Aki Story 1 – The Ozeki Train Wreck

Its a Scratch-And Dent Sale In The Ozeki Aisle

The Nagoya basho is frequently hard on rikishi. The hot, humid conditions and the ramp up to full battle mode after 8 weeks without jungyo can be a trigger for injury, distraction and failure. Nagoya 2019 was especially brutal for sumo’s 4 Ozeki, and the troubles of July will extract a heavy price in September, as sumo returns to the Kokugikan for the Aki basho.

Going into Nagoya, the newest Ozeki, Takakeisho, did not even start. Having withdrawn from the Natsu basho in May on day on day 9, he began the July tournament needing 8 wins to clear kadoban status. But the severity of his injury kept him from training or preparing, and Chiganoura oyakata kept him from entering. Many fans, myself included, widely applauded this move, as the young rising star needed to think about his long term career first and foremost. But this meant that September would find him placed in a hybrid Sekiwake rank (which we sometimes call Ozekiwake) that would return him to Ozeki status with 10 wins.

Takakeisho has been absent from the jungyo, reports of his training are scant, and filtered through Chiganoura oyakata. There are some indications that he is preparing his body through weight training, but has yet to start doing any sumo. For young Takakeisho, there is a lot on the line this September.

Takayasu suffered an arm injury in his day 8 match against “arm-breaker” Tamawashi when a kotenage went wrong. Takayasu being from the Kisenosato camp of “pain is good”, battled on until he picked up his 8th win (against Meisie) and promptly went kyujo. Word is he is still recuperating, and is unlikely for Aki. During his final 2 matches at Nagoya, Takayasu could not really move his heavily bandaged left arm at all. Getting that arm back to “good” is essential for what remains of his career. I also think that it’s the kind of injury that never quite goes away, and any hopes that he might try for promotion to Yokozuna this year (or maybe next) could be off the table.

Tochinoshin went into Nagoya on the heels of a blazing 10-5 record during May, but he faltered in the second week of Natsu, and was clearly hurt. He started Nagoya with 5 consecutive losses, and promptly went kadoban on day 6. Reports were that there were problems with his injured knee, which he keeps bandaged and braced, as well as a shoulder injury. Since then Kasugano oyakata has reported that “Tochinoshin’s shoulder is better, but his knee is still bad. I don’t know when he’ll be able to do sumo.” At Tachiai, we sometimes refer to Tochinoshin as a “glass cannon”, in that he is a powerful rikishi who is always working hard to stay one step ahead of the career ending re-injury to that knee. We hope now is not the time when that bell tolls for him, as he is an exciting and dynamic competitor.

This leaves us with Goeido. Readers of the site sometimes take me to task for being very hard on Goeido, but may have noted that I have eased up on him as he gets closer to the age when his career will begin to wind down. Goeido is hugely talented, and at one point had the potential to beat Kisenosato to the mark of being the first new Japanese born rikishi to become Yokozuna in about 20 years. But his inconsistency was his primary weakness, and he could not seem to muster three good tournaments in a row. Now in 2019, Goeido has endured substantial injury and re-construction to continue fighting at the Ozeki rank, but enters Aki kadoban as well. He started Nagoya well, but seemed to re-injure his damaged ankle in his day 6 fight with Shodai. After losing to Endo on day 7, he withdrew from competition.

With sumo in a transitional period, as the the legendary greats of the prior cohort age out, or retire, we find a great weakness in the Ozeki ranks. This makes the entire upper strata of sumo going into the next decade more or less up for grabs. While many fans will complain that this is “sumo lite”, it’s also the case that with promotion lanes open all the way to the top, any rikishi that has the drive and the skill can find themselves able to climb the ladder. This makes for truly exciting times, and absolute cut-throat competition.

Nagoya Ozeki Report

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With just over two weeks until the start of the Nagoya basho, Sumo’s ozeki corps is under pressure to deliver wins all round. The two incumbent ozeki are both kadoban, and the shin-ozeki, Tochinoshin, comes in nursing a hurt wrist. As a zero-sum sport, each win that the ozeki need comes at the expense of some other rikishi’s march towards kachi-koshi.

First up is the likely Ozeki 1 East, Goeido. With only 3 wins at Natsu, it’s tough to think of this man as the top Ozeki in sumo today. After injuring his ankle during the Osaka basho in 2017, he underwent surgery to have his joint rebuilt with pins and a lot of luck. While it seems to have kept his foot from falling off, he has mostly struggled to execute the kind of sumo that gives him winning records. When he is on his game, Goeido is a fast, brutal rikishi of pure offense. But we suspect he is still trying to find a way to keep his injured ankle together by any means he can muster. He comes into Nagoya looking to overcome his 8th career kadoban. While a healthy, strong Goeido running GoeiDOS 2.X is more than up to that task, he will have to overcome some fierce competition from the rest of the san’yaku to get to the safety of 8 wins. Forecast – Questionable.

