Heya Power Rankings: Kyushu 17-Hatsu 18

We’re back with the Heya Power Rankings. A lot has happened since the last time we released a set of these rankings, and a lot of those things have influenced the direction of how these rankings will trend, not only for this edition, but also for probably the next several editions. Let’s get into it:

chart-10

Usually with these rankings we see rises and falls attributable to basic stuff like winning a yusho one tournament or getting a special prize versus, well, not doing that in the next tournament. But when you have a heya that’s usually at the top which not only usually is in the yusho race or at least has a lot of high ranking rikishi grabbing kachi-koshi, and then their rikishi do not get kachi-koshi and a couple of them go kyujo, that does alter the landscape a bit.

So now let’s look at this in our usual “Billboard” style Top 20 chart form (ties broken by previous ranking with the most recently better heya ranked higher):

  1. (+5) Miyagino. 101 points (+61)
  2. (+13) Hakkaku. 95 points (+75)
  3. (-2) Isegahama. 83 points (-64)
  4. (+-) Tagonoura. 65 points (+10)
  5. (+2) Takanohana. 54 points (+6)
  6. (-4) Sakaigawa. 41 points (-26)
  7. (-4) Kokonoe. 40 points (-16)
  8. (+11) Kataonami. 40 points (+25)
  9. (-1) Oitekaze. 38 points (+2)
  10. (+-) Izutsu. 30 points (even)
  11. (-6) Oguruma. 28 points (-20)
  12. (+1) Sadogatake. 27 points (+3)
  13. (-2) Dewanoumi. 25 points (even)
  14. (-5) Kasugano. 23 points (-7)
  15. (-3) Onomatsu. 20 points (-5)
  16. (+2) Tomozuna. 20 points (+3)
  17. (**) Arashio. 20 points (+18)
  18. (+2) Tokitsukaze. 18 points (+3)
  19. (**) Isenoumi. 18 points (+5)
  20. (**) Minato / Minezaki. 15 points. (both +2)

Movers

3 or 4 stables got some great results last time out. Miyagino-beya has been here before and that’s because Hakuho wins a lot of championships. Ishiura comes back to makuuchi at Hatsu and they have another couple rikishi just outside the top two divisions, so there’s the possibility things could get better here before they get worse.

The former Hokutoumi jumps over his rival Yokozuna, the former Asahifuji’s heya in the charts as the now-Hakkaku climbs above Isegahama. Hakkaku is the greatest gainer this time out – usually this happens because one rikishi has had a crazy-good tournament. However, both Okinoumi and Hokutofuji grabbed the jun-yusho and special prizes and that’s a recipe for a lot of success on this chart. While the former has been inconsistent owing to injuries in the past year, one wouldn’t bet against a repeat from the latter if he shows up genki to the Kokugikan next week.

Kataonami and Arashio are 2 “feast or famine” stables reliant on the performances of just one rikishi – Tamawashi and Sokokurai respectively. So when one of those guys has a monster showing, their heya is likely to bound up the chart and fall down quickly when they don’t. Fortunately for Arashio, there are four very promising rikishi knocking on the door of the sekitori ranks (3 of whom we’ll talk more about later this week). That’s more rikishi than exist in total in Kataonami-beya, so it’s likely that Tamawashi will continue carrying the load for the foreseeable future.

 

Losers

Three stables again had absolutely miserable tournaments:

There’s no escaping the unfortunate, awful storm that beset Isegahama-beya. A pair of kyujo and a number of disappointing records meant that a heavy tumble (in terms of points) was always likely, and had it not been for Aminishiki’s inspiring performance, it could have been worse. And it likely will get much worse before it gets better, as the stable loses two sekitori (including one permanent Yokozuna retirement) for Hatsu, their former Ozeki has slipped to the middle of Maegashira, and we probably can’t count on another special prize from Uncle Sumo even though we’d clearly all love it.

Kokonoe, on the other hand, are due a bit of a rebound. Of their six sekitori, only J9 Chiyonoo posted the slenderest of winning records at 8-7. Their four top division rikishi will all be fairly comfortably placed in the middle of the Maegashira pack this time out, so we’d expect at least a couple of them to improve their showing.

Kise-beya falls off the charts entirely owing to a similarly poor tournament. Ura’s injury meant they only scored points from the Juryo ranks, and despite a number of rikishi hanging around the top end of Makushita, it’s likely going to be a couple of tournaments before they return to the charts. A final word for Sakaigawa-beya, whose decline is simply owed to Goeido putting up a yusho challenge in September and not November – they should continue to hang around the top end of the rankings.

Ichimon

chart-11

Here’s a three tournament progression of the ichimon rankings, above. These are really going to need many tournaments for us to see any kind of true trends owing to the volatility of the charts and the amount of rikishi involved in the listings. However, a new wave of debutants in the top divisions – as established wrestlers decline due to age or retire – will change the shape of this chart as well.

Given the recent political issues involving Takanohana, it will be interesting to see if his stable as well as the group of stables bearing his name will continue their progression. Not only has the rise of Takakeisho given him a top 5 heya by our rankings, but in the twins Takagenji and Takayoshitoshi, he has two more rikishi tipped to entrench themselves in the professional ranks. Additionally, the ichimon features another budding star in Onosho, and the respective recent and upcoming Juryo debutants Takanosho and Akua. Continued success from those associated with Takanohana would be something to note as we continue to watch and speculate on his future ambitions at the center of the sport.

Ones to Watch: Kyushu 17 Wrap-up

Above: Enho rounds off his tournament by escorting Akinohana off the dohyo.
Video c/o Asashosakari

Remember way back in September and October when we were shaking our heads in disbelief at “Wacky” Aki? How positively calm those days seem now. We took a week or so to collect ourselves following the conclusion of the unprecedented events of the Kyushu basho, but now it’s time to wrap-up our “Ones to Watch” series for 2017. Thanks to everyone who sent through kind words and their suggestions of future rikishi to follow – I think we’ll have a good list in store for Hatsu.

Results

So, how did our picks do on the whole?

Kachi-koshi: 17
Make-koshi: 3
Yusho: 🏆🏆
Hattorizakura-watch: ⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️⚫️

Makushita

Ms4 Mitoryu (Nishikido) – Mitoryu sealed his promotion to Juryo with a fine 6-1 record, justifying our selection as top pick in the Makushita ranks this time out. He’ll be ineligible for the list next time, but the much-vaunted rikishi will continue to be one to watch as he continues his progression and hopefully consolidates his place among the sekitori.

Ms7 Hokaho (Miyagino) – I was somewhat hopeful that Hokaho could continue his run, having scored winning records in every other basho in 2017. However the run stops here as he slumped to a 3-4 make-koshi courtesy of a final match loss against…

Ms11 Takayoshitoshi (Takanohana) – … who sealed his kachi-koshi in the same match. Takagenji’s twin will no doubt be challenged to follow his brother’s (who has managed to hold on to his place in Juryo) progress as he’ll see himself inside the top 10 Makushita ranks for Hatsu. The question is whether he can put together the run of consistency that could see him in promotion contention by mid-2018 – his mental makeup and application have been debated somewhat within the comments section of this site.

