Hatsu Recap 8 – Ishiura (石浦)


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Disappointing Second Makuuchi Tournament.

Ishiura debuted in Makuuchi during the November basho in Kyushu, bringing a lot of power in a compact package. Entering the tournament at the bottom of the Maegashira ranks (M15), he faced a fairly easy list of competitors, and pounded them into the clay, finishing 10-5 and securing the fighting spirit special prize. With such a strong opening, we wondered how he would fare in his second tournament.

In his second basho, he was ranked Maegashira 9, and faced somewhat more fierce competition. While most of the “up and coming” were running wild while the Sanyaku crumbled, Ishiura continued to struggle. A protoge of Hakuho, Ishiura has been working on a model of intense sumo training coupled with impressive strength in a small, fast frame.

It is not uncommon for rikishi to have problems with their second tournament in a new division, and it was clear that Ishiura had a limited set of opening moves that he was comfortable using. But after Kyushu, most of the Makuuchi men had watched the video of his bouts, and knew what to do to blunt his attacks. He also got distracted a bit from his sumo when he became a spokesman for the Tokyo McLaren dealership. As a result he turned in a disappointing 6 win / 9 loss record in January.

Tachiai continues to watch Ishiura with great interest, as we think that he represents a bold experiment in building a better rikishi – one that does not rely on mass alone – to dominate. We expect he will be training hard with the rest of the crew at Miyagino Beya, and we hope that Hakuho is motivating him daily to higher levels of performance.

We certainly hope that Ishiura will return to Osaka ready to win.

Hatsu Recap 7 – Yokozuna Kakuryu


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Still Struggling To Stay Healthy.

Sumo fans were heartened by Kakuryu’s masterful win at the Kyushu basho. At last he was looking strong, mobile and fit – after many tournaments of less than Yokozuna performance. Tachiai had hoped that this was a dawning of a new era for Kakuryu, and that we could hope to see him contend and dominate in tournaments to come. Heading into Hatsu, we were even wondering if he might be able to turn in back-to-back yusho.

Kakuryu seemed to get off to a healthy start, winning his first three matches. But on day 4, he faced Mitakeumi in the final match of the day, and lost. Like many of Kakuryu’s matches, it was highly reactive. Kakuryu seems to have a strategy of getting his opponent moving and coaxes them into making mistakes that he can then exploit. The risk of this is that Kakuryu is frequently moving backwards while he is doing this, and a stable opponent, like Mitakeumi, can just keep him headed out.

This loss on day 4 was the start of a streak of losses across the first 10 days of Hatsu, culminating with his withdrawal on day 11, claiming knee and back pain.

Clearly whatever problems Yokozuna Kakuryu has, he is in a tight situation. It seems that his body is unable to support his sumo now, and short of some kind of miraculous recovery or medical intervention, Kakuryu is likely to face an increasing amount of discussion about retirement. When he is healthy, Kakuryu is an important player in sumo, and brings a unique and challenging style to the dohyo. When he is injured he dispenses kinboshi, and worries the fans.

Tachiai sincerely hopes that Yokozuna Kakuryu can return to health, and provide worthy competition for next month’s Heru basho in Osaka.

Hatsu Recap 6 – Wakaichiro’s Debut


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American Sumotori’s First Tournament

During the Kyushu basho, we noted with some excitement that a young man from Texas, Ichiro Young, had been training with the Mushashigawa stable in Japan, and had applied to join the ranks of professional sumo. He had been accepted during Kyushu after passing the the Maezumo competition successfully, winning all 3 of his bouts. We were eager to see what he could do in Jonokuchi.

Following the acceptance ceremony, Ichiro Young took the ring name “Wakaichiro” (若一郎), which literally means Young Ichirio. Jonokuchi ranked wrestlers only fight for 7 of a tournament’s 15 days. Wakaichiro faced a variety of opponents in is debut tournament, and fought well. But in spite of his efforts, he came away with a losing (3-4) record.

