Things We Learned That Don’t Really Mean Much

Veterans at the ready. Photo credit @nicolaah

In some ways, Wacky Aki lived up to its name. Not because it was a see-saw title race until the end or because there was some kind of crazy left-field title challenger. Indeed, all of the “dark horses” were more or less known entities, or people that could have been expected to run up a double digit score from their respective ranks.

Maybe you’ll say Myogiryu or Onosho aren’t expected to contend, but they’re not Kotoeko or Tsurugisho, or, dare I say it, Tokushoryu. None of the contenders were strangers to the musubi-no-ichiban. There were a few other talking points from the basho though that might fly under the radar, so I’ve assembled some of them here:

Shodai’s kachikoshi

This may not seem like much, but while the Ozeki was maddeningly inconsistent and underwhelming, this kachikoshi means that Shodai will officially have a longer tenure as Ozeki than either recent Ozeki Tochinoshin or Asanoyama.

Tochinoshin is of course in the decline phase of his career and won’t be returning to the rank, and Asanoyama can make it back to Ozeki in 2024 at the earliest following his suspension and fall down the banzuke. While Terunofuji has taught us not to rule anything out, that ain’t likely (even if it does happen, it will likely take more time).

So, Shodai will soldier on. Among other “recent” (last 25 years or so) Ozeki, he can topple Miyabiyama with another kachikoshi in the next tournament, and if he can hang around for another year at the level he can attempt to surpass the likes of Takayasu and Baruto. This is where it’s worth reminding you: we’re talking about Shodai here. He’s always had the talent, but his top division career – including his Ozeki stint – (apart from that magical 12 month run from November 2019 to November 2020, before which he was a .500 rank and filer) could be best described as mediocre.

Takasago beya

Feast or famine for the beleaguered heya. With the former stable master now gone and Asanoyama in the midst of a suspension that eventually will punt the former Ozeki down to Sandanme, there was yet more bad news in the form of shin-Juryo Asashiyu (moto-Murata)’s debut which went all wrong in the form of a 1-14 record. At least it wasn’t as bad as Shikoroyama’s Oki, in his recent Juryo bow. But it continues a worrying trend for in this particular stable, after Asagyokusei similarly not being able to manage a kachi-koshi in the penultimate division in three attempts, and veteran Asabenkei’s last four attempts at the division all ending in double digit losses. At least if you’re a tsukebito, your servitude may not last particularly long.

We shouldn’t feel too bad though. Asashiyu-Murata’s debut itself was something of a feat. Having reached the edge of heaven at Makushita 1, injuries knocked him all the way back down to Jonokuchi where he was forced to restart his career. Now 27, he’ll need to regroup if he’s going to shift through the gears once more, but you suspect having a top heyagashira with something to actually fight for (as opposed to a suspended heyagashira still miles away from his return) might be helpful for the whole stable.

The stable might have a new heyagashira before long though, and it could be one of Asanoyama’s old tsukebito. The rikishi formerly known as Terasawa will make his sekitori debut in the next basho, and as Takasago beya normally gives its rikishi their morning shikona following Juryo promotion, I’m disappointed he hasn’t got Asanousagi. Having instead curiously taken the name Asanowaka, Terasawa was one of two success stories for Takasago in makushita last tournament. You might remember him as the guy who had his practise mawashi stolen with the remains of his dead rabbit inside.

Finally, that second success story would have been the makushita yusho of Fukai, the former Sandanme Tsukedashi debutant who’s made solid if unsteady progress over the past year and a half. Fukai’s yusho sensationally denied the much vaunted Kitanowaka of an automatic promotion (and it was a nice looking win at that, with one of those very satisfying endings that see everyone crash down the side of the dohyo), and the two will hopefully duke it out again next basho from the makushita joi, where they will both be ranked, presumably with promotion on the line.

