Yutakayama Retires from Sumo

In somewhat of a surprise announcement, the Sumo Association announced today that Juryo rikishi Yutakayama of Tokitsukaze beya has decided to retire.

A veteran of six and a half years in the sport at professional level, Yutakayama will be well known to readers of Tachiai for his significant presence in the top division over the past several years.

Yutakayama burst onto the scene as a college recruit in 2016, arriving as a Sandanme tsukedashi on account of his collegiate achievements alongside future Ozeki Asanoyama. Then named Oyanagi (his last name), it looked at the outset of his career that the powerful pusher-thruster could provide a foil to Asanoyama’s (also then fighting under his real name Ishibashi) yotsu-zumo techniques.

Indeed, Yutakayama made swift work of the lower divisions and arrived in Makuuchi in just his 8th tournament. Upon arrival, he took a very notable shikona, reflective of the hopes pinned on him with respect to the huge achievements of other Yutakayamas of Tokitsukaze beya of generations past. As a prospect, his abilities were easy to dream on: a slew of oshi-zumo enthusiasts including Onosho and Takakeisho also arrived in the top division in 2017, but Yutakayama’s greater physicality marked him out as a special talent and someone who may rise quickly to challenge those in the joi and san’yaku ranks.

After a stop-start beginning to his top division tenure in which he yo-yo’d between the divisions, Yutakayama gained his footing in the upper tier of sumo. At 2018’s Nagoya basho he achieved his finest performance, coming runner-up to yusho winner Mitakeumi by a single loss at 12-3, and also notching the only special prize of his career. A tour de force performance in total, the basho was punctuated by Yutakayama’s Day 14 win against Ozeki Takayasu in their first ever meeting, and bettered the following day on senshuraku by a stunning rally against the champion Mitakeumi. Yutakayama came back twice from the bales, defeating the star of the tournament with a hooking inner thigh throw which he deployed at the third attempt in a battle and manner of victory that was not typical of his sumo style.

However, injuries were to prove too much for Yutakayama to manage, and twice sapped his runs to the joi. He never made it to san’yaku, topping out at Maegashira 1, and suffering heavy losing records on his trips to the uppermost heights of the rank and file. While it seemed his infusion into the top division would provide a challenge to Shodai’s position as top dog at Tokitsukaze beya, we never got to see Yutakayama in a position to display his abilities consistently at the upper end of the division due to the undoubted toll that his injuries took on his ability to commit power to his oshi-zumo skill set. His intai at the age of 29 is perhaps a reflection of knowing that the game was up, as he looked overmatched even in the lower reaches of Makuuchi in recent years, and most recently suffered a heavy double digit makekoshi in Juryo in Fukuoka.

While his departure feels premature, for many sumo fans it will feel difficult to take simply because it felt like it wasn’t that long ago that he could have been projected as a force in the sport. I remember tracking him as a prospect and while it’s one feeling to see a long-time top division star or personal favourite leave the sport for blue-jacketed security detail, it’s another thing to see a top talent who we can remember in a chon-mage – or even zanbara – departing before his time might otherwise have come. Indeed, the Sumo Association normally will reference as part of the intai announcement whether a retiring sekitori has taken up an elder name, and while Yutakayama qualified for a kabu on account of the duration of his service, we can infer that he will not be staying in the organisation and will be leaving sumo entirely.

In the immediate future, with interest to banzuke prognosticators, Yutakayama’s intai and the swift announcement following the basho and ahead of the banzuke meeting will open an additional place in Juryo for the 2023 Hatsu basho. My prediction is that Ms5 Hakuyozan will take his place, although I will defer to our own lksumo for how this impacts his already comprehensive analysis of the January banzuke.

An announcement as to Yutakayama’s future was not immediately given but we can expect more details in the coming days. Whatever it may entail, we wish the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Tokitsukaze-beya alum the best of luck in his “second life!”

14 thoughts on “Yutakayama Retires from Sumo

  1. I’m not sure he has ever really recovered from Hakuho’s “tender loving care” on tour. The injuries suck but some mental lack for the very top too. I don’t imagine Shodai’s struggles have helped either. A very good move to get out. I wish him all the best.

  2. Sad news. I don’t know why, but I always rooted for Yutakayama. (In my head, his nickname was ‘Big Unit’.) I guess not all rikishi can stay in the sumo world after retirement. Really hope he has something lined up. 29 is so young (from my ancient perspective anyway).
    That is 2 unexpected retirements (Chiyotairyu’s mid-tournament being the other) – I would very much appreciate any further news and updates on these from the Tachiai team.

  3. I will miss his “agony of defeat” face. Now Tsurugisho is the undisputed boss of that expression.

    You always knew what Yutakayama was feeling: that’s not how sumo wrestlers are supposed to be, but it made him very relatable.

    • I’d bracket Kaisei in that category as well, I think he was one of the best at it in recent years.

      One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately in sumo fandom (and there’s a bit of a discussion of this on SF right now, where I know you’re also active) is that things are often either black or white to most people, with little space for nuance or grey area. What your comment sums up and what I appreciate is that it can be both. Sumo wrestlers can be stoic, but also some of them can not always be, and we can be totally ok as fans in the moments that they are perfect and imperfect. Yutakayama maybe was supposed to win more than he did, but as you relate, it’s in the moments that he lost that can make us more attached not only to him but also to sumo. That’s a cool thing.

  4. Yutakayama’s fan towel was the first I got. That ankle injury at M1 lingered and the pain on his face as he held his elbow up after recent matches was tough to see. Like tigerboy1966 and Josh said, his face didn’t lie or mask his thoughts and that smile on the final bout was the final send off. Outside of the bashos, he seems like a happy guy with his kid (or a soft serve ice cream), so though there’s talk about the lack of mental toughness – sometimes the cons outweigh the enjoyment. Wishing him the best.

  5. And if Hakuyozan gets the promotion, it’s kind of poetic. In the last year or two Yutakayama would check on his opponents if they took a bad fall, breaking the rule of not leaving the dohyo. He stayed post-bout when Hakuyozan injured his knee and helped move him off the dohyo. So an exit leaving the door open.

  6. Yes, I think it’s pretty much a done deal that Hakuyozan will be the immediate beneficiary. No one else in Juryo or Makushita had results that left them in the conversation for crossing the heaven/hell boundary. Anyway, we’ll find out in a couple of days (unlike the rest of the banzuke).

    • Shodai certainly hasn’t had a top-caliber sparring partner since getting his Ozeki promotion, as that’s pretty much precisely when Yutakayama’s slide started

    • You know, wasn’t Kakuryu also there and instrumental in Shodai’s rise? Kakuryu’s retirement and Yutakayama’s injury could have hit his training regimen.

  7. I’m sorry Yutakayama is having to retire. His willingness both to show the world a glimpse of his own vulnerability and to stand up for himself when faced with the dubious concept of learning by humiliation (especially the Hakuho incident) marked him out as a special guy to me. After his initial successes like Nagoya 2018 he seemed to go through periods where he consistently looked a little sad and pensive – my assumption was that he is someone who is that little bit more sensitive than the average in the sport and needed people to “build him up” rather than the typical approach of “knocking him down” and expecting him to pick himself up again. I was hoping that he would stick around in sumo and be part of bringing a more progressive attitude to training taking personality into account, but perhaps that is a long way off!


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