But then we come to Takayasu, the likely Ozeki 1 West. Takayasu did not compete at all during Natsu, citing upper body injuries that were likely sustained due to changes he made to his sumo following the injury of his training partner and companion Kisenosato. During the second half of 2017, Takayasu’s sumo increasingly relied on a wild, flailing style that incorporated-a maxed out kachi-age at the tachiai. Being enormous and as strong as a C53 class locomotive can take you quite far when you are willing to go brutal at the open. Sadly his body suffered and his injuries were too much for him to compete in May. Now he heads to the balmy basho in Nagoya trying to overcome his 3rd foreshortened tournament of his Ozeki career, and erase his second kadoban. Recent press reports have featured Takayasu and an injured Kisenosato practicing in front of hundreds of spectators, with good effect. Some of this may simply be PR for the Yokozuna, as it seems most of the san-ban had been prior to the past four basho. Forecast – Hopeful.

Shin-Ozeki is a great slot, especially if it’s apparent that you finished your Ozkei bid with increasing momentum and increasingly powerful sumo. Ozeki 2 East Tochinoshin comes to the Nagoya dohyo as possibly the most powerful man in the Ozeki ranks. He can easily carry either of his fellow ozeki around like furniture, planting them in harmonious spots outside of the dohyo for optimal feng-shui. The worrying aspect is his repeated reports of injury to his wrist sustained during the final week of Natsu. This, naturally, limits his “lift and shift” sumo by removing his ability to transfer his enormous strength to his opponents mawashi. However, it’s reasonable to assume that Kasugano will have him squared away in time for shonichi. I personally hope that a strong rivalry between Tochinoshin and Takayasu takes root, which could help propel both of them to higher performance. Forecast – Rather-genki.

With two kadoban ozeki, it’s going to be time for both Takayasu and Goeido to dial it up to 11, but there is also a very real risk of losing at least one Ozeki this basho. Goeido has been teetering on the edge for quite some time. Takayasu may still be injured, but feel he is out of options. But with Tochinoshin bringing fresh blood and fresh sumo to the Ozeki ranks, Nagoya promises to step up the intensity of upper rank competition.

Ozeki Goeido In A Perilous State

Exploding Robot

Long-serving Ozeki Goeido lost in a shocking match against Daieisho in day 8 action, dropping to 3-5. It was notable because while Daieisho is a solid rikishi, he should be no trouble for a man who is clearly capable of dispatching Yokozuna. Instead, the troubled Ozeki found himself stood upright, pushed around and thrust out on the east side of the dohyo. The sumo world is always very tight lipped about injuries to rikishi, especially during a basho, but I am going to assume that Goeido has re-injured his ankle. That injury limits the amount of offensive force he can muster, and the amount of lateral / shifting pressure he can maintain. This makes him weak going forward, and slow to turn or move side to side.

Goeido had his right ankle completely reconstructed with pins and screws last year, and returned to action possibly before the surgery could completely heal. This is, in part, driven by kadoban rules for Ozeki and the 60 day period between honbasho.

With this loss, Goedio now needs to win 5 of the remaining 7 matches. This may be impossible as he must still face Tochinoshin, Hakuho and Kakuryu. A make-koshi for Natsu would mean the Nagoya basho would once again feature both Ozeki kadoban, and facing a risk of demotion.

Before any readers assume too much, we cheer Goeido when he’s fighting well, and scold him when he takes short cuts or seems to just phone it in. In this case, it’s clear he’s not able to generate full offensive power, and we have to assume injury. A healthy Goeido is a terrifying rikishi of nearly pure offense. We wish him well and hope he can find some way to return to health.

Aki Story 2 – Goeido & Terunofuji Kadoban

Kadoban

A recurring theme in the past year has been the problems with the current crop of Ozeki, and their tendency to turn in losing records. Ozeki do not get demoted when they end a tournament with a majority losing record. It is, perhaps, a nod to the great difficulty required to rack up 33 wins over the course of 3 tournaments. Instead they get a “warning” that a second consecutive losing record will demote them to Sekiwake. An Ozeki in this state is declared “Kadoban”. This in fact happened to Kotoshogiku within the last year, and he was sadly unable to resurrect his Ozeki rank in the following tournaments. He continues to fade.

Headed into Aki, both Terunofuji and Goeido are at risk of demotion. Goeido was in this status last year entering the Aki basho, and responded by racking up 15 straight victories and taking the yusho. Sadly Goeido could not parlay this into a consistent elevation in performance, and has mixed results for the following tournament. His breathtaking Aki performance led us to coin the term “Goeido 2.0”, which described what seemed to be an entirely different rikishi. He was bold, committed and attacked with a ferocity that left no room for retreat. But Goeido suffered a significant ankle injury during Hatsu, and was forced to seek treatment that included steel pins and plates.

Similarly, Terunofuji underwent surgery in June to attempt repair on his knee, an injury that frequently kept him from top performance. Sadly it was not healed enough for competition when Terunofuji began the Nagoya basho, and he soon withdrew. Since going kyujo, he retired to his native Mongolia for recovery and training, and his working hard to be in condition for the basho.

Both of these men are fierce competitors, and we hope that both of them can clear their kadoban status with style. If reports of injury among the Yokozuna hold true, it may provide some relief to both men, who would find their schedules a bit easier, and their chances of a solid winning record increased.