Many sumo fans will recall that Mongolian rikishi Ichinojo sat out the Aki basho with injuries. As it turns out his back pain was caused by a herniated disk, and at one point his pain was so grave that he could not stand straight nor walk properly. He was hospitalized for 25 days beginning in August for treatment, during which he lost an impressive amount of weight, in part due to encouragement from the attending physician.
Advised the reducing his mass would reduce the stress on his joints and back, Ichinojo, who was probably the heaviest man in sumo, is down to 185kg (still over 400 pounds for us Americans). His approach was to cut back radically on carbohydrates – a recipe that is proven to give results.
He appears to be part of a growing trend in sumo: to lighten up. In truth many of the sumotori had gotten so large their skeleton and organs could not really support their flesh. In part, the men of sumo are encouraged to grow large to gain dominance on the dohyo, but it seems to limit many wrestlers as they struggle to adjust their sumo to their increasing bulk. A great example of that is Ura, who continues to grow larger, possibly to his detriment.
Can He Repeat His Perfect Record and Become Yokozuna?
The Aki basho was all Goeido, his sumo was superb, and not even the Yokozuna could stop him from achieving a perforce score, the much coveted Zensho Yusho. Harumafuji and Hakuho have achieved a few of these in the last decade, but for an Ozeki to score a perfect record in the Hakuho era is rare.
As a result, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council declared that should Goeido repeat his performance during the upcoming Kyushu basho, he would be promoted to Yokozuna. For more than a decade, Japan has been waiting for a Japanese rikishi to join the elite rank, and break the Mongolian monopoly on the Yokozuna rope.
During the summer break between Nagoya and Aki, it was clear that Goeido trained like a man possessed. He went into the fall tournament in Tokyo with the ignominy of being “Kadoban-Ozeki”. A loosing record in Tokyo would have demoted him to the lower ranks. The results of his intense training and re-dedication to his sumo was clear. Not only was he physically more powerful, his attitude was remarkably changed, and each bout saw him attack with total commitment to winning. In reviewing his matches, it’s nearly all offense; offense that left no room for him to defend. His commitment to his skill and ability to prevail was total.
As a result, he became a hero. He has been on countless television shows, he has been a star attraction at the fall Jungo tour stops, and pretty much every distraction you can throw at a sumotori has been levied upon him.
The natural question comes about – how much has this degraded his sumo?
With just under 2 weeks to go before Kyushu starts, Tachiai suspects Goeido is training like a man possessed, knowing full well that this time, the final exam is Hakuho.
Sumo fans everywhere are wishing Goeido a good basho.
Earlier, 69th Yokozuna Hakuho was spotted at Tokyo’s Narita airport. In an article in Nikkan Sports, the boss was looking thinner, in good spirits and looking forward to his time in Mongolia.
It appears that during Aki, he intentionally dropped weight (about 10kg) via fasting (at least 3 days), as part of his planned recovery process. The article also seems to confirm that the left knee injury involves the MCL, which is an injury that may impact his performance long term.
His remarks included is reaction to watching the Aki basho, and eager anticipation of returning to the dohyo in November.
Tachiai notes that The Boss looks to be in good spirits, and in good form. We are hoping his health supports his return to sumo soon.
As with all of my Kanji translated articles, I apologize if I am mostly or completely wrong!
Heading into the Aki basho, all of Japan was riveted to Ozeki Kisenosato, and his perpetual bid to be promoted to sumo’s highest rank, Yokozuna. As any sumo fan knows, his much hyped bid failed. Worse still, a rival Ozeki, Goeido, was able to achieve a perfect record, win the tournament, and set himself on a fast track to the very promotion Kisenosato has worked so hard chasing.
The Yokozuna Run
Kisenosato has been sumo’s second highest rank, Ozeki, since 2012. He was elevated without a single tournament victory, by maintaining a steady record of second place finishes (Jun-yusho) and special prizes. For the three tournaments before his promotion, he racked up 32 wins with a 10-12-10 record, with 2 special prizes.
