Kotoyuki: One for the Fans

In an era where sumo commentary frequently makes reference of those rikishi who stay in the sport past their expiration date, some eyebrows were raised this week at the news that Kotoyuki had retired at the age of just 30.

Of course, anyone who’s seen the Sadogatake man on the dohyo over the past few years would find it hard pressed to dispute that perhaps he might struggle to regain the kind of form that would make him competitive even at sumo’s second highest division, never mind return to the top division as a makuuchi regular. Newer fans will need reminding that this was a man who will retire with a san’yaku rank as his career high.

And yet in light of the heroics of Terunofuji, and mid to late 30s comebacks from the likes of Aminishiki, Toyonoshima, Akiseyama and so on… it does feel a bit underwhelming to see the man from Shodoshima take his leave. Maybe this is in no small part owing to his status as somewhat of a non-traditional fan favourite.

If you looked around Kokugikan – back in the days when it would be full of sumo fans – Kotoyuki isn’t a name that you would see flying on cheer towels, at least not in recent years. But here’s a guy who was a fixture in the torikumi. In the beginning, he was notable for his “hoot” and clap, his method of psyching himself up for matches. It marked him out as perhaps someone in a line of sumo eccentrics, somewhere in between Takamisakari’s Robocop antics and Takayasu’s now-retired gorilla grunt in the Audio division (similar lineage of course existing within the Sodium Conference from Mitoizumi through Kitazakura and now Terutsuyoshi). Cheers to YouTube’s “Sumotori” channel for this edit:

Afterwards, he switched to his “helicopter” manoeuvre before matches which, as noted by venerable sumo laureate Kintamayama when we spoke on these pages, never really got the fans going in the same way.

Of course, on the dohyo in these later stages he also became a bit of a figure of fun, his absurdly serious demeanour in the pre-match pageantry giving way to this oversized bowling ball normally taking out several rows of poor civilian onlookers, tanimachi, shimpan and anything else in its way as he usually careened off the dohyo – winning or losing, though in later years more of the latter – at pace.

It’s also worth noting that in terms of his sumo form, Kotoyuki was, in his day, an oshi-zumo force, with an incredible amount of power generated in a pushing/thrusting attack from a body type that while optimal for that type of sumo, of course also perhaps contributed to his career’s early end. But what fun he was when he got going – we laud the technicians and tacticians of sumo on these pages, but he was at his best an all out attacking force.

He retires, per SumoDB, with a career record of 480-430-70. Record wise, his undoubted pinnacle would have been five years ago in Osaka, a tournament where he ran riot over the joi-jin and in an era where his 12-3 performance at Maegashira 1 sadly wasn’t even good enough for the jun-yusho (those were the days!). He snatched his only career kinboshi from the Yokozuna Harumafuji in that tournament:

I probably came around to Kotoyuki when I was last able to attend the Haru basho in Osaka. Keen fans will know that rikishi must pass right through the fans in the hallways of the Edion Arena as they make their way to and from the shitakubeya. I camped out in the dark recesses of the venue, attempting to get any usable photos of rikishi that we could use on this site – most of which were pretty terrible as the sekitori exited the venue with haste after their bouts. Kotoyuki, however, marked himself out as someone with a soft spot and a heart for the fans. He took his time to graciously meet children, sign autographs and speak at length with supporters on his way out of the building. Perhaps Osaka was somewhat of a “home” basho for him, being nearest his shusshin, and I don’t know if he approached fans at other tournaments with the same warmth, but it was notable in a sport that is known for its stoicism that he made time for those who came to support and cheer for him.

All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that the highest (and sometimes even the lowest) moments of his time in service to the sport were to the great benefit and enjoyment of the fans.

What’s next? For now, he’s taken Okinoumi’s Kimigahama myoseki on loan, one of several hot seats on the kabu market as he settles into oyakata life. Hopefully over the coming months or years, sumo’s youngest elder – and first oyakata born in the 1990s – will find a name to make his own. 

As he enters the first of potentially 34-plus years as an oyakata, we can and should hope that he passes some of that same fun, that ability to entertain, and most of all that same reverence for the fanbase to those who will follow under his tutelage.

Tokyo July Basho Nakabi Highlights

The first week of the tournament over and we have quite the entertaining show on our hands. Unfortunately, before today’s action we received word that promising Kotonowaka has withdrawn due to a knee injury. Herouth sussed out the reason and it sure sounds painful. The young man had soreness after his bout with Kaisei yesterday and couldn’t bend his knee this morning. As a result he has pulled out.

