Sumo debates for 2020 – 1/3

Right after having enjoyed the countdown to the new decade, we’re already about to begin another countdown, till the first honbasho of the year.

Amongst New Year’s traditions, rikishi reveal on television their wishes and expectations for the coming year.

This article may be the occasion for us to discuss specific issues, which may become critical in 2020 or which are already razor sharp.

I’ll give my personal opinion on the matters but everyone should feel free to fuel some awesome debates !

1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

Probably the hottest topic currently. Takayasu’s been around for a while – he entered maku’uchi in 2011, and hasn’t had a very long ozeki career – about two years and a half.

Takayasu’s rise was no fluke however, as he produced some great performances, earning kinboshi twice in 2013 and twice in 2014. The Ibaraki-born has a first ozeki run in 2016, but a disappointing 7-8 record in Kyushu wasted fine 11-4 and 10-5 performances.

He returned stronger next year, though, and reached the second highest rank after 11-4, 12-3 and 11-4 performances early in 2017.

Takayasu’s quest for glory undoubtly reached its peak in 2018. Aged 28, he ended up runner up thrice. He narrowly missed a spot in a playoff in the last honbasho of that year.

Last year was much more difficult for him. Before sustaining a serious injury in Nagoya, he produced indifferent 9-6, 10-5 and 9-6 performances. He failed to recover properly from his arm injury, and will start 2020 as an “ozekiwake”.

His repeated training sessions with retired yokozuna Kisenosato – now Araiso oyakata – and new tachi-ai strategy have been criticized among Twitter followers.

In trouble : former ozeki Takayasu

Takayasu has to think his tale isn’t over at the top, as he never lifted the Emperor’s Cup. Turning 30 in February, with an irreversible injury to his arm, will he produce the necessary ten wins to regain his ozeki rank ? If he does, can he maintain his performances during 2020 ?

My prediction : no

2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

A tricky question. It seems Goeido has been hanging around forever – he produced a noticed 11-4 performance for his maku’uchi debut, back in 2007. He had short stints in san’yaku but spent several years in the maegashira ranks.

The Osaka-native famously began an impressive run at sekiwake in May of 2012, which lasted fourteen tournaments until ozeki promotion after a fine 12-3 performance in Nagoya 2014. His inability to consistently produce strong performances raised doubts about his promotion quest. He got promoted a bit below the common 33 wins standards, with an indifferent 8-7 performance between two 12-3 results.

Goeido has been kadoban nine times (this year’s first tournament included), finished seven tournaments with just eight wins, and followers expected Goeido to produce an anonymous ozeki career.

Being kadoban, Goeido upset the odds during the Aki basho of 2016, winning his only yusho so far with a perfect 15-0 record. Suddenly a yokozuna candidate, he notched just nine wins the following tournament.

Exactly one year after, Goeido wasted a golden opportunity to lift the Emperor’s Cup during the Aki basho again, letting Harumafuji fill a three win deficit before defeating him in the ensuing playoff.

Holding his rank since 2014 : ozeki Goeido

Years 2018 and 2019 were solid albeit unspectacular from Goeido. However, he had to pull out of two of the last three tournaments through injury. Entering 2020 kadoban, aged 33, will Goeido suffer from the weight of the years ? Or will he regain full fitness and enjoy a Kaio-like ozeki career, until the age of 39 ?

My prediction : no

3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?

All eyes are watching Asanoyama since he unexpectedly won the May 2019 tournament. After a honourable 7-8 record as then highest ranked maegashira 1, he ended up the year strongly, with 10-5 and 11-4 records. He’ll make his sekiwake debut in 2020.

Officially, Asanoyama is not on an ozeki run – his two last ranks were maegashira 2 and komosubi ; he might also regret not having collected one or two more feasable wins in Kyusho.

Sumo’s next big hope ? Asanoyama Hideki

Nevertheless, Asanoyama’s quest is likely to be eased by the need for new blood at the ozeki ranks – Tochinoshin has been demoted, Takayasu is an uncertain ozekiwake for January, while Takakeisho and Goeido’s recent injury records are no cause for optimism.

Can Asanoyama be promoted as early as March after a tremendous yusho in January ? Or will he simply consolidate his performances, and reach the second highest rank this year ? Or will he fail to meet expactations, as Mitakeumi did so far ?

