Projecting a Champion: Part 1


One of the interesting by-products of my dive into Miyagino-beya’s silver medal squad was uncovering a potential new jewel in Enho. For a stable that produces very little in talent behind possibly one of the greatest rikishi ever to walk the earth (and let’s be honest, Miyagino-oyakata can be forgiven for that), it was curious to see a newcomer blast his way to a 7-0 yusho in the lower levels.

When looking to see whether this was at all something he shared in common with the current crop of sekitori as a possible signal of success, the answer was overwhelmingly yes. Of course, it is not the only signal, and as with many other sports, so much can go wrong (injuries, confidence, new trainer, etc.). But several top level rikishi put up multiple such records in their early (first year) basho and many more did it at least once. So this then begs a new question: out of the hundreds of men trying to break their way into professional sumo, is it possible to use this indicator to pluck names from down the banzuke – and if it is, when do we expect to see them bringing honour to their heya? If they don’t manage it, how much harder is it to then reach the top? This will be the first part in a series to attempt to try and figure all of this out.

First things first, let’s look at the most recent crop of 70 sekitori. We can use the March banzuke as a guide to figure out if there’s a story here because any makuuchi/juryo promotions/demotions aren’t going to massively change the calculus and the turnover from juryo to makushita doesn’t meaningfully affect our sample size (and we’re not only interested in who might make it to Juryo 14W someday).

chart-3

What I’ve done here is split the sekitori into four categories: those who managed multiple 7-0 records in their first 6 full tournaments (post-maezumo), those who managed it one time, those who didn’t manage it, and those who didn’t manage it but were already in Juryo well before their 6th tournament (owing to entering the banzuke at makushita level as an amateur champion). This doesn’t tell the full story but it is somewhat telling that half of the professional ranks managed an early zensho. Of course, you’d expect the wrestlers who have been contending for titles their whole career to float towards the top, and so let’s see if that’s what we’ve got:

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chart-5

This confirms those suspicions. Makuuchi contains a higher number of rikishi to have put a zensho on the board their first year at least once (Kisenosato registered his first in his 7th basho otherwise this would have been more extreme), and as you’d expect it also contains a larger number of amateur champions who fast tracked their way to the top (and stayed there).

For the next parts in this series, we’ll start to look at how long it took these sekitori on average to reach juryo, and then start to look at the success rates of those who score this record and start to identify commonalities among them (kimarite, stature, etc), to model out who we might expect to charge up the banzuke soon and give us some more lower level candidates to track over the coming year. Again, this is just one of many signals – and there are many other intangible variables (stable, personality/confidence, etc) but it will be interesting to dig in and get an understanding of how impactful it is.

Heya Power Rankings: June 2017


With the banzuke announcement just a few days away, it’s time to revisit the Heya Power Rankings series. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first version of this post – this time I’ve been able to make the key update of stacking the bars vertically, and hopefully by the time August rolls around I can get them sorted properly and then we’ll really be off and running!

For a refresher on the methodology and calculations behind these rankings, visit the original post. I’m pretty happy with how this held up for the second version – for example the accomplishments of Tochinoshin (kachi-koshi and jun-yusho from M12) are ranked equivalent to Tamawashi’s kachi-koshi at S1, and that seems fair. Without further ado:

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And in “Billboard” style Top 20 chart form (ties broken by previous ranking with the most recently better heya ranked higher):

  1. (+1) Isegahama. 124 points (-1)
  2. (+2) Miyagino. 107 points (+57)
  3. (-2) Tagonoura. 75 points (-55)
  4. (+5) Kasugano. 58 points (+24)
  5. (-2) Sakaigawa. 50 points (-10)
  6. (+5) Oguruma. 42 points (+15)
  7. (-1) Kokonoe. 41 points (-2)
  8. (-3) Izutsu. 40 points (-5)
  9. (-2) Oitekaze. 34 points (-4)
  10. (+3) Kise. 33 points (+9)
  11. (+7) Isenoumi. 33 points (+18)
  12. (+3) Dewanoumi. 30 points (+10)
  13. (-5) Sadogatake. 29 points (-6)
  14. (-2) Kataonami. 25 points (even)
  15. (-5) Takanohana. 24 points (-6)
  16. (-2) Hakkaku. 23 points (even)
  17. (-1) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (even)
  18. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+15)
  19. (**) Takadagawa. 17 points (+8)
  20. (**) Minato.  / (-3) Tomozuna. (both 13 points)

