Takayasu & Wishing Upon a Star

Going into the historic three way playoff on senshuraku, I proudly told a friend I didn’t think I could feel disappointed, because I would be happy for any of the three contestants to win this yusho for different reasons.

In a period of massively disappointing Ozeki, a yusho for Takakeisho would have put him on a certain rope run in January. This will likely be the case anyway after an “equivalent” result in the latest tournament, though perhaps the challenge will be approached by onlookers with tempered expectations. It also would have been good to see the sport add another serial winner to its ranks, with the Tokiwayama-beya star looking to notch his third title in his prime at age 26.

A win for some-time bad-boy Abi would have been a championship for a personal favourite, a rikishi I’ve met and someone I’ve loved to watch for years now. It could be a real fillip for Shikoroyama beya, with news of the much loved stablemaster’s recent ill health, and Abi having since showed remorse for the off-dohyo troubles he caused.

But, I must confess, there was only one rikishi whose performances got me out of my seat during this basho, and only one guy I was actively cheering as a result of those efforts, and that was Takayasu.

After Hoshoryu’s second loss, I was sure this was Takayasu’s title. I’ll weigh in with analysis on Hoshoryu at a later date – but once Takayasu regained the lead, I didn’t think the trophy was going anywhere else. I was convinced it was Takayasu’s destiny to win this yusho. I punched the air after his wins against Ryuden, Oho, and Kagayaki.

What a story it could have been for the longtime bridesmaid to finally get his hands on the Emperor’s Cup! Sumo’s Susan Lucci seemed never before more likely than this tournament to make it happen, and yet here he was again on senshuraku, watching it slip away.

I tend to agree with the analysis from our friend lksumo that Takayasu could (or even should) be fast tracked to Sekiwake in order to set up a potential Ozeki run in January. It would be an uncommon scenario, but sumo could be without an Ozeki altogether should Shodai continue to falter and Takakeisho consolidate his recent fine form into a Hatsu basho title. However, I accept it may be more likely that the Banzuke committee places Takayasu at Komusubi and forces him to prove his fitness, consistency and excellence over an additional basho.

Beyond the emotional aspects, I simply felt Takayasu performed the best sumo during this tournament. Hoshoryu has his army of fans and he had a few absolutely outstanding victories (especially over the middle weekend), but in the end I think he can be happy with a special prize. While Takayasu waned slightly down the stretch, he largely brought a highly motivated, highly genki, high octane style of sumo to the tournament and his performances simply made the basho better.

With that in context, it was extremely disappointing to see the manner of his defeat to Abi in the playoff. Sumo fans will debate the approach that Abi took to the match, but the immediate question mark over Takayasu in the aftermath was not his shot at a championship but rather if he had been concussed or could stand up following the bout. This was a person who, hours before, had been the presumptive favourite to lift the silverware, and it wasn’t even clear in the moments following his playoff loss whether he could, on his own two feet, lift himself.

In some respects, it is merciful that Abi defeated Takakeisho to lift the Emperor’s Cup. Without being drawn into a debate over the content of the foregoing sumo, it did not feel that it could be right, had Takakeisho won, to see Takayasu face the indignity of having to mount the dohyo to contest another match when he was apparently barely in a condition to walk. Putting totally to one side the holder of the title, it would not have been the send off Takayasu deserved after a tournament of such poise and character, where he showed his ability to rebound from September’s yusho loss to Tamawashi.

Takayasu has been criticised and at times rightfully so for his mental approach to must-win matches. His fitness record has been picked over as one of the Ozeki to have had a mixed record of success (albeit much better than Shodai or Mitakeumi or Tochinoshin) at the rank in recent years. SumoForum stats heads have already noted that Takayasu is now one jun-yusho short of the all time record for those who never won a yusho. And that remarkable notation does not of course recognise additional tournaments like 2021 Haru, where he held a 2 win lead over the eventual champion going into the final stretch only to cough it up and finish third. It’s a double edged sword: he’s been consistently better than most when it comes to being in the title conversation, but never quite good enough to ever finish the job.