Ms12 Wakatakakage (Arashio) vs Ms22 Murata (Takasago) – Despite entering the tournament at a similar pedigree (just the odd loss separating them over their careers), the strength of schedule really told here. Wakatakakage was simply out-shoved against a selection of seasoned vets at this level en route to a 3-4 make-koshi, including the eventual yusho winner Tochihiryu. Murata on the other hand was able to bulldoze his way through the middle of the pack to a very strong 6-1 record that will see him promoted above his contemporary next time out and almost certainly into the top 10 Makushita ranks.

Ms14 Jokoryu (Kise) vs Ms14 Enho (Miyagino) – I felt there was a lot of spice in the Makushita 14 pairing as Jokoryu was the very last rikishi before Enho to achieve 3 consecutive 7-0 records to begin his career. With different goals at stake – Jokoryu’s late career fightback to the pro ranks, Enho’s effort to continue a blistering start to his career – both men valiantly achieved 5-2 records which will see them also placed in the Makushita top 10 in January.

It’s worth noting that Enho’s energy is absolutely remarkable, and currently his speed is the main trait that helps him overcome the massive size gaps that exist between him and most competitors. Additionally, he does a good job of keeping his opponents away from the mawashi, as once he’s locked up he’s fairly easy for larger, stronger rikishi to move around (as somewhat evidenced by his loss to the enormous Akiseyama, albeit a match where his arms rather than his belt were locked up). While he displays at times a composure beyond his years in the manner in which he dispatches much larger opponents, he also has suffered a few wild crashes off the dohyo, so we will hope that he stays healthy as he continues his development.

Ms26 Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) – I got this one a bit wrong, as I picked Ichiyamamoto as a bit of a sleeper yusho pick owing to the weak strength of schedule and his absolute tear up the banzuke to this point. He will continue his progression after posting a 4-3 kachi-koshi but we will want to see more next time. He displayed some good poise, despite being smaller than many of his opponents.

Ms50 Ryuko (Onoe) – A strong performance in his Makushita debut, putting up a 5-2 kachi-koshi, the odd loss coming to…

Ms52 Nishikifuji (Isegahama) – … whose victory over Ryuko (in a match that probably could have gone either way, Nishikifuji slapping down Ryuko on the verge of being pushed out at the edge) sealed a 6-1 tournament in which both men coughed up the other losses to the promising Mongolian Kiribayama. Both Ryuko and Nishikifuji are set for strong promotions upward in January and we will continue to monitor their progress. It’s worth noting that Nishikifuji’s performance at Kyushu was a rare bright spot for the otherwise beleaguered Isegahama stable.

Sandanme

Sd13 Fukuyama (Fujishima) vs Sd16 Tanabe (Kise) – I’ve rated Tanabe as the better of these two for a while, having only lost to Enho in his career entering the basho (in fairness to Fukuyama, he’d only lost to Tanabe, but he wasn’t running into Enho). This time, Enho was in another division and Tanabe repaid this faith with a solid 5-2 record that bested Fukuyama’s narrow 4 win kachi-koshi. Tanabe’s showing should be good enough to earn him a promotion, while Fukuyama will likely need to take another crack from the top of Sandanme next time out. As an aside, this is the part of the banzuke where an awful lot of rikishi’s successes are dependent about how they do against the squad from Sadogatake-beya. Both of these guys ended up facing 3 Koto-men – as did Tomokaze and Wakaichiro.

Sd53 Tomokaze (Oguruma) – Tomokaze comes up one loss short of “doing an Enho” from his first three tournaments – he dropped one match in Aki, but stormed back with a zensho (via playoff) here that solidified his credentials as a bona fide prospect. His relatively low ranking in the Sandanme division means he should end up somewhere around the magical Makushita 30 mark at which another unprecedented zensho might clinch another promotion, but it is likely based on past precedent that he’ll fall just short of this mark.

Sd84 Kotokumazoe (Sadogatake) – Talking of the myriad prospects of Sadogatake-beya, Kotokumazoe reinforces his credentials after his lengthy absence from the banzuke with a third straight solid tournament. His 5 win record should fire him up another 30-35 positions next time out.

Sd85 Wakaichiro (Musashigawa) – There’s no getting around that it was a disappointing debut at Sandanme level for the Texan, who has vowed to do better next time out. While his 1 win performance in the final basho of the year was not what he or his fans were hoping for, we are excited to see him continue his progression and hopefully solidify his credentials upon his return to Jonidan where he has already shown solid skill in several previous tournaments this year.

Jonidan

Jd15 Shoji (Musashigawa) – It’s a second straight yusho for Wakaichiro’s stablemate, who will swap places with the Tachiai-favorite in January as he earns an automatic promotion that will see him placed somewhere between Sd20-30. As we noted in our lower division yusho wrap-up, Shoji sealed the deal with a final match win over Torakio with whom he is developing a nice little rivalry.

Jd49 Torakio (Naruto) vs Jd49 Sumidagawa (Naruto) – Torakio may yet get another chance to avenge his second straight yusho race defeat to Shoji at Hatsu, as his 6 win record will more than likely be enough to get him up to Sandanme (the last time it wasn’t from his level was 1975). So while they’ll likely work from opposite ends of the division, one wouldn’t bet against the big and strong Bulgarian getting matched up with Shoji again should both men dominate in their step up.

For Sumidagawa, Torakio’s massive stablemate, the goal at Hatsu will be consolidation and further progression after he netted a 4-3 kachi-koshi which some Tachiai commenters mentioned might be the height of his ambition with respect to his more esteemed aforementioned colleague.

Jonokuchi

Jk20 Amatsu (Onomatsu) – 27 year old Amatsu turned in a fine performance on his comeback to the dohyo after nearly 3 years away. He only suffered one blemish, with a 6 win record that will see him comfortably promoted in his effort to make it back to the Makushita ranks. As I remarked last time, it was disappointing not to see him matched up with the yusho winner Kotoseigo given they were only placed 2 spots apart on the banzuke.

Jk20 Hayashi (Fujishima) – Speaking of solid performances, top debutant “Mike” Hayashi turned in a 6-1 record, his sole loss coming to the yusho winner Kotoseigo. He will be promoted at Hatsu and we will continue to monitor his progress. He will likely be replaced as our “top debutant to watch” at Hatsu by much vaunted Mongolian Yoshoyama of Tokitsukaze-beya.

Finally, while we don’t technically list Hattorizakura of Shikihide-beya as “one to watch,” we certainly will continue to look for his results, and unfortunately he put up his ninth straight 0-7 tournament at Kyushu. This tournament saw him do what I guess we can call a reverse Futabayama, as he has passed the legendary Yokozuna’s run of 63 and run his loss streak now to 67 consecutive losses (his second loss this time out, against the debutant Takita, was particularly heartbreaking as it looked like a sure win until he got Aminishiki’d at the edge). Here’s an interesting stat if you’re a Hattorizakura fan: only 16 other rikishi have managed to stay on the banzuke while not winning for seven consecutive tournaments (without going banzuke-gai). All of the other 16 were kyujo at some point, though a few did put up legitimate winless tournaments over that period. The great Yokozuna Takanohana II is a member of that list in the injury-addled latter stages of his career, so I guess Hattorizakura can at least say they have that in common!

Hatsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

kyushu-2017-banzuke

I embark on this exercise with more trepidation than usual. As noted in my previous post, there is a convergence of factors that makes this banzuke the least predictable since I started making these forecasts. Since then, we’ve also had Harumafuji’s retirement thrown into the mix. Usually, prediction errors just switch the positions of two or three rikishi, without affecting the rest of the banzuke. This time around, there is a lot of potential for errors that have cascading effects on much of the banzuke: for instance, incorrectly predicting whether Hokutofuji is given an extra Komusubi slot. That said, the forecast should still give a good idea of where everyone will end up within a rank or two. How it will fair in Guess The Banzuke is another matter—the game may see a rather unusual distribution of scores.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Kisenosato
Y2 Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

This is the only straightforward part of the banzuke. The Kyushu yusho winner Hakuho once again takes over his customary top spot. By virtue of his partial participation and four wins, Kisenosato moves up to Y1w. Kakuryu occupies what would have been Harumafuji’s slot. Both Kisenosato and Kakuryu are under orders to go the full 15 days in the next tournament they enter, and perform at Yokozuna levels, or retire. Kakuryu is under greater pressure to make Hatsu that next tournament.

9-6 Goeido and 8-5-2 Takayasu maintain their respective Ozeki positions from Kyushu; neither is kadoban.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Tamawashi
K1 Takakeisho  Onosho
K2 Hokutofuji

Three rikishi will drop out of San’yaku: Sekiwake Yoshikaze and “Ozekiwake” Terunofuji, as well as Komusubi Kotoshogiku. Two incumbents remain. Mitakeumi defended his S1e rank and is the only definite placement among the San’yaku contenders.

Who gets the other Sekiwake slot? The contenders are Onosho, incumbent Komusubi who achieved a bare-minimum 8-7 kachi-koshi winning record, and the two rikishi ranked just below him who both went 11-4: M1e Tamawashi and M1w Takakeisho. Because Takakeisho is ranked below Tamawashi, he cannot jump over him with the same record, and is almost certainly out of the running for Sekiwake despite assembling a very strong record against tough competition and defeating Tamawashi head-to-head. Takakeisho will instead make his first San’yaku appearance as shin-Komusubi.

Onosho’s main claim to Sekiwake rank is that he achieved a winning record as Komusubi, and normally that gets first dibs on any open Sekiwake slot. He also defeated Tamawashi and Takakeisho head-to-head. But his overall record isn’t as strong. In addition to the wins over the two M1 rikishi, he defeated one Yokozuna, one Komusubi, M3 Hokutofuji, and three other rank-and-filers. He had six losses to San’yaku opponents, and also lost to the woeful Tochiozan.

By comparison, Tamawashi defeated two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, one Komusubi, and Hokutofuji, with no “bad” losses. Takakeisho was similarly impressive, defeating two Yokozuna, one Ozeki, two Sekiwake, and Tamawashi, and losing only to a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, and the two Komusubi. By the numbers, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and, for that matter, Hokutofuji, all performed better than Onosho. Since I’m a numbers guy, I’m going with the forecast above, but don’t be surprised if the NSK goes by rank instead, and the banzuke ends up with S1w Onosho, K1e Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. They could also give everyone a promotion with S1w Tamawashi, K1e Onosho, and K1w Takakeisho, although this would only increase the disparity between the two M1 rikishi.

A better solution to this mess might be to create an extra Sekiwake slot, but this seems highly unlikely, since an 11-4 record at M1 is not considered strong enough to “force” such an extra slot, and neither is an 8-7 record at Komusubi. Plus this still leaves out one of the deserving trio, and they’re certainly not creating two extra slots!

Finally, Hokutofuji more than earned an extra Komusubi slot—no rikishi with his rank and record has ever been left out of San’yaku. Given recent events, sumo could use both an extra rikishi in the upper ranks and a positive story, so I’m going with Hokutofuji at K2e, though this is also far from certain.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Ichinojo Yoshikaze
M2 Kotoshogiku Tochinoshin
M3 Chiyotairyu Arawashi
M4 Shodai Endo
M5 Okinoumi Takarafuji

If there are 10 rikishi in the named ranks as predicted, and if they all participate for the entire tournament, the M1-M3 ranks will constitute the joi, facing a full slate of San’yaku opponents. However, recent history suggests that some or all in the M4-M5 ranks will be drawn into the fray as well.

Ichinojo performed well enough in Kyushu to have received a San’yaku rank on many a banzuke, but he misses out on this top-heavy one. If he keeps bringing the same sumo, it’s only a matter of time. Okinoumi moves up 7 spots, and Endo moves up 5. I gave Endo the nod over Okinoumi because he is popular, and they owe him one after the “unorthodox” scheduling near the end of Kyushu.

Mid-Maegashira

M6 Ikioi Chiyonokuni
M7 Chiyoshoma Tochiozan
M8 Kaisei Chiyomaru
M9 Sokokurai Shohozan
M10 Aminishiki Terunofuji
M11 Kotoyuki Daishomaru
M12 Daieisho Kagayaki
M13 Abi Takekaze

Another potential minefield for predictions. With the exception of Ikioi, no current member of Makuuchi among this group achieved even 9 wins in Kyushu; everyone else is either getting promoted too much with a bare-minimum 8 wins, or not getting demoted enough. I’ve given Terunofuji the most generous placement I can justify. Sokokurai, who went 14-1 in Juryo, gets the highest placement for a promoted rikishi since May 2016. Abi makes his highly anticipated Makuuchi debut at M13.

Lower Maegashira

M14 Asanoyama Ishiura
M15 Yutakayama Nishikigi
M16 Daiamami Ryuden

Harumafuji’s retirement and Terunofuji’s demotion shrink San’yaku to either 9 or 10 members. I’m going with 10, and so my banzuke extends down to M16w. If Hokutofuji is left out of San’yaku, the banzuke would extend to M17 for the first time since July 2014.

Harumafuji’s retirement at least clarified the line between Makuuchi and Juryo. We don’t have to decide if Daiamami did just enough to earn a second chance, or if Ryuden did just enough to get promoted—both should be in the top division in January. They’ll be joined by Asanoyama, who’ll be looking to regain his Aki form, Ishiura, who gets another shot at showing that he belongs in Makuuchi, where he successfully fought for nearly a year before a disastrous Aki landed him in Juryo, Yutakayama, who will be looking to improve on his two previous one-and-done 4-11 top-division tournaments, and Nishikigi, who just barely survives yet again.

Comparing the Great Ones: The Lasting Impact of Generational Athletes

Hakuho-Gretzky Final

Today marks one week since the end of the 2017 Kyushu basho, and while most of the post-tournament media has centered around the unfortunate retirement of Harumafuji, there are still several stories to be covered as we move on from Fukuoka. One such story is the milestone 40th yusho win by Yokozuna Hakuho Sho. In a post last week, Bruce summarized Hakuho’s decorated career by comparing him to several of the worlds most talented athletes. While all of these comparisons are accurate, when I explain the Dai-Yokozuna to my non-sumo friends and family, there is only one man whose achievements in his respective sport are equal to those of Hakuho: The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

While sumo and hockey couldn’t be more different, there are striking similarities between the careers of Hakuho and Gretzky. For starters, both men began their professional careers in their late teens, with Hakuho having his maezumo tournament at 16, while Gretzky made his first WHA appearance at the age of 17. It took less than seven years for each of them to achieve the top prize in their respective sports, with Hakuho earning his first yusho six years after his debut and Gretzky winning The Stanley Cup in his fifth season. But the most comparable characteristic Hakuho and Gretzky share is the lasting impact they have had on their sports. As the most dominant athletes to ever compete in sumo and hockey respectively, Hakuho and Gretzky have accumulated an impressive array of achievements and accolades. While Gretzky holds the records for points, goals, and assists in hockey, sumo’s records for most yusho (40), zensho yusho (13), career wins (1064), and top division wins (970) belong to Hakuho. With such colossal records as these, and with no athlete past or present coming close to equaling them, the legacies of these two men may never be surpassed. As the Wayne Gretzky of sumo, Hakuho’s impact on Japan’s national sport will be felt for decades to come.