Oldies Keep Swinging

While recent generations had their one-offs who performed well into their late 30’s (Terao, Kaio, Kyokutenho), one could be forgiven for thinking that the time would come when the current crop of vets would start to get pumped.

Eight participants in the top division are aged 34 or over (including last week’s birthday man Tochinoshin – happy birthday!). Those eight rikishi combined for a record of 59-61.

For sure, this number is propped up by Myogiryu’s championship challenge, but the only really poor result was Tokushoryu’s 4-11 which isn’t all that unexpected from anyone who’s spent part of the year in Juryo.

That almost-.500 record for the vets is reflective of the current mediocre top division quality and it means their decline – which is certainly evident relative to their younger selves in terms of the eye test – has more of a flatline.

As Andy teases a new “birthday” feature for the site, it will be curious to watch the average age of the top division continue to get ever older. You’d think that subtracting a 36 year old retiring yokozuna might help this, but while Hakuho will remain on the November banzuke if not the dohyo, the top division will likely be joined by a trio of 30+ veterans in Akua (30), Sadanoumi (34), Shohozan (37!!), and the 27 year old Abi.

The youth movement that had threatened to wash away the detritus has so far failed to really materialise. Credit must go to Hoshoryu and Kotonowaka for consolidating their positions in the top division for now, but Kotoshoho and Oho haven’t been able to break through or stay through doing to injury or ability respectively, and Onoe-beya’s once heavily hyped 23-year old Ryuko has just sadly announced his intai after a couple of injury plagued Juryo appearances.

The Kyushu basho will, at least, provide some looks in Juryo for Kotoshoho, Hokuseiho and Hiradoumi to hopefully show that there are youngsters who have got what it takes to keep moving up into the top division and establish themselves.

And this may actually be the more telling thing. We know that the age at which a rikishi can break into and stick in the top division is often an indicator of their ultimate final destination in the sport. That inability recently of many to skip through Juryo also owes much to an aged veteran presence in that division. The Mongolian duo of 33 year old Kyokushuho and 34 year old Azumaryu continue to rack up enough wins to hang around the place, and will be joined by Tokushoryu next tournament as he replaces the tricenarian trio who look likely to head up.

Or, it may not be that telling. These are, after all, things that don’t really mean much.

Kyushu 2019, Days 4-5, Bouts From The Lower Divisions

Sorry for letting life take me away from entertaining (or boring) you with bouts from the lower divisions. I’ll try to catch up over the weekend. And to do that, let’s start with a collection from days 4 and 5.

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Kyushu 2019, Day 3, Bouts From The Lower Divisions

In the lower divisions, we start the elimination stage, in which wrestlers with equal number of wins face each other. In the third day, maezumo also begins. Let’s go then!

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Kyushu 2019, Day 1, Bouts From The Lower Divisions

Kyushu basho is off to a great start, with some exciting sumo all around. Let’s tune in!

Jonokuchi

The day started with a match between Okunihisashi, from Nakagawa beya, who has been banzuke-gai for a while and returns this basho, and Tatsunami beya’s latest recruit, Yutakanami, here on the right:

Looks like Tatsunami oyakata got lucky with his pick this time. This boy goes on the “ones to watch” list.

We continue our watch Hakuho’s latest recruit, Senho, who had a meh basho in Aki, to see if the Dai-Yokozuna’s Midas touch is still effective. Senho, on the left, faces Shishimaru from Tagonoura beya.

While Senho’s tachiai is still naive, and his body language is still hesitant, he certainly learned how to yori-kiri like a pro.

At the top of Jonokuchi we meet Yamane, from Naruto beya. He is not quite in the same category as his formidable heya mates (Motobayashi, Sakurai, Marusho, and Mishima), but he is definitely the cutest. He meets Ogitora from Dewanoumi beya, on the right.

Too high, cutie-pie. It’s Ogitora who walks away with the white star.

Jonidan

The next division’s bouts start with Fujinoteru (the off-brand rikishi) from Onoe beya on the left, attempting to get his first white star from Shoryudo, a Shikihide beya opponent. Fujinoteru on the left.