However, he has showed the spirit of a warrior and he has encapsulated, in the later years of his career, the example of how a rikishi should fight back to claim his place at the top table. He was gracious in defeat to Tamawashi in September. He may be less so after a yusho defeat that was likely even more devastating (at least on a level with this year’s earlier capitulation to Wakatakakage, if not more so because of the manner of the playoff defeat), but sumo will be better for his ability to pick himself up once again and have another go in January. 

How privileged we would be to witness that. After all, if your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. Takayasu Ganbare.

29 thoughts on “Takayasu & Wishing Upon a Star

  1. I‘m always very disappointed when a rikishi with an easier schedule wins a tournament.
    It simply doesn‘t seem fair. And then there‘s that (half) henka from Abi in the playoff. Gross.

    • For me the disappointment has to be a reflection on the poor performance of those at the top of the banzuke who didn’t do their job.

      If you look at Abi’s yusho – putting aside the manner of victory – yes he had some weaker opponents early, but I also don’t think it can be argued he doesn’t deserve it on strength of schedule when he faced and beat everyone in the yusho conversation (Oho, Takayasu twice, Takakeisho, Hoshoryu, Kagayaki) plus Wakatakakage. In the circumstances it’s kind of hard to say his schedule wasn’t hard enough because he didn’t face the likes of Shodai and Mitakeumi (who had their moments but were both largely awful). I always like to see yusho contenders get pulled up to face top rankers sooner but I think the torikumi guys did the best they could in the absence of the ability to make all 42 guys face each other.

      I know people can “yeah but” that he got to face some lower maegashira guys and an 0-6 Takarafuji, but Takakeisho was picking wins for fun off Ura who started just as poorly and a very poor Ichinojo. Takayasu probably had the toughest schedule, but at the end of the day he just needed to beat a Maegashira 9 on senshuraku to win the yusho, which pretty much any competitor would have taken on paper if you gave it to them before the tournament, and couldn’t get it done again. Takayasu deserved it due to results and form, just hope he can go again.

        • I take your point but in my own view, I think the visualisation does not tell the whole story – he still fought and beat Takakeisho to win the yusho, when it happened isn’t really germane and isn’t properly reflected in the chart. Takakeisho himself didn’t fight the other Ozeki or Mitakeumi, because they were largely both useless in this basho. He didn’t fight three of the five rikishi directly behind him on the banzuke on account of the fact that they weren’t very good – if they were, they would have fought the Ozeki.

          So I don’t know that it means as much that Abi also didn’t fight them – he fought the strongest opponents in the upper tier of the banzuke which were Takayasu (twice), Hoshoryu, Wakatakakage and Takakeisho. I think if there’s an argument for fairness, maybe you can say he should have also faced Kiribayama. The guys he faced lower down the rankings were in the yusho race and their matches necessarily whittled down the field. Those matches have got to happen, otherwise you’ve got someone like Oho in the playoff mix as well. So maybe you can swap in Kiribayama for someone like Takarafuji or Endo or Kotoshoho, but there’s not a whole lot the schedulers could have done.

          If an M9 wins they may be helped by the early schedule, but there’s a reason why we almost never see this until very recently and we don’t see san’yaku could-have-beens punting tournaments to try and win a yusho from lower down the ranks: it’s because normally the top rankers are good enough to win.

          • I‘d have liked it very much if they swapped in Kiribayama and especially Takakeisho to upgrade Abi‘s tournament…
            But I do agree that Abi‘s yusho is a notch or two more worthy than the famous ones from M17 by Takatoriki and Tokushoryu.

      • Acting like Abi is just any regular maegashira 9 is a little deceptive here, IMO, because he was only down at M9 after going 0-0-15 kyujo from komusubi. He’s very clearly not a regular M9, and as far as skill goes this was really a bout between M1e and a komusubi. That’s a pretty reasonable matchup.

        Look at the M9’s from the last few bashos. Myogiryu, Kotoeko, Shimanoumi? Sure, I’ll take Takayasu over them. Over a healthy Abi, though? One who’s coming off of a rest basho, and who’s slumming down at M9 because he went kyujo for a full basho as a komusubi? No, I have to take Abi there.

