Hatsu Recap 8 – Ishiura (石浦)


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


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


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


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.