Sumo’s Injury Issues Boil Over


Yokozuna-crew

A theme that Andy and I have been chasing for more than a year is the problem sumo has with headline athletes and their injuries. For a variety of reasons, most sumotori are never given enough time or resources to heal from the injuries they sustain, and their cumulative effect quickly degrades their performance, and in short order, their prospects for continued competition.

In general the health of the rikishi, especially the headliners, is not discussed and not publicized. These men are to be icons of the strength and power of the sport, and to show injury or weakness is not part of the facade. In reality, the health of many of these headline athletes has been in tenuous and degrading conditions for the last few years. With the advent of web-based media and near constant attention, the ability to dismiss a rikishi’s difficulties are almost impossible to mask.

Which brings us to the Aki basho. Three Yokozuna of four are laid up due to injuries they can’t seem to heal. The fourth (Harumafuji) is also in tough shape, but he is going to compete anyhow. I think at this point, the NSK knows they have a problem. A list of rikishi who are kyujo before the first day of competition

  • Yokozuna Hakuho
  • Yokozuna Kisenosato
  • Yokozuna Kakuryu
  • Maegashira Aoiyama
  • Maegashira Sadanoumi

That means that both he yusho and jun-yusho winners from Nagoya are out. The majority of the faces on the promotional posters will not appear. The sport is having an injury crisis, and they can no longer hide it.

The following quotes are courtesy of Kintamayama, who (as always) is the man with the inside knowledge.

Sumo Association Chairman, Hakkaku“It’s really regrettable that we’ve come to this at this point.. We finally have 4 Yokozunae and the fans have sold out the venue in anticipation of seeing this wonderful sight.. I think this is extremely inexcusable towards all the fans. The banzuke is well balanced with the newcomers and the veterans, so I have a lot of expectations from the young guys..”

PR Director Shibatayama“It’s really inexcusable that three Yokozuna are missing during these days when the fans are filling the seats. Still, a Yokozuna is a human being. Showing up in bad shape will not do any good for anyone..”

To be clear, both men are laying blame not on their athletes, but on the Sumo Kyokai for putting on a Honbasho that will be missing a large number of the headline competitors. It’s bad enough for fans in Japan, but consider the growing number of sumo enthusiasts that fly to Japan during the basho to take in a few days at the matches. While we at Tachiai joke that we are an adjunct to the sumo world, I am quite sure that both the NSK media have noticed that sumo is flowering into a global sport.

What happens next? No one can tell, but I will take my best guess

  • Look for retirements, both within the NSK and within the upper ranks of sumo THIS YEAR. Much as it will pain them to clear the decks, they will need a team of headliners that they can count on to appear at every tournament. That’s what puts butts in seats, sells banners and drives ratings.
  • Look for Fall and Winter Jungyo to be curtailed or even eliminated. The current pace set by the Jungyo team has been punishing, and leaves the rikishi little to no time to maintain condition or seek medical attention for their injuries. This could be billed as a “Health and safety training period”, and given the Aki carnage, it would be accepted.
  • Modifications to the area around the dohyo – This is quite unlikely, but many of these rikishi are injured falling from the dohyo during a match. There may be some unobtrusive ways that maintain the aesthetics of the dohyo and decrease the injury potential of a ungraceful dismount.

As Aki progresses, the team that makes up Osumo will band together to make Aki possibly one of the great, anything can happen bashos of our time.

Torikumi Forecast & Notes On The Kyujo Wave


Yoshikaze-Cartoon

Some fans may be wondering why Yokozuna Kisenosato and Kakuryu announced they were going kyujo Thursday morning Japan time. The fact of the matter is the NSK is building the torikumi (order of battle) for the start of Aki, and it was time for the walking wounded to decide if they wanted to give it a try, or sit out from the start.

Much to my surprise, Hakuho has not declared one way or the other yet. Just to be clear, I do not expect him to be present on day 1 of Aki, but I think that he may be struggling with that decision. He did in fact declare to his fans at Natsu “I am back!”.

