Nagoya Story 2 – Ozeki Chaos & The New Kadoban Twins

Natsu was a brutal time for the Ozeki corps, out of the 3 men at this rank, 2 of them failed to secure a winning record. Mitakeumi finished with a 6-9, while Shodai did worse at 5-10. As a result there will be 2 of the 3 Ozeki kadoban for the July tournament in Nagoya, with Mitakeumi being the home town favorite. It has been several years since Tachiai was able to use the once common “Kadoban Twins” tag, and it does not herald fine days of sumo are at hand.

For Mitakeumi, I am going to guess he was injured. His prior two performances were a 12-2 yusho (his third!) that secured his promotion to Ozeki. He followed that with a blistering 11-4 in Osaka that saw him in contention for the up up until a very mild week 2 fade. In May, he never put two wins in on consecutive days, and struggled to defeat opponents such as Hoshoryu, who picked up his first career win against Mitakeumi, and Tamawashi, whom Mitakeumi has a 27-4 career advantage. This is not an indicator of a strong and genki Ozeki. Sadly there are some indications that whatever was plaguing him continues. During the past week or so, the Sumo Kyokai has permitted degeiko for the first time in a couple of years. Absent from inter-stable training was Mitakeumi, who has no sekitori in his home stable to train against. I would say he continues to be hurt and is worried about compounding his problems in a joint training session.

On the subject of Shodai, his performance has been poor since his 11-4 jun-yusho in January of 2021. It is true that he had COVID, and seems to have struggled to overcome some lingering effects. What happened to him in May is anyone’s guess. 2020 saw some outstanding sumo from this guy, but then the “bad version” came back with his kyujo in November of 2020, and he has not been even close to genki since. I know I tend to complain about Shodai quite a bit. It’s largely because I would like the 2019/2020 Shodai back, and he is clearly not up to that level of sumo now, and I worry he may never be again. This will be the 3rd time in his career that he starts a tournament as a kadoban Ozeki, and I hope the he can pull it together.

Much as with Natsu, the lower named ranks are especially sharp right now, and will prove to be a tough obstacle for both men looking to get to the safety of 8 wins as quickly as possible. This is especially true for the trio of Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu and Kiribayama. All three of them are expected to face the kadoban Ozeki in the early stages of the basho, and could be indicators of just how banged up Mitakeumi and Shodai are.

We will be keeping out fingers crossed, and hope for the best. It would be grim to lose an Ozeki this year.

Nagoya Story 1 – The Return of Asanoyama

A few years ago, there was a bright, happy up and coming rikishi with the shikona “Asanoyama”. He caught my eye because he seemed really happy to be competing. Even when he lost, he had an expression of “I can’t believe I am here, and being paid for sumo!”. With such a love for the sport, it’s really no surprise that he trained hard, and from that training came success. He battled his way up the ranks to become Ozeki. He even had the unusual distinction of being handed “The President’s Cup” by the US President during a state visit to Japan.

But a year ago, he was removed from competition during the 2021 Natsu basho, ostensibly for violating “COVID protocols”. Like so many things in Japan, the initial report was a broad euphemism for a pattern of breaking isolation at the heya to keep the rikishi from getting sick. When confronted with his behavior, he made the grave mistake of lying to the kyokai, trying to pretend it did not happen, and maybe it would all go away. Bad move for anyone, double-bad for someone as prestigious as an Ozeki. The kyokai came down on him fairly hard, though not as harsh as I had expected – which would have been immediate intai.

Instead he was handed a one year suspension from competition. As a result, his rank has been dropping on every banzuke published since, with his ranking for Natsu 2022 being Makushita 42. With his year of punishment now complete, we will see Asanoyama back in competition in the sweat-box of Nagoya. I expect him to be ranked around Sandanme 30 or so. The bigger question will be his condition.

He’s still got the skill of an Ozeki, though his sumo was a bit tepid prior to being caught breaking COVID protocols. It should still be more than enough to completely shatter anyone in Sandanme. I am curious on how he has spent the past year. Was he just going through the motions? Or did he decide that he was going to emerge on the other side of this shameful incident an unstoppable sumo machine?

I am eager to find out, and ever since the departure of Wakaichiro, I have not really had too much of an interest in Sandanme sumo. That all changes in July.

How do you, dear readers, feel about Asanoyama’s return? Let us know in the comments.