In the past, I’ve chanced my arm at a rundown of all of the 42 rikishi in the top division and their performance in the preceding tournament. The problem with doing these kinds of posts is that there are an awful of lot of guys whose performance doesn’t really bear writing about. If you’re a rikishi that was swirling around the Darwin Funnel™ going into the final weekend, then there are good chances I’m talking about you.
So instead, this time, I’m going to give my thoughts on who won and didn’t win in this basho. It will be controversial and some people will be angry! I can’t wait. We’ll save the best for last, and start with the…
Sumo – But for some final day drama, this was a forgettable makuuchi tournament. It will not be referenced among the all time greats. Sumo is the loser when its top rankers do not challenge. The way the sport is set up requires big performances from big names or other guys dethroning big names. The title race changed hands twice in 15 days. Yikes.
Takakeisho – As Andy remarked, he went from rope run to kadoban in a matter of days. There’s no way to spin that positively.
Daieisho – He will move up to Sekiwake and posted a very strong basho, but he lost the yusho in horrific fashion: two virtually identical losses on the final day to the same opponent, having only needed to win one. Then, in the second defeat, he was given the hope of redemption by a monoii, only for that hope to be cruelly dashed upon confirmation of the final result. Woof.
Takayasu – His confident, assured, 6-0 start raised the idea that this might finally be his basho, but an awful fade took the dream away. Again. A couple of extremely convincing wins towards the end signalled what could have been. 10-5 is in no way a bad result, but finishing 4-5 in yet another basho that was his for the taking was extremely disappointing. When people reference Takayasu being the bridesmaid, they often reference his mighty collection of Jun-Yusho scorelines – but there are just as many of these tournaments that don’t show up in any Sumo Reference box score and where Takayasu had it all to lose and then did just that. As fans, we cannot alter fate, so the best we can do is just cheer him on whole-heartedly and hope that one day it will change.
Hoshoryu – You might think I’m crazy putting a couple ten-win guys and a twelve-win guy in the loser category. To be fair, you could put 41 guys in the loser category and you’d have a case for all of them. That’s how sports works. This is another case of “what could have been?” I firmly agreed with Herouth’s tweet early in the basho that Hoshoryu needs to shelve his niramiai until he’s got a couple Emperor’s Cups in the bag. Staring down a former Ozeki in Takayasu as if he’s the top dog, only to get embarrassingly dropped on the chief shimpan – and a cocky approach to a Nishikigi match that ended in defeat – showed a rikishi who’s simply not ready for the top two ranks.
He could have won this yusho outright with a more professional approach to his sumo. It may seem like we’re being hard on a rikishi who once again displayed some fabulous sumo, but whatever, if anything, is between his ears continues to let him down. The best thing he can take from this basho is that he’ll probably be S1E and he’s potentially just put down the first basho of an ozeki run. But I’ll come right out and say it: he’s frittered away losses in the last two tournaments which would have had him at the rank already. While he’s still young, more top prospects are coming and he will not want to look back on this period as the golden opportunity that he missed.
Hokutofuji – He’s been the master of come-from-behind kachikoshi in the past, and looked to be well on his way with 7 straight wins after digging himself an 0-4 hole. Alas, he couldn’t find the one win in his last four days to get the job done, and continues a slide that will leave him outside the joi for an entire calendar year.
Wakatakakage – I left a stat in the comments here this week that since his sekiwake promotion, he’s been 15-20 over days 1-5 of tournaments, and 31-11 over days 6-11 (before the final, most difficult matches for a sekiwake). If he could start better when his schedule was lightest, he’d have already been an Ozeki. When you consistently start so poorly, the issue is either preparation or mental or both. This tournament proved to be one escape act too far, with an 0-5 hole proving too much to overcome. His 7-1 rescue attempt over days 6 to 13 looked to have him on solid ground until the injury that led to a late kyujo. One early win and this all would have been a non issue with kachikoshi in hand, but instead he’ll have to completely rebuild from komusubi next basho – if indeed he’s able to return (reports are that he may not).
Mitakeumi – His body hasn’t looked right since the injuries that zapped his chance at an Ozeki career upon his promotion to the rank. This tournament was ghastly to watch, a 4-11 that left me wondering at the end where the 4 wins could ever have come from.
Ryuden – I think this was just a basho too far on the meteoric comeback trail for one of sumo’s latest bad boys. It’s a credit to him that he mostly looked very genki en route to his 13 loss campaign. Every rikishi fights hurt, some more than others, but Ryuden’s performances were vastly superior to the results that he got (the eye test would credit him with a 6-9 or 5-10 at worst). But nevertheless, he will take a massive demotion after this basho. You have to call that what it is.
