Bruce’s Commentary – Kyushu Day 8 and Beyond

Bruce-Kokugikan

Thanks to Andy and Josh who managed the live blog while I succumbed to some nasty chest cold. Thought I am still far from genki, it’s worth the time to comment on the state of sumo in the middle of this highly transformative tournament in Kyushu. I say transformative because if we blur our eyes just a bit, we can see the future from here. The Yokozuna we love are not in the picture, and there is a crop of fiery young talent spanking the veteran headliners. The field is very flat, and there is a large scrum that can still possibly lay claim to the yusho by the middle of the tournament.

As fans, we have gotten conditioned by a handful of hyper-dominant rikishi winning the cup every single time. If it was not Hakuho, it was Harumafuji. Maybe once in a great while it would be Kakuryu, but everyone else scrapped for enough wins to piece together a kachi-koshi, and maybe a special prize here and there, and everyone got by. But, like all dynasties throughout history, as the central powers start to fade, things change rapidly as the strong and the prepared grab for leadership.

Prior to day 9, one lone rikishi holds a one-loss record. There are six (6!) rikishi who follow at two losses, and seven (7!) who follow them at three losses. As of today, any of them could lift the cup on day 15. I frequently joke about a no-holds barred barnyard brawl to finish a basho, but there is a chance we could get there this time.  While it seems to lower the level of broad interest in sumo (our site metrics bear this out), the No-kozuna tournaments are hell on wheels for flat out competition. For hard core fans, you come in to each day wondering which mighty hero is going to eat clay today.

Though Takakeisho holds the lead, it is very tough for young rikishi to stay dominant into week 2. Endurance and mental toughness are the key here. Takakeisho is untested in mental toughness, and the worries about “not blowing it” eat a bit more of your fighting spirit each day. This is where the Ozeki just one win behind him come into their own. They have had to endure the tough three-tournament process to get to their rank, and that required both endurance and mental focus that is not necessarily part of the make-up of the lower ranks. As predicted, the scheduling team saw that Takakeisho was on a hot streak, and held some of his Ozeki matches for week 2. The job of the schedulers is to have someone, anyone, put dirt on Takakeisho by day 12, setting up a battle royale on the final weekend for the hardware.

The picture is becoming more cloudy for the surviving Yokozuna. We know Hakuho intends to nurse himself along until late 2020, and we think he will get there unless the YDC and the NSK say otherwise. Kakuryu has been plagued with a miserable set of injuries since shortly after his elevation to Yokozuna. He has manfully been able to steel himself against the pain and limitations to continue to rack yushos, and his sumo is quite interesting and unique. We have documented the daylights out of Kisenosato, but with 9 kyujo out of the last 10 tournaments, I think his time to bow out is soon. Yes, in spite of the scandal that saw him leave sumo, I think from a competition standpoint we all miss Harumafuji. Like some epic World War 1 battleship, he would take damage again and again, and still be ready to fight and win.

But keep in mind, once these epic rikishi were young men, fighting their way up the ranks, looking to make a name for themselves. Looking through who is on the leaderboard going into day 9, there are a host of young faces, any of which could emerge on day 15 as the victor. Thought some top names are benched this tournament, the action is intense, the young stars are shining bright, and the future of sumo looks really fun.

2018 Aki Basho Review

The 2018 Aki Basho is over, and I’m sure you’ll agree it was an incredible two weeks of sumo! In this video, I break down four major stories coming out of Aki and give a quick recap some breaking news making waves in the sumo world.

Video courtesy of the NHK Grand Sumo Highlights.

Aki Dohyo Construction Begins

Aki 2018 Dohyo.jpg

With most of Japan hoping to dodge typhoon Jebi, the yobidashi squad got to work today at the Kokugikan, tearing down the old dohyo from the Natsu basho, and constructing the new. With the basho just 5 days away, preparations are underway in the stables, at the Kokogukan and in the offices of the Japan Sumo Association. It has also been published that NHK World will once again host Sumo Live, on day 1 and day 8 (both Sundays) for Aki.

The raised fighting platform (dohyo) is built or re-built before each tournament, by hand. It’s a task that sumo’s yobidashi do with pride and a great deal of skill. For the Kokugikan, this dohyo will serve multiple purposes once its duty for the basho has elapsed. This will be the same dohyo that Harumafuji will use to perform his last dohyo-iri.

June 30th News Round Up

News Update Banner

Another news round up, as we are now one week away from the start of the Nagoya basho. Everyone who is going to participate is practicing now, and we are in the midst of inter-stable / ichimon cross training sessions and practice matches. In many cases, this is where people can start sizing up who is genki and who is not.

Sumo Kyokai

There are zero new recruits joining the sumo kyokai in Nagoya. This is a somewhat unusual situation, but in and of itself it’s not a cause for any alarm or assumptions that the Japanese public have given up their love for sumo. Today marked the dedication dohyo-iri at the Atsuta shrine. The party attending included shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin, marking the first time he has been of rank to participate.