The Jonokuchi rank encompasses rikishi just starting their sumo careers, as well as more experienced rikishi who are re-entering sumo after medical treatment or some absence. Wakaichiro won decisively against opponents that were starting their careers, but had difficulty with opponents that had re-joined sumo from higher ranks.

Wakaichiro is 5′ 10″ 250 pounds, and played a fair share of American football during his youth in Texas, and is clearly very comfortable blasting off the line and using his strength to move his opponents. But in his first tournament, he was clearly new to the sport, and had much to learn. Tachiai thinks that even though he had a slight losing record, he shows a great deal of promise, and we are looking for significant improvements in Osaka.

Hatsu Recap 5 – Takayasu Recovers


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Back On An Ozeki Path

For the second half of 2016, Takayasu was on a march towards a bid to be promoted to Ozeki. At Kyushu, the goal was before him, needing a strong 12 wins to close the deal, and secure his promotion. Sadly, faced with victory, he utterly failed, and finished with a losing record, and demoted back down to Komusubi. Going into Hatsu, we asked if Takayasu could re-focus on his sumo, and return to his winning ways.

For fans of Takayasu, Hatsu was a triumph. With most of the Ozeki and Yokozuna out or hurt, he was able to rack up 11 wins, and a special prize. In the process he defeated 3 Ozeki and 2 Yokozuna. This set him squarely on the path back to Sekiwake, and re-ignited his bid to claim a promotion to Ozeki.

But there is a cloud on Takayasu’s shining path to Ozeki. At the Hatsu basho, we witnessed the ascendency of Mitakeumi, who also turned in an 11-4 record. Mitakeumi was strong, relentless and executed his sumo well. In Takayasu’s past efforts during 2016, he was the sole sekitori who stood any chance of promotion. It appears in 2017 there will be at least two, and possibly three that push towards sumo’s second highest rank.

The criteria for Takayasu’s promotion is 33 wins over 3 tournaments. That continues in Osaka, provided the March banzuke places him, as we expect, at Sekiwake.

Hatsu Recap 4 – Kotoshogiku Kadoban


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Injured, Defeated, Demoted

Former Ozeki Kotoshogiku has been a concern of ours for several tournaments. His injuries are chronic and their impact icreasing. In fact he can seldom muster the strength to really contend at a sanyaku level at times, let alone perform his duties as an Ozeki.

During Hatsu, Kotoshogiku was the sad spot to every day. Here is a great rikishi, although he is kind of a one tactic guy, he does it better than anyone, and he won and won and won with it for a long time.

In fact, it was last year at the 2016 Hatsu basho that Kotoshogiku broke the unending string of Mongolian Yusho winners when he took the Emperor’s cup going 14-1. In the year that followed, his injuries plagued him, and his performance suffered. He turned in a weak showing for Haru/Osaka 2016 (Andy might say had a foul ordor), a strong showing for May and then sat out most of Nagano after going 1-6 to start. His record in Kyushu was 5-10, which made him Kadoban once again, and he repeated at Hatsu going 5-10, securing his removal from the Ozeki rank.

Now he heads back to Osaka as one of a crowded Sekiwake field. His goal will be to secure 10 wins and return to Ozeki, but frankly there are only 2 paths to that achievement. 1. Medical treatment. He could undergo treatment for the problems in his hips and knees, of there is anything left to save. Though it is doubtful that he could be healed by early March. 2. A lot of people do very big favors for him by making sure he wins matches that he might otherwise lose.

There has been some speculation among sumo fans that Kotoshogiku will retire before then. He has a Kabu, and secured a place in the senior ranks of the sumo business once he leaves the dohyo. But thus far he has made no announcement. Other fans (myself included) believe he will give it a try, and go down fighting.

Hatsu Recap 3 – Endo vs. Shodai 2


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The Battle Of The Next Generation

Even before the start of the Hatsu basho, it was clear that we were starting to witness a changing tide in sumo. Prior to the basho, Tachiai mused on these two popular, next generation greats.

