The 2018 Aki Basho is over, and I’m sure you’ll agree it was an incredible two weeks of sumo! In this video, I break down four major stories coming out of Aki and give a quick recap some breaking news making waves in the sumo world.
With just over two weeks until the start of the Nagoya basho, Sumo’s ozeki corps is under pressure to deliver wins all round. The two incumbent ozeki are both kadoban, and the shin-ozeki, Tochinoshin, comes in nursing a hurt wrist. As a zero-sum sport, each win that the ozeki need comes at the expense of some other rikishi’s march towards kachi-koshi.
First up is the likely Ozeki 1 East, Goeido. With only 3 wins at Natsu, it’s tough to think of this man as the top Ozeki in sumo today. After injuring his ankle during the Osaka basho in 2017, he underwent surgery to have his joint rebuilt with pins and a lot of luck. While it seems to have kept his foot from falling off, he has mostly struggled to execute the kind of sumo that gives him winning records. When he is on his game, Goeido is a fast, brutal rikishi of pure offense. But we suspect he is still trying to find a way to keep his injured ankle together by any means he can muster. He comes into Nagoya looking to overcome his 8th career kadoban. While a healthy, strong Goeido running GoeiDOS 2.X is more than up to that task, he will have to overcome some fierce competition from the rest of the san’yaku to get to the safety of 8 wins. Forecast – Questionable.
But then we come to Takayasu, the likely Ozeki 1 West. Takayasu did not compete at all during Natsu, citing upper body injuries that were likely sustained due to changes he made to his sumo following the injury of his training partner and companion Kisenosato. During the second half of 2017, Takayasu’s sumo increasingly relied on a wild, flailing style that incorporated-a maxed out kachi-age at the tachiai. Being enormous and as strong as a C53 class locomotive can take you quite far when you are willing to go brutal at the open. Sadly his body suffered and his injuries were too much for him to compete in May. Now he heads to the balmy basho in Nagoya trying to overcome his 3rd foreshortened tournament of his Ozeki career, and erase his second kadoban. Recent press reports have featured Takayasu and an injured Kisenosato practicing in front of hundreds of spectators, with good effect. Some of this may simply be PR for the Yokozuna, as it seems most of the san-ban had been prior to the past four basho. Forecast – Hopeful.
Shin-Ozeki is a great slot, especially if it’s apparent that you finished your Ozkei bid with increasing momentum and increasingly powerful sumo. Ozeki 2 East Tochinoshin comes to the Nagoya dohyo as possibly the most powerful man in the Ozeki ranks. He can easily carry either of his fellow ozeki around like furniture, planting them in harmonious spots outside of the dohyo for optimal feng-shui. The worrying aspect is his repeated reports of injury to his wrist sustained during the final week of Natsu. This, naturally, limits his “lift and shift” sumo by removing his ability to transfer his enormous strength to his opponents mawashi. However, it’s reasonable to assume that Kasugano will have him squared away in time for shonichi. I personally hope that a strong rivalry between Tochinoshin and Takayasu takes root, which could help propel both of them to higher performance. Forecast – Rather-genki.
With two kadoban ozeki, it’s going to be time for both Takayasu and Goeido to dial it up to 11, but there is also a very real risk of losing at least one Ozeki this basho. Goeido has been teetering on the edge for quite some time. Takayasu may still be injured, but feel he is out of options. But with Tochinoshin bringing fresh blood and fresh sumo to the Ozeki ranks, Nagoya promises to step up the intensity of upper rank competition.
Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.
Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.
Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.
Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.
The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.
Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.
Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.
The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.
I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.
With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.
From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.
Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.
Let’s take a look at the rikishi:
Yokozuna Kakuryu Genki: ✭✭✭ Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.
Yokozuna Hakuho Genki: ✭✭ Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.
Yokozuna Kisenosato Genki: ✭- Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?
Ozeki Goeido Genki: ✭✭ Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.
Ozeki Takayasu Genki: ✭✭ Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.
Ozeki Tochinoshin Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭ Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.
This morning in Tokyo, officials from the Nihon Sumo Kyokai brought official word that Georgian sumotori Tochinoshin had been promoted to Ozeki. After an amazing 37 wins over the last three basho, the former Sekiwake had over-achieved almost every promotion criteria. As is customary for these announcements, the officials from the NSK take one side of the raised platform, with the promotee, his Oyakata and his wife take the other.
As far as I could tell, Tochinoshin did not utter a traditional 4 glyph motto, but did state “I will follow and revere my Oyakata’s instructions, and act as a role model for other rikishi. I will train hard.”.