Hakuho To Retire This Year

If you want to watch the GOAT, plan to do it soon. In a revealing interview, Hakuho announced his intention to retire this year.

He didn’t get more specific about when he would retire but there had been a lot of speculation that his ultimate goal was to be active for this year’s Olympics, where he will be a torch-bearer. Herouth found the tweet below, I stepped back to the original video before the workout video. Herouth’s thread below.

The first video from the original tweet gave some more inside into his motivations, namely to spend more time with his family and to raise a new crop of wrestlers. This past New Year, for example, he spent in Australia with his family…on his new passport as a Japanese national. So for those Tachiai readers in Oz (esp. Sydney) you may have seen him around town.

Sumo debates for 2020 – 3/3

10. Will a rikishi win a yusho for the first time in 2020 ?

Last years showed us we’re not immune to great upsets, during a troubled period where top ranks are ageing and youngsters are struggling to meet up expectations. Indeed, 2018 and 2019 saw a maegashira lifting the Emperor’s Cup (Tochinoshin in 2018 and Asanoyama in 2019).

Anyone up for another surprise in 2020 ? At the risk of being a party spoiler, I’m not !

11. Will Hoshoryu reach maku’uchi ?

Lower divisions have seen the emergence in 2019 of Hoshoryu. Often called “nephew of…”, I’m sure he’ll want to prove his own strengh, in order to me remembered, not just as Asashoryu’s nephew.

A future star ? Hoshoryu Tomokatsu

His rise from jonokuchi has been pretty fast, although it took several honbasho for Hoshoryu to break the glass and reach the salaried ranks : from March of last year at makushita 7, 4-3, 4-3, 3-4 and 4-3 records saw him finally reach juryo. His first stint there did not bring much joy either, as he barely managed to save his rank, thanks to a senshuraku victory – he ended the tournament with a 7-8 make kochi.

Can he raise up his lever in 2020 ?

My prediction: Asashoryu has had harsh words towards him last year. I’m sure he will be a major help towards maku’uchi promotion in 2020.

12. Will Kotoshogiku stay in maku’uchi ?

Lots of words have been written about the way Kotoshogiku failed to regain his ozeki status, as an ozekiwake in March 2017. Since then, much less has been said about Kotoshogiku’s rather anonymous, albeit decent later career in maku’uchi – he even defeated Hakuho in Nagoya.

Former ozeki Kotoshogiku Kazuhiro (left)

Lately, his form has plunged, however. The former ozeki is on an unfortunate four make kochi streak (6-9, 7-8, 6-9, 6-9). He’ll turn 36 this month.

Can he find the winning formula again ? I’m afraid not.

13. Will Ishiura stay in maku’uchi ?

What about Ishiura ? Interestingly, he already spent six basho in a row in maku’uchi (from Kyushu 2016 to Aki 2017), but never during a full calendar year (he got demoted in Kyushu 2017 and Kyushu 2018). He spent four tournaments in the top division in 2019.

From hatakikomi to mitokorozeme : Ishiura Masakatsu

He is known for using the henka technique quite often during his bouts. Lately, however, his form seemed to improve, with combative 8-7 and 9-6 records at the end of the year. Last basho saw him use more raffined techniques, including one of the rarest techniques of the sport, mitokorozeme. It had not been used since Mainoumi, back in 1993 !

Can Ishiura’s sudden feisty sumo grant him a spot in maku’uchi during the whole year 2020 ? Unfortunately, I tend to say no.

14. Will Ura produce the greatest comeback ever ?

We spoke about Terunofuji’s remarkable return to juryo, and, possibly, to maku’uchi. What if Ura does the same ?

The greatest comeback ever ? Ura Kazuki

To put that question into context, Ura had a breakthrough in 2017, starting his first two honbasho in maku’uchi with two winning records. He even defeated former yokozuna Harumafuji in Nagoya, before seeing knee injuries totally stopping his rise. After almost a year without participating in a competitive bout, Ura started his comeback with 6-1 and 7-0 records in sandanme, before reinjuring his knees at the beginning of 2019. At the bottom of jonidan, Ura started his career again, producing a 6-1 record.

Is it on once and for all ? Can Ura produce six kachi koshi in 2020 ? Once again, I tend to say no, but wish him, as well as all other wrestlers and our readers, a successful year 2020 !

Sumo debates for 2020 – 2/3

6. Will Terunofuji compete in maku’uchi in 2020 ? Where will he end up this year ?

The nostalgic question. If Tochinoshin produced the mother of all comebacks back in 2014, rising again from makushita to maku’uchi, Terunofuji’s remarkable comeback is a very impressive one. Still an ozeki in September 2017, he started 2018 as a maegashira 10, lasted two bashos in juryo, and, after finally taking care of his health, went as low as jonidan 48 in March 2019. He just lost three bouts during his return to the salaried ranks, which he achieved at the end of the past year.

Terunofuji’s return has been even more impressive that he stayed weakened. Pictures were circulating on social medias, with Terunofuji’s knees horribly taped. He only managed to do suri-ashi by the end of 2019 – which should significantly improve his chances.

Is he back ? Former ozeki Terunofuji

Many followers – myself included – have fantasied about the former ozeki’s return. Will he return to maku’uchi ? Will he, incredibly, regain his ozeki rank, as prophetized by Murray Johnson ? Or will his progress be halted ?

