While we are waiting for the last basho of the Heisei era, Sports Hochi published a series of articles featuring the 64th Yokozuna Akebono, one of the leading figures to usher in this era, interviewed at the hospital where he is currently admitted.
I thought I should share this with the readers of Tachiai, as information about the ailing former Yokozuna has been scarce. If you recall, Akebono has been active in his pro-wrestling career and in social media, when suddenly, in April 2017, He seemed to have dropped off the face of the Earth. One news source revealed that he suffered heart failure and was in an induced coma. His family denied this at the time, claiming he suffered from a leg infection, but in fact, the original report has been true. Since then we have learned that he regained consciousness and was undergoing rehabilitation, but the full situation remained unclear. This Hochi article helps put things in order.
As it turns out, he was feeling unwell for a while when he had his last pro-wrestling event at Omuta, Fukuoka. Following the event, back in his hotel, he started feeling chest pains. The next day, April 12th 2017, he went to the hospital (by car, not ambulance), and walked on his own feet to the examination room. However, in mid-examination, he lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating for 37 minutes.
His daughter, Caitlyn, who is studying in Hawaii, took a flight back to Japan, and together with her brothers, Cody and Connor, joined their mother, Christine, in the care of their father, until he regained his consciousness on April 25th. During this time he was transferred, in a two-day overland journey, from the Fukuoka hospital to a Tokyo facility.
The former Yokozuna weighed 210kg, but his weight dropped during his hospitalization as low as 130kg, though now he has gained some back and weighs at 150kg. He suffers memory loss, and has lost the use of his legs. At first, when he gained consciousness, he mistook his own sons for his two brothers, George and Randy. This was quite a shock for his wife, Christine. He seemed to have switched back to his childhood. She decided to think of it as if she gained a third, big son.
Akebono recalls little of his restless pro-wrestling days, but he recollects his Yokozuna days well, and remembered the author of the Hochi articles, who used to be his personal beat reporter. He can move himself in his wheelchair by his own power. He exercises walking, but only when externally held upright. He has some difficulty communicating. He speaks in short sentences: “good times”, “I remember”, etc., and his wife helps him with some English mixed in with Japanese.
This post is mostly based on the first article in the series. The other articles are a walk down memory lane.
Izutsu Oyakata announced today that his deshi, Yokozuna Kakuryu, is going to be kyujo from the Kyushu 2018 basho.
This announcement shortly follows Hakuho’s similar announcement. As a result, Kisenosato is going to be sole Yokozuna for the first time in his career.
Kakuryu has been complaining for a few weeks now about his old right ankle injury, which caused him to absent himself from the 2017 Nagoya tournament. Until recently, that old injury has been manageable, in the sense that any swelling following extended activity soon settled, and the Yokozuna could function as normally as any veteran rikishi with cumulative damage can.
However, since the middle of the most recent Jungyo, the swelling would just not go away. Although the Yokozuna participated in daily practice with other sekitori, and seems to be able to do high-level sumo, his stablemaster notes that he cannot stomp shiko with force, and that the doctor said that the type of action he is supposed to face in the second half of the basho might be too harsh.
Tachiai wishes Kakuryu good health, and hopes that he takes appropriate steps to heal himself. We also wish Kisenosato much success handling sole Yokozuna duties in the coming basho.
Miyagino oyakata, Hakuho’s stablemaster, announced today that the Yokozuna will be absent from the Kyushu basho due to the condition of his knee.
This announcement should come as no surprise to our readers. On October 12, the Yokozuna left the Jungyo and returned to Tokyo, after it turned out that a bone fragment, a remainder from his injury during the Nagoya basho, is loose in his knee and gives him debilitating pain.
The Yokozuna underwent double endoscopic surgery on October 18th. He had the bone fragment removed from his knee, and at the same time had floating pieces of cartilage removed from his ankle on the same side.
Following that operation and the required rest, the Yokozuna has not had actual training bouts in over a month, and even his basic workouts have been severely limited and far between.
We at Tachiai wish the Yokozuna to return healthy and in good shape in the Hatsu basho.
As the Jungyo reports I publish here lag a few days behind schedule, the readers may not be aware that Hakuho has been off the Torikumi for the past three days. The reason for this was pains in his right knee, which you can see taped in the photo above.