From here he settled into a pattern that made him a fairly solid Ozeki, only being kadoban once, and racking up several back-to-back Jun-yushos, and frequent double digit winning records. This is what an Ozeki should be doing, and he did it well. Starting in 2016, there seemed to have been a public cry that for too long there were only Mongolian Yokozuna, and the Sumo Association came under pressure to find a Japanese sumotori to wear the rope.
At the conclusion of the May 2016 tournament in Tokyo, Kisenosato had two back to back Jun-yusho, and people were starting to suggest he would become Yokozuna soon. As the meme spread, everyone associated Kisenosato with the goal that he would become the champion of Japanese sumo, the first native Yokozuna in more than a decade. The pressure on him was immense.
With all of Japan watching, Kisenosato went to the summer tournament in Nagoya. He defeated most of his opponents, who were surprisingly light on the Ozeki count, facing only 2. In truth, his schedule in Nagoya was very light.
He defeated an injured Hakuho on day 14, but lost badly to Harumafuji on day 13. The video below shows how little defense he was able to mount against the Yokozuna’s attack.
He also lost to two rank and file Maegashira, Tochiozan and Shohozan. While his sumo was good (he finished with a 12-3 Jun-yusho), he proved once more that he did not really have the versatility and mobility needed to handle the tough matches.
With the hopes of Japanese sumo fans rising over the chance of a native Yokozuna, the Sumo Association held a massive summer tour. The Jungyo take sumo to the people to raise the profile and interest of sumo among the broader population. In general they are in a different city each day, holding a full day’s worth of events from practice bouts, to singing, to explanations of sumo’s traditions and techniques.
As it has in the past, the hot summer and the constant grind degraded the performance of the rikishi on tour. This was evident during the first 3 days of Aki, when many of the best from Nagoya seemed slow, rusty and off their game. Clearly it’s impact on Kisenosato – the great Japanese hope who was on the road almost every day from early August – was significant.
Soken -Yokozuna Deliberation Council
The first sign that the Yokozuna bid was in trouble came at a closed training session in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, called a Soken. During this session, the council invites up and coming rikishi, Ozeki under consideration for promotion, along with current Yokozuna to practice and hold bouts for review.
During this session, Kisenosato horribly underperformed expectations. Harumafuji and Kisenosato fought eight matches, Kisenosato lost every one of them. He cited being exhausted from participating in summer jungyo tour.
The chairman of the council was reported to have said: “His performance was unacceptable, we really don’t expect anything from him with that kind of performance.”
But they left the door open, stating that with a tournament win (Yusho), he would be promoted.
Days before the September tournament began, news rippled across the sumo world that Yokozuna Hakuho would sit out the basho. Hakuho is one of the greatest Sumotori in history, and his presence at each tournament had prevented Kisenosato from, in the minds of most fans, from winning. With him out of the picture, Kisenosato’s backers were certain, this would be their time. Their champion could finally win a tournament and claim his tsuna.
From the first bout, it was clear that Kisenosato was not up to form. He lost his first match to Okinoumi, a rank and file Maegashira. The crowd was clearly amped up to see him start his historic run, and the shock when he lost was palpable.