Herouth answers this question cautiously. Will that change, with the Mongolian’s condition having improved ? Terunofuji set his aim: reaching maku’uchi before the Olympics.

My prediction: it’s hard going against my inner wishes. I’d be foolish, though, not hearing Herouth’s wisdom. I’d say Terunofuji to finish the year in juryo after a stint in maku’uchi.

7. Where will Ichinojo finish the year ?

Makushita or below / juryo / maku’uchi (maegashira) / maku’uchi (san’yaku)

Another question related to injury issues. Ichinojo’s talent is obvious. After a good 2018 year (five tournaments spent in san’yaku), the Mongolian started 2019 equally well – two kinboshi despite a 6-9 record in January, and a career best 14-1 in March led people believe he’d start an ozeki run.

However, Ichinojo’s strength caused him serious back problems – his weight rose up to 230 kg. He had to sit out of the Kyushu basho after having finished the Aki basho with a 1-4-10 record. As a consequence, he will start the new year sitting deep at juryo 7.

I can’t help but have depressing thoughts of a crossed interview of then newbies Ichinojo and Terunofuji in 2014, as they set up a “race” between them towards ozeki promotion. If Terunofuji achieved that feat, they now find themselves together, sadly, in juryo, more than five years later.

Back to fitness ? Ichinojo Takashi

Hopefully, Ichinojo will be rolling back the years. Having lost 24 kg, his weight will appear close to the one he had in 2014, when he got promoted to maku’uchi.

My prediction: I see him back to the maegashira ranks.

8. Will Enho stay in maku’uchi in 2020 ?

A provocative question. Enho is a crowd favorite, and did wonders in 2019. He started the past year at juryo 8, and will start the current one at a career best maegashira 5. He displayed a great variety of techniques, and finished the year with three straight kachi koshi. In his whole career, Enho just had two make kochi – one in juryo in March 2018, and one during his maku’uchi debut in May 2019.

The question is, of course, related to his weight. So far, it is tempting to say that weighing less than 100 kg has been more of an asset than a weakness for him.

Nevertheless, Enho will have some issues to face: will he be able to maintain his impressive form? The crowd favorite started using more deliberate henka’s during the last tournament of 2019. Will he be able to renew his range of techniques, and will he be able to surprise again his opponents ? Or will the surprise effect vanish, and will he slide back to juryo ?

Currently at career best maegashira 5 : Enho Akira

Comparison has been made with former wrestler Mainoumi, who was about the same size as Enho, and had a successful maku’uchi career from 1991 to 1998, being as high as komosubi. True, the average size of rikishi has increased since…

Another example, former Czech wrestler Takanoyama, was less successful back in 2012. He was able to stay in the top division during four tournaments, that year (and in September of 2011, too).

My prediction: Enho’s techniques will continue to work, in the middle of an injury prone field. After a san’yaku stint, he’ll end up safely in maegashira ranks.

9. Will Takakeisho win a second yusho in 2020 ?

I believe Takakeisho’s picture of 2018’s rising star needs an update. Last year, the ozeki was seen as the future of sumo and a possible future yokozuna, assuming he could adapt his variety of techniques. He finished that year on a bang, clinching his first yusho in Kyushu.

Ozeki Takakeisho Mitsunobu

Twelve months later, the picture has changed. His ozeki promotion had to wait until the last day of the March tournament, with decreasing results – 13-2, 11-4 and 10-5. He sustained a first serious injury on his knee, which hampered further steps, and even cost him the newly acquired rank. He went back strongly during the Aki basho, where he was defeated during a playoff, injuring himself on his chest in the process.

Will he bounce back in 2020 ? Can his knees sustain so much weight ?

I express doubts concerning the latter question, and would answer no.

Miyagino Practice Fist-Fight

Photo Credit Nicola

Ishiura was involved in a fist fight with Makushita-ranked Hokaho. No, not Hakuho, though the big man himself stepped in to separate the two. Practice then ended abruptly and the incident was reported to the Crisis Committee. So, the scandal meter is reset to 1/4/2020, one week from the start of Hatsubasho.

Herouth’s got a thorough run-down of the events but in a nutshell, Ishiura took exception to Hokaho beating him. When he would lose to Hokaho, he’d lash out, with a kick or a punch. Since the incident has been reported, there will be an investigation into exactly how “hot-headed” Ishiura was and whether there is any need for punishment. That punishment could range from apologies and reprimand to potential suspension, likely hinging on how hard the blows were. Calls for retirement would be…a bit bizarre unless more back-story unfolds.

Keep in mind, this was practice where blows are supposed to be thrown…but not between bouts and fists and kicks are obviously a no-no. The location and reason would distinguish it from punches thrown as rebuke for chores done poorly but it will be interesting to see what standard is applied. Some, like Mitakeumi, are disparaged for low-intensity practice. The opposite end of the spectrum here, we have a practice that got out-of-hand.

For some insight about the practice intensity I’m talking about, there’s an interview of Steve Kerr a former teammate of Michael Jordan, where he reflects on a fist fight he had with Mike. Jordan is famous for a lot of things but one is the intensity that he brought to practice. Similarly, keiko is supposed to ready you for the real thing. So if you slack off there, how will you be ready when the harite is for a yusho?