Who’s That Rikishi #12: Ichinojo Takashi


Age: 24
Birth Name: Altankhuyag Ichinnorow
Home Town: Arkhangai, Mongolia
Stable: Minato
Highest Rank: Sekiwake

While most sumo fans like to imagine the boulder-sized Ichinojo rolling down a mountain and onto the dohyo to do sumo, the truth is that he was born on the beautiful plains of Arkhangai province, Mongolia. While far from the first Mongolian to enter Japan’s national sport, he was the first of his countrymen from a nomadic clan to join sumo. As a boy, he took part in traditional Mongolian wrestling called Bokh, going so far as to win his provinces Bokh championship when he was 14 years old. Moving to Japan for high school, Ichinojo initially practiced Judo until the school’s sumo coach convinced him to join his team. The young Mongolian went on to win five titles and the rank of amateur Yokozuna. His success caught the attention of Minato Beya, who recruited Ichinojo in 2013, making him their one allotted foreign-born rikishi. Due to his amateur Yokozuna title, Ichinojo was allowed to skip the bottom two divisions and debut in Makushita, making him the second foreign-born rikishi to do so. Upon debuting he automatically became the highest ranked member of his stable, as none of his stablemates were ranked higher than Sandanme. Ichinojo’s first official tournament in January 2014 was a huge success and marked the beginning of a meteoric rise up the banzuke for the young Boulder.

By May of that same year, he burst into the Juryo Division, having only lost two bouts in his career thus far. Despite the drastic increase in competition, Ichinojo held his own in Juryo and won the division Yusho in a four-way playoff. He nearly captured his second consecutive Juryo Yusho at the following Nagoya Basho, but fell to Tochinoshin in a playoff bout. Nevertheless, his 13-2 record was more than enough to warrant a promotion, and in September he made his Makuuchi debut at the rank of Maegashira 10. Like previous Honbasho, Ichinojo mowed through the competition, collecting six straight wins until a Day 7 loss to Ikioi. This turned out to be just a minor set back for the young Mongolian, who quickly returned to his winning ways. As the tournament progressed, Ichinojo began facing stronger opponents much higher up on the banzuke. However, even they couldn’t stop him. Having defeated both Ozeki Kisenosato and Goeido and Yokozuna Kakuryu, Ichinojo was matched up with Hakuho on Day 14, but he was unable to beat the Boss. Finishing in second place with a record of 13-2, Ichinojo was awarded both the fighting spirit and outstanding performance special prizes, and his rank was elevated all the way to Sekiwake for the following tournament.

Perhaps a symptom of the increased media attention and fanfare following his success in September, Ichinojo developed a bad case of shingles during the lead up to the 2014 Kyushu Basho. Unable to practice for much of the inter-Basho period, he failed to replicate the impressive numbers he had posted at Aki but managed to hold on to his Sekiwake rank with an 8-7 record. He was not so lucky at the 2015 Hatsu Basho. Recording only six wins, the young Boulder dropped out of San’yaku. An impressive showing in March and May, including a kinboshi victory over Harumafuji, resulted in Ichinojo regaining his Sekiwake rank for the 2015 Nagoya Basho. This tournament would prove disastrous for the Mongolian Rikishi, and he finished with a record of 4-11 and once again joined the Maegashira rank and fillers. Having firmly established himself as a Makuuchi mainstay, Ichinojo spent much of 2016 alternating between winning and losing records, until a herniated disk forced him to miss the Aki Basho. This injury, most likely a symptom of his ballooning mass, prompted the nearly 500 pound Mongolian rikishi to begin reducing his weight. Upon returning, the much lighter Ichinojo picked up right where he left off and continued flip-flopping between kachi koshi and make koshi. At the 2017 Kyushu Basho, Ichinojo scored double-digit wins for the first time in well over a year, when he finished the tournament with a 10-5 record and a gold star victory over Kisenosato. Building on his Bokh wrestling background, Ichinojo is a fierce belt wrestler, and his favorite grip is a right hand inside, left hand outside migi-yotsu. His preferred winning maneuver is the yorikiri forceout.


