97th National University Sumo Championship

While sumo fans wait on pins and needles for Grand Sumo action to begin next weekend in Fukuoka, Japan’s National University Sumo Championship took place in Osaka. Successful wrestlers at this stage often become successful wrestlers on the professional level with the Champions granted privileged entry into Makushita, makushita tsukedashi, upon turning pro. Current wrestlers taking this path from Uni-Yokozuna to Jr. Sekitori include Endo, Ichinojo, and Aki-basho yusho winner, Mitakeumi. (I’m making up the Junior Sekitori term because they’re not immediately Sekitori but just outside.)

The big story coming out of Osaka is that the yusho winner was a first year (freshman) student-athlete, Yasuteru Nakamura from Nippon Sports Science University. He defeated Koshiro Tanioka, with a dominating yorikiri. Last year’s champion, Yota Kanno was knocked out in the first round. Any relation to Yoko Kanno is unconfirmed, but the need to knock a little harder is undeniable. Regardless, keep an eye out for these talented young men to be highly sought-after recruits and to appear on a banzuke in the near future.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, this was the first time in 29 years that a freshman won a Championship. The last time there was a freshman University Yokozuna was Luis Ikemori for Takeshoku University in 1990. Ryuko, also known as Ryudo when he reached his peak rank in Juryo, was also notable for being the first foreign-born wrestler, from Brazil, to be granted the makushita tsukedashi privilege.

In team competition, Nihon University won the title for the first time in four years from Mitakeumi’s alma mater, Toyo University. Jokoryu and Mitoryu are products of the Nihon University program. Nakamura’s Nippon Sports Science University finished tied for third, and they count Hokutofuji among their graduates. These three universities have had historically strong sumo programs, with one of these three teams winning the title in each of the last nine years.

After the Kyushu basho, eyes will turn back to Kokugikan in Tokyo for the 68th National Amateur Sumo Championship, a title won by Yago and the fore mentioned Mitakeumi, Mitoryu and Endo, as well as Daishomaru, Yoshikaze, and Takamisakari. The year Endo won, Shodai picked up the jun-yusho and Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji were semi-finalists.

The Yokozuna Chronicles One: Akashi Shiganosuke

Since the inception of the Yokozuna rank in 1789, only 72 men have been recognized as the greatest sumo has to offer. But who are the men behind the numbers? What made them stand out from the rest? And where do they belong in the pantheon of sumo’s most historic competitors?

I aim to answer these questions in my new series, The Yokozuna Chronicles, where work my way through the long history of sumo and I uncover the lives of its most prestigious athletes. In Chronicle One, I outline the legendary life of the first Yokozuna, Akashi Shiganosuke. A man more myth than material, Akashi Shiganosuke’s impact on sumo and the rank of Yokozuna is felt to this very day.

Natsu Day 9 Preview

As lksumo has pointed out, the day 8 results have thrown what had been a fairly orderly basho into chaos. I love it. In addition to defeats of both yusho race leaders, we seem to have a possible re-kyujo of shin-ozeki Takakeisho. I can almost guarantee that the YDC is going to complain about it should he re-kyujo. To some extent, they have a point. Stay off the dohyo unless you are fit to compete. I give Takakeisho a lot of latitude myself, as he is young and has a foreshortened sense of the long road that could be / should be ahead of him. Should he decide he is out for good, Tochinoshin would get the fusen-sho white star, and his kachi-koshi by default win.

There are 3 leaders now in the Makuuchi yusho arasoi, each one of them is far from invincible, and everyone knows that. This makes the week 2 matches against the Ozeki and Yokozuna that much more meaningful, as any of them, or all of them, could be taken down again. For Goeido and Takayasu, they are still walking a narrow path to their 8, but each needs just 3 more wins to avoid kadoban. For Takayasu, I forsee trouble on day 9.

Natsu Leaderboard

Are you ready for this? Because this is how nuts it became.

Leaders: Kakuryu, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chaser: Abi, Ryuden, Enho, Kotoeko
Hunt Group: Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Shodai, Shohozan, Tochiozan, Daishoho

7 Matches Remain

The first reader who dares to comment “Shodai Yusho!” Is going to be fined 1000 Genki points.

What We Are Watching Day 9

Toyonoshima vs Enho – Sumo fans can’t get enough Enho, myself included. Veteran Toyonoshima has yet to beat him, so we may see more pixie magic on Monday.

Chiyomaru vs Terutsuyoshi – Enho’s day 8 match makes a good template for a small guy to tie someone like Chiyomaru in knots, so let’s see if Terutsuyoshi can enact a similar battle plan. Just don’t slow down, don’t stand still and never be in any one spot for more than 1 second.

Ishiura vs Yago – Ishiura is trying to copy some of Enho’s fire, but he’s still a work in progress. Yago is a giant who packs a lot of power but is not capable of rapid lateral motion. He’s leagues better than Chiyomaru, but it should be possible to keep Yago from getting too stable on his feet, and use that to divert his own energy into Ishiura’s offensive moves.

Kotoeko vs Tochiozan – I am really looking forward to this match, as they are basically the same guy (much like Ikioi and Ryuden) about 5 years apart. That 5 year gap leaves Kotoeko employing a lot of frantic energy, and Tochiozan employing a lot of guile and cunning. Kotoeko won their only prior meeting.