Sumo – Sumo can be the loser and also be the winner. You can have grey areas in life, deal with it! With makuuchi being the equivalent of pulling a green turban out of your fishing net when you were expecting a sea urchin, Juryo emerged as a thrilling division. We also can’t overlook the top division’s final day drama, a new yusho winner whose rank and profile is good for sumo, and the fact that much of lower san’yaku managed to hang around the title race in its final days.
Kiribayama – He’s now one of the most technically proficient top rankers. Some could be forgiven for looking at an 8-11-12 Ozeki promotion after this basho as reasonable given the current state of the sport (and some Tachiai commenters have already posed it as an idea), but with two fusen-sho in there he’s always going to need another strong tournament. You’d think 9 next time could be enough to make things interesting, but 10 should bank it.
Small guys doing crazy stuff – Ura, Midorifuji, and Enho all had highly entertaining tournaments, even if it did fizzle a bit from Midorifuji after his first loss. Credit to these guys and their weird sumo for giving us box office entertainment.
Juryo – it was always going to be a good tournament with 4 former makuuchi yusho winners in the division plus a catalogue of top prospects, but strong performances from big names made this one of the marquee collections of second division talent in ages.
Ichinojo – Everyone expected another Asanoyama yusho, but the big man blasted his way to a 14-1, making his Juryo return brief.
Ura – He was king of the dohyo in his native Osaka, and highly entertaining and mostly successful in the ring. He received rapturous applause and a thunderous reception in the EDION arena. His comeback has firmly sealed his place as successor to Ikioi as Osaka’s hometown hero.
Nishonoseki-beya/Kisenosato – The mid-basho announcement of the recruitment of generational talent Nakamura stole all the headlines (more on that later), but his squad also grabbed the makushita yusho through journeyman Ryuo, had a handful of other good prospect results (Kayo, Takahashi, Miyagi) and a successful return to sekitori level for Tomokaze.
Kakuryu-oyakata – Much has been made of the close attentions the former Yokozuna has paid Kiribayama since his retirement, having taken his compatriot under his wing after moving from Izutsu to Michinoku beya. Kiribayama’s rise has corresponded with this tutelage, and it bodes well for Kakuryu’s future as shisho – be that in his own heya someday or a Michinoku-beya (including Kiribayama) that he could yet inherit upon the incumbent’s retirement.
Miyagino-beya/Hakuho – the top 8 rankers in the stable all scored winning records, with Enho starting to close in on a comeback to the top division and Ochiai putting out a very solid and entertaining sekitori debut. Hokuseiho’s 9 wins on his top flight debut were overshadowed by Kinbozan’s debut, and it’s clear that his ponderous sumo may lead him to struggle for consistency as he approaches the joi for the first time. I’d probably revise his ceiling to be a more technical version of Ichinojo. But for now, all good.
Isegahama-beya – Midorifuji took the headlines, but Nishikifuji put up another very solid basho. Meanwhile, an initially hopeless looking Takarafuji found his patented defend-and-extend technique late on to clinch a kachi-koshi when the conversation on nakabi was about whether he could really be demoted to Juryo. Plus, the heya boasted winning records for top prospects Hayatefuji and Takerufuji. As for the Yokozuna? Even he’s a bit of a winner in absentia, as Takakeisho’s rope-run collapsing amid the removal of Wakatakakage from the Ozeki conversation (for the time being) means that Terunofuji’s seat isn’t especially hot in spite of his lengthy absence.
Wakamotoharu – His 11 win basho will see him overtake his brother as heyagashira. He has grown gradually into the top division and looked at points to have an outside shot at the Haru yusho. It will be curious to now see whether he or Wakatakakage can mount an ozeki run soonest – if he’s able to get the yusho in May, one would think Wakamotoharu could even grab it in his next basho.
Kinbozan – In a tournament that boasted three fairly high(ish) profile debutants in the top division, some props should be due to Kinbozan for his excellent performance. While it’s not unusual to see talents who have blown through Juryo come up and grab double digits in their first top division tournament, Kinbozan did it with a minimum of fuss and some excellent sumo. He (and Juryo’s Gonoyama) still looks like a rikishi that has a lot of physical development until he finds his final competitive physique, and it will be interesting to see how he takes on higher challenges in the division. With Hokuseiho impressing but also lumbering at times to victory, and Bushozan being mostly overmatched, we should put some credit on Kise-beya’s Kazakhstani special prize winner.
Who are we forgetting? Who are you angry about me calling a loser? Let’s hear it in the comments!