Ichinojo (left) vs. Ikioi (right), Aki Basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=12107
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/3498/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichinoj%C5%8D_Takashi

Who’s That Rikishi #11: Chiyonokuni Toshiki


Age: 27
Birth Name: Toshiki Sawada
Home Town: Iga, Japan
Stable: Kokonoe
Highest Rank: Maegashira 1

Chiyonokuni Toshiki was born the son of a Buddhist priest in the city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, Japan. As a child, he had a keen interest in martial arts and dreamed of becoming a professional rikishi. After graduating high school, Chiyonokuni entered Kokonoe Beya and began learning the art of sumo from former Dai Yokozuna turned Oyakata, Chiyonofuji. His first official tournament was the 2006 Nagoya Basho, where he recorded an impressive 6-1 record and secured a promotion to the Jonidan division. His Jonidan debut would have to wait, however, as an injury sidelined the young rikishi right before the Aki Basho, costing him his promotion. Returning to action in time for the 2006 Kyushu Basho, Chiyokuni won back his spot in Jonidan with another kachi-koshi and was well on his way to the Makushita division in mid-2007 when he was injured again and missed the Nagoya Basho. This would become something of a pattern for Chiyonokuni; getting ever so close to a promotion only to get hurt and have to start over again.

His fortunes changed in March of 2009 when Chiyonokuni returned from injury for the fourth time in his young career and took the Jonidan yusho. This victory marked the beginning of a hot streak for Chiyo, who quickly rose up through the ranks and established himself as a Makushita mainstay by March 2010. Following the match-fixing scandal, Chiyonokuni was elevated to the upper ranks of Makushita and eventually the Juryo division in early 2011, despite not posting spectacular records. Like many rikishi in his generation, he had become a benefactor of several top spots being vacated by rikishi involved in the scandal. One such disgraced rikishi was his fellow stablemate, Chiyohakuho. When asked about Chiyohakuho’s expulsion from the sport and his subsequent promotion as a result of the scandal, Chiyonokuni remarked that he didn’t know how to feel about the situation. Taking full advantage of the circumstances, the young man from Iga put together an impressive string of winning records that saw him break into the top Makuuchi division at the 2012 Hatsu Basho. His stay in the top division was short-lived, as a dislocated shoulder forced him to miss parts of Hatsu and Haru and all of the Natsu tournament. Chiyo returned to Juryo for the 2012 Nagoya Basho, where he took the yusho and soon won his way back to Makuuchi by November. Chiyonokuni spent the next two years in and out of the top division, until an injury at the 2014 Aki basho saw him withdraw from competition on day 8. This injury caused him to miss the following two tournaments, plummeting Chiyonokuni all the way back to the Sandanme division.

Unperturbed by this massive demotion, Chiyonokuni began his treck back to Makuuchi by taking the Sandanme division yusho with a perfect 7-0 record at the 2015 Haru Basho. This marked the beginning of an impressive comeback for the young rikishi, which culminated in his second Juryo championship in May of 2016 and a return to the Makuuchi division, where he has remained to this day. At the 2017 Natsu Basho, Choyonokuni debuted at a career-high rank of Maegashira 1. Despite picking up his first kinboshi victory over Yokozuna Kakuryu, the rest of the tournament was a disaster for Chiyo, and he finished with a dreadful 2-13 record. He bounced back from this poor performance with two consecutive kachi-koshi in July and September but failed to secure eight wins November. 2017 also marked a significant milestone in the life of Chiyonokuni, who married his longtime girlfriend Ai Hayashi, whom he met seven years prior. Chiyonokuni is primarily an oshi-zumo or “pusher-thruster” practitioner. Because of his relatively small size, he employs tsukiotoshi thrust downs and hatakikomi slap downs to take his larger opponents off their feet.


