I’m sorry I’m late with the kensho dashboard update. I’ve been working on another one, having to do with the banzuke, and I forgot to publish my kensho update. It’s great to see Terunofuji’s senshuraku bouts regularly surpassing the highwater mark set in the first month of Herouth’s data collection. That month, Takakeisho took on Asanoyama in a bout that had 44 kensho envelopes, which Takakeisho won. Takakeisho walked away with almost 60 this past month when he sealed Ichinojo’s yusho by beating Terunofuji.
Overall this tournament was a bit thriftier than the others this year. That doesn’t seem to be unusual with a lot more hype and excitement around the first tournament of the year back in Tokyo and noticeably less in Nagoya. 1466 bounties were pledged this July, though I bet it would have been quite a bit higher if Mitakeumi and Endo had been able to stay the entire tournament, though I figure a lot of the envelopes were just shuffled around to other bouts, later in the tournament. It may have actually helped Takakeisho walk away with that huge stack on senshuraku.
Over this past two years, Terutsuyoshi claims the top spot with the most bouts with bounties pledged (180), followed by Kiribayama and Hoshoryu (178). This has more to do with staying healthy though. Other top wrestlers have missed more days kyujo. Terunofuji has clearly taken the most cash, though, with almost 2400 envelopes won. That’s 143,820,000 yen or a little over $1 Million in sponsorship money. I think I did the math correctly this time. 600,000 yen x 2397 bounties. A half million dollars in cash with most of the rest going to retirement after the Kyokai takes its cut.
Ichinojo made it into the Top 5 Kensho Winners with this yusho, after Terunofuji, Takakeisho, Shodai, and Abi. He’s been claiming much more kensho lately, and there’s been more sponsorship of his bouts, so I’m hopeful that the increase in ice cream funds spurs him on to the next level. It’s good to see Shodai back near the top. He had won three fewer envelopes in May than Wakamotoharu. Mitakeumi had still managed to be fourth. Here’s hoping Shodai sees the benefits to warming up before bouts!
As always, feedback is greatly appreciated — positive or negative — so long as it’s not personal. I already know I smell and have been wearing the same pajamas for three weeks. I get to work from home now.
We don’t need to beat around the bush: we have just witnessed what was in many ways a deeply unsatisfying tournament which culminated in a day-by-day missing persons storyline that wouldn’t have been out of place from some low budget horror film or an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
But in some ways, obsessing over what we didn’t have in the Nagoya basho is to miss the point (and, by the way, this is in no way a counter-point to Bruce’s excellent opinions from yesterday). Culturally, the purpose of a basho is not to ensure that every rank and file dude is present for 15 days, “otherwise the whole thing might as well have not happened.” That doesn’t mean I think it’s cool that a third of the top division was absent or that I especially enjoyed this tournament. As a spectacle, I didn’t. I always love to watch sumo, and still, “endured” might be a more accurate descriptor of how I experienced this tournament. But I’m firmly in the camp that thinks the Kyokai was correct to finish the basho, even if I’m also in a camp that thinks they are correct to err on the side of caution (firmly agreeing with Andy’s comments from earlier in the week) and I’m also on the team that hopes they can evolve their covid-kyujo policies. There is room for nuance.
There are those who will say: “well whatabout if Isegahama or Minato beya had been visited by the coronavirus, forcing the removal of Terunofuji or Ichinojo?” Well, that didn’t happen. And yet, conspiracy theories aside, we have to concede that the departure of an exciting potential title contender like Kotonowaka from the race is not what we want to see. It weakened the basho.
But there were other things about this tournament that were good, so amongst all of the noise about things that were bad – because we really can and will talk about that quite a bit more – let’s take just a minute to focus on some of those good things:
Ichinojo is not a popular rikishi in most senses of the word, but it is very unlikely to hear a bad word against him. No one will begrudge him this championship and it is likely that his ability would have merited a championship at some point in his career. And now he has one.