That, my friends, was a sleek tsutaezori, and it’s only the 17th time it has been performed in Grand Sumo. You don’t need flashy back bends to perform that, apparently. It’s Fujinoteru’s win.

The next bout features the man best known for flashy back bends. That’s Ura. He is back, and he is here to conquer Jonidan. The first hurdle is Daishojo from Oitekaze beya, on the left.

Wham! This was a bout with one wrestler and one crash-test dummy. Sorry, Daishojo. Ura safely carries the white star back home.

Another one of my favorite watch list is Chiyotaiyo, the stick insect from Kokonoe beya. He is on the left, and Asahinishiki, from Asahiyama beya, is on the right.

Although Chiyotaiyo seems to have put on a half-kilo, maybe even a whole one, it is also apparent that he has leg issues. Too bad. I hope we’ll see better sumo from him in the coming days, because he certainly has some waza.

Last from Jonidan, our all time favorite bow twirler (emeritus), Satonofuji. On the right, the 42 years old faces Shunpo from Minezaki beya, less than half his age.

We can argue about this opening move. Is it a henka? Is it a half-henka? A HNH? A hit-and-shift? Whatever it is, Satonofuji is not here to get an easy slap-down. He grabs Shunpo and practices some heave-ho. Okuridashi.

Sandanme

Let’s start with Kaishu, from Musashigawa beya, whom we have been following for a while. Today he faced Miyabishin, from Futagoyama beya. Kaishu is on the left.

Kaishu makes up for his lack of weight with an extra helping of aggressiveness. He is all over Miyabishin in a jiffy, and ends up with a yori-kiri.

Now we move on to the first big gun from Naruto beya, Sakurai. His opponent today, on the right, is Oka, whom we formerly knew as Minatoryu, Ichinojo’s slightly cheeky tsukebito.

I was very surprised to learn that Sakurai lost on the first day. It’s certainly not something he is used to. We’ll see how he bounces back. Oka goes back to Minato beya with a white star in his belt.

We move from Naruto beya’s lead charmer to Hakkaku beya’s holder of the same position. Kitanowaka, a sujo favorite, stands opposite Kawabuchi from Shikoroyama beya. Kitanowaka is on the left.

And he is definitely not here just to be eyed by the ladies. Kawabuchi barely knows what hit him.

Finally, the top Naruto, Motobayashi. The man who wants to join the 21 club this basho. He also meets a Shikoroyama opponent, Seigo this time. Motobayashi is on the left.

If Motobayashi’s style reminds you of Takakeisho, you’re not alone. He considers himself a rival of the current Ozeki, who was in high school at the same time as he, and their score against each other is 2-2. Motobayashi chose to continue to university when Takakeisho opted to join the sumo world, but they have similar size, similar style, and similar ambition, and he hopes to catch up with his old rival.

Makushita

We start by introducing a youngster who should probably be on our “ones to watch” list. The reason? He made it to Makushita, being only 17 years old. That’s not at all common. Even Hakuho and Ama were 18 when they hit Makushita. Kisenosato did make it at 17. The boy had straight kachi-koshi since he enlisted. His name is Tanakayama, and he is from Sakaigawa beya. On the opposite side (the left) we have Fukuyama from Fujishima beya.

Unfortunately, this was a bad match to follow that grandiose introduction, as Tanakayama is defeated in his first bout. It is the second time it happens in his career, and he has a good chance of keeping up his kachi-koshi machine going.

Next, we continue our follow up of the “Chiyoshoma wannabe”, Shiraishi. The man from Tamanoi beya is on the right, facing Bushozan from Fujishima beya.

The reason I call him “Chiyoshoma wannabe” is that he is quickly gaining notoriety for a backward moving sumo style, despite considerable bodily strength. Bushozan is not letting himself get slapped down, though, and shows the young rascal the way out.