Chiyonokuni (left) vs. Kaisei (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6642
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2938/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiyonokuni_Toshiki

Legends of the Dohyo #6: Holy Grail


Futabayama Yusho
Futabayama, 1939

In January of 2015, Yokozuna Hakuho Sho made history when he won his thirty-third Emperors Cup, surpassing a record established by the legendary Yokozuna Taiho Koki over forty years prior. When he accepted his 32nd championship and drew even with Taiho one basho prior, Hakuho stated that the god of sumo had blessed his efforts on the dohyo. Blessed indeed, as he is one of only a select few to have ever amassed over thirty yusho, and even fewer have one to their name. It is the dream of all rikishi to one day win the yusho and lift the Emperors Cup, the holy grail of Japans national sport. Despite being the most prestigious, sought-after prize in all of sumo, the Emperor’s Cup simply did not exist for much of the sport’s history. Even the concept of the yusho, Japanese for victory, has only been a part of sumo for a third of its existence.

The evolution of the yusho we know today was long and gradual, and dates as far back as the seventeenth century. Before this time, many of the men who defined the pre-yusho era of sumo, such as Onogawa Kisaburo, Raiden Tameemon, and Inazuma Raigoro, received no official championships or recognition besides credit for having the best record of their respective basho. The first semblance of a yusho or prize in sumo is found in the Edo period, when onlookers rewarded their favorite rikishi for winning bouts by by throwing  gifts of money onto the dohyo. Over time, these gifts transformed into more organized prizes and trophies provided for each basho by private financiers and awarded to the rikishi with perfect records. However, as Hikiwake (draws), Azukari (Decisions too close to call), and absences were not considered loses during this period, the rikishi with the most wins was not always awarded the tournament prize. It was also common in this period for several rikishi with identical records to be declared the champion of a basho and receive rewards for their efforts, as playoffs would not be introduced until much later.

Around the turn of the century, in January of 1900, this old system underwent a major change when the Osaka Mainichi Shinbun newspaper company offered a kensho-mawashi as a prize for the rikishi with a perfect record or the fewest losses at the upcoming basho. This development would establish the concept of a singular champion for each basho. The first tournament to declare an official yusho champion was the 1909 summer basho, when Maegashira 7 Takamiyama Torinosuke defeated Ozeki Tachiyama Mineemon. While the system of an individual basho champion was begging to take form, there were still some key differences when compared to sumo today. The most significant of these differences was the protocol for breaking ties. There were no playoffs in sumo during this era, and in the case of two men having identical records, the yusho was awarded to the rikishi with the higher rank. Playoff rules would be incorporated into sumo in 1947 after several controversial decisions saw Higher ranked rikishi being chosen over men below them without consideration for the circumstances of the basho. One such controversy involved Ozeki Hitachiiwa Eitaro receiving the yusho over Meagashira Misugiiso Zenshichi, despite one of his wins coming by default.

The final piece of the modern yusho structure came in 1925 when Crown Prince Hirohito donated a trophy, called the Prince Regent’s Cup, to be awarded to the yusho winner of each basho. Upon Hirohito taking his place on the Chrysanthemum throne in 1926, the trophy was renamed the Emperors Cup, and has remained the physical embodiment of the yusho ever since. From humble beginnings of monetary gifts showered upon rikishi from the common folk, the concept of a yusho unfolded gradually, eventually evolving into a splendid trophy from the highest lord in all the land, the Emperor himself. The yusho has become a milestone achievement, a career-definer, and the holy grail that every rikishi strives for each and every day.

