A lot has been riding on this citizenship. With his physical fitness deteriorating, there was a real danger he would be forced to retire without a citizenship. This would have meant he could not stay as an oyakata, as the rules of the NSK only allow Japanese citizens to be toshiyori (oyakata).
This would have been regrettable even without the background noise, as Kakuryu has a good reputation for leadership by example, and his presence in the sumo world would have been missed. But in his case, there was also the issue of the dying wish of his master, the late Izutsu oyakata, who wanted him to take over the heya.
The heya no longer exists as such, and even the building where it was located is currently being demolished. But now that he has earned his citizenship, he will be able to take the Izutsu name (there is some evidence that the former Toyonoshima is only holding it temporarily), and establish the heya again – as has already happened in the history of that heya. I’m sure this will make the Widow Fukuzono happy, and probably the late master’s brother, Shikoroyama oyakata, as well.
And of course, every sumo fan who has come to love and respect Kakuryu.
On peut raisonnablement dire que nous aimons tous les playoffs. Cela apporte des situations amusantes, dramatiques, du type “mort subite”, au cours desquelles les lutteurs donnent tout ce qu’ils ont. On préfère encore les playoffs multiples, qui peuvent receler des règles originales.
I think it’s fair to say all of us like playoffs. It brings a fun, dramatic, sudden death situation, where involved rikishi go all in. We even prefer multiple playoffs, which can contain original rules.
Former ozeki Terunofuji, on the other hand, probably does not want to hear the word “playoff” any more. Last Sunday, the Mongolian succumbed to Takakeisho’s thrusts, meaning that he has now lost all three playoffs where he participated – prior to that, he faced two yokozuna, Kakuryu in Aki 2015, and Kisenosato in Osaka 2017. The object of this article will be to see if somebody else holds such a miserable record.
Prior to that, a few words about playoffs themselves:
Playoffs aim to decide between rikishi tied for first place. The outcome of the bout between them during the regular phase – should it exist – is NOT taken into account. Taking Terunofuji’s example, the Mongolian defeated Kakuryu in 2015, lost to Kisenosato in 2017, and defeated Takakeisho one week ago – each time on day 15. But he wasn’t declared winner in any of these basho – he had to face his opponents once again, and lost thrice.
The rules are:
a) For a two-way playoff: one bout is scheduled, and the winner takes it all. Straightforward.
b) For a three-way playoff: the wrestler A faces the wrestler B. Let’s say A wins. A faces the wrestler C. If A wins, he’s the champion. If C wins, he faces B. If C wins, he’s the champion. If B wins, he faces A, and so on, until someone wins twice in a row.
Three- way playoffs rarely occur, but it actually took place in March 1990, between Konishiki, Kirishima and Hokutoumi (the eventual winner, who actually lost the first bout!)
c) For a four-way playoff: two semi-finals (A vs B, C vs D) and a final are scheduled.
d) For a five-way playoff: lots are drawn. A faces B, C faces D, and E – banzuke’s highest ranked rikishi – goes directly to the final stages. A/B, C/D and E then meet in a three-way playoff.
Incredibly, such a playoff occured in Kyushu 1996, where Akebono, Wakanohana, Takanonami, Kaio and Musashimaru (the eventual winner) were all tied with a noticeable 11-4 record. Takanonami defeated Kaio; Musashimaru defeated Wakanohana; Akebono directly qualified for the three-way playoff. Musashimaru defeated Akebono, then Takanonami.
e) For a six-way playoff: the aim is to reduce the number of rikishi to three, in order to set up a three-way playoff. Therefore, A faces B in a single bout, whereas C faces D, and E confronts F. Losers are eliminated.
Such a configuration seems impossible to get, but juryo is more prone to bring such a tied lead, when there’s no clear favorite at the beginning of the basho. It actually took place this year in July: Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu, Akua, Chiyonoo, Mitoryu and Meisei (the eventual winner) were all tied with a 10-5 record. Remarkably, all three finalists (Akua, Hoshoryu and Meisei) came from the same stable (Tatsunami beya).
So, does anybody else holds a “minus three” record in playoffs?
It comes to no surprise that Hakuho holds the record of playoff participations – alongside Takanohana. The dai yokozuna has been top of the chart for an uncountable number of times – and he sometimes had to face stern opposition.
His first participation came as early as in May 2006, where he defeated Miyabiyama; his last one occured in January 2014, where he defeated Kakuryu (who actually got promoted to yokozuna after a yusho the following tournament). Overall, Hakuho has a “plus two” score: six wins to four losses.
In a way, Hakuho did worse than Terunofuji, as the yokozuna lost no less than three playoffs in 2009! Asashoryu (twice) and Harumafuji were the winners. Apart from Asashoryu, Harumafuji (including one playoff where he was still named “Ama”) and Kakuryu, Hakuho also faced… Toyonoshima (in November 2010)!
As mentioned, Takanohana also participated in ten playoffs – and his record is even, five wins to five losses.
Interestingly, Futahaguro has participated in two playoffs. But as we know, he’s the only yokozuna ever who never won a single yusho during his entire career – it goes therefore without saying that he lost both… but there’s better – or, rather, worse.
Kitanoumi has a noteworthy record, that might inspire Terunofuji. Indeed, the yokozuna participated in eight playoffs, won three of them, and actually got a “minus four” record, after his first four playoffs!
Actually, another great man from the past, Musashimaru, holds the most terrible record: one win (during the afore-mentionned Kyusho basho 1996) in six tries!
Meanwhile, Chiyonofuji has been the true playoff-killer: six wins, and no loss…
But the November basho – also known as Kyushu basho, until last year also marks sumo’s final tournament of the calendar year. It’s therefore possible to nominate sumo’s “MVP” right after it – that is, the rikishi who collected the most wins in the given year.
So, who’s still in contention for that honorific title ?
First of all, it’s worth reminding that this year’s numbers will be pretty low, since wrestlers will have competed in only five tournaments, instead of the usual six. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we end up far away from Hakuho’s mouth-watering 86 wins out of 90, which we could witness in 2009 and 2010.
Last year, Asanoyama pipped Abi’s six kashi koshi and 54 wins overall, ending the year with 55 successful bouts. Hakuho came third with 51 wins, but, as we will see, the yokozuna is far from that standard this year.
All in all, it has largely been Shodai’s year, and it’s no big surprise he leads the pack with 45 wins. Remarkably, Asanoyama is still in contention to regain first place, with 43 wins overall. Actually, he could very well pip Shodai here too, as Shodai spent some time parading after his promotion to ozeki. Can Shodai keep momentum and hold on to his two-win lead? We will soon get to know.
What about the rest of the field? There’s a small chance somebody else than Shodai or Asanoyama finishes first – but that would probably mean an unfortunate kyujo from both men. Indeed, Takakeisho is seven off the pace, having snatched 38 wins this year. And that allows us a fine statement: the three men with the most wins in 2020 compose in fact the ozeki triumvirat! Let’s hope the current state of affairs will lead to a fine 2021 year for all of three.
Also worth mentionning are Takanosho (37 wins), Mitakeumi (who, arguably, has not had a brillant 2020 year despite having collected 36 wins), Kiribayama (35) and even Tokushoryu (32 wins).
What about both yokozuna?
As mentioned earlier, Hakuho is far from the leaderboard, and even from decent Hakuho numbers. He actually has 24 wins combined, one more than his stable partner, Ishiura, but one less than his other partner, Enho!