, in September of 2019, may have surprised a few, but it was a glimpse of what what Mitakeumi could do if he stayed strong into week 2.
Late in 2021, he seemed to finally have solved his problems with endurance and consistency, and racked up a 9-6, 11-4 and a blistering 13-2 yusho run to stamp his ticket to sumo’s second highest rank. I had questions if he really had made a step change in his sumo, or was just in a good spot for once, and could string together the storied 33 wins over 3 basho goal. His first basho as Ozeki answered that, perhaps, with an 11-4 record that saw him in the running for the cup into week 2.
His 4 losses in Osaka were to
- Kiribayama – Day 5
- Hokutofuji – Day 10
- Takayasu – Day 12
- Kotonowaka – Day 14
I vividly recall his day 4 loss to Kiribayama, where he (to my eye) underestimated his opponent, and assumed his bulky mass would be sufficient defense. Mitakeumi then found not only was he wrong, but had no working plan “B” as Kiribayama hussled him across the bales. This same miscalculation seemed to play out again on day 10 against Hokutofuji, who is always dangers, as he is able to rally and surprised just about any opponent if he can get his opening.
I am sure Mitakeumi was disappointed to not be in the battle on day 15 to take the cup, but an 11-4 result from an Ozeki is a very good score. Good enough that he bypassed 9-6 Shodai and 8-7 Takakeisho to assume the lead Ozeki 1 East spot. This means that should both he and Terunofuji make it to day 15, the fight between these two should close out the basho.
Naturally Mitakeumi fans are once again making Yokozuna noises about the “Original Tadpole”, and I honestly think it comes down to that question around his endurance. Has he in fact made that step change, and we will we see 4th consecutive basho with strong week 2 performance? Japanese fans of sumo (which is most of them) would love to see another Japanese Yokozuna.
What can we expect in terms of opponents for Mitakeumi? I think he will face Takayasu on day 1, a great re-match of that day 12 match that knocked him out of the yusho race. He may follow that up with a match against Hoshoryu, who was (to my eye) a bit rough in March. I think we will see a rematch against Kiribayama sometime in act 1 (the first 5 days), and that one I have on a “must watch” list for Natsu.