I believe the Torikumi for days 1 and 2 are being published in the next 8 hours or so. Some of the matches we can expect in the first two days (my guess)

  • Hakuho vs. Tamawashi – If Hakuho starts Aki, we can see how banged up the dai-Yokozuna is early.
  • Tochiozan vs. Harumafuji – You might be tempted to assume that Harumafuji will fold and spindle Tochiozan, but Tochiozan has made some useful adjustments to his sumo.
  • Takayasu vs. Tochinoshin – Big and strong vs strong and big. This could be a sumo battle for the ages as these two love to use brute strength.
  • Goeido vs. Kotoshogiku – Goeido has been looking dailed-in back to his 2.0 setting, and a likely match against Kotoshogiku will be speed vs strength.
  • Terunofuji vs. Aoiyama – Terunofuji is a far cry from the light schedule Aoiyama enjoyed in Nagoya. This match will sort reality from fiction in about 5 seconds.
  • Mitakeumi vs. Chiyotairyu – Chiyo who you say? Believe it! I expect Mitakeumi to pick up where he left off in Nagoya.
  • Shohozan vs. Yoshikaze – Big guns vs the Berserker. Yoshikaze has been opening very strong in recent basho, before he gets banged up by the end of the first week. We might see some exotic kimarite.
  • Shodai vs. Ura – I am going to assume that Ura is in rough shape, and I am just going to hope that Shodai fixed has tachiai.
  • Ichinojo vs. Takakeisho – Ok Takakeisho fans, his road back can start with the huge Mongolian.

Please feel free to add your day 1 / 2 torikumi guesses in the comments.

Kakuryu and Kisenosato Not Competing At Aki


Kise-13

UPDATE BELOW

Official word published via NHK, Yokozuna Kisenosato will not compete in the upcoming Aki basho. The master of the Tagonoura stable states that he is still struggling to recover from a torn left pectoral muscle, and a damaged left ankle.

His withdrawal is not a surprise as Kisenosato has been unable to train and unable to do any sumo at all. We can only hope that he has finally come to grips with the situation and will consider more significant medical intervention. We dearly hope the we will see him in action again one day soon, fully rested and ready for action.

UPDATE

Also now from NHK, Yokozuna Kakuryu will not compete at Aki. Like Kisenosato, he has been struggling to overcome injuries that have prevented him from training or practicing any sumo.

Kakuryu has previously been handed an ultimatum to perform at Yokozuna levels in the next basho he enters, or to retire.  It is in his (and sumo’s) best interest for him to seek intensive medical treatment and return strong, healthy and cunning as ever.

 

Aki Basho Genki Report


Genki-Report

The Injury Count Increases

Once again, we are on the cusp of a basho that is marred by injuries and likely outages for Sumo’s star attractions. Tachiai readers will note that this is part of the longer overall trend, where the men who have dominated sumo for years are reaching the end of their completive period, and the cumulative damage done to their bodies now comes due.

The aggressive rise of a new crop of riskishi, that I sometimes jokingly call the “Angry Tadpoles” can be thought of as the result of two forces. The push factor of their individual training, work, dedication and flat-out skill that propels them to higher ranks. There is also a pull factor of the men who have occupied these positions increasingly being less healthy and able to defend their ranks.

To be clear, I am expecting Yokozunae Hakuho, Kisenosato and Kakuryu to not participate in the Aki basho. I also think it is strongly possible that both Endo and Ura may announce they will not be competing either.

Just from injuries alone, I expect Aki to be a basho that may be dominated by a rikishi who has never before won a basho, and it may be a glorious run.

Rikishi: Hakuho
Genki: ✭
Notes: Last year, the dai-Yokozuna skipped Aki in order to undergo surgery to repair his left knee, and remove a painful bone chip from his right big toe. He drove himself relentlessly to recover to excellent fighting form, and took the May and July tournament championships. But now that left knee is causing him constant pain, and he is likely unable to execute effective sumo.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Harumafuji
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: Do I think Harumafuji is healthy? No indeed. But he is tough and he is going to will himself to compete at Aki, no matter what the pain or discomfort. He has injuries to both knees, both elbows and lord knows what else. But it’s clear he is only going to leave the dohyo when he is too injured to walk.
Forecast: Yusho contender

Rikishi: Kisenosato
Genki: ✭
Notes: Kisenosato has not been training. His body is still weak, and we still have to wonder if his torn pectoral muscle will ever be useful again. Granted he did some training with shin-juryo Yago, but this level of combat is a ridiculously light compared to what he would face in Makuuchi. The YDC has urge Kisenosato not to return to the dohyo until he is fit and ready to compete. We will know he is ready when he resumes training with his stablemate Takayasu.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Kakuryu
Genki: ✭
Notes: Kakuryu is in a weak and perilous position. He has been so wracked with injuries since withdrawing from Nagoya that he has not been training (see a theme here?), and he is in no condition to compete. Furthermore, it has been made clear his next basho really needs to be a strong performance, or he will be asked to retire.
Forecast: Kyujo from day 1

