Tachiai’s Sumo Career Tracker

I get a lot of information and inspiration from Herouth’s jungyo coverage. She gives so much insight into a side of the sport that non-Japanese rarely see reported. Frankly, even Japanese don’t see much of this reported outside of local newspapers or Twitter, so much of this side of sumo is completely new to my friends and my wife’s friends. I often find myself doing more research into a topic she’s raised, a lesser-known wrestler she’s featured, or sumo-specific vocabulary.

Her post yesterday featured the homecoming of rank-and-file maegashira Ryuden, alongside mention of fellow Yamanashi export Shobushi. She also shone a light on Shodai’s tsukebito, Asakura, and the former Kototsurugi. Frankly, even Ryuden is a bit of a mystery to me. The last couple of years he seemed to pop up from nowhere and turn into a solid maegashira with the potential to crack into sanyaku.

From his page on the SumoDB, we can see Ryuden’s career actually started back in 2006 and he seemed to have been grinding it out, steadily progressing until he reached Juryo and suffered a major set-back, resulting in multiple consecutive kyujo tournaments. I hate to cite Wikipedia but English-language reporting on sumo wrestlers is difficult to find. So, according to Wikipedia, he fractured his hip, reinjuring it twice and falling way back to Jonokuchi (hat tip to Herouth for catching my error).

When I read this story, I think of how Tochinoshin and Jokoryu clawed their way back into the paid ranks after bad injuries. This also gives a glimpse into the challenges that lie ahead of Ura and Terunofuji. But how well do their stories really compare? It’s quite difficult to see just what Ryuden has overcome in that table.

Effect of Ryuden’s Injury

My day job is data management so I thought I’d put together a simple visualization to give a better visual reference for Ryuden’s career. Time (number of tournaments) is along the horizontal axis. Rank is along the vertical axis. We see his rank crater after he reaches Juryo. Interestingly, for four tournaments in a row, the DB shows that he picks up 1 win, perhaps keeping him from going completely off the banzuke while recuperating. Once healthy, he roared back into the top flights with consecutive yusho in the lower divisions. This should give hope for the young Ura and Terunofuji.

Along with Ryuden, though, this type of visualization also helps give us a glimpse into the careers of the other, even less-well-known rikishi. Shobushi has been a fixture in the Sandanme division for much of the past ten years, though he recently dipped back down into Jonidan. Can he put together a run and make it into Makushita?

Ready for a bounce. Asakura’s yusho will bring him higher, perhaps sandanme?

Asakura is coming fresh off his lower-division yusho, so this graph will need to be updated. He may find himself back in Sandanme. The youngster has started off well but it is challenging to get into the third division.

Lastly, I want to take a look at Kototsurugi, whom Herouth also introduced, alongside Ryuden.

Kototsurugi: Perhaps he has some advice for Shobushi and Asakura?

Aki Reflections – Ringers & Over-Achievers

Yoshikaze Fansa

Prior to Aki 2018, it was clear there was a handful of high-potential rikishi ranked in the bottom half of the banzuke, and we wrote that there was a strong chance that these “ringers” might over-perform the rest of the lower Maegashira. As sumo tournaments are a zero-sum competition (everyone who wins delivers a loss to their opponent), a handful of strong performers at the bottom of the banzuke will result in a large number of make-koshi rikishi, and an absolute headache for ranking in November. Let’s take a look at who was wrecking the torikumi for September.

Yoshikaze – Full disclaimer, I am a huge Yoshikaze fan. He was worryingly weak during the Nagoya basho, so much so that I wrote that he might be on the cusp of retiring. At 36 years, he is one of the older sekitori. Yoshikaze also has secure “elder stock” in the sumo association, assuring he will continue to be part of the sumo world well after he chooses to retire. The Aki banzuke ranked him at Maegashira 15w, and a make-koshi in September would have seen him drop from the top division. But the “Berserker” had put whatever ailed him aside, and roared to an 11-4 record. Fans noted that his body seemed to be covered with some sort of rash for at least part of the basho, but it did not seem to affect his performance.

