Natsu Story 1 – Takayasu’s Ozeki Moment

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10 Wins From Promotion

Takayasu stands at the cusp on one of the great moments in sumo – promotion to the hallowed rank of Ozeki. Having pushed and trained for most of his 27 years to hone his body and his skill, he is now 10 wins from earning sumo’s second highest rank.

His sumo style is based on strength and endurance, and he has learned the art of wearing his opponent down in a grinding battle of attrition, which given the chance he can apply better than anyone in the current joi. Fans know that when he locks up his foe and rests that chin on their shoulder and goes limp from the waste up, that he is pressing down with enormous pressure, forcing them to lift his weight and theirs or be crushed to the dohyo.

In his 36 career Makuuchi tournaments, he has spent 8 in lower San’yaku. While these ranks typically destroy other Sekitori, Takayasu seems to be made for battle. Over those 8 basho in San’yaku, he has racked up an impressive 62 wins / 43 losses. In fact, Takayasu was on the cusp of promotion late last year going into the Kyushu basho, but finished with a disappointing 7-8 record.

His performance at Hatsu and Haru were impressive, and it seemed that this time everything would align for Takayasu. But then stablemate and training partner Kisenosato suffered a terrible pectoral injury in the final days of Osaka, and has been unable to train.

Like any good sumotori, Takayasu applied himself and did what he could with what he had. But you cannot replace a daily regimen of sparring with Kisenosato, and fans would be right to worry that we could witness a repeat of Kyushu – success within reach, but not achieved.

Tachiai is honestly pulling for Takayasu to bring some much needed health and vigor to the upper San’yaku, and we hope that he has found a way to adapt, survive and overcome.

Takayasu’s Makuuchi Record To Date

36 basho

  • 1 Jun-Yusho
  • 1 Gino-Sho
  • 3 Shukun-Sho
  • 4 Kanto-Sho
  • 4 Kinboshi

Asanoyama: The Pride of Toyama Prefecture

Takasago beya, despite its legacy of big named stars, has fallen on hard times. To start 2017, the stable which produced Asashoryu and the American ozeki Konishiki had no active sekitori. According to the article, this was the first time since the 11th year of the Meiji era (1868) that Takasago beya did not have an active sekitori. Asanoyama’s promotion for the March tournament brought the stable back into the elite divisions. He will climb quickly into makuuchi on the back of his 10-5 record, just missing out on the Juryo yusho, losing a three-way playoff which included Osunaarashi and yusho-winner, Toyohibiki.
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A Closer Look at San’yaku after Week 1

Moment of Silence
One of these men is more consistent than the others – and basically everyone else.

Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.

I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.

Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.

This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:

* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.

* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

Yokozuna Win Percentage 2015-16: 85.7%
Yokozuna Win Percentage 2017: 75.6%

Ozeki Win Percentage 2015-16: 70%
Ozeki Win Percentage 2017: 60.5%

* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.

* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).

* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.

* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).

* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.

* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.

* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.

So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.

Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.

Imbalance In San’yaku By The Numbers


The Yokozuna and Ozeki Are Hurting

It’s clear that the Ozeki / Yokozuna problems from January have not abated, and we are seeing a strong effort from the lower San’yaku. As most sumo fans will tell you, the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks are horrific assignments that see rikishi get handed brutal losing records that typically launch them down the banzuke for several tournaments. Let’s take a look at Nagoya 2016

Nagoya – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
4 0 Hakuho
3 1 Harumafuji
3 1 Kakuryu
4 0 Kisenosato
2 2 Goeido
0 4 Kotoshogiku
4 0 Terunofuji

Total of 20 wins, 8 losses after 5 days, or a 0.71 wins / day from this crew. Very powerful. They Yokozuna crew produced 0.83 wins / day, which is even more dominant.

Meanwhile, lower San’yaku was a blood bath

Nagoya – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
3 1 Kaiesei
0 4 Tochinoshin
0 4 Kotoyuki
3 1 Takayasu

6 wins, 10 losses by day 4. Kaisei and Takayasu were pulling hard, but Kotoyuki and Tochinoshin were being beaten bloody. In fact, now almost a year later and neither one has actually recovered from that basho’s pounding. This crew turned in 0.3 wins / day. Very ugly, right? And this is how it typically is for these ranks.