Highlight Matches

Terunofuji (7-1) defeated Nishikigi (2-6): Terunofuji succeeded in grabbing Nishikigi’s belt with his left hand just out of the tachiai. His right arm was just under Nishikigi’s left arm pit, forcing Nishikigi’s left arm into an awkward and useless raised position. Even in this awkward position, Nishikigi was able to resist Terunofuji’s first drive to the edge. However, he was unable to improve his position so the second drive to the edge proved decisive. Yorikiri.

Kotoeko (6-2) defeated Takayasu (4-4): As Bruce predicted, Kotoeko focused on Takayasu’s left arm and immobilized it. He continued to drive confidently into Takayasu, fishing for the belt. For a few seconds, Takayasu was able to get Kotoeko off and force an oshi battle but Kotoeko dove time and time again for the belt. Takayasu grimaced after a kotenage attempt on the arm and shortly afterward Kotoeko edecuted a throw. Uwatenage.

Sadanoumi (4-4) defeated Kotoshoho (6-2): After a strong tachiai, Sadanoumi locked up Kotoshoho’s belt with his left hand. Keeping action in the center of the ring, Sadanoumi lulled Kotoshoho to sleep and then executed a wonderful left-handed throw. Uwatenage.

Wakatakakage (4-4) defeated Shohozan (2-6): Shohozan’s intimidation stare down was ineffective. At the tachiai, Wakatakakage drove for the shoulder. The slight shift forced Shohozan into an awkward sideways position and his own thrusts missed. Wakatakakage pushed forward with Shohozan’s left arm up, forcing Shohozan to slide over sideways and out. Oshidashi. *I miss Tochiozan.

Tochinoshin (5-3) defeated Kotonowaka (4-4): Kotonowaka’s sudden kyujo handed Tochinoshin the walk-over win. The reason for the kyujo is listed as an injury, not dinner. It appears his left knee was injured after yesterday’s bout. Fusen.

Kotoyuki (2-6) defeated Kaisei (3-5): Kotoyuki was the aggressor on this bout, forcing an oshi battle. The strong tachiai led to a quick pull attempt, forcing Kaisei off-balance. Kaisei just barely stayed up but Kotoyuki kept up the offensive, forcing Kaisei around the ring. Tsukidashi.

Chiyomaru (2-6) defeated Myogiryu (6-2): Chiyomaru found his sumo and charged out on the offensive. A strong tachai drove Myogiryu back and then a quick pull unsettled Myogiryu. He got a rare vocal response from the crowd with his well-timed decisive shove. Shoving with his left hand into Myogiryu’s right shoulder, Myogiryu landing on the bales. The impressed “Oooo” reminded me of the crowds of old…followed by the applause brought me back to reality. Tsukiotoshi.

Ishiura (3-5) defeated Shimanoumi (2-6): Ishiura gets more “Oooo” reactions from the crowd with a well-timed left foot trip. His left-handed belt grip rotated Shimanoumi into a spin, once he completed a full rotation, he slipped that left foot behind Shimanoumi’s right leg and then rotated backwards. Having successfully fumigated the dohyo, Ishiura seemed to regain his confidence. Susoharai.

Kotoshogiku (6-2) defeated Chiyotairyu (3-5): A quick belt grab and drive, Kotoshogiku bulldozed Chiyotairyu over the edge with little resistance. Perhaps it was the angle that left Chiyotairyu unable to counter? Yorikiri.

Halftime? (I Lost Track)

Terutsuyoshi (4-4) defeated Ikioi (2-6): “ちくしょう.” A slight deflection from Terutsuyoshi at the tachiai but Ikioi was ready. After a short oshi battle, Ikioi reached around Terutsuyoshi to attack from the back but Terutsuyoshi countered with the same attack to Ikioi’s back was able to push Ikioi out awkwardly. Yorikiri.

Tamawashi (6-2) defeated Tokushoryu (4-4): A bout of champions. Tamawashi’s right-hand in Tokushoryu’s face forced Tokushoryu high. He then followed with a well-timed pull, Tokushoryu in a heap at the center of the ring. Hatakikomi.

Takarafuji (3-5) defeated Ryuden (3-5): Ryuden pitched too far forward trying to get that left-hand in. Takarafuji twisted and shoved into Ryuden’s right side.  Tsukiotoshi.