Nishikigi – He has never been very genki, and mostly scooted along the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke, bouncing between lower Maegashira and Juryo. But lately his sumo has improved enough that he has been not only able to hold Maegashira rank, but has brought in two double-digit win tournaments this year. It has been fascinating to watch Nishikigi – who seems to never give up no matter how badly he is doing in a tournament – keep slowly improving no matter what. Toward the end of Aki he was paired against two mid-ranked opponents, M7 Shohozan and M9 Hokutofuji, and beat them both for the first time. He even managed to win against fading former Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Whatever transformation has taken place, it’s great to watch and we hope he can continue to strive for higher performance.

Ryuden – After bad health problems in 2013 and 2014, Ryuden dropped all the way down from a (then-career-high) Juryo 12 West to Jonokuchi, and fought his way back up through the ranks. Since returning to Sekitori status, he has floated between good and terrible, with his 3-12 disaster at May’s Natsu basho a standout. He had a series of good matches at Aki, but that included puzzling losses to hapless Ishiura and Kotoyuki. Despite this, his 10-5 result will likely catapult him back to mid-Maegashira ranks. Fans rightly wonder if he will be able to hold on this time.

Takanoiwa – In October of 2017, Takanoiwa was involved in an after-hours party that led to him being in the hospital with a head wound, and Harumafuji out of sumo. Recent court activity shows that those two are not done fighting, though now they let their lawyers grapple. After sitting out two tournaments and dropping to lower Juryo, Takanoiwa has been kachi-koshi for the past 4 tournaments, including the Juryo yusho in the sweltering heat of Nagoya. Returning to the top division for September, he managed a respectable 10-5 record. Prior to his injury, he was a dependable mid-Maegashira rikishi, and given the blood bath at the top of the banzuke in September, he seems likely to return to that posting for Kyushu in November. Sadly the distractions for Takanoiwa are likely not over. In a puzzling complex of events, his stable master, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, left sumo and closed his stable. As a result, Takanoiwa and the rest of the Takanohana rikishi have been re-homed to Chiganoura heya, which will surely disrupt Takanoiwa’s training and mindset.

All four of these rikishi are likely to see steep promotions for Kyushu, and Tachiai will be eagerly awaiting the publication of the November banzuke in just a couple of weeks.

Aki Basho day 11 – Lower Makuuchi results

All eyes might be on Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Hakuho and Kakuryu, but I’m going to keep my spotlight aimed at mid and lower Makuuchi for a bit longer, because some of these bouts were very good sumo, and because I’m eagerly watching to see who can and can’t avoid demotion.

Ryuden – Kotoyuki. As I said before, Kotoyuki really needed this win, and I didn’t expect it to be easy for him. However, he pulled it off, a fine display of oshi-zumo keeping Ryuden at arms’ length and stopping him getting anything resembling a mawashi grip. It was really more Ryuden’s loss than Kotoyuki’s win, since the Takadagawa-beya man misjudged his place in the ring and stepped outside while retreating, but Kotoyuki definitely deserves credit for clearly winning the tachiai and preventing Ryuden from ever getting a touch of the belt.

Ishiura – Nishikigi. Another “must-win”, and although Ishiura’s sumo looked solid yesterday, he can’t pull it off again. Nishikigi’s rising arms prevent the low tachiai, and Ishiura finds himself entangled, controlled, and forced out. He can’t disengage, he can’t get low enough to lever Nishikigi upright, and with only a right outside grip he can’t manage a throw. Ishiura is now make-koshi and his return to Juryo is all but assured.

Okinoumi – Takanosho. Both come in to their first ever meeting with 5-5 scores. Takanosho puts on an excellent display of no-tricks, chest-to-chest sumo without a mawashi grip, and is able to drive Okinoumi (ten years his senior) out with pure force.

Kyokutaisei has apparently decided that if he tries to wrestle on that leg again, it will just come off at the knee. Chiyomaru gets the fusensho and avoids make-koshi for one more day.

Sadanoumi – Chiyoshoma. The Villain of Kokonoe-Beya has no interest in moving forwards, and after his hatakikomi attempt fails, his arm-pull fails, and Sadanoumi goes chest-to-chest with arms high, he’s able to perform a Sukuinage (beltless overarm throw) right at the bales and secure a win. I’m still not sure how he manages to find the leverage for that throw and end up on top, although he faceplants down the side of the dohyo for his trouble.