Now lets see what is happening during the first 4 days of Haru

Osaka – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Hakuho
3 1 Kakuryu
2 2 Harumafuji
4 0 Kisenosato
1 3 Goeido
4 0 Terunofuji

Not as strong, they are producing an average of 0.66 wins / day, with Kisenosato and Terunofuji really hauling most of that themselves. Meanwhile, in lower San’yaku land

Osaka – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Tamawashi
4 0 Takayasu
3 1 Kotoshogiku
2 2 Mitakeumi
2 2 Shodai

Also averaging a respectable 0.66 wins / day. Instead of the normal beating, the Sekiwake and Komusubi are keeping pace with the Ozeki and Yokozuna. While the basho is still young, this would seem to indicate that there is a real challenge to the top men of sumo from the lieutenant ranks now. Also keep in mind, the first week is “Hell Week” for the Sekiwake and Komusubi, where they are typically pounded to a bloody mess by the Ozeki and Yokozuna. Week 2 has them returning the favor to the Makuuchi troops.

As with Hatsu, this is going to be a departure from the typical basho, and is a further signal that we will likely see a change soon.

Haru Story 2 — New Ozeki?

All eyes will be on Kisenosato as he makes his debut as the newest Yokozuna. Kisenosato is one of the greatest ozeki of all time. His run of 31 consecutive tournaments at the rank, averaging 10.7 wins per tournament, is a testament to his longevity and his consistency. The answer to the question, “Why hasn’t he won or been promoted before?” needs a one word answer: “Hakuho.” As Bruce wrote in “Haru Story 1,” this new yokozuna chapter of his career is the top question going forward.

However, talk will quickly turn to the diminished ozeki ranks. The door is wide open for a young up-and-comer to challenge for promotion. So, I ask of our readership, “Who will be the next Ozeki?” I’m not asking who will make the “next ozeki run” but who will actually be the next wrestler to secure a promotion? It will happen this year(…or else I will be in a lot of pain).

The leading candidates are in the poll below. Takayasu is arguably already on an ozeki run. We will need to see him carry this through summer. He leads the group of youngsters, including Mitakeumi & Shodai. He’s the most experienced of the three and has been pretty consistently in the top portion of the makuuchi for the past few years. Mitakeumi and Shodai have both made their starts in professional sumo a full 10 years after Takayasu but their rises have been meteoric. Can one of them make a quick Terunofuji-like charge for a championship?

Tamawashi’s chances likely put him at the top of the “veterans,” which I’m including Sokokurai and Kotoshogiku (whose path is obviously easiest). Tamawashi’s been around for ages. He’s as old as Sokokurai and Kotoshogiku, all born in 1984 and all three having been in sumo for more than a decade, but as recently as May 2013 he was down in Juryo. He’s been a solid wrestler but unassuming. Has he just been biding his time?

Alright, enough with me asking the questions. Here’s the one I hope you all will answer:

Kisenosato Recommended For Promotion To Yokozuna


Yokozuna Deliberation Council Approves Unanimously

In a move that has been expected since the end of the Hatsu basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council has met on Monday January 23rd at the Kokugikan, and after only 10 minutes of discussion, unanimously approved Kisenosato as the 72nd Yokozuna. He will be the first Japanese man to take the rope since 1998 when it was given to the 66th Yokozuna Wakanohana.

The meeting on the 23rd was held as an “extraordinary session” at request of the Shimpan of the Japan Sumo Association, and was conducted by its chairman Nobuyoshi Hakkaku. Based on that decision, the Sumo Association will decide Kisenosato’s promotion during a meeting of the directors on the 25th.

Official notification is expected to be delivered to the stable later on Wednesday, with all of the pomp and ceremony associated with elevation to Grand Champion. Word in the press is that retired Yokozuna Ōnokuni has offered to teach Kisenosato the ritual of Yokozuna dohyo-iri. It is expected that Yokozuna Kisenosato will adopt the Unryu style, which focuses on defense, and is practiced by Yokozuna Kakuryu, and legendary Yokozuna Takanohana.

Tachiai congratulates Kisenosato in achieving this mighty goal, to which he has dedicated his entire life.

More details from the Asahi Shimbun here

Kisenosato Defeats Yokozuna Hakuho


Yokozuna Promotion Likely This Week

In the final match of the Hatsu basho, Kisenosato overcame a vigorous challenge from Yokozuna Hakuho with a masterful sukuinage (belt less arm throw) at the edge of the ring. While Kisenosato had already locked up the tournament victory on day 14, this defeat of Hakuho is a fitting punctuation to a fantastic effort by Kisenosato this January.

Kisenosato entered the world of sumo in 2002 at the age of 16, and has dedicated his life to everything sumo.

There are already strong indications that the Japanese sumo fans will be finally given a native Yokozuna. The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee will meet early this week, and any announcement is expected to take place Wednesday. if this happens, shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato will do his first dohyo-iri a few days later at a local shrine. I would expect the celebrations will be epic. It is also quite likely that the popularity of Sumo will increase dramatically among the Japanese public, as many did not have passion about the sport due to Mongolian dominance.