Who’s That Rikishi #10: Asanoyama Hideki


Age: 23
Birth Name: Hiroki Ishibashi
Home Town: Toyama Prefecture, Japan
Stable: Takasago
Highest Rank: Maegashira 11

When it came to sports, sumo was not Asanoyama’s first choice. Instead, the young man from Toyama Prefecture practiced handball until entering junior high school. Joining his school’s sumo team, he nearly cut his career short after sustaining an elbow injury, and seriously considered quitting sumo. He persevered and went on to a successful High school career, eventually earning a scholarship to Kinki University where he entered the renowned sumo program that had produced top rikishi such as Takarafuji, and Tokushoryu. During his time studying at Kinki University, Asanoyama won seven college titles, putting him in the top four in All-Japan Sumo Championships. After graduating, Asanoyama joined Takasago beya where he trained under former Ozeki and fellow Kinki University graduate Asashio Taro IV. Having been a multiple time university champion, Asanoyama was allowed to skip the two lowest ranks and debut in the Sandanme division at the 2016 Haru basho. In his first tournament he scored a 5-2 kachi koshi, the first of many to come. He followed this excellent start with back to back 6-1 records and received a promotion to the Makushita division in September.

Much like his time in Sandanme, Asanoyama spent only three basho in Makushita, taking the divisions yusho at the 2017 Hatsu basho on rout to a Juryo promotion. Prior to this promotion, Toyoyama beya had lost both their Sekitori status, marking the first time the stable had been without a top division wrestler since 1878. With Asanoyama joining the Juryo division, he ensured his stable would have sekitori representation once more. Asanoyama’s first tournament in Juryo was one of great success; the young rikishi finished with a 10-5 record but lost the yusho in a playoff to the veteran Toyohibiki. He once again found himself in a playoff situation at the Nagoya basho, yet this time a loss to Daiamami would cost him the yusho. Despite losing the championship, his record would be enough to land him a spot in the top Makuuchi division for the 2017 Aki basho. His first top division outing began with mixed results, as he ended day 6 with three wins and three losses. When asked about his early performance, Asanoyama remarked that he felt cursed by the east side of the dohyo, as all his losses had come on that side. He overcame this curse, however, and went on to post five straight wins, remaining just one win behind the yusho leader until day 13. Finishing the tournament with a 10-5 record, Asanoyama received the fighting spirit special prize for his standout Makuuchi debut. At the following Kyushu basho, he failed to replicate the success he had in September and recorded his first career make koshi after winning only five of his fifteen bouts. Primarily a yotsu sumo specialist, Asanoyama relies on mawashi grappling techniques to win his matches. His most common kimarite is a yorikiri force out.


Daieisho (left) vs. Asanoyama (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=12291
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/3682/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asanoyama_Hideki

Who’s That Rikishi #9: Kaisei Ichiro


Age: 30
Birth Name: Ricardo Sugano
Home Town: Sao Paulo, Brazil
Stable: Tomozuna
Highest Rank: Sekiwake

Unlike many of his childhood friends, Ricardo Sugano was not interested in his Brazilian homelands favorite pastime of soccer. Instead, the young Sao Paulo native spent his time studying martial arts and had a keen interest in judo. After a family friend encouraged Ricardo to take up sumo, he began practicing the sport and went on to win a Brazillian Amature Sumo Championship. This success prompted him to travel to Japan to become a professional rikishi, and in 2006 he entered Tomozuna beya where he joined fellow Brazillian rikishi Kaishin. He made his professional debut at the 2006 Aki basho and officially adopted the shikona of Kaisei Ichiro. In just under two years, Kaisei had advanced through the three lowest divisions, but he would lose his momentum upon entering the Makishita division and remained there for the next three years.

Kaisei’s fortunes began to turn in September of 2009 when he went undefeated at the Aki basho, only losing the yusho in a playoff with fellow gaijin rikishi Gagamaru. Three tournaments later, in July of 2010, Kaisei broke into the Juryo division and became the fourth Brazillian born rikishi to reach sumo’s salaried ranks. In November of that same year, Kaisei won his first and only championship when he took the Juryo yusho with an 11-4 record, this time beating Toyohibiki, Tochinowaka, and Takayasu in a four-way playoff. He followed this success with another kachi koshi in January and earned a promotion to the Makuuchi division. Kaisei’s first tournament in the top division saw him go undefeated until a day 10 loss to Tochinoshin. With nine straight wins, the Brazillian rikishi achieved the second-longest winning streak for a debuting Maegashira wrestler, falling just two wins short of tying Taiho’s 1960 record. Kaisei would finish the tournament with double-digit wins and take home the fighting spirit prize.

