Thanks to Herouth for Tweeting out this good/bad news about Wakatakakage. Readers may recall that he was injured entering the final weekend of Haru basho when his knee hit the tawara resulting in an ACL tear. He has had surgery and begins the long road to recovery. He’ll likely drop only to Komusubi for May, but deep into Makuuchi for Nagoya, Juryo for Aki, and Makushita by Kyushu. If he comes back in January, he’ll likely still be in Makushita but maybe Sandanme if recovery takes until Spring. There’s the bad news.
The good news here is in the sentiment expressed by Arashio-oyakata (moto-Sokokurai). “He says he does not want to come back before he is fully healed, and I’m not going to make him.”
"He worried about such a long kyujo, but there was nothing else to be done, so better get it over with as quickly as possible. He says he does not want to come back before he is fully healed, and I'm not going to make him".
Obviously, Terunofuji and his storybook comeback stands as a reference point. His rise culminated in not only multiple yusho but promotion to Yokozuna. Tochinoshin and Ura were also able to come back from serious injuries which resulted in substantial demotions. More recent comeback stories have been of a disciplinary nature as Abi and Ryuden successfully re-established themselves in Makuuchi and Asanoyama is on his way back up. We see here multiple recent examples of rapid, successful comebacks and wonder if there’s been a change in the calculus of how to manage serious injury.
That said, along with Terunofuji’s comeback we have to remember, and question, the wisdom of his slow fall. He was obviously hurt as Ozeki but continued to try to compete, basho after basho. Always the competitor, it’s got to be hard to admit that you have to sit on the sidelines — especially when it’s for multiple tournaments. Even now, with the fact that he is safe from demotion, is a May return too soon? We can’t question Isegahama’s commitment to Terunofuji as he stuck with him through that comeback. But with the statements from Wakatakakage and Arashio-oyakata, we see a stark contrast with the actions of Terunofuji and Isegahama-oyakata and can’t help but wonder whether Terunofuji’s rise may have been faster, and if his Yokozuna reign would have been longer, if they’d shared a similar point-of-view.
There’s certainly risks, though, and we cannot downplay them. Hokuozan’s injury in Naruto-beya was re-aggravated in training and he has fallen completely off the banzuke. Hokuozan, however, never reached the heights of Makuuchi. The real contrast is in Ishiura’s neck injury has taken him from heyagashira and likely ended his career. A neck, though, is not exactly a knee-ligament, though. So there is the chance that Wakatakakage will not be back but it is refreshing to see a commitment from both the wrestler and the oyakata to give this route a try, rather than to tough it out and witness the alternative of another slow, painful decline.
Our fears were justified. Word trickled in during the early bouts that Takakeisho would be absent due to a neck injury suffered during last night’s bout with Ichinojo. The injury itself wasn’t too scary, it seemed a rather normal tachiai at the start. But Takakeisho’s reaction, the “what just happened?” stare as he rode Ichinojo’s shoulder out of the ring and then collapsed in a heap, the sumo fan world hopes he will be okay. This injury is not one which will see him make a quick comeback in the second half of the tournament. He will be kadoban next tournament.
The other big story of the day is the return of Takayasu after missing the first two days due to a back injury suffered in practice last week. He is nominally on an ozeki run, but odds on that are just about 0 as he spotted the field a two-win headstart. He’s not mathematically out as 13-2 has been good enough for a yusho lately and would put him right on the 33-win yardstick/rule-of-thumb we fans use (but isn’t really a rule). At this point, he’s probably just thinking that he needs to perform. If he is to become Ozeki, he’s got a solid start to a run but may need another strong tournament after this one…but he still needs this to be a strong tournament. Otherwise, his hopes are likely dashed.
Ichiyamamoto (2-1) defeated Yutakayama (2-1): Ichiyamamoto established his style sumo from the outset, blasting Yutakayama about the head and shoulders. Then going for the slapdown win. Hatakikomi.
Chiyonokuni (2-1) defeated Ishiura (0-3): High energy tsuppari from both rikishi. Ishiura cornered Chiyonokuni against the tawara but could not establish any force which would move Chiyonokuni back and out. Instead, Chiyonokuni continued blasting with tsuppari and slapped Ishiura down. Hatakikomi.
