The YDC Convenes In Kyushu

YDC-2017-11

The Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following most basho to review the performance of the top rikishi, and give guidance to the NSK and the sumo world on the state of competition. These meetings usually take place in Tokyo, regardless of where the basho might be, but this Monday, the council convened in Kyushu. The primary subject on the table was the lack of Yokozuna during the second week for the second tournament in 2018, and the failure of Kisenosato specifically to win a single match.

The YDC could take a number of positions on the topic, ranging from “encouragement” to “caution” and finally “suggestion to retire”. Given the fact that Kisenosato has sat out part or all 9 of the last 10 tournaments, and was specifically admonished by this same council to not return to the dohyo until he was ready to compete as a Yokozuna, the fans would be right to expect a stern warning or guidance towards intai.

Instead the YDC returned “Encouragement”. Chairman Kitamura remarked on Kisenosato’s performance, saying that he should be showing physical strength and ability commensurate with his position and ‘the disappointment of the fans who had earnestly hoped for his recovery at the Kyushu basho was great’. Trying to put a good spin on things, he also said “There was a lot of excitement without any Yokozunae. So much so that people may be saying ‘Maybe we don’t need any Yokozuna..”.

If you are rolling your eyes at the last part, you are not alone. Clearly the YDC wants no part in pushing the only Japanese Yokozuna out of the sport. They see there is a problem, it’s easy to identify and its hurting sumo. If the broader sumo world tracks the intensity of interest that we see in traffic numbers at the site, a “No-kazuna” basho produced about 30% less interest. This has to be eating into the NSK bottom line at some point.

(Below is opinion only)

The sumo association is in a tight spot now. One would think that Kisenosato would have figured out that he is past his ability to recover, and take a dignified way out. He has his name beside an inglorious record in the annals of sumo history, and the numbers are just getting worse. In a broader sense, the NSK has a real problem with its kanban rikishi. As we have pointed out in the past, with the exception of the absolutely fantastic Aki basho, participation of the top ranking rikishi has been below 50%, and continues to be poor.

The NSK either needs to clean up its rosters, or accept that its going to fade in popularity among the core Japanese audience. This clean up is going to be painful and difficult. Many of the rikishi who may be past their sunset date are popular and well loved. But there is a significant cohort of older athletes who are not performing with the same intensity that they did 10 or 15 years ago. This has the quiet background effect of lowering the overall intensity of each basho, and I would guess it impacts the fan base, too.

Finally, it has to be said that the sumo fan base in Japan is elderly. To appeal to new (younger) fans, they need some new faces. Yokozuna Kisenosato should show his leadership, and step down to start his life as a sumo elder. We are always going to love him, and remember fondly how he put everything he had into attaining sumo’s highest rank. But for myself, I think it’s time to encourage some long serving favorites to start working towards their exit.

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.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One of the 2018 Kyushu Basho

 

Takakeisho 4

The 2018 Kyushu Basho is turning into one of the most intriguing, unpredictable tournaments we’ve had this year. We’ve seen some stellar performances from unexpected places, and some abysmal sumo from some of the top stars. As a result, Kyushu has been something of a Bizarro World Basho and it feels like the sumo world has gone topsy-turvy. With Act Two on the horizon, here’s everything you need to know to get up to speed after Act One of Kyushu.

Yusho Race

Without a resident Yokozuna, and the Ozeki corps beginning to crack, the Yusho race is very much up in the air. At the head of the pack are two very surprising characters: Komusubi Takakeisho and Meagashira 2 Tochiozan, who both enter Act Two with perfect 5-0 records. Right behind them is a mob of rikishi including Daiamami, Onosho, Daiesho, Chiyotairyu, Abi, and Takayasu. All of these men have four wins and will be waiting eagerly for Takakeisho and Tochiozan to make a mistake.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

With Act One in the books, we now have a large group of rikishi who are at least halfway to their coveted kachi koshi. This list includes every member of the Yusho race listed above, and each one of them could have a winning record by the end of Act Two should they keep their losses to a minimum. On the flip side, we have a huge crowd who have four or more losses and are heading towards a losing record. At the very bottom of this list is the hapless Arawashi, who is 0-5 and looks too injured to put up a fight. Above him are Chiyomaru, Chiyonokuni, Takanosho. Yutakayama, Takarafuji, Nishikigi (though his only win did come from Ozeki Goeido) Ryuden, Kaisei (technically 1-2-2 after sitting out the first two days, but like the rest he still needs seven more wins to save his rank), and Ichinojo, who all have 1-4 records. These men will need to get their sumo in gear, or else face demotion for the New Year.

Kinboshi

Prior to his departure, Kisenosato gave out three kinboshi to Maegashira wrestlers. These lucky recipients were Hokutofuji, Myogiryu, and Tochiozan. Now that Kise is kyujo, the kinboshi number has been capped at three.