After the first day shocker, he dropped a second bout on day 3 to Tochinoshin, who deployed a henka against the Ozeki. At this point, he is nursing 2 losses, and is all but mathematically eliminated from winning the tournament. Unlike Nagoya, he faced a full and fierce card in Tokyo, turning in the following performanceL
Aki Results – Kisenosato
Day 1 Loss M1e Okinoumi
Day 2 Win K1w Tochiozan
Day 3 Loss M2e Tochinoshin
Day 4 Win M1w Yoshikaze
Day 5 Win M3e Takanoiwa
Day 6 Win M2w Shodai
Day 7 Win S1w Takarafuji
Day 8 Win M4e Myogiryu
Day 9 Win M4w Chiyootori
Day 10 Win O2w Kotoshogiku
Day 11 Loss O2e Goeido
Day 12 Win K1e Kaisei
Day 13 Loss Y2e Kakuryu
Day 14 Loss Y1e Harumafuji
Day 15 Win O1w Terunofuji
Expectations For The Future
In failing to win or achieve runner-up status at Aki (that honor went to Endo), Kisenosato’s Yokozuna chase resets to the beginning. That means at least 3 more tournaments of grind. Hakuho is likely to return in November, and how he must contend with Goeido’s Zensho Yusho. That perfect tournament win leaves Kisenosato with the only Ozeki who has never won a tournament.
On the good side, the pressure is now off. All of the hopes of the Japanese fans wanting a native Yokozuna have been neatly transferred to Goeido, and Kisenosato is free to train up and focus on his sumo. One thing that seems to come from his high-intensity training, his stablemate Takayasu has improved greatly over the past year, and looks prepared to attempt the climb to Ozeki rank himself.
Here at Tachiai, we hope the best for Kisenosato. As both Andy and I have remarked, he is a solid Ozeki who delivers a consistent winning record. Through some bad fortune he had one of his worst tournament at the exact time that it would do the most harm to his aspirations. We look forward to see what he comes back with, and November may be the resumption of his dominant ways.
Tokitenku intai – I’m very sad to see Tokitenku officially call it a career. The former Komusubi has not competed in the past year since his diagnosis with lymphoma.
Endo resurgence – Endo picked up a jun-yusho and the technique special prize with his 13 wins
Whispers of Ozeki Takayasu – Fighting Spirit special prize and 10 wins at sekiwake gives him a good first step. We need two more great tournaments!
WTF, Okinoumi? – One of the most spectacular runs ever, followed by a week of mediocrity
Terunofuji kadoban – I hope he heals quickly because another basho with a kadoban ozeki magically retaining his rank does harm to the sport.
Injuries – Will Hakuho and Osunaarashi be able to recover in time for November?
A Konishiki-sized “Thank You” to Bruce for his great reporting; I’m really looking forward to November! It’s always much more fun when I know there are others out there, like me, who enjoy professional King of the Hill.
If any of you all are in the DC area, maybe we can get a Happy Hour going?
Tournament winner Goeido won on the final day (as Andy cited), making his score a perfect 15-0, or zensho-yusho, which is a fairly uncommon event in sumo, even more uncommon when it comes from someone other than Hakuho. As mentioned in an earlier post, Goeido had been facing the possibility of demotion due to his losing record in the July tournament in Nagoya. He now has an option to attempt to reach Yokozuna.
Jun-yusho (runner up) goes to Endo, who had an amazing 13-2 record. In many cases, that would have been enough to win the tournament. We will likely see Endo at a much higher rank in November’s banzuke.
Special prizes awarded
Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance): Okinoumi – His opening week saw him devastate the Ozeki and Yokozuna
Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit): Takayasu – Brought us some fantastic battles, including his defeat of Harumafuji on day 11
Gino-sho (Technique): Endo – Really outstanding sumo from Endo this tournament
From Kadoban to Yusho – Zensho Achieved (First in history)
Before the start of the Aki basho two weeks ago, I mockingly referred to Goeido and Kotoshogiku as the “Kadoban Twins”. Frankly both of their performance had been spotty and uneven, and I frankly predicted at least one of them would fail to achieve a winning record and would be demoted.
I was wrong
In one of the great redemption and come back stories in sports, Goeido came into Aki in danger of losing sumo’s second highest ranking, and drove himself relentlessly in every match. As noted before in Tachiai, his all out commitment to his offensive moves was dramatic, more like Hakuho, than what has been typical for Goeido of late.