Movers

Isegahama takes the top spot this month on a slightly diminished score owing to quality AND quantity: Terunofuji’s second straight jun-yusho and consistent levels of performance across the board push them up to the summit. Miyagino vaults up as the greatest gainer on points owing mostly to Hakuho’s zensho-yusho (we’re not currently giving a bonus score for a 15-0, but this is something to think about), and Ishiura grabbing a KK didn’t hurt.

Kasugano takes a big jump up the listing owing to a big performance from Tochinoshin which more than offset declines elsewhere. Yoshikaze’s special prize gives Oguruma a boost, while all four Kise rikishi grabbed winning records to propel the stable forward with modest gains. Isenoumi is the greatest chart gainer with just two rikishi, but Nishikigi’s Juryo yusho and Ikioi’s regained form give the heya a big boost. Dewanoumi’s sole contributor Mitakeumi grabbed a special prize and he’ll likely have a good shot to maintain his score next time out as he will in all likelihood fight at a higher level.

Finally, 3 new heya hit the chart as Onosho’s performance drives Onomatsu, Kagayaki and Ryuden’s solid performances put Takadagawa on the board, and Ichinojo grabs a kachi-koshi for Minato.

Losers

Tagonoura lose their grip on the top, but this is simply owing to Kisenosato not winning (in any capacity). Their top 3 spot should be relatively safe however, with Takayasu’s promotion confirmed, and both of them when on-form now represent title challengers. Elsewhere, Sakaigawa takes a hit just owing to Toyohibiki coming off a Juryo yusho onto a make-koshi and not much support among the rest of the crew beyond Goeido. Meanwhile, Kokonoe’s quality doesn’t translate to quality as despite 6 sekitori, only 3 could manage winning records and the toppermost – Chiyonokuni and Chiyoshoma – ran into a san’yaku slaughterhouse.

Up Next

Takanohana could be set for another dip, with Takagenji heading out of Juryo and Takanoiwa and Takakeisho likely swapping ends of the banzuke. Tomozuna’s fortunes will also likely get worse before they get better, with Asahisho likely following Takagenji, moviestar Kyokutaisei set for a drop down to the nether regions of Juryo, and Kaisei looking like he may only be a couple tournaments behind.

Shikoroyama (not ranked) should grab their second Juryo rikishi as Abi should certainly be promoted (5-2 at Ms1), and one would think Iwasaki (6-1 at Ms2) would join him in the pro ranks to give Oitekaze a shot in the arm. If Daishoho can get his act together soon and join up later this year, the stable would have a truly impressive number of rikishi in the top 2 divisions.

Kise had a great basho at Natsu as outlined above and they may also be ready to call on reinforcements soon: they boasted 7 rikishi between Makushita 1 and Makushita 12 and while none look like certain promotion candidates for Nagoya… ALL of them scored winning records, as did 2 of the 3 just behind (so that’s 13 of their top 14 with a kachi-koshi – bear in mind some stables don’t even have that many rikishi in total!). As always with the larger stables, a number of these guys are journeymen and also-rans, but the names to watch here are Shimanoumi (5-2 at Ms5W won’t get the job done this time, but he’s scored no less than 5 lower division unbeaten yusho and will be determined to get back to Juryo after fighting back from a period out of competition), and former university man Kizaki (who has raced to the top of Makushita in a year with 7 straight KK, including a pair of yusho).

Natsu Sanshō / Special Prize Winners


Natsu Sansho

San’yaku Cleans Up

At the conclusion of every basho, the sumo kyokai award a series of special prizes. They are intended to recognize rikishi who have over-performed and achieved greatly in the basho. At the end of Natsu, 4 special prizes were awarded, and all but one went to members of the San’yaku.