Tsurugisho (3-0) defeated Tokushoryu (2-1): Tsurugisho blasted Tokushoryu at the tachiai and did not relent. Despite failing with the early slapdown attempt, Tokushoryu was overwhelmed, and quickly exited, stage right. Yorikiri.
Daiamami (1-2) defeated Chiyonoo (1-2): Daiamami turned things around and picked up his first win with a straight forward force out. Four bouts, four overpowered opponents. Chiyonoo offered token resistance as Daiamami established a grip with both hands on Chiyonoo’s belt and backed him out. Yorikiri.
Ura (2-1) defeated Chiyomaru (1-2): Chiyomaru went for the early slapdown. After the initial flourish, the two settled into a grapple. For Ura, this was a waiting game. Ura slapped Chiyomaru’s arm down and as Chiyomaru tried to recover, Ura pressed forward with his attack. With both arms around Chiyomaru’s girth, Ura used his low position to keep Chiyomaru high, and backed him out. Yorikiri.
Kagayaki (2-1) defeated Tochinoshin (0-3): As Kagayaki moved forward, Tochinoshin tried to force Kagayaki down. Kagayaki powered through and pushed Tochinoshin out easily. This start does not bode well for Tochinoshin. Oshidashi.
Kotonowaka (3-0) defeated Terutsuyoshi (1-2): Kotonowaka broke the pattern and forced Terutsuyoshi down at the tachiai for the quickest win so far. As Terutsuyoshi moved forward, Kotonowaka attacked his shoulders from above and shoved. Hikiotoshi.
Kaisei (1-2) defeated Shimanoumi (1-2): Shimanoumi launched out with a strong initial charge but Kaisei moved forward with his powerful upperbody attack. Shimanoumi’s weak slap did not slow Kaisei at all as he thrust Shimanoumi out. Tsukidashi.
Tamawashi (3-0) defeated Hidenoumi (1-2): Tamawashi forced Hidenoumi back to the edge with tsuppari and a strong nodowa. However, Hidenoumi resisted at the edge. As he rotated and cornered Tamawashi, Tamawashi’s tsuppari morphed into an armbreaker. Tamawashi pivoted with the pressure on Hidenoumi’s shoulder forcing him down and out. Kotenage.
Takarafuji (1-2) defeated Aoiyama (1-2): Aoiyama was the aggressor, battering Takarafuji and pushing forward. The V-twin seemed stuck in second gear, however. At the edge, Takarafuji twisted and threw Aoiyama down. Sukuinage.
Myogiryu (1-2) defeated Chiyoshoma (2-1): After a matta, we got a brawl from a pair of Tasmanian Devils, circling around the ring, battering each other with slaps. Chiyoshoma let up and pulled but Myogiryu bulled forward through the attempted slap down, sending both men crashing into the shimpan. Myogiryu was a bit slow to get up and could not really squat well to acknowledge his victory. Myogiryu got his first win but it may have come at great cost. Oshitaoshi.
Halftime break: Someone open a window! It’s a bit stuffy in here…and what’s that smell? Hopefully someone can clear the air there in Dolphins Arena. Time to head to the fridge for some coffee.
Kiribayama (2-1) defeated Onosho (1-2): We started out with a brawl and as Onosho chased Kiribayama around the ring, Kiribayama had enough and wrapped up Onosho. “I’m tired of this oshi-tsuki stuff.” A solid right-hand grip from Kiribayama on Onosho’s belt and he ushered Onosho back and over the edge. Yorikiri.
Okinoumi (2-1) defeated Hoshoryu (2-1): Okinoumi valiantly resisted the early throw and turned the tables with his own attack. Okinoumi attempted to crush Hoshoryu, bringing all of his weight and force down on his opponent. Hoshoryu would not go down easy. Concern for Hoshoryu’s knee as it seemed to buckle as Okinoumi rolled Hoshoryu over. Makiotoshi.