        • That‘s exactly why they should have paired him with stronger opponents.
          Especially day 13 was a shame: they gave him an M15 (okay, one who had quite a good tournament, but still) instead of Kiribayama or Takakeisho! Just not fair.

            • That‘s true. Hoshoryu was a great deception.
              He could and should have prevented Abi‘s halfworthy yusho.
              I hope he won‘t become a second Takayasu and always miss his goals because of the nerves. My feeling is he could be (one of) the best.

  2. I‘m hoping for 4 sekiwake and 4 komusubi on the next basho, but it is news to me that Takayasu has to be a sekiwake to start an Ozeki run. Isn‘t a sanyaku rank enough?

    • Right, Asanoyama, Takakeisho, even Takayasu’s first run started at komusubi. All three were promoted to sekiwake for the second tourney in their runs. Tochinoshin’s run started at maegashira, but he won the basho making sekiwake in his 2nd tourney and had 37 total wins, so that’s a very special case.

    • The point is, they’re talking ozeki promotion after the next tournament, and you have to be a sekiwake in the 3rd tournament at least to get the promotion. That’s the Takayasu scenario that’s uncommon but still possible (first 2 at maegashira, last at sekiwake).

  3. “he’s been consistently better than most when it comes to being in the title conversation, but never quite good enough to ever finish the job.”

    This applied to Kisenosato, too, for so long. Then he finally got it. I hope Takayasu gets his.

  4. If Takayasu gets one more junyusho for the all-time record, and someone tries to congratulate him, I can imagine a sumo version of the scene in “Bull Durham” when Susan Sarandon congratulates Kevin Costner for setting the minor-league record for lifetime hits (or RBIs or something, I can’t remember), and someone clues her in that that isn’t an achievement any competitor really wants to claim.

    • Bear in mind it’s the current record, the record has been higher in the past, when Kisenosato had 5 more jun-yusho than Takayasu has now. But of course, Kisenosato was famously able to go and win a couple championships. The great thing about this record is it’s possible for you to give it up.

    • But keep in mind that in Bull Durham, Crash Davis did indeed get “the best 21 days of [his] life” in The Show. So here’s hoping Takayasu manages to put together the best 21 days of his life in a basho in the near future.

  5. Agree with all the good comments about Takayasu. I was hoping he would win too.
    But everyone seems to focus on the playoff. The henka/non-henka debate (I’m on the non-henka side) isn’t the point. He had already lost to Abi when all the conditions were favorable, and if he had won the playoff with Abi, would still have had to defeat Takakeisho, which I consider unlikely. The point is that he went into senshuraku with a one win lead and lost to a rikishi who is good but not great. The focus should be on why he didn’t win that bout.
    As far as I can see, he tried to out-Abi Abi.I didn’t see him make a single attempt to get a mawashi grip. And when he sensed Abi was too strong to be beaten that way, he tried a pull.
    For someone of his vast experience to allow his opponent to dictate the bout was very disappointing. It wouldn’t be fair to ascribe it to mentality (I think he’s very mentally tough to have come back the way he has), but it’s more that he can’t impose “his brand of sumo”, instead reverting to “wild man sumo” as Bruce calls it.

    • Very good comment.

      My only disagreement is that at this point, after six years of watching sumo, I can’t help but feel there is a mental block that keeps Takayasu from closing the deal. There has been some choking (for instance, um, knocking himself out against his opponent’s body in a playoff), but the other times, even when he gives a good effort, there’s always some questionable choice or lack of patience that keeps me from thinking he really gave it his best shot down the home stretch.

      But he’ll be back in January. We’ll see how it goes.

  6. But how is his health? He tumbled backward off the dohyo, landing hard onto his neck and head at the end of his first bout and was fighting the second one with a head/neck injury which that bout exacerbated to a scary degree. If Abi hadn’t henka’d him but slammed into him the injury could perhaps have become even worse.


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