Shodai vs Kagayaki – Whatever is plaguing Kagayaki is not easing up, and if Shodai can continue to put that much energy into his post-tachiai sumo, it’s going to be a fun match. I am sure Kagayaki will consult his mental catalog of great sumo, and then Shodai will unleash some sort of strong random stuff and leave Mr Fundamentals stumped. Shodai leads their career series 3-1.

Onosho vs Yoshikaze – I can only imagine that Onosho re-watched that match with Meisei in slow motion a few dozen times, each time wondering what he could have done differently to prevent that whole attack from blowing up in his face. Shake it off Jr Tadpole! You have to face a faltering Yoshikaze on day 9. This match makes me sad on many levels.

Takarafuji vs Nishikigi – Let me guess, Nishikigi lets Takarafuji get morozashi, then pins his arms and uses that to push Takarafuji around like a hand truck.

Asanoyama vs Ryuden – Yusho co-leader Asanoyama faces shin-Ikioi in the first match of the second half. Asanoyama has lost the last 5 consecutive matches to Ryuden. But I don’t think I have seen Asanoyama in better form, ever. These guys are going to be joi-jin mainstays next year, I would guess. So let’s hope this turns into a great sumo rivalry.

Tamawashi vs Daieisho – After putting dirt on the lone surviving Yokozuna, it’s time for Tamawashi to patrol the upper Maegashira ranks. He holds a 5-2 advantage over Daieisho, so I am starting to wonder if we might see Tamawashi kachi-koshi and possibly a candidate for san’yaku yet again.

Endo vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu is in a pretty deep hole, and I want him to rally starting day 9 and press hard. Endo can execute amazing technical sumo as we saw on day 8, but sometimes there is no remedy for 400 pounds of high-energy rikishi on a collision course.

Hokutofuji vs Mitakeumi – In spite of what you may assume, they are fairly evenly matched with a 5-4 career advantage for Mitakeumi. Hokutofuji is still a bit hit-or-miss with his sumo, so I am going to assume that if the gyoji can keep out of the way, we will see Mitakeumi inch closer to his 8th.

Aoiyama vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these men are in a deep hole in terms of win/loss, but frankly I would rather see Kotoshogiku make it to kachi-koshi right now. Give the old guy one more run at the top as a way to say thank you for being one of the best in a generation.

Goeido vs Abi – I am going to state that this match is going to be over quickly. If Goeido can get a proper launch off, it’s going to be unlikely for Abi to stop his forward pressure. This is why I think we will see at least one matta, to help dither Goeido’s timing.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – I am going to assume this one won’t happen. The story is all over the Japanese press that Takakeisho will return to kyujo status, but no official word from the NHK as of right now. But if it does happen, I think we are going to see Tochinoshin struggle to land a grip, and Takakeisho possibly blow out his knee, joining Ura on the “could have been” list of sumo. Update: NHK has announced the withdrawal. -lksumo https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/html/20190520/k10011922041000.html

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – You might think “Maegashira 5 vs Ozeki, this is a gimme”. Well, Takayasu has a 7-11 Myogiryu deficit. Granted, all of their recent meetings have been all Takayasu, but we know for certain that Myogiryu knows how to beat him. Takayasu needs 3 more to pick up his kachi-koshi.

Okinoumi vs Kakuryu – Yokozuna Kakuryu’s day 8 loss has punctured the illusion of superior invincibility that tends to surround sumo’s Yokozuna. With that mental barrier broken (both in Kakuryu’s mind and the mind of the rest of his opponents), the chances of his tasting clay again have gone up. Okinoumi is only in fair condition this basho, so I am not looking for him to produce an upset on day 9.

Breaking News: Former Yokozuna Futahaguro Koji Has Passed Away

Koji

Tachia has learned that former Yokozuna Futahaguro Koji, also know as Koji Kitao, has passed away due to renal failure at the age of fifty-five.  The sports 60th Yokozuna, Futahaguro was the first since 1942 to be promoted to sumo’s most prestigious rank without winning a single Yusho. While he did runner up in the two Basho before his promotion, it is generally accepted that Futahaguro was the beneficiary of a logjam of Ozeki and Ozeki-level rikishi at the top of the Banzuke. With five Ozeki already, and Sekiwake Hoshi (the future Yokozuna Hokutoumi) having earned his promotion, the NSK had to make room and thus elevated Futahaguro in 1986. This ultimately was a poor decision, as Futahaguro failed to meet expectations for much of his tenure as Yokozuna.  His career came to an end following a conflict with his Oyakata in 1987. When questioned about abusing his tsukebito, Futahaguro reportedly stormed out of the stable and struck the Oyakata’s wife while leaving. As a result, Futahaguro’s retirement papers were filed by his Oyakata without his knowledge, and thus he became the first Yokozuna to ever be expelled from sumo without a hearing. This early retirement also meant that Futahaguro would become the only Yokozuna in history, to never win a Yusho.

Following his sumo career, Futahaguro transitioned to professional wrestling in 1989, where he competed for several promotions under his birth name, Koji Kitao. In 2003, Kitao made a surprise return to the sumo world, when he was invited to be a guest coach by the new Oyakata of his old heya. During this time, many of the details of his expulsion came to light. One such revelation was the possibility that the allegations of tsukebito abuse levelled against him were false. In 2013, Kitao was diagnosed with the kidney disease that would, unfortunately, take his life.

Tachiai offers their heartfelt condolences to Koji Kitao’s family.