Natsu was a brutal time for the Ozeki corps, out of the 3 men at this rank, 2 of them failed to secure a winning record. Mitakeumi finished with a 6-9, while Shodai did worse at 5-10. As a result there will be 2 of the 3 Ozeki kadoban for the July tournament in Nagoya, with Mitakeumi being the home town favorite. It has been several years since Tachiai was able to use the once common “Kadoban Twins” tag, and it does not herald fine days of sumo are at hand.
For Mitakeumi, I am going to guess he was injured. His prior two performances were a 12-2 yusho (his third!) that secured his promotion to Ozeki. He followed that with a blistering 11-4 in Osaka that saw him in contention for the up up until a very mild week 2 fade. In May, he never put two wins in on consecutive days, and struggled to defeat opponents such as Hoshoryu, who picked up his first career win against Mitakeumi, and Tamawashi, whom Mitakeumi has a 27-4 career advantage. This is not an indicator of a strong and genki Ozeki. Sadly there are some indications that whatever was plaguing him continues. During the past week or so, the Sumo Kyokai has permitted degeiko for the first time in a couple of years. Absent from inter-stable training was Mitakeumi, who has no sekitori in his home stable to train against. I would say he continues to be hurt and is worried about compounding his problems in a joint training session.
On the subject of Shodai, his performance has been poor since his 11-4 jun-yusho in January of 2021. It is true that he had COVID, and seems to have struggled to overcome some lingering effects. What happened to him in May is anyone’s guess. 2020 saw some outstanding sumo from this guy, but then the “bad version” came back with his kyujo in November of 2020, and he has not been even close to genki since. I know I tend to complain about Shodai quite a bit. It’s largely because I would like the 2019/2020 Shodai back, and he is clearly not up to that level of sumo now, and I worry he may never be again. This will be the 3rd time in his career that he starts a tournament as a kadoban Ozeki, and I hope the he can pull it together.
Much as with Natsu, the lower named ranks are especially sharp right now, and will prove to be a tough obstacle for both men looking to get to the safety of 8 wins as quickly as possible. This is especially true for the trio of Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu and Kiribayama. All three of them are expected to face the kadoban Ozeki in the early stages of the basho, and could be indicators of just how banged up Mitakeumi and Shodai are.
We will be keeping out fingers crossed, and hope for the best. It would be grim to lose an Ozeki this year.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.