We are now deep into a transitional period in sumo. The cohort that had been dominant for 10 years or more are finding time catching up to them. Their sumo is not as sharp, their bodies can no longer endure the punishment of the fight, and they are staring down a significant change in their careers. It’s heartbreaking to watch great rikishi close out their careers, and I suspect Aki is going to be the finishing stroke for more than one storied rikishi.
Yoshikaze – Fans who have been reading the blog know Yoshikaze is my absolute favorite, and has been for years. The guy has been an absolute giant-killer, and has been able to sumo a nearly demonic fighting spirit at times. Because of this, and his willingness to sacrifice his body to the fight, I nicknamed him “the Berserker”, which at least a couple of fans though of as an insult. For those who have studied Nordic history, we know that being called a Berserker is a high compliment. But Yoshikaze has been suffering a variety of physical problems for most of the last year. He had a mystery rash for a time, and in May he damaged a knee, which saw him seek surgery. He did not compete in Nagoya, and dropped to Juryo 7. Yoshikaze last competed in Juryo in 2007. There is also word from the Japanese sumo press that he has not recovered, and is unlikely for Aki. Failure to start in September would surely mean a demotion to Makushita. At 37 years old, he probably would rather not break back into Sekitori status. The good news for Yoshikaze fans – he has an oyakata slot waiting for him upon retirement. Already heavily involved with youth sumo, I think the future Nakamura oyakata is going to be responsible for bringing sumo to new generations of people in Japan.
Ikioi – Ranked at Juryo 12w for Aki, fan favorite Ikioi’s heart is still in the fight, but his body is too broken to really continue. His last kachi-koshi was at Hatsu of 2019, and there has been no sign that his injuries are actually improving. He continues to rack up double digit losses, in spite of being reduced to a lower division. While the full extent of Ikioi’s injuries are probably not published, we know that he has taken many blows to the head, suffered with cellulitis, and has ankle and knee problems. Each time the man steps on the dohyo, you want to call an ambulance. But the warrior spirit in him refuses to relent, and each bought he leaves just a bit more damaged. Like Yoshikaze, he has a oyakata slot waiting for him (Kasugayama). I think that if he gets his 8th loss in September, we may see him take a hair cut and put on a nice suit sooner rather than later.
Kaisei – The picture around Kaisei is less clear. As a foreigner (Brazil) he has no access to an oyakata slot. He is also quite banged up, ranked Juryo 8, and I think he is in serious peril of being demoted to Makushita with a losing record. He has managed only 7 wins over the last 3 tournaments. Ouch! He’s a fan favorite, and a real sweet heart in real life, so we can only hope that he can either rally in September, or he can find something to pay the bills if he is demoted further down the banzuke. At 32, he may only have 1 big campaign up the banzuke left, if any.
Arawashi – This guy is a mess. His sumo skill is fantastic, but he has been walking wounded since last year, and has struggled to hold onto a Juryo rank. Now 33 years old, and at Makushita 1, he has more or less one shot to get 4 wins against the brutal Makushita joi-jin to regain a salaried rank, or face a long, unfunded road to the exit. Like Kaisei, he is a foreigner and has no access to buying his way into a kabu.
A reminder to fans – sumo is a combat sport, and a literal zero-sum game. It is by its nature brutal and elminationist. It’s Darwin in action, and only the fittest of the pack can survive each new tournament. While we love our aging heroes, their slow fade makes room for new rikishi to leave their mark on the sumo world.