So what does this all mean to sumo fans moving forward? Well, as a hockey enthusiast, I’ve learned of several realities one must come to terms with when their favourite sport is dominated by generational athletes such as Hakuho and Gretzky.

1. Hakuho’s records will go unbroken for a very long time
The majority of Gretzky’s records were set in the 1980’s, and since then no player has come close to breaking them. They have stood for over 30 years, and sumo fans could see Hakuho’s records stand just as long, if not longer. Hakuho may be a once in a lifetime athlete, but a bit of luck also played a part in his success. He has remained relatively injury-free for much of his career and staying in fighting form for so long allowed him to set the bar to such a high degree. It will take another generational athlete with a similar set of circumstances to come close to rivaling Hakuho’s legacy.

2. Second is the new first
Since Gretzky’s time, there have been a select few who have made runs at his records. The only active player within sight of these lofty achievements is Jaromir Jagr, who despite playing well into his forties, still trails Gretzky by a staggering 937 points. Despite being the ultimate second fiddle, Jagr is considered one of the all-time greats of the sport. Much in the same vein, as Hakuho’s achievements rise further and further out of reach, many a Yokozuna’s career will be defined by how close they can get to his records. Sumo’s future legends will be those who can surpass Taiho’s 32 yusho mark, or Kaio’s 1047 career wins, and end their careers nearest to Hakuho.

3. Future greats of the sport will be compared to Hakuho
It is no secret that a changing of the guard is poised to take place in the world of Sumo. Many veterans will soon begin to leave the fighting to younger generations, and new stars will emerge to take their place. Much like every standout NHL rookie has been called the next Gretzky, sumo’s great rikishi of tomorrow will undoubtedly be compared to Hakuho at every milestone. Hakuho will be the measuring stick upon which every future Yokozuna will be judged, for better or for worse.

Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Hakuho’s achievements will remain a part of sumo’s rich tapestry for years, if not decades, to come. He is The Great One of sumo, the Gretzky of rikishi, and the most dominant Yokozuna of all time. Hakuho has climbed to the top of the mountain, and it will take a hell of a man to knock him down.

Summary of the Meeting of the Board of Directors of the NSK, Nov. 30

Yesterday, Nov. 30, the NSK Board of Directors held its regular meeting. In addition to run-of-the-mill stuff like the creation of a new heya, much of the discussion was around matters related to the Harumafuji scandal.

press-conference-nov-30

The board of directors finally succeeded in securing Takanohana’s cooperation with the crisis committee’s investigation. Takanohana claimed that cooperating with them will interfere with the police investigation. The board contacted the Tottori police by phone, and were told that the matter is left to their discretion. Eventually Takanohana agreed to cooperate once the police investigation is complete. The police is expected to hand its report to the prosecutor in mid-December. So the crisis committee expects to interview Takanoiwa and prepare a final report by December 20th. At that time, irregular meetings of both the YDC and the NSK board will be held, and further decisions will be made.

The decisions are not expected to relate to Harumafuji himself, as he is no longer an employee of the NSK.

Hakuho and his stablemaster, Miyagino oyakata, were called in to the meeting, and reprimanded severely for Hakuho’s conduct – the “matta” protest, the contents of his yusho speech, and the “banzai”.

Another decision was related to a publication in Shukkan Shincho (a weekly magazine) which claimed that Mongolian rikishi were exchanging Yaocho among themselves. The NSK will file a complaint against the magazine.

It was decided that since Takanohana is deeply involved in the current issue, he will sit out the Winter Jungyo, and Kasugano oyakata will take his place.

The crisis committee presented an interim report. They still need to interview Takanoiwa, but having interviewed everybody else involved, they believe the content is pretty much established. Following the board meeting, a press conference was held and the details of the interim report were presented.

Details of the assault

  • On October 25th, a dinner party was held by associates of the Tottori Johoku High School, to support their graduates. The dinner party included Hakhuo, Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Takanoiwa, Ishiura, and people from Tottory Johoku high. This was not a Mongolian-only meeting nor was it intended as such.
  • In the dinner party itself, Hakuho took issue with Takanoiwa regarding rude behavior he exhibited in September at some restaurant in Tokyo. In this instance, Harumafuji defended Takanoiwa and the matter was dropped.
  • Harumafuji usually had a soft spot for Takanoiwa, who has lost both his parents, because he himself lost his father. He would give him advice, buy him meals etc.
  • The after-party, which took place in another venue – a private room in a lounge bar – included most of the participants in the dinner party.
  • At the after-party, Hakuho started lecturing to Terunofuji and Takanoiwa that they should be dutifully thankful to their high school for their ability to do sumo.
  • Takanoiwa began fiddling with his smartphone. Harumafuji berated him for doing that in the middle of Hakuho’s speech. Takanoiwa answered “It’s mail from my girlfriend” with a wry smile. This angered Harumafuji, and he slapped Takanoiwa on his face once.
  • Takanoiwa returned a defiant stare and did not apologize. At this point Harumafuji proceeded to slap him about 10 times, and added a few hits to the head with the karaoke remote control, demanding the apology.
  • Harumafuji picked up a bottle of champagne and raised it above his head, but it slipped and fell. He did not hit Takanoiwa with a bottle,  did not attempt to throw any other object at him, and did not straddle him at any point.
  • Hakuho stepped in, and the beating stopped.
  • Harumafuji drank sake on that occasion, but was not heavily drunk, and has full memory of the entire affair. There is no evidence of bad drunken behavior on his part on previous occasions.
  • The result of the beating was an injury which required the use of a skin stapler.
  • According to the hospital that issued the medical certificate, it is doubtful that there was a skull fracture or a leakage of cranial fluid. [Note: this could also be translated as “there was a suspicion of fracture/leakage”. Choose your version.]
  • The medical certificate included a rest period of two weeks which was supposed to be from October 26th through November 8th, and he was released on November 9th after the hospital was satisfied with his state of health.

This summary is based on several news outlets, primarily:

Don’t Pin The Blame On Alcohol

On the third day of the Kyushu basho, when the news hit us that Harumafuji had beaten up Takanoiwa, I – like many sumo fans around the world – was shocked to the core.

harumafuji-press-conference

There are not many rikishi at the top of the sport whose perceived character is so far away from “violent drunkard” as Harumafuji’s was. This man was known for helping old ladies with their baggage, for being nice to children, for making himself available to fans. He was known for his habit of embracing his opponents after a yori-kiri, to prevent them from injuring themselves falling off the dohyo, and for being generous with his advice to young wrestlers as well as tough opponents. And he was also known for his responsibility to his rank, as demonstrated when he persisted in the Aki basho despite injuries and serial losses, because he was the sole Yokozuna in attendance.

How does one reconcile this image with that of a violent rampage in a bar? Many of us assumed that it was the alcohol. It’s not unheard of for people with good self-control to become violent under the influence. In one of my comments, I compared Harumafuji to Hercules: Hercules, who was a strong but gentle person, was struck by madness and killed his wife and kids. When the madness left him, he had to face what his own hands had wrought.