Kotoeko (2-1) defeated Chiyotairyu (1-2): INASU. Where’d he go? Chiyotairyu pressed forward but Kotoeko vanished in thin air, reappearing behind Chiyotairyu. Well, that’s how it would have appeared for Chiyotairyu. Kotoeko shifted beautifully as Chiyotairyu charged forward. Kotoeko dodged, got in behind, and then gently pushed Chiyotairyu out for the easy oshidashi.
Wakatakakage (1-2) defeated Tobizaru (1-2): Wakatakakage pushed Tobizaru back at the tachiai, getting Tobizaru to stand vertically. Then, Wakatakakage pulled down hard on Tobizaru’s shoulders, forcing him down. Hikiotoshi.
Mitakeumi (2-1) defeated Hokutofuji (2-1): Big man sumo here. Hokutofuji pressed forward, squeezing hard on Mitakeumi’s left arm with his right as he tried to prevent Mitakeumi from getting inside. When backed to the edge, Mitakeumi got inside, got the belt grip and launched forward. Yet again, the tawara offered enough resistance to stop the pair from going out and the two settled into a grapple. As Mitakeumi crab walked Hokutofuji to the edge, Hokutofuji tried a last-minute twisting throw but Mitakeumi powered through, forcing Hokutofuji out. Both were slow to get up, and I don’t think either saw which direction the gunbai pointed. Yorikiri.
Takayasu (1-0-2) defeated Ichinojo (2-1): Takayasu weathered the storm from Ichinojo. I don’t think Ichinojo has quite figured out the art of tsuppari. He can grab and throw but he’s not a brawler. He tried a kotenage but Takayasu escaped and pivoted. So as the pair travelled coast-to-coast, Ichinojo tired. Takayasu pressed forward and forced him out. Yorikiri.
Meisei (1-2) fusen win over Takakeisho (1-2): As Bruce feared, Takakeisho is done for the tournament with a scary neck injury suffered during his bout with Ichinojo. We hope hope this injury is not a longer term concern. The sumo world awaits news on the severity of the injury.
Terunofuji (3-0) defeated Takanosho (0-3): An exciting, evenly matched, back-and-forth bout. The match was really two bouts, a fast-paced brawl that ended in stalemate, and a patient waiting game that ended with a beautiful throw. The video below, though, only catches the ending. It picks up as both men needed to recover from the exertion from running around, so they gathered at the center, heads together, waiting. Terunofuji, with a flick, put an end to the suspense. Terunofuji took Takanosho by the hand and rolled him over. Kainahineri.
Endo (1-2) defeated Shodai (2-1): That was not Ozeki sumo. What was that? Endo hit with a solid shoulder at the tachiai. As Shodai came in high…and apparently wanted to get higher?!?! Shodai peeked up like he was going to go up and over Endo. But Endo had no time to wait for Shodai to figure out what he wanted to do, or to call his ACME sales rep, so he ducked to the side and the “Ozeki” stumbled forward. Endo then finished him off thrusting him down. Tsukiotoshi.
Hakuho (3-0) defeated Daieisho (0-3): Harite, then a shoulder blast at the tachiai. Hakuho caught Daieisho by the shoulder and spun him down. Geez, he’s a master technician. We can see that he’s walking a bit gingerly, he sure can’t put the weight of two men on that leg but this was no contest. Wham, bam, thank you bodyslam. Sukuinage.
The basho turned ugly today. And with the empty hall echoing the pained crys of a former champion, the brutal nature of sumo was on full display – video and audio. If you are a highly empathetic person, you may want to be careful watching today’s video on YouTube. I have no idea if NHK World will edit that down, or not. I am forced to remind myself that sumo is a Japanese sport made by Japanese people for Japanese people living in Japan. So my western perspective is not the mainstream. But I have to wonder if this kind of spectacle is ok in Japanese culture. I am aware from the time I lived in Japan that what constitutes cruel or gratuitous is profoundly different between Japan and the Anglosphere. But I have a hunch that today’s final match may have crossed a line.
Azumaryu defeats Meisei – Meisei had the better position at the tachiai, but looks to have rushed ahead at Azumaryu after the two broke contact. This set him up for an easy hatakikomi, and an Azumaryu win. Meisei really struggling now at 1-3 to start Haru.
