Kyushu 2019, Senshuraku, Final Bouts From The Lower Divisions

A day late, here are some of the bouts from the lower divisions that took place on Senshuraku. This includes some tidying up – regular bouts featuring rikishi we have followed through Kyushu basho – and some playoffs.

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My Thoughts on Kyushu 2019

Hello dear readers, with the Kyushu Basho now behind us, I wanted to share my opinions on sumo and 2020 with all of you. Those of you who think I can be a big gloomy, feel free to skip this post. I do see these as honest, rather than gloomy. I maintain that the future of sumo is awesome, but the transitional period will be new for sumo fans who came to the sport in the Asashoryu / Hakuho era. Simply put, we have been in an anomalous serious of stability and dominance by a handful of top performers. As that has given way, it’s sometimes anyone’s guess who will show up genki, and who will be competing for the cup by day 10.

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Kyushu Winners and Losers

Some rikishi put up great performances in Fukuoka. Others … not so much. Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows.

Winner: Hakuho

For the obvious reason, and also because a yusho-winning performance makes it that much more likely that he can make it to the Olympics.

Winner: Asanoyama

The shin-Komusubi more than justified his promotion to san’yaku, picking up 11 wins, a share of the jun-yusho, and a technique prize (his first, but his 6th special prize). He will be fighting at his highest career rank again in January, and while he may not be on an official Ozeki run, he can get there with a dominant performance in January, or soon thereafter if he stays healthy.

Winner: Abi

This time, his 9 wins at East Komusubi all came on the dohyo (last time, one was by default and another by disqualification). While a Sekiwake promotion is unlikely, Abi has firmly established himself as a san’yaku regular.

Winner: Daieisho

He spent much of the year acquitting himself well in the joi, and it will be hard for him to continue flying under the radar after he knocked off the Dai-Yokozuna to pick up the outstanding performance award and earned his san’yaku debut.

Winner: Shodai

Bruce’s frequent whipping boy showed that he is no double-digit maegashira, recording 11 wins and picking up his third fighting spirit prize and first jun-yusho by upsetting Asanoyama on senshuraku. Tachiai hopes that this gives him a much-needed confidence boost on his return to the joi in January.

Winners: Enho and the Pixies

After his every promotion, we hear how Enho has hit his ceiling. Every defeat brings talk of him being “figured out.” Yet the smallest man in the top division recorded his third-straight kachi-koshi, and will once again reach a career-high rank in January. Heya-mate Ishiura has apparently been taking notes, and he displayed his best sumo in recent memory to finish 9-6. And fellow small rikishi Terutsuyoshi rebounded from his 4-11 drubbing at Aki to finish with a winning record at Kyushu.

Winners: Takanosho and Kagayaki

Somewhat quietly, they were the only two men in the top-division, aside from the yusho and jun-yusho winners, to record double-digit victories. For Takanosho, this will mean a new career-high rank by some margin.

Loser: Mitakeumi

We may never know just how big a role the head wound he suffered in his Day 3 victory over Meisei had in his 6-9 performance, but Mitakeumi is undoubtedly the biggest loser of the basho, at least among those able to participate to the end. He went from aiming for Ozeki promotion as the defending yusho winner to (in all likelihood) dropping out of san’yaku altogether for the first time since January 2017. I still believe that Mitakeumi is a big part of sumo’s future, and wish good health and fighting spirit in 2020 to the man with two top-division titles and 8 special prizes in his 25 Makuuchi tournaments, all but 7 of them as Sekiwake or Komusubi.

Losers: Tochinoshin, Takayasu, Goeido

The three recent Ozeki all entered the tournament but managed only 12 bouts and 5 victories between them. As a result, Tochinoshin will be a mid-maegashira in January, Takayasu will be a Sekiwake, and Goeido will be a kadoban Ozeki for the 9th time in 32 basho at the rank.

Losers: Nishikigi, Daishomaru, Daishoho

This low-ranked trio combined for 12 wins and will be fighting in the second division at Hatsu.

Sad Stories: Tomokaze and Wakatakakage

Injuries were obviously a big and unfortunate part of the Kyushu basho. They forced Ichinojo to sit out the tournament, which will result in a drop deep into Juryo, kept Kakuryu from participating, derailed Tochinoshin’s and Takayasu’s bids to be Ozeki in January, and sealed Goeido’s kadoban status. But none hit harder than watching two young rising stars felled in eerily similar hops off the dohyo on Days 2 and 4. Wakatakakage’s Makuuchi debut was a revelation as he opened the tournament with four straight victories (in an odd footnote, he was the only participating rikishi to be undefeated on the dohyo). Although the sample size was admittedly small, he looked like a future top-division mainstay, as well as a likely candidate for double-digit wins and a special prize. Instead, he’ll be back in Juryo in January, hopefully fully recovered.

