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.