This was a fine picture to paint, but it left us with the puzzle of why the Yokozuna did nothing once the hangover was gone. Where was that famous sense of responsibility? How could he proceed in doing Yokozuna dohyo-iri while he knew that he committed an act of violence that was no less severe than the one that caused Asashoryu to retire? Was Harumafuji really such a cynical hypocrite?

Bruce suggested that the Yokozuna offered to resign but was denied until the NSK could think of the best solution. This, too, didn’t feel right to me. The worst time for any scandal to break is in the middle of a basho. If he had reported it at the end of the Jungyo, I would have expected the NSK to handle matters at least partially before the basho, and to at least instruct him to go kyujo and make himself scarce from the beginning to the end of the basho.

Another puzzling aspect was that it seems his answers to the police questioning were detailed and coherent. To me that seemed beyond the capability of a brain soaked in so much alcohol as to cause a man to entirely forget his values.

Earlier today, the Yokozuna and his visibly weeping stablemaster held a press conference, which shed some light on some of these questions.

When asked about the reason for the violence, Harumafuji said: “I feel that it is the duty of a sempai and a Yokozuna to correct low-ranking rikishi’s manners and conduct. In scolding him, I injured him, and this brought mayhem and trouble for everybody involved.”

When asked why he then continued in his daily life as if nothing has happened, he replied “I didn’t know that this would get to the papers. Takanoiwa came later to apologize. I told him to be thankful he has a big brother to guide him, and told him to take care and work hard, and we parted with a handshake. I didn’t think the matter would go any further than that.”

Both Isegahama and Harumafuji stressed that this was not caused by drunkenness. Isegahama said that he has never seen or heard rumor of Harumafuji being violent when drinking. Harumafuji repeated the same: “I have never hurt anybody or acted violently when I drank, and I have never been told that I act badly when drunk.”

Later the same day, Demon Kakka was asked to comment to the press about the Harumafuji resignation.

demon-kakka

Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure) is this flamboyant rocker, who is known for always being in character, and for being a huge sumo fan. He is a popular sumo commentator. Some of you may have seen him in various sumo TV shows, including the “Sunday Sports” program in which he interviewed Harumafuji after the yusho he won in the last Aki basho.

Kakka gave the press the straight dope:  After saying that in his personal opinion, he would have preferred Harumafuji not to retire, he then continued: “In the sumo world the tradition of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is still entrenched. Harumafuji must be thinking: ‘Why am I being singled out about something everybody is doing’? The fact that this tradition is considered obvious in the sumo world makes the current problem a structural issue. Times have changed. The Yokozuna’s retirement is not going to solve the problem. The sumo world needs to think up ways to bring up its rikishi other than the current merciless system”.

Kakka has a point there. Take the case of Kasugano oyakata, who disciplined Tochinoshin and two other wrestlers by beating them with golf club in October 2011, for repeated violations of the dress and curfew code. After matters became public (because of an anonymous tip to the police), he admitted to “going to far”, apologized, got severely reprimanded by the NSK… And Tochinoshin and the two others apologized and were disciplined (in a more humane manner). He now serves as the head of the NSK public relations department.

Why should Harumafuji have thought that he would end up any differently? The picture now becomes much clearer. He didn’t actually think he did something as bad as Asashoryu. Asashoryu attacked a man who was not related to the sumo world. This is something that Harumafuji would never do. But Harumafuji thought that he was “doing it for Takanoiwa’s own good”. It’s not violence if it’s education, and it’s not education without violence, as Kakka said. And apparently Takanoiwa also accepted those terms. The Yokozuna did not think he did something a Yokozuna shouldn’t do until the matter hit the papers. Even after that, he was quoted as saying that “the one thing that he didn’t want to do was to retire”, continued to practice every day, and even announced that he will be kyujo for the jungyo. These are the acts of someone who believes he has at least some hope of keeping his rope and his hairdo.

It was not until the YDC made its “dealt with with utmost severity” statement that the Yokozuna realized that his act is not going to be treated like the Kasugano case, and had to offer his resignation hurriedly before the deliberations of the Banzuke committee.


Details of the press conference: NHK (Japanese)

Demon Kakka interview: Sponichi

 

Harumafuji Retirement – Early English Media Coverage

harumafuji

Following Bruce’s post earlier today, it has been confirmed that the 70th Yokozuna Harumafuji has submitted his resignation, which has been announced by Isegahama-oyakata and the Yokozuna himself, in a press conference at 2pm Japan time today. While undoubtedly more coverage and analysis will follow here at Tachiai, the news has already received worldwide coverage, and so here is a quick round up of English-language media announcing the end of the 9-time yusho winner’s storied career:

NHK World has been running a one minute segment every hour as part of their NHK World Newsline coverage. This segment was online but has since disappeared from their general online statement, which can be viewed here. NHK World also covered the Press Conference with live translation for 15 minutes of the 2pm hour of Newsline and we can expect that coverage to repeat in edited pieces throughout the coming hours (Edited to add – the 15 minute segment is now viewable by clicking here).

NHK World added a second press hit within the last hour linking the news to the past abdications of Asashoryu and Futahaguro. Additionally they have coverage of the timing of the retirement as well as a chronology of the incident.

The Japan Times have also updated their article announcing the retirement, within the last few hours, which is running on their front page.

The Guardian (UK) is running a piece, quoting from Isegahama-oyakata’s announcement that Harumafuji has “caused great trouble” to the NSK and the sport. Fox Sports, Reuters, Deutsche Welle and more are also running coverage, largely syndicated across Associated Press outlets.

Yokozuna Harumafuji To Announce Retirement

Harumafuji

It has been reported in the Japanese press that embattled Yokozuna Harumafuji will hold a press conference Wednesday, and it is assumed that he will be announcing his intention to retire from sumo. While his fans all hoped that he would find a way to weather the controversy around his drunken beating of Takanoiwa, it was clear following yesterdays meeting of the YDC that he was not going to be given any quarter.

Should he retire, as is now expected, it will resolve the Sumo Kyokai’s involvement in the matter. His intai represents a significant loss for the sumo world, as Yokozuna are rare, and Harumafuji has been willing to do whatever it takes to support sumo and uphold his rank on the dohyo.

Check back with Tachiai, as we will bring you further details as they develop.

Yokozuna Deliberation Committee Post-Kyushu Meeting

The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee (or Council – YDC in short) convened earlier today for its regular post-basho meeting. The meeting took place in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

YDC-2017-11

The meeting was longer than the usual, and included a briefing from the head of the NSK (Hakkaku) and other attending oyakata about the state of the Harumafuji investigation currently being conducted by the NSK’s crisis management committee.

Concluding Statements

Following the meeting, the head of the YDC, Masato Kitamura, held a press conference, and made the following statements:

  • Regarding the kyujo Yokozuna, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the YDC wishes to see them take care of their health and attend the next basho in good form. Although Kitamura said that continuing the current situation casts doubt on their ability to maintain their status as Yokozuna, many voices in the YDC said that the Yokozuna should be allowed to rest as much as they need and that they should not need to end their reigns. (Edited to include the two conflicting messages).
  • Kitamura was very critical of Hakuho’s yusho “interview”:
    • The three “banzai” cheers were uncalled for. In the middle of a crisis in the world of sumo, and after his behavior in the match vs. Yoshikaze, there was no occasion to cheer.
    • Implying that there was a festering wound in the sumo world that “needed to be cleansed” is “strange”, and not something that a Yokozuna should say.
    • Promising to bring back Harumafuji and Takanoiwa as if it’s something within his power is also uncalled for.
  • Although it is not within the scope of the YDC’s responsibilities, he decided to comment about Takanohana’s behavior: “It is inexplicable. What is he trying to do? It seems as if he is trying to throw a spanner into the NSK’s investigation.”