Kotonowaka defeats Tsurugisho – Nice versatility from Kotonowaka today, but we should keep in mind that Tsurugisho’s left side is mostly held together with tape and courage. After a good tachiai, Tsurugisho let Kotonowaka change his grip, and really take over the match.
Shimanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru was totally dedicated to pulling Shimanoumi down, to the point of throwing this match out the window. Shimanoumi’s no slouch, and this kind of sumo, coming from Chiyomaru, is easy to predict. Chiyomaru picks up his first loss.
Kaisei defeats Daiamami – Kaisei picks up his first win, and breaks out of the quarantine club. Most times in sumo, being enormous is not a valid sumo strategy. But Kaisei makes amble use of his enormity today to leave Daiamami no option beside a hasty retreat.
Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – Not sure what happened to Aoiyama, but he will get a couple of basho per year where he looks like an unstoppable sumo machine. He completely dominated Nishikigi today, and my sole worry was that both of them had set up arm-breaker holds on the other. Nishikigi remains winless as Aoiyama has yet to lose a match.
Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu – I have to say, there are days (like today) where Ishiura’s slightly bulkier frame and higher strength allows him to do small man sumo better than Enho. We are only 4 days into this basho, but I am really impressed with Ishiura’s sumo right now. He threw blisteringly fast combo attacks at Chiyotairyu, who had no chance to even respond. Sadly it looks like Chiyotairyu may have been injured in the match. The giant wheelchair makes its first appearance.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoshogiku – Ah, poor Kotoshogiku cannot generate much forward pressure at all any more against those knees. Terutsuyoshi kept Kotoshogiku from really pushing forward in any meaningful way, although Kotoshogiku’s defensive foot placement was excellent. Terutsuyoshi’s make-kai was the key to this win, and it left the former Ozeki struggling to respond.
Ikioi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan remains in the winless self-isolation group, and I can only assume that some injury has completely robbed him of his sumo. Today’s effort was an attempt to pull Ikioi, who was quite prepare for it. Ikioi starts March with a solid 3-1 score.
Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Also solidly in the “injured veteran” cohort is dear former Ozeki Tochinoshin, who is visibly struggling with that right knee. Takanosho improves to 4-0 with solid, straight ahead sumo.
Kiribayama defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi had the early advantage, but Kiribayama hit a very well timed shitatenage at the bales to rescue the win. Sadly, Sadanoumi, who is fighting well, drops to 1-3 now, and really needs to peel off a few more wins in the first week.
Takarafuji defeats Tamawashi – Once again Takarafuji’s defend and extend sumo pays off. Tamawashi had a solid armpit attack running, but rather than try to fight to break Tamawashi’s grip, Takarafuji decided to work with it, and put all of his focus on keeping Tamawashi turning to his right, and moving forward in reaction to Takarafuji’s retreat. It was a struggle, but Takarafuji got his opening when Tamawashi missed a step, and down to the clay he went. This match is a great example of the form, worth study.
Kagayaki defeats Shohozan – Shohozan went for a deep right hand mawashi grip at the tachiai, but missed. He was able to convert it to an inside position, and began to put the pressure on Kagayaki. But look at Kagayaki’s foot placement. His feet are wide and at a 45° angle, his hips are low and he’s ready to repulse the attack. Kagayaki engages forward engines and just pushes ahead for a win. Mr Fundamentals strikes again.
Onosho defeats Ryuden – I know Ryuden was working to stay mobile, and to encourage Onosho to over-extend, and fall on his face. But Ryuden let himself get bracketed by Onosho’s oshi attack, and provided an effective balance point / counter weight for Onosho’s forward rush. Onosho improves to 3-1.
Abi defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu just cant seem to make it out of the quarantine group, as he succumbs to an enormous load of Abi-zumo applied to his face. Remember to wash your hands, gents, at least 20 seconds, after any match with Abi.