Both of them had a fairly decent tournament, both rikishi ended Hatsu with a slight losing record of 7-8. Shodai was “enjoying” his first trip to the meat grinder of sanyaku, and lost to the Yokozuna and the lone healthy Ozeki (Kisenosato). Still his 7-8 record means he may just be punted down to Komusubi for Osaka, or lower because of the crowd shoving their way towards sanyaku..

Endo had a slightly easier schedule, but managed to win over Goeido. The Endo vs Goeido bout is the one that sent Goeido to surgery to repair his broken ankle. In general Endo did not really shine this time out, and will probably drop a couple of spots to Maegashira 6 or so for Osaka.

Of course the stand out next-generation rikishi for Hatsu is without a doubt Mitakeumi, who finished 11-4, with kinboshi and special prizes. He faced the sanyaku and took home a pile of kensho that he liberated from Ozeki and Yokozuna opponents. A stalwart in collegiate sumo, he had primarily been a pusher/thruster. But like all pusher, he discovered it could only take him so far. In the past two tournaments he has increasingly shown skill with fighting via the mawashi, and this adaptation has been the key to his success.

Although Takayasu is striving hard to qualify for Ozeki, we will keep an eye on Mitakeumi, who may begin the process this year as well.

Hatsu Recap 2 – A Japanese Yokozuna


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Giving The People What They Want

Prior to the beginning of the January tournament, sumo fans were wondering if this could be the tournament that we finally see the 19 year drought broken, and a Japanese Ozeki elevated to Yokozuna.

A year ago, Kotoshogiku won the Hatsu basho, and broke a multi-year streak of Mongolians winning sumo tournaments. For a long time, both sumo fans and the Japanese public, believed that the Mongolian rikishi were too strong, to fierce to be defeated. Many had believed that Japan could no longer compete effectively in sumo. Kotoshogiku’s win in January 2016 appears in hind sight to have been the start of a change. Since then we have seen each of the Mongolian Yokozuna injured, at times requiring hospitalization, and all of them struggling to recover and maintain performance. As 2016 drove on, the Japanese public and the Yokozuna Deliberation Council increasingly voiced a desire for a Japanese grand champion.

At Hatsu Basho 2017 that wish was granted.

Through a combination of good fortune and skill, Kisenosato finally won a tournament. Good fortune via the continuing injuries and performance problems of the Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. There are times in life where you can win just be showing up, and for Kisenosato, this was his basho. Kisenosato also showed some remarkably solid sumo. He has always been a massive force on the dohyo, and at times displays text book, ukiyo-e worthy mastery of yotsu-zumō.

With Kisenosato supplying a yusho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council had enough of a fig-leaf to act, and just a few hours after the close of the Hatsu basho, they unanimously recommended Kisenosato for promotion to Yokozuna, which the Japan Sumo association accepted.

How Kisenosato will perform as Yokozuna remains an open question. Many of his biggest fans, and some of the sumo press have noted that Kisenosato is not speaking and acting differently. As if some great worry has been lifted from his heart. There has been speculation that Kisenosato over thinks matters, and his achievement of both the Yusho and elevation to Yokozuna may have freed him from his doubts and his demons, and we may see a new vigor to his sumo.

The other hopeful, Goeido, withdrew due to what could be a serious injury. Prior to that, Goeido struggled to deliver the same kind of “bulldozer sumo” that swept him to an undefeated victory at Aki. Readers may have noticed that Andy and I refer to the Aki performance as “Goeido 2.0” and the normal mode of muddling through a basho as “Goeido 1.0“. We have seen in Goeido the seeds of greatness, but something within him holds him back.

Now, if reports in the sumo press are accurate, Goeido may face a career ending injury to his right ankle. But to be clear, there is likely to be at least one or two more Yokozuna slots available within 12 months, as both Harumafuji and Kakuryu seem to be having persistent medical problems. There may still be a chance that Goeido can make his 2.0 upgrade permanent, and become a truly excellent offense driven Yokozuna.