Kyujo

Speaking of Kisenosato, let’s address the elephant in the room. As I’m sure many of you know, Yokozuna Kisenosato went kyujo prior to the beginning of Day 5. It has since been revealed that Kise sprained his right knee during his first-day match with Takakeisho and as a result, pulled out of Kyushu following his fourth straight loss. This decision came after consulting his Oyakata, who told Kisenosato that he could not continue in his condition. According to Kisenosato, he wanted to compete for the fans as the sole Yokozuna but had to put his recovery first, and has been prescribed a month of treatment. The Yokozuna has also stated that he has no intention to retire and wishes to return in time for the winter jungyo. It is yet to be determined what action the NSK will take, and we could very well have witnessed the end of Kisenosato’s career on the dohyo. But for the time being, Kyushu is officially a Nokozuna Basho.

Act One of the 2018 Kyushu Basho has been a very dramatic one. For some, the “play” has been a thriller, for others, it’s been a tragedy. What can be said for sure though, is that this unpredictable Basho is just heating up!

 

Kyushu Day 5 Commentary

Kisenosato-down

This post supersedes our normal preview, as lksumo has already knocked the upper matches out of the park. Instead, a few words on the state of sumo at the end of Kyushu’s first act. Act 1 is all about scrubbing the ring-rust from the contestants, and finding out who is hot, and who is not.

First and foremost the cloud hanging over Kyushu now is the depth of trouble that perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato has placed himself. He lost his first 4 matches, all of which were supposed to be more or less warm ups for the main action in week 2. Instead Kisenosato found himself unable to maintain balance, or generate forward offensive pressure. Frankly he was embarrassing himself, and the same foolish pride that kept him from seeking surgery on his pectoral muscle may have drove him to mount the dohyo each day believing “this time it will be different”.

Kisenosato has devoted his entire life to sumo, it’s his entire world. The shame of 8 straight kyujo’s must have hardened his resolve to “gamberize” and tough it out. But now he has had to withdraw in 9 of the past 10 tournaments.

For the NSK, they have a large and unfortunate problem, as Kisenosato had been given firm guidance not to enter a basho just to withdraw before the end. In doing so again he has to some extent embarrassed the sumo association leadership. What do they do with the only Japanese Yokozuna? His retirement would diminish the stature of the sport for a short time in the eyes of the Japanese public, some of whom bristle at the dominance of foreign athletes at what they see as Japanese cultural property.

Tachiai has been covering the Kisenosato problem for the last two years, and there is a good chance the entire situation is now drawing towards its inevitable conclusion – which is a dignified transition for Kisenosato into life as a member in good standing of the sumo association, and his withdrawal from any further competition.

Matches Worth A Look on Day 5

Meisei vs Endo – Meisei is hell on wheels right now, and he seems to be fighting above his banzuke rank. Endo, on the other hand, continues to be day-by-day, though his day 4 match was solid sumo. They split their two prior matches, so I think it comes down to who gets inside at the tachiai, and today I think that’s going to be Meisei.

Onosho vs Okinoumi – Both come in with a 3-1 record, both seem to be dialed into their sumo early. If the match lasts longer than 12 seconds, it favors Okinoumi, who seems to take a more strategic approach to his matches. Onosho tends to open strong and try to blaze his opponents into defeat. Plus, I think Onosho is still only 80%.

Ikioi vs Sadanoumi – Ikioi has been fighting hurt since Osaka, and going against a rikishi who is on a hot streak, as Sadanoumi is, can only spell an uphill fight. Ikioi does not give up, and I know he will give battle with everything he can muster.

Abi vs Kotoshogiku – Great contrast of styles in this match. Abi will want to keep distance and attack with his superior reach, and Kotoshogiku will do anything he can to close the gap and go chest to chest. Double amazing points if Abi decides to unleash some mawashi techniques and beats the Kyushu Bulldozer at his own sumo.

Chiyotairyu vs Kagayaki – If Chiyotairyu can dictate the match mechanics straight from the tachiai, he has more than enough sumo to dispatch Kagayaki, mastery of fundamentals or not. Kagayaki will need to stay mobile, keep his balance under control, and wait for the burly Chiyotairyu to expend his initial burst of energy.

Takanoiwa vs Yoshikaze – Takanoiwa is still injured, and won’t be doing his normal offense heavy sumo. Yoshikaze will try to get inside and apply maximum pressure up and forward within the first step. Both men can fight with frantic energy, so this may devolve into a slapping battle like two tabbies jacked up on weapons grade catnip.

Shodai vs Asanoyama – This could be a great great match, as both are fairly evenly matched in size, speed and technique. In addition this is their first ever match, so each may surprise the other.

Yokozuna Kisenosato Kyujo from Kyushu

Generic Kyushu Banner

NHK news just announced that Yokozuna Kisenosato will be absent from the basho as of day 5 of the basho. The official reason was not given, but it’s clear this is the result of losing four bouts in a row, which has not happened since 1931.

The Kyushu basho will now continue without a single Yokozuna, following the Nagoya basho, which fared the same.

Source: NHK