Rikishi: Terunofuji
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: He had to withdraw from Nagoya, as his June knee repair surgery was not healed enough for effective sumo. He took the entire summer off to rest and recover, and seems to be somewhat improved. He has been active in pre-basho training matches, and he even looks to be fairly strong. If he is mended, he is a yusho candidate. But he is one bad fall away from retirement now. Keep in mind, he is kadoban and must have 8 wins to hold on to his Ozeki rank.
Forecast: Double digit wins

Rikishi: Goeido
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: Last year Goeido surprised the sumo world by coming into Aki kadoban, and leaving with his first yusho. Furthermore, he was undefeated at Aki, making his victory all the more impressive. Goeido is very hit-or-miss, but his pre-basho training seems to indicate that he is mostly in “Goeido 2.0 Mode”, and could in fact be a contender.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Takayasu
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: His conditioning has deteriorated because for several months he has not been able to hone his sumo in daily scrimmage against Kisenosato. As a result, I suspect he is not nearly as ready as he was a year ago, and in fact we may see him kadoban for the first time. His practice matches during jungyo and his inter-basho warm ups have been good but not great. Furthermore, Takayasu has had a bad habit in the past of letting himself worry and over-think his sumo.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Mitakeumi
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Mitakeumi is the chieftain of the Angry Tadpoles, a rank he should wear with pride. He has shown remarkable strength, talent and adaptability in his climb to Sekiwake 1E, and he is now in a spot where he can try to assemble 33 wins. Furthermore, it’s quite clear that like the great Hakuho, he is having the time of his life, and every day on the dohyo is joy to him.
Forecast: Double digit wins, Possible Yusho contender.

Rikishi: Yoshikaze
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: Scarred by years of battle, and once again at Sekiwake (though as the oldest one in the modern era), Yoshikaze is never one to ignore. He can and will beat any rikishi on any given day. In recent tournaments he has shown a fantastic breadth of sumo skills, and never surrenders. There has been some speculation in the Japanese sumo press that he might become the oldest Ozeki ever, but frankly I think “The Berserker” just wants to get the job done.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Tamawashi
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: He has been dethroned from his long term posting to Sekiwake, and it’s now time for him to either fade lower in the banzuke, or battle back to the top. His fans know he has more than enough sumo to re-take his rank from Mitakeumi, but it remains to be seen if he can muster the energy to win.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Tochinoshin
Genki: ✭✭✭✭
Notes: The big Georgian suffers from injuries that have held him back, but in Nagoya he turned in a strong kachi-koshi to follow up from his Jun-Yusho in May. Many fans expected him to be posted to a San’yaku rank, but he should feel no shame for being the top Maegashira. His enormous strength and nearly boundless endurance means that anyone who dares him to a yotsu-zumō battle will be in trouble.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Kotoshogiku
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Sorry Ojisan, but your time has passed. Listen to your body and retire soon. We all still love you, and your back bends and pelvic thrust sumo will never be forgotten.
Forecast: Maki-koshi

Rikishi: Hokutofuji
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: I am very excited that Hokutofuji is solidly in the upper Maegashira ranks for his second basho. Few rikishi can survive at this level, and this is why you see some favorites yo-yo up and down the banzuke. Hokutofuji, if he can remain healthy, is likely to be a big deal once the current crop of leading sumotori take their bows and retire.
Forecast: Kachi-koshi

Rikishi: Aoiyama
Genki: ✭✭✭
Notes: For whatever ridiculous reason, this guy got played up as a spoiler to Hakuho’s yusho in Nagoya. Frankly, his sumo was never up to the task of combating even the lower half of Hakuho, let alone the entire Yokozuna. Now he finds himself squarely in the joi, and he has a difficult schedule ahead. He has a very limited range of kimarite, but with few Yokozuna competing, he may not face the pounding he would with a healthy roster.
Forecast: Make-koshi

Rikishi: Onosho
Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭
Notes: Onosho faces his first time in the upper part of Makuuchi. As with Aoiyama, the expected Yokozuna recuperation basho will likely give him an easier time than he might have had otherwise. He is strong, he is skilled and like Hokutofuji, he is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy. Still, I expect he is going to find him self out-matched for now, but he will improve.
Forecast: Make-koshi

Rikishi: Ura
Genki: ✭✭
Notes: Ura left Nagoya injured. He was injured to the extent that he did not even participate in any sumo activities over the summer break. Like far too many rikishi, he now faces the prospects of nursing a damaged knee back to usefulness. Prior to the banzuke, many fans (myself included) hoped for a stiff demotion, to allow him time to work in the lower ranks to maintain his sumo while his body healed. Sadly he is once again in danger of being an opponent for the Ozeki and San’yaku battle fleet. At this point his goal must include survival.
Forecast: Make-koshi

YDC Soken – Facing No-Kozuna


Soken

On Friday the Yokozuna Deliberation Council held one of their periodic reviews of up and coming sekitori. These training sessions are called “Soken” and in the past have been fascinating looks at the state of the wrestlers, and the opinions of the council.