Since his debut, the jokes about “is being big a strategy” have largely served to offset the frustration that a rikishi of his obvious physical and technical gifts had been unable to put together the kind of run of success that – especially in recent years – seemed ripe for the taking.
The overwhelming feeling about Ichinojo over the past few years is that he’s someone who perhaps lacked focus, who could always find a way to get up for the big matches (as evidenced by his lengthy and impressive list of kinboshi victims), but who could never find the consistency to regularly succeed in sumo. Some of that has been down to his challenges to use and maintain his physique, and his back struggles have been well-documented. A staple of his sumo from across the past several years was that if you got him moving backward, it was very difficult for him to reverse that momentum.
But his weaknesses are offset by remarkable strengths. He is an above average yotsu-zumo practitioner, and when locked with an opponent, there are very few rikishi with the ability to outlast or go toe-to-toe with the giant. He is in an elite category when it comes to lengthy bouts, and has often displayed strong composure in the ring to complement that stamina. He is not someone given to losing the plot.
Longer term side effects aside, it should also not be lost on us that the covid-kyujo which enforced Ichinojo’s absence from the Natsu basho potentially led to him arriving in Nagoya fully rested and in better fighting shape than we have seen him in years. We can of course only speculate about this – much in the way that we can speculate without actually knowing whether Shimanoumi’s dreadful basho was the result of too much wedding cake.
Ichinojo has flirted with titles in the past, most notably taking an undefeated Hakuho all the way to senshuraku in an incredible 14-1 tournament a few years ago (fans will also remember his 13 wins, title challenge and kinboshi in his top flight debut). However, that 14-win runners-up basho from 2019 featured the unsustainable tendency to retreat and pull, a pattern which saw his results normalise when opponents were not lured into cheap slap-downs.
This basho’s success was of an altogether higher quality. Ichinojo took control of several bouts from the beginning, executing a game plan and landing a strong belt grip to square off and drive his opponents out. His yusho-clinching victory against Ura similarly displayed a strong sense of strategy to raise the centre of gravity of a much smaller and notoriously difficult opponent.
The championships we are likely to see over this next year will come from the Yokozuna, or rikishi who can take advantage of the odd occasions where the Yokozuna isn’t able to execute at 100%. Terunofuji is unquestionably the best rikishi in sumo. The only difference in this basho between Ichinojo and the Yokozuna is that Ichinojo beat the Yokozuna. You can’t say he isn’t deserving of the crown.
Like Andy, I think that Hoshoryu’s demeanour on the dohyo (a general observation, although it is punctuated with moments of greater petulance) makes him due for an attitude correction (be that in the form of mentorship or results). I do, however, believe praise is due for the way he turned around a frankly awful start in Nagoya to display some of the outstanding sumo of this tournament.
I don’t find a lot of difference technically between Hoshoryu’s sumo and Kiribayama’s (and I find the latter to be quite a bit more likeable and entertaining to watch), but the slight difference in results is owed to Hoshoryu’s will to win and the way that has manifested itself in many of his victories.
His positioning in order to execute throws has improved dramatically. He has always had good legwork – to the point that he is at times over-reliant on leg sweeps and trips that everyone can see a mile away. However, an under-discussed element of the ability to pull a routine or spectacular throw is the way that a rikishi can find the correct foot placement or manoeuvre their leg into the position that gives them the fulcrum upon which to rotate their opponent. We have been able to see Hoshoryu continually improve this feature of his sumo over the past several tournaments.
The continuing unreliability of the Ozeki to keep out of kadoban and mount consistent challenges has opened up an opportunity for Hoshoryu in particular to go on and become the next star. Wakatakakage is ahead of him in the current pecking order and also in terms of what’s in the trophy cabinet, but Wakatakakage is also more advanced in terms of age and Hoshoryu’s true rival over the next few years may be Kotonowaka. We may have been robbed from experiencing Kotonowaka’s breakout basho by the virus, so we can make do with the continued technical gains of Hoshoryu (even if the overall results will leave room for improvement). Hopefully, Aki will give us a proper look at the development of both rising stars.