Tagonoura Heya

First and foremost is Kisenosato. He looks like he is not even close to being ready. He lacks power, he lacks poise, he struggles against mid-tier Makuuchi rikishi. As someone who loves sumo and deeply respects Kisenosato’s commitment to the sport, this is painful to watch. But we can more or less assume that he won’t be competing. Takayasu, however, seems to have put his upper body injuries behind him, and has been fighting with gusto. We can expect him to enter and to strongly compete for the yusho.

Isegahama Heya

Our beloved kaiju, Terunofuji, once again went into surgery in a desperate attempt to repair his knees. It’s obvious that he is going to drop as far as he drops in a last ditch attempt to regain some kind of fighting form, and barring that some kind of mobility to use for the remainder of his life. Don’t look for his at Nagoya or Aki, I would say. Meanwhile, Harumafuji’s retirement is set for the end of September at the Kokugikan. Some elements of Team Tachiai may be in attendance…

Miyagino Heya

Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho took 38 practice bouts against rikishi of all levels down to Jonidan. He won 22 of them. He also called on Asashoryu’s nephew, Hoshoryu for 3 bouts. Speaking afterwards, Hoshoryu said, “”Glad to face the Yokozuna”. Hakuho stated, “It’ll be nice to hand over the baton to him”.

Nagoya Yokozuna Report

Kakuryu

It’s banzuke Sunday in the western world, and while the sumo fans eagerly await to see who came out on top, or how their guess the banzuke entry scored, let’s take a look at the top end of the Nagoya ranks. The Yokozuna have had their problems this year, and Nagoya may continue to underscore the tremendous change at work in sumo’s upper ranks.

First up is sumo’s top man for Nagoya, the unexpectedly genki Yokozuna Kakuryu. A year ago, if you had told me that Kakuryu would take back-to-back yusho and supplant Harumafuji as sumo’s anchor Yokozuna, I would have considered it unlikely. But he has somehow managed to get his body healthy and his fighting spirit aligned. His sumo looks quite good, and as long as he keeps from going for pulls, he tends to prevail. Kakuryu’s sumo is highly reactive. In most matches his approach is not to conquer his opponent at the tachiai, but rather to put up a strong defence and keep his opponent stalemated, waiting for a mistake. These mistakes almost always appear and Kakuryu is without peer in detecting and exploiting even the smallest error in his opponents. After his Natsu yusho, he suggested that he would like to see if he could achieve 3 consecutive titles, which would be remarkable for a man who many (myself included) suggested a year ago hang up his rope due to lack of competition. Prospect – Surprisingly Positive.

Yokozuna Hakuho is the Michael Jordan of sumo. There has never been any rikishi as dominant as he has been, and in all likelihood, none of us will live to see a day when some future sumotori surpasses his records. But his cumulative injuries are starting to impact his ability to compete. Specifically, repeated injuries to his big toes have robbed him of some speed, agility and power. Furthermore, the YDC has admonished him to change up his tachiai, which frequently features a slap to his opponents face. Hakuho has struggled with that guidance, and the lack of that first disorienting blow seems to have thrown his sumo off at least a half step. His performance during Natsu was a respectable 11-4, but his supporters wonder how much longer “The Boss” can keep going. His biggest issue in May was mental. His father had just died a few weeks before, and it clearly impacted the dai-yokozuna’s mental state. Hakuho’s father was his own larger than life figure, and was likely a driving force in his son’s life. Anyone who has lost a parent can attest to the mental impact it can have. But I suspect he took ample time during the summer break to come to terms with the loss, and his mental state will be nothing short of amazing for Nagoya. Prospect – Grim Determination To Win.

In 2017 the world welcomed the first Japanese-born Yokozuna in a generation. Many had their doubts about him, as he was promoted on his first yusho. He silenced all doubters with his outstanding performance the following tournament, winning his second yusho, and finishing in spite of a grievous injury that haunts him to this day. Sadly, since Osaka 2017, Kisenosato has failed to complete a single tournament. Fans have been rightfully depressed that a rikishi who would refuse to even miss a single day of practice would be sidelined indefinitely. As his kyujo tally mounted, he eventually reached a 7th excused tournament, matching Takanohana’s longest absence. For such a proud man, the strain of making the record books in such a inglorious manner must eat at him hourly. Fans have noticed in the past few weeks that he has been taking practice matches with his old training partner, Ozeki Takayasu. They have done this in the past, and it seems to have been mostly for show. But a rumor has been running around sumo fandom that Kisenosato has come to terms with the scope of his injury, and will retire shortly. But rather than fade out a defeated man, he will instead don the rope once more, and go out guns blazing in competition. Personally, reflecting on that outcome and the career of Kisenosato it would make perfect sense. It may not be Nagoya, but it will be before Kyushu. Prospect – Unlikely – or- Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

As we pointed in our Ozeki report, with two Ozeki pushing for 8 wins to relieve kadoban status, the pressure from the top of the banzuke on the rest of the san’yaku and the upper Maegashira will be enormous. Two or possibly three active Yokozuna all hunting wins could spell unrivaled carnage at the top of the banzuke. For fans of sumo, this means some of the most thrilling competition possibly in several months.