Kaisei struggled through much of 2012, routinely getting make koshi records yet picking up just enough wins to remain in the top division for most of the year. He had something of a return to form at the 2012 Nagoya basho, going 11-4 and winning his second fighting spirit prize. Kaisai also found success at the following years Nagoya basho, where he again finished with eleven wins and took the jun-yusho. In May 2016, Kaisei broke into the san’yaku and reached his highest rank of Sekiwake one tournament later. He was unable to maintain his new position for long, and by the end of the year he had become a rank and filler once again. Kaisei was injured while training for the 2017 Haru basho, and for the first time in his career, he was forced to pull out of a tournament. A poor performance in Nagoya say him fall back to Juryo, but this demotion seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as the Brazilian rikishi posted 10 wins, returned to the top division, and finished the year with consecutive kachi koshi. Kaisei mainly uses yotsu-sumo techniques, winning 51% of his bouts with a yorikiri forceout. His favorite grips is a left hand outside, right hand inside migi-yotsu.


Kaisei (left) vs. Ikioi (right), Aki basho, 2017


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6753
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2950/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaisei_Ichir%C5%8D

Who’s That Rikishi #8: Takanoiwa Yoshimori


TakanoiwaAge: 27
Birth Name: Adiya Baasandorj
Home Town: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Stable: Takanohana
Highest Rank: Maegashira 2

Born in Ulaanbaatar in 1990, the future Takanoiwa Yoshimori was introduced to Japan’s national sport when the sumo coach from Johoku High School came looking for Mongolian talent to join his team. Having passed the selection test, he moved to Japan when he was sixteen and began honing his skills at Johoku. In 2008 he joined Takanohana beya to train under his childhood idol, former Yokozuna Takanohana. After a successful première at the 2009 Haru basho, Takanoiwa was promoted to Jonidan for the May tournament, where he recorded a perfect 7-0 record but lost the division yusho in a playoff. He won his first championship two basho later when he once again recorded a 7-0 record and took home the Kyushu Sandanme yusho. Takanoiwa’s championship performance earned him a promotion up the banzuke into the Makushita division in January, but he struggled to find success. Takanoiwa’s luck didn’t improve in early 2011, as he was forced to pull out part way through the Natsu basho and missed the entirety of the Nagoya basho due to injury. As a result, he found himself back in the Sandanme division upon his return. Unperturbed, Takanoiwa won six of his seven matches in September and was promoted back to Makushita. Another 6-1 record in Kyushu put him in contention for the Makushita yusho, but another playoff loss cost him the championship.

Takanoiwa made his Juryo debut in July of 2012, but subsequent back-to-back make-koshi nearly cost him his position in the division. He had a return to form for the 2013 Hatsu basho and took the Juryo yusho with an impressive twelve wins. The rest of the year saw Takanoiwa produce winning records in four out of the five remaining tournaments, and he broke into sumo’s top rank at the beginning of 2014. He returned to Juryo three tournaments later, after suffering a staggering thirteen losses at the May basho. The Mongolian rikishi would spend the next year and a half in and out of Makuuchi until cementing his place in the division in early 2016. Takanoiwa’s first top division success came at the 2016 Nagoya basho, where he finished second place behind Harumafuji and was awarded his first sansho special prize for fighting spirit. Following this incredible performance, he was promoted to Maegashira 3 for Aki, but struggled against the joi and fell back into the middle of Makuuchi by November. 2017 started with a bang for Takanoiwa, who collected eleven wins, including one kinboshi victory over Hakuho. Beating the Dai-Yokozuna had a tremendous impact on the Hatsu basho and the sumo world, as it cost Hakuho the Emperor’s Cup and lead to Kisenosato picking up the long-sought-after yusho he needed to become the first Japanese born Yokozuna since Takanoiwa’s own oyakata, Takanohana, retired in 2003. For his efforts, Takanoiwa was awarded his first outstanding performance award and his highest rank to date, Maegashira 2. Once again the joi proved to be too much for Takanoiwa, who fell back to the mid-Magashira where he remains to this day. When meeting his opponents on the Dohyo, Takanoiwa mainly employs yotsu-zumo to win his bouts. His preferred grip is a left hand outside right hand inside migi-yotsu. His most common kimarite is a yori-kiri force out, but he is known to employ an uwatenage overarm throw to win as well.