The King of Comeback
You can’t bury Shodai. Not yet anyway. He seems set to prove John Gunning’s often repeated point that Ozeki is the easiest rank to hold, being that you only have to win 8 out of every 30 matches (albeit in the same tournament).
True though that may be, the willingness of some Ozeki to stoop down to that low bar has also provided some depressing sumo. However, there is something a bit thrilling in Shodai’s ability to conjure yusho-pedigree sumo when he looks dead and buried. And make no mistake, some of the wins he put together after digging himself into a 1-4 hole, winning 9 of his last 10, were absolutely yusho quality sumo. In some cases he defused his opponent from his tachiai, and on multiple other occasions we saw him battle back from the brink of the tawara in stunning fashion to take a match. If he could only show us his top quality sumo for all 15 days every time, we’d still be talking about how he wouldn’t be long for the Ozeki rank, but for very different reasons.
That being said, I don’t ever expect him to put together the kind of consistency that it will take for him to move to the next level. But against the current field, he has more than enough in his locker to put together 9 and 10 win tournaments with good content. While I and many others expected to leave this basho lamenting his inability to put it together, it was instead a happy surprise to exit the Nagoya tournament wishing for more of the same from Shodai.
What the hell was that? Never before in my decades as a sumo fan have I had the urge to label and entire basho with such a term. Not even the famous 2017 “Wacky Aki”. I take a few days away from sumo, and this is what happens?
Look, it was bad before I went kyujo for family matters, but good lord did it take a hard left hand turn and head straight for the storm drain. I thank Andy and everyone else who filled in while I attended to dreadful things. But enough of that.
I caught up today, and everyone and their cousin went covid kyujo. They were dropping like flies, with two more right on the final day. It shredded the torikumi, and the schedule, and the ranking, and Aki’s banzuke, and crap, just about everything. The kyokai really painted themselves into a corner with their COVID policy. They never updated it after the initial strain, not once taking into account the kind of things an Omicron variant can do. Let me share something with you. BA5, currently the world wide flavor, more virulent than measles. You get within a few feet of someone with that stuff, guess what, you now have it too. Not that it’s going to do much other than give you the sniffles in most cases, but hey – its still COVID and can hurt you.
So the NSK got hoisted by their own policy. One positive test, whole stable sits it out. Thats all good when it’s one or two, but when you lose a third of your talent, you are reduced to this kind of circus disguised as sumo.
They had to bring a fair portion of Juryo up to fight on senshuraku in the top division, just to fill in the air time. They had to backfill Juryo with Makushita guys just so the folks left in Juryo had an opponent. The wheels feel off this basho in the last 3 days. I think the ultimate example of the train-wreck that was Nagoya 2022 was the Hoshoryu – Midorifuji match. A Komusubi fighting an M11 for the third to last match of the basho. And then they completely blow the call and give the match to Midorifuji when the top of his foot is on the clay while Hoshoryu is still in bounds. Granted, I think Hoshoryu’s attitude needs attenuation, but this is not the way to do it.
I worry for the mental health of the banzuke committee. It can’t be anything more than this: 1) Drink a LOT 2) Try your best 3) Pretend it’s the result of hours of cloistered study and some of the best minds in sumo. 4) Conclude by drinking and yakitori till sunrise.
Exit question – what are NSK going to do about their jungyo reboot in a couple of weeks?
We know why we’re here. Everything over the past fortnight has built up to today. The Yusho will be decided. Yokozuna Terunofuji leads with Maegashira Ichinojo; Takakeisho is one loss back. How we got here has been much more difficult. Late news coming in before the bouts, Hokutofuji has Covid and thus he and Hakkaku-beya stablemate, Okinoumi, will be kyujo today.
For the wrestlers, dozens have been sidelined across the divisions as covid spread, stable to stable. And then as the protocol kicked in, forcing all stablemates out of action, the torikumi became packed with fusen. At several points, we as fans questioned whether the tournament would make it this far or whether it would get called off, mid-basho.
