With the official promotion, and acceptance, expected later today (Wednesday morning Japan), the press is starting to cover Tochinoshin’s imminent promotion. The Mainichi article includes some great background on his friendship with Hiromitsu Munakata, which is something new to me. Feel free to read up while we wait for the big ceremony to welcome the new Ozeki.
Tochinoshin has secured his promotion to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. He did this through hard work, grim determination, and focusing with overwhelming intensity to training his body, his mind and his reflexes. As a result he has an astounding 37 wins over the past 3 tournaments, with double digits in each of the last 3. He greatly exceeds the 33 wins / 3 basho guideline, and is one of the strongest men in sumo for 2018. Much has been said, and still more will be said about his work ethic, his rise from ruin following knee surgery, and his drive to win.
But looking at Tochinoshin, I worry there is a chance for heartbreak in the near future. While I think he has potential to be a great Ozeki, I also see the seeds of misfortune on the path ahead.
Please keep in mind, I am one lone armchair sumo fan in the wilds of Texas. I have as much influence on the world of sumo as any of the readers of this site – almost none. So this represents one fan’s opinion only.
1. Age – Tochinoshin has been a part of professional sumo since 2006. He is currently 30 years old. His physical condition exceeds most 30 year old men (or 20 year old men for that matter) that you could ever meet. But sumo is a physical sport, and the damage can be cumulative. While his Ozeki career may be outstanding, it may also be short. He is the 4th oldest promotee in the modern era.
2. Injury – Tochinoshin has already sustained, and boldly battled back from a significant mechanical injury. The massive bandage he wears on his knee is testament to that battle, which he has won for now. We dearly hope he stays free from further injury, but fans should note we are in a transitional period in sumo. Many of our old favorites are reaching the end of their workable careers in the top division, and will soon be demoted down the banzuke, and retire. As a result we will see young men soon pressing harder for top rank. These youngsters will be fast, strong, aggressive and possibly less injured that our favorites. This includes Tochinoshin. Sumo is a pure zero-sum sport. If the rikishi of the future overwhelm stalwarts like Tochinoshin, so be it. But someone like Onosho or Takakeisho, or perhaps a stronger version of Abi could, through no malice, re-injure him. But this is sumo, and it’s a chance everyone takes.
3. Consistency – My biggest concern about Tochinoshin is consistency. Looking at his last 3 basho he’s been an overwhelming powerhouse of sumo. But if we take a longer look, the view is a bit cloudy. Let’s look at the past 2 years.
The chart below to compares his ranking in the past 2 years to a set of san’yaku mainstays including Tamawashi, Mitakeumi and Takayasu
It’s a see-saw trip up and down the banzuke. He has shown no ability to hit and hold San’yaku rank in the past. This is in contrast to Mitakeumi, Tamawashi and Takayasu.
The guy gets hurt, and he can’t fight for beans when he’s hurt. Sumo is a combat sport, people get hurt. But I worry that we will have another frequent kadoban Ozeki, who fights with gusto when his health is good, but spends about half of the tournaments trying to scrape by.
But only time will tell. I am eager to see what Ozeki Tochinoshin can do.
Great day of sumo… Our operatives inside the Kokugikan report that the Great Cat himself was well pleased with today’s activities, and blessed sumo fans with some fantastic matches. Find a way to watch all of day 14.
Nagoya has enormous potential, given today’s results. I will discuss more in the day 15 preview. The Natsu yusho is for Kakuryu to lose now, and his sumo was absolutely amazing today. Many sumo fans had dismissed Kakuryu in the prior year, perhaps thinking he was lazy, or would rather not compete. His style of sumo is rather unique, and it’s quite difficult to watch at times. Many fans want to see an all out, guns blazing battle. Where the best attack wins. Sometimes, the best attack is not to try and overpower your opponent, but rather to keep your opponent from winning. It’s somewhat alien in western sports, but it’s amazing to see Kakuryu use it with such great effect.
In Juryo, we are indeed going to have a final day barnyard brawl for the yusho. There are 3 Juryo rikishi with 11 wins at the end of day 14: Onosho, Kotoeko and Tsurugisho. I urge you to find and watch Kotoeko’s day 14 match – because he is bringing that kind of sumo to Makuuchi in Nagoya.
Ishiura defeats Kyokutaisei – Ishiura wins doing actual sumo. This is noteworthy.
Aoiyama defeats Daiamami – A large man oshi-matsuri, with Aoiyama once again focusing on his opponents head. This is not really working for him, and then he decides, “Yeah, let’s put some force center-mass!”, and shifts to Daiamami’s chest. Hey! Look, out goes Daiamami! Aoiyama gets his 8th win and his kachi-koshi.
Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – Chiyonokuni takes it to 11, and hands Tochiozan his make-koshi. I would guess we may see Chiyonokuni pick up a special prize, and that would be his first! If he can stay this genki, he is going to be a lot of fun in Nagoya.
Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu having a great basho, but Takakeisho seems to have snapped back into his sumo finally, and he’s on a mission. I am so eager now for Nagoya, as Takakeisho will be in the top half of the banzuke, Onosho will be back, and it’s going to be tadpole time.
Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – First match resulted in a monoii, and a re-match. Second match was a clear Yoshikaze win. It’s still possible for him to pick up a kachi-koshi on the final day, when his opponent will be Abi. That, dear readers, could be a wild and chaotic match.
Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama failed to get his kachi-koshi today, and will have to hope for a win on the final day. Kagayaki continues to execute solid, basic sumo, and has been winning with it. Any hopes Kagayaki has for double digits are going to be tempered by his final day bout against Chiyonokuni. Yikes!