Kiribayama (3-5) defeated Enho (4-4): Enho missed with his slap at the tachiai but connected with the belt. Kiribayama’s right hand grip from above and Enho’s left-hand grip from below. Twice Enho pulled and almost got Kiribayama off balance but each time Kiribayama recovered. When it was Kiribayama’s turn to go on the offensive, he did not disappoint, pulling Enho across the ring and into the dirt. Uwatenage.

Takanosho (5-3) defeated Yutakayama (0-8): Onosho kept up solid pressure on Yutakayama after a brief oshi-battle. Yutakayama extended a bit awkwardly with his right and Onosho’s sustained effort forced the mountain out over the bales and to an early make-koshi record. Yorikiri.

Sanyaku

Daieisho (5-3) defeated Onosho (0-8): After the tachiai both rikishi attempted to decapitate each other with matching facial shoves. Onosho tired of the nodowas, turned his head, perhaps searching for the exit. One final shove from Daieisho and Onosho capitulated, joining Yutakayama as make-koshi. Okuridashi.

Okinoumi (4-4) defeated Endo (2-6): Okinoumi’s solid tachiai worked Endo back a step. His height meant his extended body was too long for Endo to secure that right-handed belt grab. As Endo kept reaching, Okinoumi drove forward, forcing an impotent Endo over the edge and into the crowd empty purple mats. Endo left running away from the dohyo, as seems quite common. Yorikiri.

Shodai (7-1) defeated Mitakeumi (7-1): No wild, cartoon nonsense from Shodai today. Solid tachiai. Perhaps the shoulder blast stunned Mitakeumi? Mitakeumi forced Shodai high but couldn’t follow with a real attack and seemed lost. So, he lost. Shodai’s left arm under aite’s right armpit gave him leverage to bring high-flying Mitakeumi back to Earth. Tsukiotoshi.

It’s a two-horse race for now. How will Asanoyama and Hakuho respond?

Hokutofuji (5-3) defeated Takakeisho (5-3): Takakeisho’s scowl vs Hokutofuji’s stomp. Stomp wins quickly with a sudden sidestep. Solid tachiai but Hokutofuji shifted left and brought his right arm down on Takakeisho’s head. Takakeisho could not find a way to pull. Rather, it was Hokutofuji. Hatakikomi.

Asanoyama (8-0) defeated Aoiyama (3-5): Asanoyama did not let Aoiyama’s thrusts dissuade him from latching on to Aoiyama’s belt. Once Asanoyama grabbed that belt, Aoiyama knew it was over and the V-twin went into reverse, stepping out. Yorikiri.

Hakuho (8-0) vs Kagayaki (3-5): Hakuho derives his power from that copper-infused mawashi. A strong tachiai from Kagayaki but the blow to the face really angered the master. Hakuho decided he did not need to mess with a belt grab and instead grabs Kagayaki’s head and shoved it to the clay. Bruce was prescient. Wakanohana wonders, “who can stop Hakuho?” Aoiyama?

Heya Power Rankings: Nagoya-Aki 18

mitakeumi-preparing

Two thousand eighteen. The year that the underclassmen upset the balance of the hallowed Tachiai Heya Power Rankings. Well, almost. After Tochinoshin’s toe-bustin’ adventures in sansho and yusho, Ice Cold Kakuryu came back to restore the natural order of Yokozuna dominance.

But what’s this? A newcomer has etched his names in the annals of time with a heroic championship win, and you know what happens when that happens: he gets loaded up with special prizes. And in our rankings system, titles and prizes are a good way to load up your stable with points. Step forward Sekiwake Mitakeumi of Dewanoumi-beya, for you, king of tadpoles have arrived.

