2020’s retired rikishi (1/2)

While eagerly waiting for a fun, combattive sumo year 2021, let’s have a look back and pay tribute to the most famous rikishi – some of our readers’ favorite wrestlers – who called it a day in 2020. Some produced unforgettable moments in the past, and deserved an entirely unofficial farewell on our website. Sadly, the list always seems too extended…

Goeido Gotaro

Former ozeki Goeido Gotaro

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: ozeki

Number of yusho (makuuchi): 1

Number of kinboshi : 1

A famous name from sumo retired early on in 2020, following the loss of his ozeki rank in January. Goeido could have benefitted from a chance to bounce straight back in March as an ozekiwake – in front of his home crowd. But Goeido did not believe his body to have enough energy left, and announced his retirement.

It took the Osaka-born rikishi quite some time to reach sumo’s second highest rank (in September 2014), having produced an incredible fourteen basho streak at the rank of sekiwake.

From then, it’s fair to say Goeido has not met expectations. His first tournaments as an ozeki were underwhelming – he got 8-7, 5-10, 8-7, 8-7 and 8-6-1 records. Actually, he got infamously nicknamed one of the kadoban brothers, alongside Kotoshogiku. But more on that later…

Goeido’s career highlight was undoubtedly his stunning zensho yusho in September 2016, which suddenly turned him into a yokozuna candidate. The dream lasted during Kyushu’s first third of the tournament, where Goeido stayed undefeated. Unfortunately, he could not keep momentum, and ended up 9-6.

Goeido had one last surge at the same place, the following year. Spectators were close to watch a nokozuna, where no less than three yokozuna were kyujo, and Harumafuji was struggling at the beginning. However, the yokozuna showed class, and also benefitted from Goeido’s incredible meltdown in order to force a playoff, and give the ozeki no chance.

Arawashi Tsuyoshi

Arawashi Tsuyoshi

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: maegashira 2

Number of yusho (makuuchi) : 0

Number of kinboshi : 3

Poor Arawashi. While watching juryo during the Mongolian’s late career, the first stumbling block was to spot him properly. Indeed, the physical ressemblance with his “twin brother” – who actually isn’t his twin at all -, Chiyoshoma, was truly puzzling.

Then, injuries preventing him from maintaining himself among the salaried ranks. His last basho in juryo ended up in embarrassing fashion, as Arawashi stated, during a pre basho interview, that targeted the yusho, and nothing else. Alas, his weakened body abandoned him. Arawashi started strongly (3-0), but could add just two more wins, end ended up in makushita.

However, it is impossible to turn the 2020 chapter without having a look at Arawashi’s highlights. Following a fine 11-4 performance in Kyushu 2016, the Mongolian rocketed to a career high maegashira 2 the following basho – a rank that seemed too high for the light rikishi. 2017 started horribly with five losses, and then came the unexpected: Arawashi’s first two wins of the tournament, defeating Kakuryu, then Hakuho! I hotly recommend those who haven’t seen that bout against the dai yokozuna to watch Arawashi’s genius at the tachi-ai, some kind of “Harumafuji not henka” paving way to a death spin. Hakuho was left stunned, and so were we all.

Arawashi got no special prize for that feat, as he ended up make koshi. He slowly slided down the banzuke, all the way back to makushita – but not without earning a third and last kinboshi in March 2017, this time against another great wrestler, Harumafuji.

Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan Yuichiro

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: sekiwake

Number of yusho (makuuchi): 0

Number of kinboshi: 6

Tochiozan was a hugely gifted, yotsu wrestler. The number of kinboshi he earned is impressive, but actually comes as no surprise. Several rikishi’s names immediately spring to mind, when discussions of Hakuho-less alternative reality occur: Kisenosato, of course; Harumafuji, and Kakuryu. But Tochiozan may have enjoyed an even better career – and indeed, ozeki promotion was within reach.

But Tochiozan was a wrestler of missed opportunities. He missed out on a golden chance to win a yusho in May 2012 – he cracked under pressure and let Kyokutenho lift the Cup instead.

If Tochiozan was a giant killer, giants also liked to defeat him – Harumafuji litterally bullied Tochiozan on his birthday, at the Haru basho in 2015! During his late career, Tochiozan had no less than comical bouts against Hakuho, where he seemed certain to get a seventh kinboshi, before losing in ridiculous fashion. Only Tochiozan had the secret of such losses… Without doubt, the Kochi-ken born rikishi has left the dohyo with many unanswered questions.

Wakaichiro Ken

Wakaichiro Ken

Age of retirement: 21

Best rank: sandanme 32

Having the privilege to watch a wrestler from Texas is a rare thing. Previously, American sumo fans had been able to watch another local hero, but for a very short period only – Brodik Henderson, known as Homarenishiki on the dohyo, retired under mysterious conditions, amid intimidation fears, in 2016, one year after his sumo debut.

Wakaichiro, in real life Ichiro Kendrick Young, lasted longer. He entered mae zumo in November 2016, and struggled to stay in sandanme during the first years. Results improved in 2019, and Wakaichiro actually retired early in 2020, after a series of kashi koshi that would have enabled him to slowly set his sights in makushita, being ranked sandanme 32.

Unfortunately, a series of chronic injuries prevented him to realistically target a place in the salaried ranks. Of course, one can reasonably wonder what lower ranked rikishi can get by staying down the banzuke – you don’t get paid before reaching juryo.

Earlier this year, Bruce dedicated a great article paying tribute to Mr Young.

Les lutteurs retraités en 2020 (1/2)

Tandis que nous attendons impatiemment l’arrivée d’une année 2021 combattive chez les sumos, il paraît opportun de rendre un hommage aux lutteurs – certains faisant parti des préférés de notre communauté de lecteurs – ayant pris leur retraite en 2020. Nous avons eu droit à des moments inoubliables par le passé, et ces lutteurs méritent des adieux tout à fait inofficiels sur notre site. Dans ce genre de circonstances, la liste paraît malheureusement toujours trop longue…

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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

goeido-21

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.