Natsu Special Prizes

Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize
Yoshikaze (his 3rd award)
Takayasu (his 2nd award)

Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Onosho (1st award)

Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Mitakeumi (1st award)

Onosho is notable in that he really tore through the ranks on his first Makuuchi basho, going 10-5 from Maegashira 14 rank. Mitakeumi was notable in that he defeated two Yokozuna in his Natsu matches.

Congratulations to all sanshō winners.

The Post Natsu Break


Kisenosato-Injury

What, No Jungyo?

Sumo fans may note that after most basho, there is a tour of regional cities by a cadre of available sumotori. They demonstrate their practice techniques, some of the culture and activities around sumo, and even sing songs! We have written on this in the past, and it’s known as Jungyo, literally “Making the rounds”.

But after Natsu, there is no Jungyo. The rikishi have 6 weeks to train with intensity, to undergo medical care, fly home to wherever that may be, or just take care of business. There are a handful of Makuuchi rikishi I am going to scan the press for daily, in hopes of catching some news:

  • Kisenosato – This guy needs surgical help. If he goes under the knife now, he could be back in fighting form in time for Aki. I really want him to be able to perform, as he would make such an awesome counterbalance to the resurgent Hakuho. The cultural counterpoint between the brash, enthusiastic Mongolian showman vs the quiet, almost bookish, but overflowing with confidence and strength Japanese master craftsman would be such a wonderful story arc.
  • Harumafuji – Not sure there is much that can fix his chronic undercarriage problems. He plays, perhaps, the most critical role in sumo right now. That of “the Hammer”. On any given day he can wipe out even Hakuho. He is explosive, relentless and driven to succeed. No one can advance to or survive San’yaku unless they can face him on the dohyo and put up a decent fight. As such, I hope there is something that can be done to get him well. I don’t see anyone in Makuuchi that might be able to take over this role.
  • Goeido – This guy is still not 100%, and frankly I don’t know if he ever can be once he had his ankle rebuilt out of lego and superglue. I would be delighted if he never went Kadoban again.
  • Terunofuji – The knee-less wonder somehow managed to keep on the offensive during Hatsu, even though it was clear to everyone that each day the pain in his knees became worse. When he is healthy he is an unstoppable beast of an Ozeki, and that’s very good news for sumo. Surgical knee treatment is very much hit or miss, so I don’t blame Terunofuji for seeing if there is some way to avoid it.
  • Okinoumi – This guy has been competing in spite of a very serious personal injury that would require surgery and about 4 weeks hospitalization to resolve. Would he still be able to compete once they are done with him? I don’t know. But it’s brutal to watch him mount the dohyo and get pummeled daily. I can’t imagine how brutal it is for him.
  • Tochinoshin – He’s in the same boat at Terunofuji. That knee has been his bane for a while now. With it working and healthy, he fights at at least upper Maegashira level. Hurt he’s day by day between upper Juryo and mid Maegashira. It would be great to see him return healthy and not face any further leg and foot problems.
  • Osunaarashi – I wish we could pull this guy out of sumo for a few months and let him get healthy. He’s another dauntless competitor whose spirit won’t give up, but his body seems to be failing him. But such a move would likely end his career effectively. But out of everyone on this list, he seems to possibly be the most in need. He has not been healthy for several basho now.

As always, we accept tips in the comments section if you read something that helps us know and share with the world how these or any rikishi are faring over the next 6 weeks before we start Nagoya basho.

Thank You, Dear Readers


Thank-You

Tachiai’s Biggest Month Ever

Thank you to all the sumo fans who chose to spend part of their day with us. We are eternally grateful for what is our biggest basho, and our biggest month ever. We would be nothing without the support of our readers and fellow fans of sumo. The site and all that goes into it is a labor of love between a handful of people. Why do we do it? Because we all think that sumo has global appeal, and the catalyst for broader enjoyment of sumo is media presented in a native language for fans outside of Japan.