My prediction : yes

4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?

Note : that question does not include Takayasu or Asanoyama.

Abi seems more of a candidate than Mitakeumi, who disappointed again, after clinching his second yusho. Well he get another shot ?

Abi is on the rise, with 8-7, 9-6 and 9-6 records in san’yaku. Can he move up even higher ? His utter aversion for yotsu zumo might prove a stumblingblock, however.

Other candidates would be more original, but also wake up fans from all over the world ! Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Hokutofuji fans and others are welcomed !

 My prediction : no

5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?

This is a delicate question. Hakuho’s immediate target has long been identified: lasting at least until the Olympics. With his wish about to be granted, the obvious question is: what next ? Hakuho is on the top of almost every record – but is not the oldest rikishi having won a yusho: Kyokutenho achieved that feat, aged 37 years and 8 months.

He also said during the post-basho interview in November that he targeted 50 yushos – he currently has 43.

Many questions remain open: was he serious ? Is that goal actually realistic, given the general state of the field ? Will the ageing yokozuna (he’ll turn 35 in March) manage to hold his form ? Will he stay motivated ?

On a positive note, 2019 has been better for Hakuho than 2018, where he fully competed in just two tournaments. The past year, he competed in “three and a half” tournaments (he pulled out right at the end of the January basho), and won two of them.

Both yokozuna : Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

About the opposite can be said about Kakuryu’s recent form. After a bright start in 2018, with 11-4, 13-2 and 14-1 records, he had to pull out of part or all of five tournaments. His win in Nagoya of 2019 gave him some respite. Turning 35 in August of this year, will he be able to compete during the whole year ?

My prediction: it’s difficult to answer. Hakuho might decide to retire and Kakuryu to thrive during 2020. But the opposite might also be true, with Hakuho clinching a few more yushos and Kakuryu being unable to challenge properly for the Cup. There’s a chance of seeing one yokozuna retiring and one yokozuna remaining.

New Year Goals (2020)

Happy New Year!

Tachiai.org is a growing community of sumo fans, united with the common interest of promoting the sport and we look forward to another exciting year of sumo action! We almost hit 900,000 views last year and I’m shooting for 1,000,000 this year. I started the site as a place to share my love of the sport and to dispel rather derisive and dismissive stereotypes. It is inherently subjective in nature, where the opinions of its contributors and visitors are vital to the site, as with any other blog.

As the site has grown with the fantastic content of its contributors, Bruce, Herouth, Josh, Leonid, Nicola, Liam, Timothée, all of our commenters and readers, many have naturally begun to turn Tachiai for sumo news, holding us to a standard of journalism which should not apply to a blog.

Therefore, I’ve decided that early in 2020 I will release a new site, TachiaiTimes.com, as a distinct sumo news site committed to upholding the core values journalists should espouse: namely that journalists should only follow sumo, 24/7, and none of the other nonsense. “I kid, I kid.” But seriously, only sumo news at the new site and none of my infamous humor.

Web 2.0 applications feature, and thrive upon, a constant feedback loop. Tachai.org will always be the kind of community that supports and promotes sumo with a focus on 大相撲, or “Grand Sumo,” but I do want to promote the international and amateur sumo community as well so count on me following those a bit more closely. In that regard, it seems March has a little tournament in Kochi that I am looking forward to.

Following sumo and the “heya life” (admittedly from quite a distance) it strikes me as a fascinating social program that I wish were available to all people: dedicate yourself fully to a pursuit without having to worry about making ends meet since your needs are covered by the heya. But it’s no utopia. In return for lodging, food, clothes, health care, etc., a wrestler leads a strict lifestyle. And in reality, not all heya are the same; not every circumstance is ideal. Crucially, it’s not mandatory and many drop out…but there’s no going back. To me, that’s an extremely interesting conversation, perfect for Tachiai.org but one which I understand many may not want, in preference for hard, one-way news about the sport and wrestlers they follow. And that’s why TachiaiTimes is needed.

Journalism has always been a passion of mine…but I’ve had a few stumbles while trying to pursue it as a career, including a few rejection letters back when I wanted to go to graduate school. At the day job, I work closely with our public affairs office and members of the media as they mine our (at times incomprehensible) data and conduct research, so the passion remains strong and this is my way forward. This seems like a critical time in journalism and I’ll carve out a little sumo-related respite for those interested. I look forward to another year of great conversations, and hopefully the retirement of our scandal meter.