Although he tried to gambarize, eventually he went to have his knee examined in Tokyo. It turned out that a part of his tibia (tibial tubercle?) has broken off. He published his X-ray in his Twitter account:
Day 4 is the day where the injuries start to make appearances in the top division. While yesterday we had to bid goodby to Seiro from Juryo, today Kyokutaisei announced his kyujo, and Aoiyama may be the next one in line.
The bouts of the day start at the very bottom with Ishiura facing Chiyoshoma. Chiyoshoma lands a firm morotezuki on both of Ishiura’s shoulders, to keep the Miyagino man from trying to get to the front of his mawashi. He follows this with a quick pull for a hatakikomi. But Chiyoshoma being Chiyoshoma, he just can’t keep his hands to himself and as Ishiura starts to rise, adds a hearty slap to the little man’s back that nearly sends him off the dohyo. Because what’s the best way to celebrate an easy win if not a good dame-oshi?
Kotoyuki decided to wear his light-cyan mawashi again, saying that the purple one, which served him when his girth was greater, is now too long and doesn’t fit well. Apparently, with a mawashi that fits, winning is easier. Apparently, it helps when you are faced with Chiyomaru, who is looking out of sorts so far this basho. Kotoyuki finishes him off with a few thrusts. Oshidashi.
I don’t know what the cause of Yoshikaze‘s ugly rash is, but it appears to be a +2 Blessed Rash of Victory, because the berserker keeps winning this basho. His rival today is Takanoiwa, who looked good in the first two days of the basho, and is now 2:2. Takanoiwa is not bad off the tachiai, but Yoshikaze just starts his engine and steamrolls him out of the dohyo, making sure the Mongolian is out before rolling head over heels himself.
Nishikigi looks very good this basho. He overcomes Takanosho‘s nodowa, lifts his opponent and starts a convincing tsuppari that brings his opponent to the rim. However, Takanosho manages to grab his arm and pull him down, giving him his first loss, by tsukiotoshi.
At this point Ryuden gets his freebie in the bout he was supposed to have with Kyokutaisei.
Okinoumi seems to be in control of the bout with Daieisho from the tachiai. Kachiage, then some tsuppari, then he encircles Daieisho and walks him over to the rim. But in doing so, he shifts too much of his own weight to one leg, and Daieisho uses that to twist him and reverse the outcome, winning by makiotoshi.
Hokutofuji slams into Aoiyama at the tachiai with that iron right hand of his. It seems the Bulgarian had his breath knocked out of him – he doesn’t even try to start his own tsuppari, just stumbles backwards and falls off the dohyo with little assistance from the astonished Hokutofuji. While falling, he somehow hurts his ankle and finds it hard to rise back. The kachinanori – calling of the winner’s name and awarding of kensho if any – takes place without waiting for him to come up the dohyo and bow first. He goes to the shitaku-beya on his own feet, and later leaves the Kokugikan entering the awaiting car on his own feet – but he refuses to answer questions from the press, who report he looks in pain. Keep your eyes on the kyujo lists tomorrow.
Daishomaru drives his head into Sadanoumi‘s chest. Sadanoumi is not impressed, and moves forward. Daishomaru tries to circle around, but somehow steps outside before Sadanoumi gets off balance and falls forward. Sadanoumi wins, not a quality bout.
But the next bout, between Kotoshogiku and Shohozan, is certainly worth viewing several times over. Shohozan leads with his head into the former Ozeki’s chest at the tachiai, and gains a morozashi. Kotoshogiku quickly performs a makikae (switch from overhand to underhand) and operates his pelvic pistons. Shohozan turns and twists, but Kotoshogiku does not let go, and continues the chugging. Eventually Shohozan uses those artillery-grade guns to pull the pump off his feet – uwatedashinage. Good entertainment.
Takarafuji looks a bit hesitant off the tachiai. Perhaps he thought it was a matta. Tochiozan takes advantage of this, takes control of the match and drives the Isegahama man out, securing his first win this basho. Not a good day for that heya, by the way. All three of its sekitori lost.
Myogiryu gets Onosho in a lengthy nodowa, which he then converts into a pull for a hikiotoshi. This is Onosho’s third loss, and he is doing a lot worse than most of us would have thought. Also, it doesn’t look related to his injury. His game is just not as sharp as we would have expected, especially given his pre-basho practice sessions.