Yoshikaze – Daieisho. Daiesho looked almost like a shorter, rounder Abi in this, with an absolutely unceasing windmill of tsuppari and thrusts that slowly drove Yoshikaze back to the tawara and out.

Takanoiwa – Kotoshogiku. Takanoiwa has a plan here. In the first few seconds of the bout, he’s able to get a good firm belt grip first on the right outside and then the left inside, which does wonders to neutralize the gaburi-yori attack. After Takanoiwa makes two failed attempts to lift him, Kotoshogiki struggles mightily to get the bulldozer into first gear, but Takanoiwa is able to rotate and throw him down with that underarm grip (shitatenage).

Shohozan – Hokutofuji. This bout seems to be all Hokutofuji. With a firm nodawa, an excellent ability to deflect Shohozan’s thrusting attacks, and enough stability to withstand slap-down attempts, Hokutofuji drives Shohozan on two complete laps of the dohyo before finally shoving him out. With this win, Hokutofuji is kachi-koshi.

No-one is going to call Aoiyama – Onosho a highlight with a straight face. Onosho is now disappointingly make-koshi. It was at least better sumo than Daishomaru‘s henka win over Asanoyama.

Myogiryu – Takarafuji. Myogiryu gets both hands inside from the tachiai, and when Takarafuji tries to retreat to avoid being caught in a full moro-zashi, he’s able to follow, withstand the kotenage attempt, and drive him out.

Since the rest of the torikumi involves rikishi from the joi-jin (the upper 16), I’m going to leave that to Herouth to cover.

Day 10 Highlights

Takayasu Salt
Image courtesy of the Japan Sumo Association Twitter Feed

Act two is in the record books, and the yusho race is down to three credible contenders. Entering into the final 3 days, the Ozeki and Yokozuna will face each other daily, and the level of competition will ratchet higher. It’s still possible that Aki will be won with an unbeaten 15-0 record, which would be a great mark to achieve during a year of tournaments plagued by injuries and absent rikishi.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Ryuden – With no room for another loss, and his position in the top division at stake, Ishiura finds his sumo. Today’s match was some of his best, and one has to wonder where this has been for the past year.

Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – I swear, you can see Nishikigi get nervous as Yoshikaze pulls him to his chest, and Nishikigi realizes he is in contact with the Yoshikaze mystery rash. You know, if its all over your torso anyhow, why not use it to help win? Dekimono-kiri anyone? In better news, it does look like the rash is clearing up.

Takanosho defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi starts strong, but Takanosho rallies after he lands a nodowa. With his neck pinned back and his body too high, Sadanoumi can offer little defense as Takanosho drives forward and wins.

Kotoyuki defeats Kyokutaisei – Much to my surprise, Kotoyuki looked strong and forceful today, and did not go sailing into the zabuton. Instead he won over Kyokutaisei, who may have compounded his right knee injury.

Takanoiwa defeats Tochiozan – Takanoiwa reaches kachi-koshi on day 10, cementing his return to the top division after almost a year recovering from injury and battling his way back up the banzuke. Kimarite is listed as sotogake, for that leg trip he applied to Tochiozan at the tawara.

Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – Kagayaki’s first ever win over the Bulgarian meat mountain. Clearly Aoiyama desperately needs some recovery time, and is now make-koshi.

Onosho defeats Daishomaru – A quick but effective hatakikomi, notable in that it’s only Onosho’s 3rd win of the tournament.

Myogiryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Myogiryu’s speed and intensity prevents Kotoshogiku from setting up any offensive sumo.

Asanoyama defeats Hokutofuji – After a blazing 7-0 start, Hokutofuji seems to have hit a wall, and is now on a three-match losing streak. Hokutofuji invested too much time trying to get his nodowa to pay off, all the while Asanoyama was moving forward and maneuvering Hokutofuji’s body into an increasingly perilous position.

Chiyonokuni defeats Shohozan – It was a given that these two would show a lot of action, and it did not disappoint. Repeatedly charging each other, it was more a game of bumper cars at first. The match ended before there could be any bloodshed when Shohozan lost his footing and stepped outside the bales.