Well, we’re here. I can’t say whether continuing was the “right” call or not. The full implications haven’t been felt yet. Wrestlers are still ill. Vaxxed and boosted, though, we hope all infected wrestlers recover quickly and only suffer mild symptoms. We also hope the spread is contained but as infection rates increase again, world wide, we know that won’t really happen. Sadly, the infection won’t be “stamped out” and the sumo world, like the rest of the world, will have to adjust to living with it. The opening will continue and eventually these strict Covid protocols will be loosened.
It’s got to be a bit of a gut shot for the sport and its leaders. After Shobushi’s death, the subsequent cancellation of the May 2020 tournament and Jungyo, coupled with the strict lockdowns, likely saved lives. But still the virus raged. Kobo, a retired wrestler and former stablemate of Hakuho, died of Covid last year as the industry and the nation tried to open back up. We watch from afar because the whole country of Japan is still relatively shut off to us tourists. How (and when) to bring all of that to an end is not an easy answer. Shobushi’s stablemate, Ryuden, for whom he served as tsukebito, broke covid regulations and was punished. Asanoyama. Abi. All three are back, humbled, but surely a bit bitter, as well. Has it been worth it?
I’m always going to have a bit of a biased view on this. I have to think it has been worth it. Just before Shobushi died, I recovered from Covid. My family isolated for two weeks while I went and lived in a bubble at NIH for a month in this crazy unit set up for infectious diseases. The air is pressurized to keep air from escaping. No one allowed to visit. The only people I’d see would be the nurses and doctors in their space suits. When they’d leave, they’d dump their PPE’s in these burn boxes. Anything I touched, if it couldn’t be thoroughly disinfected, would get incinerated. Isolation was really not fun. Thankfully, it was temporary.
TV kept me company for a little bit I couldn’t watch the news anymore because the virus was the only thing they’d talk about. I work in transportation safety and by that point I was just staggered by the fact that 44 NYC transit workers had already died in those early days. I had to shut the news off. It was wild. A year later, that number had jumped to more than 150 MTA workers who had died.
Bottom line, I get it. Having your life up-ended is terrible, freedoms and lifestyle ripped away sucks. But I wouldn’t wish illness on anyone and if there are new lessons in hygiene, and courtesy, I hope we learn them. I always go back to those early days when the people who were dying were bus drivers and grocery store cashiers and others who just went to work one day and came home sick. We’ve changed in the last two years. We’ve got new tools to attack the virus. This one, at least.
The really annoying thing is that now masks and vaccines and the whole thing has become political and that’s what kills me. I sure as hell don’t have any answer on how the Kyokai should continue to open and what they should do with their protocols. We’re not going to see masks on wrestlers and shimpan any more than we’re going to see the dohyo lowered. But it’s a slap in the face to see dufus fans with masks hanging around their chins. When you are a fan in that stadium, you are a guest of the Kyokai and subject to their rules. Follow them. If you’re not willing, don’t go. That’s not politics, that’s common sense.
The next banzuke will be a mess. Who knows how that’s going to work out? I will try to keep everyone informed on developments with regard to the banzuke and any changes/updates to the Covid protocols. But I’m not here to cast blame or second guess the Kyokai or Japan regarding how they deal with covid or the way they punished wrestlers for breaking rules. I know things come up in the comments occasionally and on social media. I just figured I’d let y’all know where I stand.
Well, let’s get to the action.
Onosho vs Chiyonokuni: Onosho, eager to get things started, jumps early. Matta. Onosho tried a quick slap down but Chiyonokuni evaded. Onosho drove him out to the side of the ring where Chiyonokuni tried a pulldown. Onosho was unfazed and drove Chiyonokuni straight back and out for the oshidashi win. Onosho ends the tournament 10-5, Chiyonokuni 8-7.
Myogiryu vs Hidenoumi: Hidenoumi took a clunk on the head but surprisingly drove through Myogiryu’s attack, no sign of the lower-body weakness from yesterday. Yorikiri.
Ryuden vs Takarafuji: In another one that went against my assumption, Takarafuji overpowered Ryuden for the yorikiri win. Ryuden still finished with a great 12 wins and the Juryo yusho.