On his march to total victory, he has shown surprising versatility in his winning moves, and an absolute fearless approach to sumo. The fans have loved it, as it was clear that Goeido was going to settle for nothing less than a win on every day. I sincerely hope that Goeido can maintain this level of sumo, as it is really quite thrilling to watch. After so many years of the Japanese sumo fans yearning for strong performance from someone other than Mongolians, they may have finally found a worthy champion.
As Andy pointed out, the odds are now overwhelming that Goeido wins the Aki basho. It’s also more than even odds that he will do so with a perfect score of 15-0. This would be a huge come-back from his kadoban status, but not unprecedented. In fact it seems according to sumo database at sumogames.de, it would seem that the last time we had Kadoban to zensho yusho was 1934. So very rare.
The biggest casualty of Aki will likely turn out to be Kisenosato, who went in to this tournament with the expectation that he would challenge for the title, and once again present a solid case for promotion to Yokozuna. Instead his sumo was inconsistent, and as a result he dropped out of serious competition for the title the day he could not defeat Goeido.
That single bout, where Kisenosato faced Goeido, was the point where everything changed in the sumo universe. On Day 11, there was a slim path that required Kisenosato to win, and his stable mate Takayasu to win over Harumafuji. Takayasu was indeed victorious in a glorious display of just how good this up and coming Sekiwake has been this tournament. But Kisenosato could not close the deal.
This is would have quite possibly resulted in one of the most amazing final quarters of a basho in my memory. But Goeido would not be stopped. Each bout this tournament, he has picked an attack, and committed everything to it’s delivery. If we see this side of Goeido consistently, we may instead be talking about a Yokozuna run for Goeido. In fact the yokozuna promotion rules have special consideration for zehsho wins (perfect score), which might lead to a Goeido “fast track”.
From here we see Goeido face Tamawashi on day 14, and I am guessing Endo on day 15. Endo faces Takayasu day 13, as Takayasu works to rack up his win record for consideration of promotion to Ozeki in the not too distant future. Sadly Terunofuji is now kadoban, and cannot sit out the next basho without being demoted out of Ozeki. Likewise, Shin-Sekiwake Takarafuji is now make-kochi and facing at least 1 step demotion.
After an epic, pre-bout stare down. Goeido threw Harumafuji to likely secure his first yusho. He brought it straight to the yokuzuna, thankfully avoiding the henka temptation, ending it with Harumafuji in a headlock and thrown to the ground to the delight of the spectators – especially the old dude in the third row with the comely Russian companion.
“Olé!” Endo’s misdirection at the edge sent Shohozan charging off the dohyo like a raging bull. The move keeps Endo mathematically in the hunt if the wheels fall completely off Goeido in Okinoumi-like fashion. Enso will surely be recipient of a special prize. Meanwhile, Takayasu’s yusho hopes were dashed at the skillful hands of Mitakeumi. With this great tournament performance, Mitakeumi could very well find himself taking the sekiwake post lost by Takarafuji. He’ll certainly be at least komusubi in November in the wake of the devastation in the K-M4 ranks.
In the other sanyaku bouts, Kakuryu picks up a needed 9th win with his quick takedown of a deflated Kisenosato. Kotoshogiku picks up a cheap kachi-koshi against Terunofuji who should have spent this tournament on a couch with Hakuho and Ichinojo.
Yoshikaze used a great mid-ring throw to beat Takarafuji. I love when a henkaee manages to recover and win like Tochinoshin against Myogiryu. That was pretty cool. What was NOT cool was the way Okinoumi let Aoiyama beat him with very little resistance. He slid to the edge of the dohyo at the tachiai and basically stepped off, into the front row. Extremely disappointing from someone with such an amazing start to the tournament.
At the end of day 12, Goeido is on a drive that includes a possible zenshō, a perfect tournament record victory. He seems unstoppable, with his nearest competitor 2 wins behind him. There are, mathematically, two possible matches left to prevent this outcome, and it starts with Harumafuji on day 13.