Aminishiki defeats Ryuden – Ryuden (now 2-12) in a world of hurt with the Nagoya banzuke now, as Uncle Sumo uncorks some kind of magic genki sauce and blasts him out of the ring after some preliminary struggle. As always, the crowd in the Kokugikan goes nuts whenever Aminishiki is on the dohyo, and goes double nuts when he wins.
Sadanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi somehow survives a really powerful osha-battle with Chiyomaru to pick up his kachi-koshi. To me it looks like Chiyomaru had a tough time getting into basho mode, and is struggling with his sumo. Maybe a bit too much mass from the bulbous one? Sadanoumi lands his 8th win and can take comfort in his kachi-koshi.
Shohozan defeats Daieisho – This one was another in a series of Shohozan brawls disguised as sumo matches. Both men were going for some kind of painful death grip on the other, and the winning move was a nicely executed watashikomi thigh trip. Shohozan can still finish kachi-koshi if he wins day 15.
Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Tamawashi switches to freight-train / densha michi mode and runs Ikioi down the tracks, improving to 7-7 going into the final day.
Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – Kotoshogiku kachi-koshi!!! The two go chest to chest straight away, and the enormous mass of Kaisei is clearly near the limit for the Kyushu Bulldozer. But he revs up, engages his tracks and lowers his blade.
Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – What the hell Shodai? Again, his mechanics are abysmal, but his instincts are dead on. Big outcome of this match may be the fact that Shodai seems to have crushed Mitakeumi’s right ankle when they both went to cuddle the kita-kata shimpan.
Kakuryu defeats Tochinoshin – Watch this match, maybe a few times. Tochinoshin really puts a lot into this match, and Kakuryu does some of his best “Big K Sumo” ever. Kakuryu is a reactive sumo expert. His plan is to stalemate Tochinoshin until he makes some kind of mistake, and then use that mistake to finish him. Tochinoshin immediately goes to land his left, and Kakuryu shuts that down, opting for a palm to the face. Tochinoshin tries to go left again, and gets a bit of a grip, but Kakuryu shifts his hips and denies him leverage. Tochinoshin now has a double outside grip on Kakuryu’s loose mawashi, and can’t find a way to keep the Yokozuna from shifting around, robbing Tochinoshin of his ability to lift and shift (his primary weapon). Kakuryu is deep double inside, and leaning in at 45 degrees, stalemate for the Georgian Ozeki hopeful. Tochinoshin tries to pull out a leg trip, but Kakuryu is too far back for the trip, shifting his hips again as Tochinoshin is now dangerously unbalanced. Kakuryu advances, and Tochinoshin tries to pivot for a throw, further impeding his defensive stance, Kakuryu has his opening now, raises his foot and pops a trip against Tochinoshin’s left knee (the good one), and collapses the Georgian at the tawara. Holy smokes! What a match!
Ichinojo defeats Hakuho – Sumo fans could have ended their day with the Kakuryu v Tochinoshin match with satisfaction, but the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan had one last treat in store for us. The Boulder squared off against the dai-Yokozuna, but this was not the passive version of Ichinojo today. Huge, powerful and motivated, Hakuho, who is clearly not quite at full power, had his hands full with 500 pounds of pony tossing, ice cream eating behemoth. Hakuho unleashed a pair of his usually disruptive moves at the outset, but Ichinojo must have gone into the match with the intent to endure the Yokozuna’s initial attacks however he could. It seems he wanted to play a longer game. With Hakuho’s initial gambits exhausted, they spent a moment leaning chest to chest in the center of the dohyo. As Ichinojo moved to advance, Hakuho timed a weight shift to load a throw against Ichinojo. Ichinojo sensed the Yokozuna shifting for leverage, and took advantage of it, pivoting into the uwatenage as the Yokozuna went to the clay. Kokugikan erupts, cushions fly and it’s ice cream and ponies for everyone.
Up until day 12, the “grumpy” elements of the sumo world maintained that Tochinoshin might be denied an Ozeki promotion due to some concerns about the strength of his opponents in this tournament. Through no fault of his own, this tournament went “Nozeki” fairly early. But Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin focused on his sumo, and winning his matches one day at a time.
Day 12 was an unexpected wrinkle in the anticipated order of things, when his match against Yokozuna Hakuho was brought forward by one day. This provided an opportunity should Hakuho win of having a 3 way tie for the yusho going into the final weekend. The odds seemed good, Hakuho held a 25-0 advantage over the Georgian, and while Hakuho was not quite his genki self, he seemed sufficiently potent to apply the brakes on the Tochinoshin yusho train.
But all of the chatter and expectations fall away when two men face each other on the dohyo. It comes down to strength, speed, training an no small amount of luck. The match was excellent, and I urge readers to watch it as soon as they can.
Tochinoshin’s win over Hakuho marks a fundamental shift in the sumo world. We all know that the long serving stalwarts are fading; its the natural order of things. But it’s a identifiable point in time where one rikishi who had been completely dominated by possibly the greatest Yokozuna ever to mount the dohyo was able to train, to work and to overcome his history and emerge victorious.
Nothing stands in the way of his promotion to Ozeki, and little stands in his way of his second yusho in three tournaments. Tochinoshin’s story is one of the great stories of sumo, and indeed one of the great stories of individual sports competition. The team at Tachiai wish him a long an prosperous reign as Ozeki, and we will continue to cheer him on.