Even worse, given the severity of his injury, is what happened to Tomokaze. Although in September he came up one win short of maintaining his record of never finishing a tournament make-koshi, and his sumo may have regressed somewhat, the Oguruma beya man looked destined for san’yaku, and was frequently tipped as the next Ozeki/Yokozuna hope. Instead, he will drop into the lower divisions and have to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tochinoshin, Terunofuji, and Ura in fighting his way back toward the summit. The good news is that it sounds like the surgery went well, and the recovery time may be shorter than the originally reported year.

Kyushu Jonokuchi

Transport Back to December 1993

Rewind time to mid-December 1993. I sat in my home absolutely enthralled to MTV’s Unplugged as Nirvana played a brilliant concert, mostly of songs I’d never heard before. While several of the more obscure have stuck with me over the intervening decades, one in particular pops into my head whenever I think about a fruitless quest: their cover of the Meat Puppets’ “Plateau”.

*I know the video is not Plateau, I couldn’t find it on Nirvana’s official Youtube site, so enjoy another great video instead.

Many hands began to scan around for the next plateau

Some said it was Greenland and some say Mexico.

Others decided it was nowhere except for where they stood

Those were all just guesses, wouldn’t help you if they could.

– Meat Puppets

As the sanyaku-ranked wrestlers falter, the perpetually injured yokozeki face demotion and retirement, current sekitori will take their place. How many more yusho does Hakuho have left in the tank? Is this the last one? If so, where is the next Hakuho? Is there a future Dai-Yokozuna in the sumo ranks right now? While the Meat Puppets spoke to the futility of knowing the future, it’s still fun to try.

Let’s start our search with the lessons of the past. In May 2001 Takanohana won his ultimate yusho. A young Hakuho made his banzuke debut at that very tournament, ranked Jonokuchi 16 East. He finished with a very inauspicious 3-4. The makekoshi record meant he would remain in Jonokuchi in Nagoya, a tournament won by the Great Kaio with Takanohana kyujo and Dejima falling to Sekiwake. Dejima would remain in makuuchi for another eight years…though aided by a favorable injury policy…a path that should give hope to fans of Takayasu and Tochinoshin. Also note that a young Asashoryu was Komusubi.

As we cast around for the next Plateau, is our next Hakuho (someone who can compete for GOAT honors) in Jonokuchi right now? As much as I’d like to say differently, especially as he hails from my favorite place, it’s very unlikely that it will be Jonokuchi yusho-winner, Tosamidori. His injury-plagued young career is not going to last the rigors of higher ranks. (I want to be wrong. I really want to be wrong and hopefully we’ve got another Tochinoshin here.) I’m eager to see him rise into Sandanme and hopefully further.

Sailing in Shimantogawa, Kochi

Among the other 58 wrestlers in Jonokuchi, we have the young Senho, a protege of Hakuho. Herouth has been documenting the start of his career in her amazing series of Lower Division posts. When I started to look at this division early in the tournament, I made a few assumptions which by the end of the tournament did not hold true. I thought the winner would come from Senho-like group of lower to middling BMI (body mass index) wrestlers. I thought those who debuted this year would far outperform those who have been in the division for several years.

One thing is clear, wrestlers with BMI at the extremes did not perform well. Hattorizakura and Houn sit at the comparatively low-BMI pole (around 21) while Yamamoto, Reon, Kirimaru and Daigonishiki form the high end, between 44-60. None secured more than two wins in Jonokuchi. Being in the middle range does not mean a wrestler is destined to succeed, obviously, as Sawaisamu and Nishikio fall in the same range as the three play-off contenders.

Those playoff contenders, Otsuji, Yutakanami, and Tosamidori, all came from the average BMI range, 35-41. But of the 24 in that range, only about half secured a winning record. We know BMI isn’t everything and does not seem to be a reliable predictor by itself, but it is a factor.

Hakuho is a tall man. At 193cm, he can stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone he faces. Perhaps the next Dai-Yokozuna must be tall? Of the nine tallest rikishi in the division, Senho, Chida, and Satsumao were the most successful with five wins. A third of these wrestlers were kyujo, Yamamotozakura, Kototsukahara, and Toyama. (Kototsukahara did compete once, securing one win.)

Since Senho was the least massive of this cohort, he likely has the most capacity for “bulking up” before it hurts his sumo. He is also the youngest and had his debut this year while several others have been. Senho is not as tall as Hakuho.

Jonokuchi Records by Stable

The heya with the most wins and losses in Jonokuchi was Shikihide. Remember, Hattorizakura counts as seven losses. Yamamotozakura and Reon are hidden here since they were both listed as kyujo for the tournament. Further, Satozakura is an interesting story in that he competed six times this tournament, not seven. He was kyujo on the first day, his only loss being this fusen, with one more absence. He ended up competing once the first week but won every bout on the dohyo. Did Shikihide find the next one?