Mitakeumi defeats Yutakayama – This match just showcased how well Mitakeumi is fighting week 1 this March. I point out week 1 because sometimes the “Original Tadpole” fades into week 2, so lets savor his excellent, heavy sumo while it lasts. Freeze frame on that tachiai if you can. Both rikishi are in excellent form. But Mitakeumi was just a half step ahead, and Yutatakayma ended up with poor foot placement. Unable to generate enough forward pressure against Mitakeumi, he was forced out.
Endo defeats Tokushoryu – We still love Tokushoryu, but he is completely outclassed at this rank. We did see another of his rescue moves at the tawara, but like the prior 3 days, it was fruitless.
Asanoyama defeats Hokutofuji – As much as I like Asanoyama, he operates in a fairly narrow range of sumo outcomes. The reason why we are talking about his as an ozeki is he is very good at that narrow range, and he is an expert at guiding a match into that narrow range where he excels. Today’s match against Hokutofuji is a first class example. Hokutofuji will look to pin his opponent with a nodowa and call the cadence for the match. His right hand failed to find its mark, and suddenly its in Asanoyama’s power range. To his credit Hokutofuji realizes this within the first 3 seconds, but his go-to move, a pull on the back of the neck, only gives further advantage to Asanoyama. Now off balance and far too high, Hokutofuji is an easy mark for Asanoyama’s sukuinage.
Shodai defeats Enho – Shodai has an excellent recipe for shutting down Enho’s sumo, and turning him into a light weight practice target. That slow, high tachiai that Shodai seems to execute instinctively is actually an excellent first line of defense against Enho, as it leaves Shodai with an easy reach to grab a deep grip on Enho’s mawashi. From there its Shodai who drops his hips, widens his stance and shuts down any chance Enho might have had to convert to a throw.
Daieisho defeats Takakeisho – Daieisho escapes the quarantine group by capitalizing on Takakeisho’s blunder of trying to pull Daieisho down moments into the fight. This move by Takakeisho was so monumentally bad, that its worth watching in slow motion on replay. With any luck we won’t see that one again this basho.
Hakuho defeats Okinoumi – Okinoumi is a high-skill yotsu-zumo practicioner. Hakuho took his time and worked his way to get that left hand outside grip. Once he had a handful of black silk, it was a fast route to a win. The Boss remains at 4-0, and looked more solid today than the prior two.
Kakuryu defeats Takayasu – It was clear that Takayasu was in trouble early in this match. He put himself in a bad position with Kakuryu controlling Takayasu’s body quite effectively. But the former Ozeki’s mass and strength left the match stalemated for a time. As sometimes happen when two high-strength rikishi grapple, they loaded simultaneous throws. When this happens, it is a battle over power and body control to see who throws whom. Today, sadly, it was resolved not when Takayasu’s mighty strength overwhelmed the Yokozuna, or when Kakuryu’s superior body mechanics overcame Takayasu’s power, but when Takayasu’s knee bent outward, and the 175kg Tagonoura lead rikishi hit the clay, moaning in pain.
The Nihon Sumo Kyokai announced eight wrestlers will not participate in the upcoming Fall tour (Jungyo). The tour is scheduled to begin on 10/5 in Ishikawa prefecture and end in Hiroshima prefecture on 10/27. Several popular top wrestlers will not participate due to injury while Takanofuji is listed as well, due to the ongoing bullying drama, in spite of his refusal to submit his resignation.
From the top division, Takakeisho, Ichinojo, and Tomokaze will be absent, and sorely missed. It’s a bit of a surprise that Tochinoshin will participate in the tour and not focus on recuperation. When the tour hits Kyushu, he will need to repeat his feat from this summer where he won 10 bouts as Sekiwake to reclaim his Ozeki status. Kadoban Takayasu will need to win 8 with his seriously damaged arm to avoid a similar fate in January.
From Juryo, there will be several missing wrestlers, including the fore-mentioned Takanofuji. Two Kokonoe wrestlers, Chiyoshoma and Chiyonoumi will miss the tour, along with Kyokushuho and Seiro. As Leonid mentioned in his Aki Wrap-Up article, Seiro and Chiyonoumi are headed back to Makushita.
Tachiai wishes all of the injured rikishi a full recovery and an awesome Kyushu.