Today, we saw the classic Harumafuji “Spin Cycle” against Kotoshogiku, and it was devastatingly effective. Out of all the fantastic attack strategies Harumafuji employs, sumo fans are dreaming of an epic battle to end the day Friday.
Among the sekitori hunting Goeido, Takayasu has already faced him, and lost.
Leader (12-0): Goeido
Hunt Group (10-2): Harumafuji, Takayasu, Endo
3 Days Remain
Matches of Note
Harumafuji v Goeido – This one likely determines if Goeido takes the cup. There are two people in sumo you can look to for a fierce battle, the sidelined Hakuho, and the defending cup holder, Harumafuji. I don’t expect Goeido on defense at all, and I expect him to move early to get Harumafuji off balance. His victory in the upper ranks have focused on getting his opponent to react to an unexpected move, and then strike in an instant as they are between moves. Normally Harumafuji could send him sailing into the crowd, but this tournament Goeido is in top form.
Kisenosato v Kakuryu – Both these sanyaku are struggling, both of them are under performing, both of them need to take a recovery break after this basho, get healthy and get their head back in the game. Kakuryu is doing well for an Ozeki, but is not up to Yokozuna levels. Kisenosato had one job to do, and the easiest conditions to accomplish it. He failed.
Takayasu v Mitakeumi – Interesting classroom sessions for Mitakeumi. Both rikishi are well into kachi-koshi, and this is really to see how many wins they can rack up. Takayasu is now banking scalps for a possibly Ozeki bid in Kyushu, and Mitakeumi is looking to test himself.
Okinoumi v Aoiyama – The winner achieves kachi-koshi. Okinoumi faded completely from his outstanding first day performance. It would be unsettling if he could not find a way to get the enormous Aoiyama down.
Shohozan v Endo – Endo is racking up a lot of wins down at the bottom of makuuchi. Shohozan is looking for secure a winning record and a likely promotion higher up the banzuke.
Goeido Defeats Yokozuna Kakuryu, Contenders All Stay 2 Behind
Very few surprises, but some great sumo today on day 12 from the Kokugikan in Tokyo. At this point, the math behind Goeido’s tournament win (Yusho) is almost insurmountable. The final chance may be a match on day 13 against Harumafuji. With he closest contender 2 wins behind, it would take 2 losses by Goeido (12-0) over the next 3 days ( a tall order) to make contenders Harumafuji, Takayasu and Endo (all 10-2) viable.
The standing questions in the upper ranks:
Will Goeido go undefeated? A Goeido yusho would leave eternal Yokozuna bridesmaid Kisenosato the only Ozeki never to have won a championship
How hurt is Terunofuji? He is clearly under-performing and is in danger of returning to kadoban
Can Kotoshogiku win one more and remove kadoban? He fights the hapless Terunofuji on day 13, so probably yes
How far into double-digits can Takayasu’s run go? He fights Mitakeumi day 13, so maybe 11.
What happened to Okinoumi? A strong and bold start, now he struggles to find his kachi-koshi win.
There are three days left to watch this unfold, with most rikishi still below the kachi-koshi threshold, but a growing number now confirmed to have losing records (make-kochi), the struggle for the high performers is the real contest.
Leader (12-0): Goeido
Hunt Group (10-2): Harumafuji, Takayasu, Endo
3 Days Remain
Endo defeats Mitakeumi – The good Endo returns to give risking star Mitakeumi a lesson in yorikiri. Endo was confident, strong and wasted no time escorting Mitakeumi out of the ring. End remains tied with the chase group at 10-2.
Shodai defeats Takanoiwa – Teetering at the edge of make-kochi, Shodai has regained his sumo skill. Really an excellent match that started out as a chest to chest grapple, and devolved into a rather brutal slapping festival. This seemed to really motivate Shodai, who masterfully took hold of Takanoiwa and sent him on the sukuinage express into the seats.
Tochiozan defeats Okinoumi – Okinoumi seems to be struggling now, after a powerful start to the basho. One more win Oki, that’s all your fans need to see. I have to wonder if he re-injured himself.