Of course, the main issue of the press conference was the Harumafuji affair. Regarding that, Mr. Kitamura explained that as the NSK has not completed its investigation, the YDC is deferring its official recommendation until that investigation is done, at which point they will convene an irregular meeting to deliberate and make a recommendation.

However, he added that as it was undeniable that a violent act did take place, all the members of the YDC were unanimous in their outrage, and said that Harumafuji should be “dealt with with utmost severity”. He added that the YDC has several possible recommendations in its arsenal, from warning through an advice to retire, but “currently we do not know which level we will choose”.

Analysis

In theory, the YDC does not have any real power. It makes recommendations to the management of the NSK, and the NSK can decide whatever it wants.

However, other than general, non-actionable advice such as “get well and come back quickly” such as they have given above to Kisenosato and Kakuryu, the YDC’s “action item” recommendations are generally respected.

Of course, most of the precedents involve recommendations regarding promotions to Yokozuna rather than retirement advice. The YDC has blocked some expected promotions in the past for various reasons and those blocks have been respected.

There have not been many precedents for retirement deliberations. Sponichi (a Japanese news outlet) came up with only three precedents, two of which are not really pertinent:

  • Onokuni, in 1989, was make-koshi in the Aki basho. This is considered to be a cause for retirement for any Yokozuna. However, the recommendation they gave his stablemaster was that he should “get himself together, concentrate on practicing, and become a strong Yokozuna”.
  • In 1999, the third Wakanohana was makekoshi in the Aki basho. Again, the YDC did not recommend retirement but called him in and asked him to take care of his injuries and come back to the dohyo for a decisive basho. Following two kyujo he decided to participate, and retired after losing going 2-4.
  • Asashoryu’s drunken violence was the first and only time the YDC has decided to issue a recommendation of retirement to a Yokozuna. However, Asashoryu handed his resignation on his own initiative before that recommendation was made official.

When they say that “Harumafuji should be dealt with with utmost severity”, the YDC does not leave much room to believe that once the investigation is over they will be lenient. In fact, it sounds as if they have made up their minds already, and are only waiting for the NSK’s conclusions out of politeness.

And once that recommendation is formally made, if the NSK ignores it, it will be unprecedented and extraordinary. The NSK has the power to expel, dismiss, suspend or warn a rikishi. But if the YDC decides that a Yokozuna no longer has the “hinkaku”, if he does not hand in his resignation on his own as Asashoryu did, I cannot see how the NSK could justify keeping him as Yokozuna.

What about Hakuho’s vow, then? He wants to keep Harumafuji around. But I can hardly see how he can achieve that. I cannot see him convincing the members of the YDC to be less harsh, as you can see in the statements above he does not have any friends there. It’s an arch-conservative body, and one not known to be very friendly to foreigners, no matter how many yusho they have won.

In the NSK the situation is not much better. There are many conservatives in the NSK, and there was even a quote today from a “veteran oyakata” saying that there should not be Mongols in sumo. If Hakuho wants something unprecedented and extraordinary like ignoring the YDC to be done, the “reformers” may be his only potential allies. Only… the head of the reformers is Takanohana. Exactly the wrong man.

In western sports we might have expected him to try and arrange a wrestler strike or something similar. But this is unheard of in sumo.

In summary, I believe that the statement “to be dealt with with utmost severity” has pretty much clinched Harumafuji’s fate. The results of the investigation may be less severe than we thought at first. He may not face charges if he only used his bare hands. The fans may be able to forgive him. But the chances that we will see him on a dohyo ever again are vanishingly small.

What the Kyushu Results Mean for Hatsu

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 12.38.54 PM

The Kyushu basho has concluded, and while the Yusho race was largely a one-man affair, the rest of the proceedings were filled with unanticipated results. At the end of each basho, the banzuke gets reshuffled for the next one, and this is the most complex and unpredictable reshuffling I’ve seen. I will have a full banzuke forecast post once I’ve digested the final results, but here are some initial thoughts.

What makes the task difficult for the banzuke makers?

I’m glad you asked. We have a confluence of unusual events.

  • Below the Yokozuna ranks, we had three rikishi who missed all or most of the tournament, ranging in rank from Sekiwake Terunofuji to M8 Takanoiwa to M16 Ura. Where should they be ranked in January?
  • We have a 14-1 Juryo champion, erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay Sokukurai, who needs to be worked into the banzuke much higher than usual for rikishi promoted from Juryo.
  • We have several 7-8 rikishi whose make-koshi records warrant demotion, but there is a dearth of rikishi with kachi-koshi records to place ahead of them.
  • Several rikishi near the bottom of Makuuchi have records that aren’t quite good enough to make them safe from demotion to Juryo. Conversely, several rikishi near the top of Juryo have records that aren’t quite good enough to guarantee promotion to Makuuchi.
  • Perhaps the greatest complication is that we have 5, count them, 5 rikishi whose records would usually warrant Sekiwake rank, and only 4 “normal” San’yaku slots to accommodate them. This doesn’t even include Ichinojo, who will miss out on San’yaku promotion despite accumulating double-digit wins at M4.

Who will be in San’yaku?

We already knew that Kotoshogiku will vacate his Komusubi slot; with today’s loss, Yoshikaze will drop from Sekiwake all the way into the maegashira ranks (I expect to see him at maegashira 1). We also know that Mitakeumi will retain his Sekiwake 1e slot by virtue of his 9-6 record.

Beyond that, things get complicated. Our shin-Komusubi, Onosho, turned things around in a big way and ended the basho with an 8-7 record that guarantees a second tournament in San’yaku. Normally, this record would also ensure a promotion to the open Sekiwake slot, but this time we have another strong contender in former Sekiwake Tamawashi, who went 11-4 from the M1e slot. In the past, there have been a couple of cases of an 8-7 Komusubi and a 10-5 M1 competing for a Sekiwake slot, and it’s played out in different ways. Going 11-4 makes Tamawashi’s claim stronger, but I’m not sure how this will play out.

Onosho’s friend and fellow rising star Takakeisho also went 11-4 from the M1w slot. Being on the West side puts him in line behind Tamawashi, and 11-4 is not strong enough to force an extra Sekiwake slot to open, so he will be shin-Komusubi at Hatsu. This fills up four San’yaku slots: S1e Mitakeumi, S1w/K1e Onosho/Tamawashi, K1w Takakeisho. So what to do with M3 Hokutofuji, who also delivered an amazing 11-4 performance? My guess is that this record is good enough to force the creation of an extra Komusubi slot, and that he will be K2e at Hatsu, but it’s not guaranteed. Having all four of the promising youngsters—Mitakeumi, Onosho, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji—in San’yaku, plus the formidable veteran Tamawashi, with Ichinojo knocking on the door, makes me really look forward to Hatsu. It’s going to be a long wait until January 14th!

