97th National University Sumo Championship

While sumo fans wait on pins and needles for Grand Sumo action to begin next weekend in Fukuoka, Japan’s National University Sumo Championship took place in Osaka. Successful wrestlers at this stage often become successful wrestlers on the professional level with the Champions granted privileged entry into Makushita, makushita tsukedashi, upon turning pro. Current wrestlers taking this path from Uni-Yokozuna to Jr. Sekitori include Endo, Ichinojo, and Aki-basho yusho winner, Mitakeumi. (I’m making up the Junior Sekitori term because they’re not immediately Sekitori but just outside.)

The big story coming out of Osaka is that the yusho winner was a first year (freshman) student-athlete, Yasuteru Nakamura from Nippon Sports Science University. He defeated Koshiro Tanioka, with a dominating yorikiri. Last year’s champion, Yota Kanno was knocked out in the first round. Any relation to Yoko Kanno is unconfirmed, but the need to knock a little harder is undeniable. Regardless, keep an eye out for these talented young men to be highly sought-after recruits and to appear on a banzuke in the near future.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, this was the first time in 29 years that a freshman won a Championship. The last time there was a freshman University Yokozuna was Luis Ikemori for Takeshoku University in 1990. Ryuko, also known as Ryudo when he reached his peak rank in Juryo, was also notable for being the first foreign-born wrestler, from Brazil, to be granted the makushita tsukedashi privilege.

In team competition, Nihon University won the title for the first time in four years from Mitakeumi’s alma mater, Toyo University. Jokoryu and Mitoryu are products of the Nihon University program. Nakamura’s Nippon Sports Science University finished tied for third, and they count Hokutofuji among their graduates. These three universities have had historically strong sumo programs, with one of these three teams winning the title in each of the last nine years.

After the Kyushu basho, eyes will turn back to Kokugikan in Tokyo for the 68th National Amateur Sumo Championship, a title won by Yago and the fore mentioned Mitakeumi, Mitoryu and Endo, as well as Daishomaru, Yoshikaze, and Takamisakari. The year Endo won, Shodai picked up the jun-yusho and Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji were semi-finalists.