Kisenosato defeats Kaisei – Textbook yotsu-zumō here. Two large and powerful men locked chest to chest in a contest of strength, endurance and guile. Kaisei put up a huge fight, and looked more like the Kaisei of old rather than the lackluster performance we have seen this tournament. Kisenosato had to earn this win.
Harumafuji defeats Kotoshogiku – It was fast, direct and brutal. What you expect from Harumafuji. Is it possible that Kotoshogiku won’t clear kadoban?
Goeido defeats Kakuryu – Maybe someone can stop Goeido, but it Kakuryu is not capable. A push / thrust match, it was really all Goeido
“You can only fight the way you practice” – Book of Five Rings
With 4 days of sumo left, we are down to a handful or rikishi who are viable to win the tournament. Most of the wrestlers are now focusing on surviving with a winning record (kachi-koshi), and even that is quite a struggle for some. As noted earlier, some of them already know they will be demoted, and that list will grow on day 11.
Andy and I went sumo-nerd in the comments on the day 11 results post, so if you want to see some detailed discussion of who did what in key matches, go have a look.
Leader (11-0): Goeido
Hunt Group (9-2): Harumafuji, Takayasu, Endo
4 Days Remain
Matches of Note
Goeido v Kakuryu – The match to watch where the undefeated, and likely yusho bound Goeido takes on injured and struggling Yokozuna Kakuryu. Given what he did to Kisenosato, do not assume that Goeido will lose to the higher ranked Sekitori. Very few chances are left to put a loss on Goeido’s record. If it’s going to happen, it may be a Yokozuna who does it.
Harumafuji v Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku, after a hugely strong start, is now struggling to get his kachi-koshi and remove the lingering funk of kadoban. Even though Takayasu was able to out fox the Horse, the same is not likely true for Kotoshogiku, whose sumo is frequently face to face tests of muscle and force. Harumafuji excels in these conditions.
Takayasu v Yoshikaze – This is a sad match, and the condition and record that Yoshikaze brings to day 12 are a story of painful struggle. Takayasu, in contrast, is on an upward arc that started in Nagoya, and shows no sign of slowing down. As with all of the matches this week, my biggest hope is that Yoshikaze does not compound his injuries before he can step back and heal after Sunday.
Okinoumi v Tochiozan – Like Kotoshogiku, Okinoumi came on strong early and is now hovering 1 win away from promotion. Okinoumi’s sumo is good enough, and Tochiozan is struggling. One more loss, and Tochiozan secures a losing record, and a demotion from the Sanyaku ranks.
Endo v Mitakeumi – Someone decided it would be fun to take the Maegashira 14 with a join spot in the leading group, and face him off with a strong, up and coming Maegashira 5 who is looking very good this tournament. This one is a toss up, because on some days this basho, Mitakeumi has looked a bit shaky. Likewise Endo has been higher ranked in the past, so he certainly has the speed, skill and patience to win this.
One of the great attractions sumo holds for me is that it is a meritocracy, the winners advance and the loser decline. Now that we reach the finally quarter of the Aki basho, we can see which sumo men are facing demotion for the next tournament, starting November. The term used is “make-koshi (負け越し)”, or more losses than wins.
Chiyootori is out with damage to at least one knee. Tochinoshin has been hurt since July or earlier. Amakaze needs a bit more seasoning in Juryo, we will see him again and he has a lot of potential.
Terunofuji is also hurt, his skill is un-degraded but he lacks the power he should (and did) have to put the impact to his moves, he will likely make-koshi soon. Yoshikaze is too banged up to really be a serious threat, and I am worried he was not completely ready for the Aki basho.
While this list holds several rikishi that I support, the mechanism of the sumo ranking is fair and brutal. But I keep in mind that for every wrestler who has a bad record at the end of the tournament, there is a story of redemption waiting to be told in 2 months time.