Who will be in the joi?

The joi is a somewhat nebulous category of the top 16 or so rikishi who battle each other. In addition to the upper named ranks, it includes a number of the highest-ranked maegashira. How many? Well, that varies from tournament to tournament depending on the number of San’yaku members participating, and as we’ve seen recently, it can change during a tournament following withdrawals of upper-rank rikishi. In Kyushu, the line fell between M5e Takarafuji, who faced a number of the upper-rankers, and M5w Arawashi, who made only a couple of cameo appearances.

Drawing the line in the same place for Hatsu, the 9 rikishi projected to make up the joi include 4 current members and 5 wrestlers from lower down the banzuke who separated themselves from the rest. The returnees include the two demotees from San’yaku, Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, M2 Chiyotairyu, who fought his way to a respectable 7-8 record after a rough start, and Ichinojo. These four should make up the M1/M2 ranks. Rounding out the M3-M5e slots should be Tochinoshin, Arawashi, Shodai, Okinoumi and Endo; none are newcomers to this part of the banzuke.

Where will the Makuuchi/Juryo line fall?

Barring unusual circumstances (e.g., multiple retirements, court orders…), Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Takanoiwa, and Ura will be demoted from Makuuchi. Sokokurai and newcomer Abi have definitely earned their promotions from Juryo. I think Asanoyama and Nishikigi did just enough to avoid demotion by the skin of their teeth, and Ishiura and Yutakayama did just enough to return to Makuuchi after a one-tournament absence (but not enough to convince us they can make it an extended stay). The bubble is made up of Daiamami and Ryuden, who may or may not exchange spots in what would be a Makuuchi debut for Ryuden. Ryuden would have made this decision a lot easier had he defeated Daiamami head-to-head when they met on day 14.

I don’t envy the banzuke makers (or your humble prognosticator). If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer.

Kyushu Day 15 Highlights

Kensho-Pile

It’s going to be light for the commentary today, as I am traveling to faraway lands on business. There was some fantastic action today, including a great yusho speech from Hakuho. Scandal hounds are, however, locked to the pounce position waiting for the post-basho fireworks.

As I am sure lksumo will describe in due time, there is another San’yaku log-jam, with a crowd of high-performing rikishi all clamoring for a pair of vacated slots. While it’s great to see so many press for higher rank, this is a function of the devastated Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. Had the full roster been present and healthy, many of these men would be lucky to eke out an 8-7 kachi-koshi. Instead, we have, once again, significant score inflation due to a lack of top predators culling the herd. When there is Hakuho with his overwhelming sumo, and a crowd of everyone else, you have a rotating list of who gets to lose to Hakuho, and then everyone else slugging it out on more or less even footing. This makes the yusho race predictable, but it makes for exciting times lower down the banzuke.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Chiyoshoma – Uncle Sumo defeats the increasingly annoying Chiyoshoma to secure a storied kachi-koshi on the final day. Aminishiki was visibly emotional, and the Fukuoka Kokusai Center erupted in joy to see the veteran succeed in his quest. With his victory, he picks up the kanto-sho special prize.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takekaze – Takekaze delivered a brutal tachiai, but Chiyonokuni seems to fear no pain and blasts Takekaze over the edge. Sadly Chiyonokuni appeared genuinely injured after the match. The loss leaves Takekaze make-koshi.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Shohozan has fought well this basho, but he achieved an absolutely miserable 3-12 record. The win by Aoiyama in the final match may slightly cushion the man-mountain’s fall down the banzuke.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – The match itself was quite straightforward, as there was really nothing left for Okinoumi to push for. Takakeisho’s oshi-zumo is quite impressive, and the team at Tachiai are waiting to see if he broadens his sumo to include more mawashi attacks as he strives for higher rank.

Tamawashi defeats Hokutofuji – Tamawashi made short work of Hokutofuji, and both men finish the basho with impressive 11-4 records. As with the prior bout, neither rikishi was going to push too hard and risk an injury, as both had achieved much and secured healthy promotions for Hatsu.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – The red mawashi once again activated in a moment of need, powering Onosho over Takarafuji to place the mighty tadpole in competition for Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot. Onosho had this match at the tachiai and easily picked up his kachi-koshi win. Takarafuji battled well this tournament but leaves with a 7-8 make-koshi. Scoff at the red mawashi superstition, but after starting the basho 1-6, Onosho reverted to his red mawashi and racked up 7 wins over the final 8 matches. It may have been as simple as a physical change to allow Onosho to emotionally re-focus his sumo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – In spite of a matta and re-start, the tachiai was mistimed and sloppy. Fans of local rikishi Kotoshogiku were thrilled to see the “Kyushu-bulldozer” lower the blade and push the Mongolian giant around the dohyo and into the abyss. Ichinojo finishes 10-5 and is at long last looking to be a serious competitor once more.

Mitakeumi defeats Yoshikaze – The all-Sekiwake bout was all Mitakeumi. With Yoshikaze injured, he picked up his 9th loss, and will likely be out of San’yaku for Hatsu. Mitakeumi improved to 9-6 after struggling with injuries to his foot at the start, but is still under-performing to launch an Ozeki campaign.

Hakuho defeats Goeido – Goeido put a strong effort into his sumo today, but Hakuho has been unstoppable this tournament, and after going chest to chest, the Yokozuna dispatched Goeido with his preferred uwatenage.

Sansho Special Prizes Awarded for Kyushu Basho

With senshuraku underway, the sansho selection committee has announced the special prize recipients for the 2017 Kyushu basho. Unsurprisingly, both Hokutofuji and Okinoumi received awards for their tremendous performances, taking home the technique and fighting spirit prizes respectively.

The outstanding performance prize was awarded to Takakeisho for defeating two Yokozuna and one Ozeki. Takaksisho now has three sansho to his name, as he won his first outstanding performance prize in September and the fighting spirit prize in March.

Finally, everyone’s favorite uncle, Aminishiki, can earn a fighting spirit prize if he gets his kachi koshi in his day 15 match with Chiyoshoma. This would be his tenth career sansho prize and his second in the fighting spirit category. It has been a pleasure to watch Aminishiki perform his crafty brand of sumo at the ripe old age of 39, and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping he can get his eighth win and take home the hardware!

Update:
Uncle Sumo has his kachi koshi and will receive the kanto-sho prize for fighting spirit!!! Viewers can look forward to more of Aminishiki at the 2018 Hatsu basho.

Matches to Watch on Senshuraku

Today’s results drained some of the drama from the final day, but there are still several bouts with a lot at stake, as well as ones with high entertainment value.

At the top of the torikumi, Goeido faces Hakuho. This bout is for pride, as Goeido already has his kachi-koshi and Hakuho has clinched the Emperor’s Cup. Goeido is fighting to reach double-digit wins, and seeks to improve on his 6-35 lifetime record against Hakuho, while the Boss surely wants to punctuate his unprecedented 40th yusho with a victory on senshuraku.

Given today’s results, MitakeumiYoshikaze is not the “there can be only one (Sekiwake)” clash it might have been, as Mitakeumi earned his kachi-koshi and will remain S1e, while Yoshikaze was handed his make-koshi and will give up his rank after two tournaments. What’s at stake? With a win, Yoshikaze should only be demoted to Komusubi, while with a loss, he’ll drop out of San’yaku altogether.