So thank you, we will continue to report, but at a reduced intensity, until we ramp up again in June for what will be a barn-burner of a basho in Nagoya.

From the team at Tachiai – THANK YOU!

Natsu Wrap Up & Day 15 Highlights


Hakuho-15

The Boss Is Back

In completing his perfect yusho, Yokozuna Hakuho has made it clear that he is back in form and ready to resume his reign as the dai-Yokozua. It’s been a long, difficult road for Hakuho. After he injured his foot in Nagoya, he chose to miss Aki and undergo an operation to reconstruct his big toe and to fix parts of his knee. The recovery was not easy. The surgery and immobility afterwords had a bigger impact than I am sure he expected. As a result he has been under performing for months.

In that period, we have seen some rikish who would normally be eking out kachi-koshi scores here and there truly excel. This is in part because to top predator (and some of his cohorts) have been under performing, in culling rikishi from the ranks.

You can think of it this way, for Hakuho to get to 15 wins, the rest of Makuuchi had to absorb 15 losses. With Hakuho kyujo, someone else got those 15 wins. Everyone’s score increased. You got to see Kisenosato finally make Yokozuna, you got to see Goeido take a zensho yusho. You got to see Kakuryu rack up (at last) a yusho himself. It’s been a great year without a Hakuho. But now he is back, and he is genki and he is ready to rule once more.

A sign of that include his late pushes after a match have returned, so maybe he feels he is fine and will stay fine, and he is free to be Hakuho the great. This has huge implications for sumo for the next year or two. Specifically the other Yokozuna and anyone wishing to follow Takayasu up the Ozeki trail.

For a long time nobody but Hakuho could yusho. When he is / was healthy he is / was unstoppable. We saw that again here during Natsu. Is he back to that level? He wants you to think he is, to be sure. But is he? Maybe? But it’s clear that the one armed Yokozuna needs a repair job if he wants to contend once more. It would be brutally sad if Kisenosato had to follow Kakuryu into a series of revolving kyujos due to a combination of untreated and unresolved injuries, and a mighty, nearly unbeatable uber-sumotori at the top of the heap.

Chiyonokuni finished 2-13. He’s much better than that, and I think he still has a lot of promise. He just peaked hard when a lot of other sekitori were flailing, and he got caught in a storm of beat downs by everyone. He will recover, he will be back. He’s one to watch.

Okinoumi & Takarafuji finished 3-12. Both are old for rikishi, both have various performance limiting injuries. This is one of the problems with Makuuchi at the moment, its full of guys in their 30s. As a pure meritocracy, it’s full of people who can win, and those that can’t win go away over time. We are in one of those times, but because of the way the banzuke works, it could take a long time before fading veterans make way for the up and coming hard chargers.

Daieisho, Aoiyama, Takekaze, Toyohibiki, Myogiryu & Yutakayama finished 4-11. You might expect there to be a brutal banzuke thump down for these rikishi, but for every down there must be an up. And many of the pressure from the lower ranks you might expect did not materialize due to near absolute parity in Juryo. 13 Juryo wresters ended with 8-7 or 7-8.

Matches That Mattered On Day 15

Ura defeats Daishomaru – Ura does a reverse tachiai. You can rightly ask “what the hell was that?”, but hey! it worked! Was it a henka? No, not really. Was it strange? Yes. I thought I saw Daishomaru smiling and maybe giggling a bit over what had just happened, but then I had already had a glass of sake, so who knows.

Tochinoshin defeats Toyohibiki – Kind of sour ending by back to back henkas from Tochinoshin. I am going to guess he re-injured that mummified knee, and that’s why he henka’d his last two matches.

Ishiura defeats Takekaze – Ishiura gets to be Hakuho’s standard bearer – very happy for Ishiura, he pulled out a kachi-koshi on the last day. He has some work to do, and hopefully a healthy Hakuho can provide some assistance. His deshi needs some upgrades.