Takanoiwa (left) vs. Goeido (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=11724
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile?id=3146
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takanoiwa_Yoshimori

Legends of the Dohyo #5: A Family Divided Part 2


Takanohana Wakanohana

Part One

By the early 90’s, Takanohana II and Wakanohana III, the young princes of sumo, were poised to dominate the future of the sport. They emerged at the forefront of a new generation of talent and had already amassed several awards and accolades, adding to those of their legendary father and uncle. The Hanada family dynasty had never looked stronger. Held up as the model of a perfect Japanese family, few could have predicted their downfall.

For much of their early careers, the Hanada brothers were considered near equals. As time went on, however, it was becoming clear that the bigger and stronger Takanohana was eclipsing his elder brother. In 1994, Takahanohana took four of the year’s six yusho and earned a promotion to the sports highest rank of Yokozuna, while Wakanohana suffered from injuries and remain out of yusho contention for the majority of the mid 90’s. The elder Hanada brother briefly stepped out of his sibling’s shadow at the 1995 Kyushu basho, where he won the yusho in a sudden death play-off against Takanohana. This bout would mark the first, and only time the two brothers ever competed against each other, due to rules forbidding siblings and stablemates from facing off outside of playoffs. In commenting about losing to his own brother, Takanohana stated that he “couldn’t come to terms” with the outcome of the match. Never the less, He carried his brothers yusho-ki banner as Wakanohana celebrated with fans. The first cracks in their relationship began to surface in 1998 when Takanohana developed a liver disorder. To combat this disease, the young Yokozuna consulted with physical therapist Tashiro Tomita. Tomita had a significant impact on Takanohana. In following his therapist’s teachings, Takanohana began to seclude himself from his family. This caused great concern for his father, who believed Tomita was brainwashing his son. During this time, Wakanohan finally managed back to back yusho wins and became sumo’s 66th Yokozuna. Despite making history by becoming the first brothers ever to be Yokozuna simultaneously, Takanohana and Wakanohana scarcely spoke to each other. Although Takanohana eventually reconciled with his family, this had opened the eyes of the world to the underlying issues that afflicted their perceived perfect family.

By the early 2000’s, both brothers had retired from sumo due to persistent injuries. While Wakanohana sought a career first in American football and later as a chanko-nabe restauranteur, Takanohana remained in the sumo association, taking over his father’s prestigious stable. Upon the death of their father in 2005, the Hanada family was divided by an incredibly bitter and public dispute between the two former Yokozuna. As an active member of the association, Takanohana demanded that he be the chief mourner at his father’s funeral, and not his older brother who had left the sumo world to chase fame and celebrity. Rumours also circulated that their quarrel was the result of uncertainty regarding the late Takanohana I’s estate, as he left his children no will.  Although Wakanohana did not give into his brothers demand to be cheif mourner, he did forfiet his claim to their father’s estate. Giving up his inheritance would not be enough to make peace with Takanohana, and from that point on the two brothers became like strangers, rarely if ever speaking to one another.  The once mighty Hanada dynasty, who had ruled the sumo world for nearly five decades, had been shattered.


 

Takanohana (left) vs. Wakanohana (right), Kyushu basho, 1995.


Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakanohana_Masaru
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takanohana_K%C5%8Dji