KotoshogikuIchinojo could be a great bout from an entertainment standpoint, but there’s not a lot at stake. Even with an 11-4 record, Ichinojo is unlikely to get a San’yaku promotion, something that has never happened before to an M4 rikishi with that record, but the logjam ahead of him is also unprecedented.

Onosho, on the other hand, probably has the most at stake of any rikishi tomorrow when he faces Takarafuji. Both men are 7-7, so it’s a straight kachi/make-koshi playoff. For Onosho, the difference between outcomes is stark: win, and he probably gets Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot; lose, and he drops out of San’yaku altogether.

San’yaku promotion supremacy comes down to two bouts: TamawashiHokutofuji and OkinoumiTakakeisho. Right now, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji are essentially tied, and their pecking order is determined by their current rank. With a win, Tamawashi will claim the highest promotion slot. If Hokutofuji wins, then Takakeisho needs to win to stay ahead of him. However things play out, all three should be in San’yaku for Hatsu.

In addition to Onosho and Takarafuji, 3 others will have their make/kachi-koshi fate determined on the final day. Takekaze will look to earn his kachi-koshi against Chiyonokuni, while Chiyoshoma and Aminishiki go head-to-head. I hope Uncle Sumo has one last good trick left for this bout.

In what can’t have happened very often, Endo goes from his cameo at the very top of the torikumi to the very bottom, where he will try to achieve double-digit wins against Kagayaki.

The battle for Makuuchi remains a muddle, and may do so even after tomorrow’s matches. Nishikigi (against Daishomaru) and Daiamami (against Shodai) are fighting to avoid demotion; to a lesser extent, so is Asanoyama (against Chiyomaru). Their fate rests partly on the men down in Juryo, where Ryuden, Ishiura, and Yutakayama each need a senshuraku win to have a credible promotion case.

Hakuho Wins 40th Career Yusho

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With losses by both Okinoumi and Hokutofuji during day 14, Yokozuna Hakuho won his 40th Grand Sumo championship. He won his first yusho in 2006 at the Natsu basho in Tokyo and has been on a massive winning streak ever since. No rikishi in history has been this dominant in sumo, and few professional athletes have ever been this dominant in any sport.

Tachiai congratulates Hakuho on his 40th yusho, and look forward to his continued reign as “The Boss”.

Kyushu Day 14 Highlights

onosho

Day 14 saw a conclusion to the battle for the Emperor’s Cup, with Yokozuna Hakuho winning his 40th career yusho among a decimated field of upper ranked rikishi.

Some fans are already complaining that the Kyushu basho was somehow boring or anti-climatic. True, there were few legitimate challengers to Hakuho, but then again that would likely be true no matter what. Out of the 8 rikishi in sumo’s two highest ranks, only two men are able to mount the dohyo on the final day of this tournament. Some readers took exception to Tachiai’s early forecast that the relentless Jungyo-Honbasho schedule currently in force was crushing sumo as a marketable televised sport, but now with a string of basho piling up where the top men are not present, that prediction may be worthy of examination.

The good news is that a large, vigorous crop of young men are ready to fill the gap, but first, the Kyokai will need to nudge several long-suffering athletes into retirement. Thus far it has not happened, but we may see that change in the next few months.

Sumo has enjoyed a rather welcome revival in its home country of Japan. First and foremost, Grand Sumo is a business, and we can trust the Sumo Kyokai to do what it thinks is best to keep sumo’s revival healthy and growing.

Highlight Matches

Kotoyuki defeats Asanoyama – Kotoyuki went straight for a nodowa and marched the struggling Asanoyama backward off the dohyo. After a terrible start in Kyushu, Kotoyuki rallied and is now kachi-koshi.

Ikioi defeats Kaisei – A power sumo battle dominated by Kaisei who landed a left-hand outside grip early. Ikioi was able to pivot at the tawara and land the Brazilian out and down to pick up his 8th win.

Chiyomaru defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo’s bum legs have a tough time generating too much force, especially when he is facing a hefty rikishi like Chiyomaru. For the 4th straight day, Aminishiki failed to pick up his 8th win.

Tochinoshin defeats Kagayaki – After a somewhat shaky tachiai, both men battled to get an inside grip. Tochinoshin landed his right hand inside and took control of the match. His win gives him a kachi-koshi, while at the same time Kagayaki’s defeat secures his make-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – With Tochiozan seeming to suffer problems with his lower body, this mobile battle of tsuppari favored Chiyonokuni from the start. Both men are suffering painfully disappointing records this basho, and desperately need to regroup.

Tamawashi defeats Okinoumi – Tamawashi has employed the push-then-pull tactic before in this basho, and Okinoumi was on the defensive straight out of the tachiai. Where Okinoumi prefers to get some kind of grip established, Tamawashi was not going to let that happen. Tamawashi is looking like a strong contender to return to San’yaku for January.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyoshoma – From the tachiai, Chiyoshoma started aiming to land blows on Takakeisho’s damaged face and lip. Sadly for Chiyoshoma, this really seems to have gotten Takakeisho very motivated. While Chiyoshoma was focusing on Takakeisho’s face, Takakeisho landed his left-hand grip and quickly proceeded to give Chiyoshoma a vigorous exit from the dohyo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Both men have deep make-koshi records, both are local favorites, and both decided to turn it up to 11. The highlight of the match, and possibly the day: Shohozan uses Kotoshogiku’s solid grip on his body, to lift and swing the former Ozeki around, with his feet flying off the ground. But Kotoshogiku landed both feet back on solid earth and began his hug-and-chug attack. When he can set it up, there are few ways to counter the Kyushu Bulldozer, and it was seconds later that Shohozan was out.

Onosho defeats Hokutofuji – “The power of the red mawashi could not be undone” –  After a matta appetizer, the main event saw Hokutofuji quickly drive Onosho to the edge. But that was all that was needed for the red mawashi to activate, and Onosho basted back, driving Hokutofuji backward and out. After losing 6 of his first 7 matches, Onosho reverted to the red mawashi and has now won 6 of the last 7. A win tomorrow would lock in a great come from behind kachi-koshi. With Hokutofuji’s loss, the door was now open of Hakuho to clinch the yusho.

Ichinojo defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze clearly is having a lot of problem with the foot he injured earlier this week and has very little defensive or offensive push available. Thus Ichinojo only needed to use his massive size and strength to push Yoshikaze out. Yoshikaze is now make-koshi, and will possibly be out of San’yaku for January.

Mitakeumi defeats Arawashi – Mitakeumi locks in his kachi-koshi, overcoming a set of lower body injuries as well. While not yet performing at a level that could indicate a chance at campaigning for an Ozeki rank, his ability to hang onto San’yaku has been worthy of note. Mitakeumi’s 6th winning tournament this year.

Goeido defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji put up great resistance to Goeido’s offense, but the Ozeki carried that day. Goeido was in control of the match from the tachiai, and for a moment both men struggled for grip. Goeido landed a right hand inside early, and proceeded to use that leverage to progressively contain Takarafuji, and force him out.

Hakuho defeats Endo – This was always an odd match, with Endo not in a rank range that would typically face a Yokozuna, especially this late in the tournament schedule. But with so many Ozeki and Yokozuna out with injuries, it was pretty much “anything goes”. The match was over in a flash, with Hakuho’s tachiai blasting Endo completely off balance, and on his way off the dohyo. Hakuho then finished the job but sadly applied one of his dame-oshi at the close.