Asanoyama has Kagayaki chest to ample chest very quickly. One would think, with Kagayaki being the oshi-man and Asanoyama a yotsu-man, that this would give the advantage to the Takasago rikishi. But Kagayaki is not fazed, moves quickly this way and that, and eventually gets Asanoyama off-balance and down with a kotenage. As the NHK announcers noted, this leaves only two Maegashira with a clean slate: Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze.
Yesterday, I was afraid Shodai will get back into his old tachiai habit. He did his “good boy” stance, with his weight on his fists, and was awarded with a win. But to my relief, today again he started his tachiai on his feet rather than on his fists. Abi started up with his usual morotezuki. Landed a few thrusts – or were they nodowa? – at Shodai, who knew the drill: wait for an opening, grab a long arm, then get into your own game. In Shodai’s case, his own game is a morozashi and a yori-kiri. NHK showed footage of Shikoroyama oyakata in his Terao days, in which he engaged in a beautiful yotsu bout with his sworn rival. Why doesn’t he teach Abi some of that, then?
Endo keeps Chiyonokuni at bay, tries once or twice to get a grip, but when that doesn’t work, simply pushes him out with an oshidashi. Not a spectacular bout, but at least Endo secures his first win.
Now comes what was supposed to be a big bout – two Sekiwake facing each other in the first week. But Ichinojo is like a box of chocolates (in more ways than one). He tries to do something at the tachiai, but from there he just goes backwards and backwards, and over the bales. Mitakeumi fans will put that down to the might of the future Ozeki. I just think Ichinojo woke up today with his lower back acting up.
Put up Tamawashi against Tochinoshin, and you know that trouble is brewing. Tamawashi denies Tochinoshin the belt. A wild exchange ensues, and eventually Tochinoshin tries for a pull down, at which point it’s not clear whether Tamawashi’s elbow or Tochinoshin’s heel touched first. A monoii is called. Somehow through all this Tochinoshin bruises his eye and starts bleeding profusely. By the time the shimpan conference is over, it seems that the bleeding has stopped (it wouldn’t do to bleed on the dohyo). The shimpan call for a torinaoshi.
The torinaoshi starts with a heavy slam, after which Tamawashi is the one leading the attack. But Tochinoshin takes advantage of his uncontrolled forward motion and finishes with a tsukiotoshi. Tamawashi still doesn’t have a win this basho. Tochinoshin’s eye starts bleeding again, and doesn’t stop as he steps down and waits to give the chikara-mizu. I hope all his facial bones are in one piece.
Takayasu wrecking-balls into Takakeisho at the tachiai, then holds the bowling-ball’s face in his hand for a couple of seconds, debating in his head whether to rip it off or just rattle him to death. Eventually he decides that murder will not be acceptable, and just dumps him. Takakeisho once again finds himself doing less than dignified splits on the dohyo. Easy one for the grizzly bear.
Goeido and Ikioi starts off with a mighty clash of craniums (ouch). Ikioi starts a tsuppari and Goeido retreats, then pulls sideways. Ikioi falls like a stone. Hikiotoshi for the Ozeki.
Kisenosato and Kaisei enter into a heavy yotsu battle. Neither seems able to get a full mawashi grip, though. They each hold one side, and do whatever they can to deny the other. Kaisei is the first to get a firm grip on both sides, but Kisenosato uses his experience to shake that hand off again. Kisenosato then achieves his own double handed grip, and starts pushing the Brazilian to the edge. He has to summon every ounce of stamina to push the heavy man out, but eventually he does so, and stays perfect – though, like Tochinoshin, bleeding. Kaisei, as he heads down the hanamichi, does this:
“At least I am extending my record” he later responds to the press mentioning the fact that this is the 35th loss he has vs. a Yokozuna (0 wins).
Hakuho starts for the third day in a row without any tricks or shticks. No harite in sight, just goes straight in for a grip. Only, he can’t get that grip on the bulky Chiyotairyu. He gets inside, but it’s a hidari-yotsu (left hand inside), and he is a migi-yotsu man. For a few moments he tries for the mawashi with his left hand, the right hand hanging in the air above Chiyotairyu’s arm. Then he gives up, slips out, catching the mawashi with his empty right hand, then executing an uwatenage. There is always a plan B. And a plan C.
Kakuryu and Yutakayama clash heads (oof, again), and the Yokozuna doesn’t give Yutakayama much time before he grabs his mawashi with his right hand, pulls aside and spins him around, then pushes him outside the dohyo. Nothing that Yutakayama tries to do makes any difference.