Takarafuji defeats Abi – Takarafuji shows us how its done. He patiently absorbs Abi’s double arm thrusts, carefully deflecting part of each thrust and circling a step to his left each time. Forced to constantly adjust his stance, Abi’s rhythm is disrupted. Takarafuji reads this with great skill, finds an opening, and drives Abi out. Great tactics from Takarafuji today.

Shodai defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu picks up his make-koshi. The NHK team did not necessarily concur with the gyoji’s indication that Shodai had won the match, but none of the judges asked to review the gunbai.

Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Both rikishi fought with a lot of power, with Tamawashi finishing the match with a burst of strength that lifted and threw Ikioi from the dohyo. That was big!

Takakeisho defeats Yutakayama – Solid Takakeisho style oshi-zumo today, Yutakayama was powerless to mount any kind of useful defense. Why did he come back from kyujo again?

Tochinoshin defeats Kaisei – Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin sores a much needed win against Kaisei, keeping the chances of him clearing kadoban plausible. The two were chest to chest from the start, and both men were trying to outmuscle the other. Both were able to lift each other, but struggled to do more than stand in the center of the dohyo, keeping their opponent at bay. Kaisei tired first, and Tochinoshin lifted him enough to carry him out. Tochinoshin’s magic number is now 2.

Takayasu defeats Goeido – The two Ozeki surprisingly decided to go chest to chest and fight it out yotsu-style. This seems to have been a smart move for Takayasu, as Goeido’s mobility did not factor into the match, and Takayasu was able to contain and control his fellow Ozeki. For fans of unusual winning moves, we got to see Takayasu apply a kainahineri, or a two handed twist down. This leaves Takayasu as the sole rikishi one loss behind the Yokozuna.

Kisenosato defeats Endo – As expected, Kisenosato picks up his kachi-koshi and completes his return to active sumo competition. A series of matta marred the match, and when they finally launched on the fourth attempt, Kisenosato charged forward ahead and took Endo out quickly. With win number 8, the pressure on Kisenosato subsides a bit. He can remain an active, competing Yokozuna, and work to improve his performance at Kyushu. The sumo world breathes a sigh of welcome relief.

Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – Glad to see Ichinojo actually put in an effort today. He had Hakuho working to keep the giant contained, and several times Ichinojo was able to generate good forward pressure. However, Hakuho remains undefeated and tied for the lead.

Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – Points to Mitakeumi for a strong tachiai and backing the Yokozuna to the tawara, but Kakuryu rallies and hands Mitakeumi his 4th defeat. This likely puts his Ozeki bid on hold until Kyushu unless he can find a way to overcome both Kisenosato and Takayasu. Frankly, Mitakeumi is not looking genki enough to pull that one off, as stamina is starting to play a role in everyone’s sumo.

Aki Day 10 Preview

Hakuho Dohyo-iri

Act 2 comes to a close, and with a full roster of Yokozuna and Ozeki still competing every day, the carnage is back to pre 2017 levels. Kisenosato looks within range of his kachi-koshi today, Mitakeumi’s Ozeki run will hinge on winning every match from here to the end of the basho, and Tochinoshin is in a deep dark kadoban hole. As we did earlier, lets look at the joi-jin bloodbath. The combined record for all of the Komusubi to Maegashira 3 rikishi: 17 wins, 55 loses. That’s going to leave a mark!

Aki Leaderboard

The leaderboard continues to narrow, as the road to the yusho gets more challenging. So far the undefeated Yokozunas have control of their destiny.

Leaders: Kakuryu, Hakuho
Chasers: Goeido, Takayasu, Ryuden
Hunt Group: Kisenosato, Hokutofuji, Takanoiwa

6 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 10

Ryuden vs Ishiura – Make no mistake, Ryuden has been given the task to deliver the make-koshi doom to Ishiura, and relegate him back to Juryo. Given Ryuden is fighting well and already kachi-koshi, it’s not going to take him much effort to seal Ishiura’s fate.

Yoshikaze vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi has been trending towards going chest to chest and taking a grip on his opponent’s mawashi. But the Yoshikaze mystery body rash may give him a second thought. Their only prior match went to Yoshikaze.

Kotoyuki vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei draws the somewhat overly theatrical Kotoyuki for day 10. Both of them are in dire need of wins, with Kotoyuki much closer to the Juryo express than Kyokutaisei. I anticipate Kyokutaisei will be chased around the dohyo for a few seconds, then Kotoyuki will be launched into the crowd, even if he has to do it under his own power.