Tochiozan defeats Shohozan – Both end with 6-9, both are in the older crowd that is lingering around, due to lack of pressure from Juryo. Don’t get me wrong, Makuuchi is good sumo now, but it could and should be better. But right now Juryo is kind of broken for some reason I have not figured out. There should be a crop of early 20’s rikishi who stand these old guys on their ear daily, but that is not happening.

Hokutofuji defeats Yoshikaze – Hokutofuji joins the joi next basho, I would assume. It will be time to see if the up-and-comer has the mojo to really make a stand against the San’yaku. With a healthy Hakuho, it could be a blood bath again (as the basho were before he was hurt a year ago). Yoshikaze at this point is just running up his personal score. While we fans out side Japan mostly focus on what the NHK video shows us, it’s important to note that inside the sumotori community, everyone loves Yoshikaze, and I predict that once he retires and exercises his kabu, he is going to be a very big deal in sumo management indeed.

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – Whatever they put in Shodai’s chanko the last few days, do keep it up! Next basho, we get Shodai back in the joi, and it’s bloodbath time for him, too!

Kotoshogiku defeats Ikioi – Well, that was like the Kotoshogiku of old. We should all enjoy it while it lasts. It’s sort of sad to see him fade, but I guess he is still calling his own outcomes, so I praise his persistence. Ikioi is still hit or miss, but then he has been for a while now.

Tamawashi defeats Goeido – Goeido 1.0 came back for old time’s sake. Now that Kadoban is lifted for a few months, he can afford to be unfocused. Please go get rested, ready and strong Goeido. Nothing would confound the critics and delight the fans more than a second basho full of Goeido 2.0. Who knows, you might even convince Hakuho to retire…

Terunofuji defeats Takayasu – I love the Kaiju when he’s on his sumo. Although I am a ginormous Takayasu fan, it was very good to see Terunofuji deploy all of his moves against the man who will be Ozeki. Even to the point of crushing his arms, which we have not seen in some time. People use to be afraid of facing this guy because they would leave the bout hurt. If Kisenosato can be restored to working order, Takayasu will make a great Ozeki. But while he is training on his own (like he was the for the past 2 months) he is vulnerable. The two are a team, and together they will excel.

Hakuho defeats Harumafuji – Kind of one for the ages. It was a great match, especially the series of moves Hakuho used to change the dynamics of the match and get Harumafuji un-stuck and moving backwards. Given Harumafuji’s re-injury to his ankle, I think he put on a hell of a performance. My complements to both men

Looking toward Nagoya


What a great tournament we just had! To me, what stood out is the large number of outstanding performances throughout the banzuke, from Hakuho‘s zensho yusho all the way down to Onosho‘s 10-5 record in his Makuuchi debut. Terunofuji got his Jun-yusho, and would have been in contention on the final day if not for his early hiccups on days 1 and 2. Takayasu handled the pressure and will be ozeki in Nagoya. Tamawashi may have started his own ozeki run, and has been fighting at that level. Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze held their own in San’yaku, and Shodai, Takakeisho, Tochinoshin, Hokutofuji, Ikioi, and Ura all put up great numbers in the maegashira ranks.

We don’t get the official Nagoya banzuke until June 26, but here are some early thoughts on the top and bottom of the banzuke.

The yokozuna ranks should get reshuffled as follows:

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu

We will have 3 ozeki: Terunofuji, Goeido, and Takayasu.

Tamawashi will keep his sekiwake rank, and Mitakeumi should join him.

Yoshikaze will keep his komusubi rank, and I think Kotoshogiku did just enough to only drop down to the other komusubi slot.

We should have a strong new crop of upper maegashira, who may even fare better than their predecessors at these ranks:

M1 Shodai Takakeisho
M2 Tochinoshin Hokutofuji
M3 Ikioi Ura

At the other end of the banzuke, Yutakayama, Myogiryu, and Toyohibiki will find themselves in Juryo, replaced in Makuuchi by Sadanoumi, Chiyomaru, and Nishigiki. I think Kaisei will just barely hang on to the top division at M16. They could swap him with Gagamaru, but what would be the point?

Full banzuke prediction to come once I’ve had some time to digest Natsu.