Happy New Year!

Christmas quiz – the answers

1. How many honbasho have been won by a foreign-born rikishi ?

d. Four : Tamawashi in January, Hakuho in March and November ; Kakuryu in July.

Tamawashi was the surprise winner in January

2. Nobody won more bouts than Asanoyama in 2019. Who finished runner up ?

a. Abi, with 55. Hakuho and Hokutofuji finished with 51 wins, Mitakeumi with 48.

3. And many wins have notched all three yokozuna combined ?

c. 92.  Kakuryu managed to get 41 wins (one yusho), and Hakuho 51 (two yushos). Kisenosato announced his retirement after losing the first three bouts of the January tournament.

49 yusho combined: yokozuna Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

4. How many shin-makuuchi rikishis (newly promoted wrestlers to the top division) have we seen in 2019 ?

c. Eight : None in Hatsu ; Tomokaze, Terutsuyoshi and Daishoho in Haru ; Shimanoumi and Enho in Natsu ; Takagenji in Nagoya ; Tsurugisho in Aki ; Wakatakakage in Kyushu

Wakatakakage Atsushi

5. How many rikishi have made their san’yaku debut in 2019 ?

Note : we’re only talking about rikishi who have never, ever been in san’yaku before 2019 !

b. Four : Hokutofuji in March ; Abi and Ryuden in September ; Asanoyama in November.

6. What has been Enho’s record in makuuchi ?

d. 7-8 ; 9-6 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

Answer A is Shimanoumi’s record. Answer C is Terutsuyoshi’s record. Answer B is fictional.

7. Abi had a fine year 2019. Which of these statements is true ?

d. He managed six kachi koshi in 2019. He is the only makuuchi wrestler who achieved that.

8. Takakeisho had a mixed year 2019, having to cope with serious injuries. He did so quite impressively, however, going to a playoff in September, where he lost to Mitakeumi. Who was the last rikishi to lose a playoff in makuuchi ?

d. Goeido. Kakuryu lost a playoff in January 2014. Terunofuji lost a playoff in March 2017 for Kisenosato’s yokozuna debut. Ichonojo came close to winning in March 2019 with a 14-1 record but couldn’t match Hakuho’s 15-0 perfect record. Goeido spoiled a three wins lead to surrender the Aki 2017 yusho to Harumafuji, in a playoff. The yokozuna defeated the ozeki twice on senshuraku to leapfrog him.

Ozeki Goeido

9. Terutsuyoshi luckily escaped juryo demotion after the Natsu basho 2019. Sumo gods’ lenience paid off as he produced an astonishing 12-3 result in Nagoya, finishing runner up for his third makuuchi appearance. Who did better ?

d. Ichinojo

Goeido started his makuuchi career with an impressive 11-4 record in Aki 2007, but wasn’t runner up of the event. Hakuho finished runner up four tournaments after his debut, at the end of 2004. Terunofuji finished runner up in March 2015, a year after his debut.

Ichinojo famouslu finished runner up for his makuuchi debut. He produced a fearless 13-2 record, not without henka-ing Kisenosato and Kakuryu in the process.

10. How many foreign rikishi have made a makuuchi appearance in 2019 (having fought in at least one bout) ?

a. Ten : Hakuho, Kakuryu, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, Ichinojo, Aoiyama, Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Daishoho, Azumaryu. Takanoiwa was on the January banzuke but, having retired, did not compete in makuuchi in 2019.

11. Ishiura usually bounces from juryo to makuuchi, and from makuuchi to juryo. If M symbolizes makuuchi and J symbolizes juryo, how can one represent Ishiura’s year ?

a. J – M – M – J – M – M

12. What about Chiyomaru ?

d. J – J – M – M – J – M

Chiyomaru Kazuki

13. Azumaryu made a makuuchi return during the Aki basho. He last appeared in makuuchi in…

b. 2014. He also made one appearance during the Natsu basho 2013.