Do you want another rare kimarite? Say no more! Here are Kizenryu (Kise) and Ichiki (Tamanoi). This was quite a prolonged bout, with lots of twists and turns, so it has been split over two videos. It starts with Ichiki with his back to us, and the taller Kizenryu facing us.

The kimarite is harimanage. And here it is from a better angle:

Kizenryu’s expression is worth a chuckle.

We move to the upper part of Makushita, and start with the former Ozeki, Terunofuji, who has been practicing with Makuuchi wrestlers before the basho, eyeing the Makushita yusho, which he’ll need if he wants to return to Juryo by Hatsu.

Terunofuji is on the right, and his opponent is Tsurubayashi from Kise beya.

Off the Tachiai, Terunofuji gets pushed all the way to the Tawara. He manages to circle and turn Tsurubayashi back, and catch him in a double “kime” (crucifixion by armpits).

But seriously, I’m getting very tired of those dame-oshi. As soon as the gyoji goes “shobu-ari”, let go. It’s dangerous, and it’s unsportsmanlike. And I’m a fan, dammit.

Next up is his heya-mate and former tsukebito, Tomisakae, the back-flipping rikishi. He meets Shonannoum (Takadagawa beya, left). But he looks almost more banged up than Terunofuji.

No back-flipping or acrobatics today. Shonannoumi takes this one decisively.

Next up, Chiyonoumi (Kokonoe), who dropped from Juryo, wants to get back there as soon as possible. Opposite him is Seiro (Shikoroyama), recuperating from Aseptic Meningitis, and hoping to also regain his place in Juryo. Seiro is on the right.

Chiyonoumi is on the attack from the get-go, and Seiro circles and circles but can’t get away. But unlike you-know-who, Chiyonoumi grabs hold of Seiro as soon as he’s out to prevent him from falling. Yay sportsmanship! Go go Bonito man!

The Makushita matches end with yet another Kokonoe man, Chiyootori, who needs a kachi-koshi to regain his long lost sekitori status. But his way is blocked by Asagyokusei (Takasago), who lost it just now and also wants back. Chiyootori, if you can’t recognize him, is on the right.

Although Chiyootori starts with great vigor, Asagyokusei traps him in his arms and finishes off with a tsukiotoshi. Chiyootori has plenty of time to pick those 4 wins elsewhere, though.

BTW, if you noticed, he is wearing a black tabi sock. When rikishi have wounds or injury in their feet, they are allowed to wear tabi socks to cover it. In Makushita and below, the tabi is black. Sekitori are allowed to wear white ones.

Juryo

Almost all of today’s matches in Juryo were fun. We have newcomers, like the rikishi formerly known as Kototebakari (memorize “Kotoshoho”), and the much celebrated Hoshoryu, and the returning Aqua and Wakamotoharu. We have Kotonowaka, who is the bees knees if he’s healthy (he was kyujo from the latter part of the Jungyo). And there are veterans who are gaining back some of their power, like Ikioi and Kaisei.

Luckily, I found a YouTube Channel that aspires to bring Juryo digests every day. I’m not sure if it will stay around long, as Abema TV tend to be very impatient with the use of their materials, but for the time being, enjoy:

Hoshoryu is off to a good start! Akiseyama is very sticky, but his legs are his weakness and Hoshoryu made good use of that with this uchigake. He even got a Twitter compliment from his uncle.

Kotoshoho continues in his usual aggressive style, and beats veteran Gagamaru by yorikiri.

Now, Akua (Aqua) vs. the hapless Wakamotoharu. He is not going to be out-performed by his younger heya-mate when it comes to leg techniques. That kakenage deserves a replay.

Toyonoshima, Ikioi, Kyokutaisei and Kaisei seem to be genki. Kotonowaka seems to have come back from that kyujo with vigor. Takagenji, on the other hand, is very sloppy in that bout with Kiribayama.

And with this we complete our day’s report, tomorrow is also full of great matches!