Takanoiwa vs Tochiozan – A win today would give Takanoiwa his kachi-koshi in his return to Makuuchi. After nearly a year on the road to battle back to the top division, it would be an interesting bookend to Harumafuji’s retirement at the end of the month.

Kagayaki vs Aoiyama – In 6 attempts, Kagayaki has never been able to defeat Aoiyama. But for Aki 2018, Aoiyama is hurt and only fighting at a fraction of his power. So the advantage today is clearly with Kagayaki. Aoiyama will try to keep Kagayaki at a preferred swatting distance, and Kagayaki will work to set up in much closer range.

Myogiryu vs Kotoshogiku – If Myogiryu can stay mobile, he has a chance of beating Kotoshogiku. But we know that Kotoshogiku tends to latch onto his opponent during the tachiai. Kotoshogiku will try to be inside to try to land a grip, and Myogiryu’s inclination will be to stay mobile, and that opens a narrow avenue for Kotoshogiku to seize control at the tachiai.

Hokutofuji vs Asanoyama – Both of these bright rising stars are working to regroup after losing their shares of the leaderboard. They are evenly matched, and I expect that they will throw fairly symmetrical sumo at each other. The “handshake tachiai” into a nodowa is not quite working for Hokutofuji in week 2, so hopefully he’s got another offensive gambit. If Asanoyama can constrain Hokutofuji’s sumo, he should be able to set the tempo and terms of the match.

Chiyonokuni vs Shohozan – We know that both of these men are looking forward to this match, as they probably want someone who they can pound the daylights out of. Both of them have had a rough time this basho, and probably have a lot of frustration to work out. Shohozan holds an 8-2 career advantage.

Takarafuji vs Abi – How many days out of Aki 15 can Abi-zumo actually work. We are keeping track, and so far it’s 5, plus 1 where he went for the mawashi. Takarafuji will try to get a hold of Abi and keep him from leaping around and using his double-hand oshi attack. Good luck with that.

Shodai vs Chiyotairyu – If Shodai can withstand the tachiai, he has a pretty good shot at winning another one. Chiyotairyu’s lateral motion is poor, and Shodai can use this to his advantage.

Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Both make-koshi, both having a rotten Aki basho. Both of them are strength-oshi rikishi, so I am looking for some high power, high mobility sumo.

Yutakayama vs Takakeisho – First time match up for these two, and it should be a good one. Yutakayama picked up his first win on day 9, and he’s back looking for a few shiroboshi to soften his fall down the banzuke. Yutakayama will bring strength and stamina to the match, where Takakeisho will bring speed an fury. Should be a good battle!

Kaisei vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin will continue his task to find 8 wins, and he may have an opportunity on day 10. Over the 16 career matches, Tochinoshin holds a 9-7 slight advantage. He needs this win, and I am going to guess he is willing to endure a lot of pain and possible injury to defeat the mighty Brazilian.

Goeido vs Takayasu – As we continue to rotate through the Ozeki matches, it’s time for speedy Goeido to take his sumo against the strong and chaotic Takayasu. Takayasu holds a 18-10 lead in the career series, but Goeido 2.2 seems to be increasingly effective executing his rapid, forceful sumo. This match may only take a moment, and it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail.

Kisenosato vs Endo – Endo is make-koshi, and clearly injured. So I am calling that Kisenosato will pick up his kachi-koshi today, and seal his successful return to sumo. We all know that “10” is a Yokozuna kachi-koshi, but no one is going to give a care about that. The Japanese sumo fans will have Kisenosato back, he will have successfully gotten a majority of wins, and he is free to improve and recover before Kyushu.

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Hakuho is probably going to rack win #10, as Ichinojo is not fighting well. Regardless of whatever injuries “The Boss” might have, he’s still bringing some of the best sumo each day.

Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid hangs by a thread now, and Kakuryu holds the other end of that thread. Their career record is 4-3 in favor of Kakuryu, so it’s not a given that Big-K can score a win. But Mitakeumi cannot afford a single loss from here on out, and he is in the toughest part of the schedule. Every eye in sumo fandom will be locked to this match.