14. Which one of these rikishi have earned two kinboshi in 2019 ?

b. Tomokaze

Nishikigi defeated Kakuryu in January. He had a fusen-sho win over Kisenosato, which does not count as a kinboshi. Asanoyama defeated Kakuryu during the Aki basho. Myogiryu defeated Kakuryu during the Natsu basho. Tomokaze defeated Kakuryu in Nagoya and Aki.

Tomokaze Yuta (right)

15. Which one of these wrestlers have produced six make kochi this year ?

c. Nishikigi, with 7-8, 4-11, 5-10, 6-9, 6-9 and 4-11 records. As a consequence, he’ll be demoted to juryo in January 2020.

Kagayaki had two winning in March and November, while Tochiozan ended up in Juryo in November, where he bounced back with a 10-5 record. Kotoshogiku had just one kachi koshi, in March when he ended up 11-4.

Christmas quiz !

We’d like to greet our great readers with a quiz focusing on the 2019 year in makuuchi. I hope everybody will enjoy it and that this thread will remind us some of the best moments in a tormented year 2019.

Good luck to all, and Merry Christmas !

1. How many honbasho have been won by a foreign-born rikishi ?

a. One

b. Two

c. Three

d. Four

2. Nobody won more bouts than Asanoyama in 2019. Who finished runner up ?

a. Abi

b. Hakuho

c. Hokutofuji

d. Mitakeumi

Asanoyama Hideki

3. And many wins have notched all three yokozuna combined ?

a. 72

b. 82

c. 92

d. 102

4. How many shin-makuuchi rikishis (newly promoted wrestlers to the top division) have we seen in 2019 ?

a. Four

b. Six

c. Eight

d. Ten

5. How many rikishi have made their san’yaku debut in 2019 ?

Note : we’re only talking about rikishi who have never, ever been in san’yaku before 2019 !

a. Two

b. Four

c. Six

d. Eight

6. What has been Enho’s record in makuuchi ?

a. 10-5 ; 8-7 ; 5-10 ; 6-9

b. 8-7 ; 7-8 ; 10-5 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

c. 6-9 ; 6-9 ; 12-3 ; 4-11 ; 8-7

d. 7-8 ; 9-6 ; 9-6 ; 8-7

Enho Akira

7. Abi had a fine year 2019. Which of these statements is true ?

a. He made his makuuchi debut in March 2018

b. He managed double digits once in 2019

c. He made his sekiwake debut in 2019

d. He managed six kachi koshi in 2019

Abi Masatora

8. Takakeisho had a mixed year 2019, having to cope with serious injuries. He did so quite impressively, however, going to a playoff in September, where he lost to Mitakeumi. Who was the last rikishi to lose a playoff in makuuchi ?

a. Kakuryu

b. Terunofuji

c. Ichinojo

d. Goeido

Takakeisho Mitsunobu

9. Terutsuyoshi luckily escaped juryo demotion after the Natsu basho 2019. Sumo gods’ lenience paid off as he produced an astonishing 12-3 result in Nagoya, finishing runner up for his third makuuchi appearance. Who did better ?

a. Goeido

b. Hakuho

c. Terunofuji

d. Ichinojo

Terutsuyoshi Shoki

10. How many foreign rikishi have made a makuuchi appearance in 2019 (having fought in at least one bout) ?

a. Ten

b. Twelve

c. Fourteen

d. Sixteen

11. Ishiura usually bounces from juryo to makuuchi, and from makuuchi to juryo. If M symbolizes makuuchi and J symbolizes juryo, how can one represent Ishiura’s year ?

a. J – M – M – J – M – M

b. M – J – J – M – J – M

c.  J – M – J – M – J – M

d. M – M – J – M – J – M

Ishiura Masakatsu

12. What about Chiyomaru ?

a. J – M – J – J – M – M

b. M – M – J – M – J – M

c. M – J – J – J – M – M

d. J – J – M – M – J – M

13. Azumaryu made a makuuchi return during the Aki basho. He last appeared in makuuchi in…

a. 2013

b. 2014

c. 2015

d. 2016

14. Which one of these rikishi have earned two kinboshi in 2019 ?

a. Nishikigi

b. Tomokaze

c. Asanoyama

d. Myogiryu

15. Which one of these wrestlers have produced six make kochi this year ?

a. Tochiozan

b. Kotoshogiku

c. Nishikigi

d. Kagayaki