Kazuto vs Takahashi: Ryuden’s day thus complete, they slipped the Jonokuchi yusho playoff here in prime time, and followed with the lower division yusho ceremony. In the Jonokuchi playoff, Kazuto squared up to Takahashi and took him head on. No sign of the clever plan from a few days ago. This was a mistake. Takahashi drove forward and quickly took Kazuto out.
Shimanoumi vs Mitoryu: Finally! I got one right! Shimanoumi’s dreadful tournament ends with another black star. Mitoryu’s slapdown attack nearly ended things just after the tachiai but Shimanoumi was able to resist…for a while. As Mitoryu chased him around the ring, Shimanoumi stepped out. Oshidashi. Shimanoumi 1-14. Mitoryu 9-6.
Tochinoshin vs Yutakayama: Yutakayama dominated Tochinoshin and drove the big Georgian back and out. Oshidashi. Yutakayama kachi-koshi, Tochinoshin make-koshi.
Next up, we’ve got a couple of kyujo bouts, as Jason explains:
Nishikifuji vs Hokutofuji: Hokutofuji kyujo.
Okinoumi vs Chiyomaru: Okinoumi kyujo.
Aoiyama vs Terutsyoshi: Aoiyama got busy trying to rearrange Terutsuyoshi’s face. He then drove forward, heads clashing. Terutsuyoshi was able to weather the storm and when Aoiyama pulled, Terutsuyoshi stuck with him and drove him out. Oshidashi.
Oho vs Sadanoumi: Sadanoumi must have mixed some diesel fuel in with his meat today. Full steam ahead! He got a solid hold on Oho’s belt and shrugged off his opponents attempts at a slap down, driving him on over the edge.
Wakamotoharu vs Chiyotairyu: What the hell is Chiyotairyu doing trying yotsu-zumo? Wakatakakage is quick to take advantage, locks on, and escorts Chiyotairyu back and out. Yorikiri. Both end the day 6-9.
Ura vs Ichinojo: You can cut the tension with a knife. I’ve never seen Ichinojo so patient and determined. He locked in on Ura’s belt with a left-hand outside grip. Not waiting for Ura to find an opening, starts gaburi-yori, driving into Ura and forcing him back, and out. The yusho winner will have 12-wins. None of this 11-win nonsense. Yorikiri. Ichinojo putting the ball in the yokozuna’s court. Ura make-koshi.
Kiribayama vs Chiyoshoma: No henka from Chiyoshoma. He unleashed some solid tsuppari but Kiribayama seemed unfazed as they locked in on each other’s belts. Kiribayama wasted no time and earned his kachi-koshi with a nice uwatenage. Chiyoshoma make-koshi.
Meisei vs Abi: No Abi-zumo, instead they lock in for a brief grapple (WTF?) before Abi tries a pull. From there, the two clash into each other repeatedly like a couple of goats, Meisei eventually powering Abi out. Tsukidashi. Meisei 9-6. Abi 8-7.
Hoshoryu vs Midorifuji: Of Midorifuji’s meagre pinch-of-salt throw, Wakanohana: “Shio tsukunai, na.” () Regardless, he may not bring the salt but he certainly brought the funk. All the way from Maegashira 11, Midorifuji gives Hoshoryu a dose of harite to start, and then powers through Hoshoryu’s pull attempt, grabbing his leg and driving him back and down. Watashikomi.
Wakatakakage vs Shodai: Shodai couldn’t get Wakatakakage to go over the bales despite two strong attempts, so he finished him with a hatakikomi slapdown instead. Shodai picks up his first double-digit win since January 2021. Wakatakakage 8-7.
Terunofuji vs Takakeisho: Takakeisho gave it his all, goat-like. Clash after clash, trying to stagger the Yokozuna but Terunofuji was able to dodge Takakeisho’s final charge, sending Takakeisho tumbling off the dohyo. What’s this? Terunofuji stepped out! Oshidashi win for Takakeisho! Ichinojo yusho!