The headline coming from the Soken today is that all 4 Yokozuna appeared, but only Harumafuji did any sumo. This should give sumo fans globally some pause. Out of the 4 top men in sumo, only one was healthy enough to actually engage in any matches. For Kakuryu and Kisenosato, they were present but did not face off against any opponents, they simply performed training exercises. Hakuho arrived in the final minutes, and did not even join in training.

The Council chief, Masatoshi Kitamura, remarked that the situation was “Not satisfactory”, and expressed his disappointment that 3 of the Yokozuna did no sumo.

At this point fans are beginning to worry about the Aki tournament, and with good cause. With few headliners likely to appear and fewer still to make it to day 15, the upcoming Aki basho likely represents a turning point for the current crop of sumo’s best.

Some specifics

  • Hakuho – Knee problems, fans may recall that last year he missed Aki for surgery on his toe, but they also did work on his knee. That the knee is once again bothering him is troublesome
  • Kisenosato – Has not been healthy enough to train up for Aki. As always everyone is being very vague about his actual condition and holding out phony hope for some miraculous improvement over the course of a few hours that will allow him to compete.
  • Kakuryu – Still barely able to walk, has practiced no sumo, faced no opponents in test matches. He is benched for Aki, as it has been made clear he must be fully healthy and highly competitive in his next basho or he is done.
  • Harumafuji – He continues to have problems with his knees and elbows, but he is one tough rikishi. He will give it his best shot, and I expect him to at least start Aki.

More details via NHK

Yokozuna Kisenosato Remains Doubtful For Aki


Kisenosato-Stretch Left

Yokozuna Kisenosato is continuing to struggle to make himself ready for the upcoming Aki basho, based on reports in the Japanese sumo press. He continues to train with lower ranked rikishi at the Tagonoura stable, but has yet to take training with his normal sparring partner, Ozeki Takayasu. His focus continues to be on ensuring range of motion and some strength exercises for his injured left upper and lower body.

With less than two weeks to go, the fact that he is not actively in matches as part of his training is indicative of a rikishi who is not yet healed enough to complete. While he did some limited training during the jungyo PR tour, he did not actually appear to attempt any actual training bouts.

As we surmised in the Tachiai Aki Banzuke Podcast, we think that he may not even start the basho, and should probably sit out the fall tournament in hopes of returning strong for Kyushu.

Aki Banzuke Crystal Ball


image

My Nagoya banzuke predictions turned out to be reasonably accurate. This last basho created quite a mess, and a less predictable banzuke––I don’t envy the guys who have to make the real thing, which we will get to see on August 28. I’m going to take a crack at it anyway.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Takayasu Goeido
O2 Terunofuji  

No change in the Yokozuna pecking order after Nagoya. The real question is whether we will have more than one Yokozuna start, much less finish, the next basho. Takayasu takes over the top Ozeki spot after putting up the only reasonably solid Ozeki performance at Nagoya. Goeido and Terunofuji are both kadoban, and I hope Terunofuji can recover from his persistent injuries.


Lower San’yaku

Usually, this part of the banzuke is relatively predictable. Not so this time. Kotoshogiku drops out of San’yaku for the first time since 2010. The only certainties are that Mitakeumi will hold the S1e slot, and that Yoshikaze will remain in San’yaku after going 9-6 at Komusubi. Otherwise, there’s quite a logjam for the remaining slots, and a lot of uncertainty as to who will end up where. The contenders:

Tamawashi, who went 7-8 at Sekiwake and will drop at least to Komusubi after four tournaments at the higher rank.

Tochiozan, who had a great tournament at 12-3 as maegashira 5, defeating an Ozeki and both Sekiwake along the way.

Aoiyama, the Jun-Yusho and special prize winner, who went an amazing 13-2 as maegashira 8, but didn’t beat or even fight anyone of note until his defeat of a fading Yoshikaze on the final day.

Tochinoshin, who more than held his own in the meat grinder as maegashira 2, fighting all the big guns and defeating a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, both Sekiwake and a Komusubi on his way to a 9-6 record.

By the numbers, I would rank-order the 5 contenders for the 3 slots behind Mitakeumi as  Tochiozan, Yoshikaze, Aoiyama, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, placing Tochiozan in the S1w slot, Yoshikaze and Aoiyama in the Komusubi slots, and leaving Tochinoshin and Tamawashi out in the cold. However, being in San’yaku confers certain privileges: Yoshikaze probably gets first dibs on the Sekiwake slot, and Tamawashi is unlikely to drop lower than Komusubi despite coming in last on the list above. Judging by past history, none of the performances were sufficiently strong to “force” the creation of extra San’yaku slots. So I’m going to go with the prediction below, much as it pains me to leave out Tochinoshin.

S Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
K Tochiozan Tamawashi

The Meat Grinder

I’m going to include the M1-M4e ranks here. Along with the San’yaku, this group makes up the “joi” or upper ranks, and regularly faces San’yaku competition (as we saw in Nagoya, the exact “joi” boundary is fuzzy, and changes during the tournament after withdrawals and, to some extent, based on performances to that point).

The meat grinder ranks actually acquitted themselves relatively well in Nagoya, unlike the disasters of the previous two basho. Tochinoshin and Hokutofuji both earned their kachi-koshi, and each deserves to be one rank higher up the banzuke, but there isn’t room. Onosho should find himself at M3 after two extremely impressive 10-5 tournaments following his Makuuchi debut. He seems unintimidated by anyone, and may hold his own despite his lack of experience. Chiyotairyu and Shohozan put up the only other solid records in the mid-maegashira ranks, and find themselves vaulting up the banzuke from M10.

M1 Tochinoshin Aoiyama
M2 Hokutofuji Kotoshogiku
M3 Onosho Chiyotairyu
M4 Shohozan

Mid-maegashira

The rest of Makuuchi was a mess of of make-koshi records, ranging from bad to worse, and some weak kachi-koshi performances among the lower ranks. This makes it difficult to come up with a fair and consistent rank order. Rikishi with 7-8 records in a weak field are especially hard to place, as their computed rank may suggest a promotion, which as far as I know is never done for kachi-koshi records. One can start by dividing the rikishi into groups of similar projected rank, and then worry about the order within each group.

Group 1, M4w-M5w: Ura, Shodai, Takakeisho.

Everyone’s favorite Ura managed a 7-8 record at M4e despite being thrown into the meat grinder prematurely and getting injured as a result. Shodai and Takakeisho each went 5-10 at M1. It would be reasonable either to place Ura at M4w, with the other two at M5, or to flip this order. Given that Ura went make-koshi, that he was under-ranked last basho, and that Shodai tends to get over-ranked, I have a feeling NSK will do the latter, despite Ura’s slightly higher computed rank.

Group 2, M6: Ichinojo, Kagayaki.

Ichinojo put up another lackluster performance, going 7-8. He should drop in rank, but there are no other reasonable contenders for M6e. Kagayaki has the best claim of the rest to M6w.

Group 3, M7-M9: Ishiura, Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, Takanoiwa, Chiyonokuni, Takarafuji.

A mix of poor records higher up the banzuke and better records quite far down the banzuke. Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, and Takanoiwa deserve bigger drops in rank, but Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji did not earn this much of a promotion. Ishiura actually has the best computed rank, and deserves the M7e slot, but since he went make-koshi (7-8) at M8w, he can’t be ranked any higher than that. The main question in this group is whether to place him at M8w, or move him below the two kachi-koshi guys, Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji. As with Ura, I’m opting for the lower rank.

Group 4, M10: Arawashi, Takekaze.

This is straightforward: M12 guys both went 8-7 and move up to M10.

Group 5, M11-M12: Daieisho, Chiyomaru, Daishomaru, Kaisei.

This order drops Daishomaru (M11w, 7-8) below Chiyomaru (M15w, 9-6), but keeps him above Kaisei, the top Juryo escapee.

M4 Shodai
M5 Takakeisho Ura
M6 Ichinojo Kagayaki
M7 Ikioi Chiyoshoma
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyonokuni
M9 Takarafuji Ishiura
M10 Arawashi Takekaze
M11 Daieisho Chiyomaru
M12 Daishomaru Kaisei

Lower maegashira, promotions, and demotions

Sadanoumi and Nishigiki earned Makuuchi stays by going kachi-koshi. Endo and Okinoumi suffer big drops but should be safe. Gagamaru earned a quick return to Juryo and should fall far down the Juryo banzuke, while Kotoyuki also definitely earned a demotion. Yutakayama and Asanoyama should definitely join Kaisei in Makuuchi, one of them at the expense of Sokokurai. This would mark a Makuuchi debut for Asanoyama. I think that Myogiryu will claim the last promotion slot, which will be vacated by Tokushoryu, and that Aminishiki will just miss out on promotion.

M13 Sadanoumi Endo
M14 Okinoumi Nishikigi
M15 Yutakayama Asanoyama
M16 Myogiryu
J1 Aminishiki Tokushoryu
J2 Sokokurai