Ahem. Here’s the full chart for this period:

Heya Power Rankings - Aki 2018

Largely, you’ll note drop-offs in points across the board. This is what happens when everyone is injured. Here’s the top 20-formatted chart:

  1. (+16) Dewanoumi. 95 points (+75)
  2. (+1) Tagonoura. 65 points (+15)
  3. (+4) Sakaigawa. 58 points (+13)
  4. (+5) Tokitsukaze. 58 points (+33)
  5. (-3) Kasugano. 45 points (-45)
  6. (-1) Oitekaze. 44 points (-4)
  7. (-1) Kokonoe. 42 points (-5)
  8. (-4) Miyagino. 40 points (-10)
  9. (+7) Takanohana. 37 points (+16)
  10. (-9) Izutsu. 35 points (-60)
  11. (-3) Tomozuna. 28 points (-4)
  12. (-2) Minato. 25 points (even)
  13. (-2) Isenoumi. 23 points (-2)
  14. (+-) Takadagawa. 20 points (-2)
  15. (**) Kataonami. 20 points (+5)
  16. (**) Hakkaku. 20 points (+9)
  17. (**) Takasago. 20 points (+15)
  18. (+1) Isegahama. 18 points (even)
  19. (-4) Oguruma. 16 points (-6)
  20. (-8) Nishonoseki. 15 points (-10)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke. Nishonoseki and Sadogatake both had an even score after Natsu as well as Nagoya, so Nishonoseki grabs 20th position by virtue of Shohozan outranking Kotoshogiku.)

Movers

After a 38 year title drought, Mitakeumi’s sansho-laden yusho-winning tournament gives Dewanoumi-beya the top spot on our chart. Elsewhere, a 100% kachi-koshi rate for Sakaigawa-beya meant Goeido’s stable returned to the top 3. The impressive veteran Myogiryu (along with Sadanoumi) has succeeded so far in his bounceback to the top division to add to the returning Ozeki’s success in the Nagoya basho. As to whether this ageing crew behind the underachieving Ozeki can continue this improvement at the Aki basho, time will tell.

Yutakayama’s jun-yusho performance vaults Tokitsukaze-beya back into the upper echelons of our chart as well. The stable grabs fourth slot in spite of Shodai’s disappointing tournament. Both Shodai and Yutakayama should return to the joi for September’s forthcoming basho, and after a spirited but underwhelming tilt at the level in May, it will be intriguing to see if Yutakayama can ride the wave of his more recent success to greater achievement in the coming weeks.

Finally, a word for Takanohana-beya, whose beleaguered oyakata guided positive results from resurgent tadpole Takakeisho and Juryo-yusho winner Takanoiwa. When faced with a similar promotion push, Takanoiwa’s fellow Juryo man Takagenji stumbled to a 6 win make-koshi, otherwise the former dai-yokozuna turned stablemaster would be sporting 3 rikishi in the makuuchi ranks for Aki. That said, both Takakeisho and Takanoiwa may be well placed for continued improvement, and Takagenji’s twin Takayoshitoshi probably has a 2019 ETA on a hopefully more humble return to the professional ranks after a dominant 6-1 return to competitive sumo in July.

Losers

By far the most disappointing performance for me this time out has to be the stable that couldn’t even crack the chart, despite an astonishing seven sekitori: Kise-beya. The stable has an incredible number of rikishi in the upper tiers of the third, Makushita tier, as well as the Juryo ranks (and fan favorite Ura still to come back from injury), yet none of those rikishi have been able to make consistent progress. Remarkably, all seven members of the stable’s pro ranks fell to make-koshi losing records, so it’s possible that they were hindered rather than helped by not having to fight each other. Most notably, when faced with the possibility of promotion to the top division amidst a stunning late career comeback at Juryo 1, inelegant veteran Akiseyama fluffed his lines, unable to muster a single win until day 8 against a mostly steady stream of grizzled vets. Newcomer Churanoumi-nee-Kizaki meanwhile will return to the unsalaried ranks following a disappointing 5-10 debut at Juryo.

There’s no great shame in Kasugano-beya’s drop from the top 2 ranks after a series of strong chart positions this year, fuelled by the success of shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin. However, we probably wouldn’t have foreseen the man being docked points for going kyujo. Hopefully his return to competition as a kadoban Ozeki consolidates the stable’s position at the peak of our chart, and stablemates Tochiozan and Aoiyama will be fighting at advanced ranks as well next time out, following winning tournaments in Nagoya.

Izutsu-beya meanwhile takes a tumble following sole sekitori and back-to-back yusho winner Yokozuna Kakuryu returning to the place he occupied most of 2017: the kyujo list.

What’s Next

I’m looking for bouncebacks from Kasugano and Sadogatake beya. In the latter’s case, Kotoshogiku has been mostly competitive in the joi, but his kyujo status midway through Nagoya means he will be fighting at a much lower rank in September and if recovered, should be formidable. The stable will also have Kotoyuki also returning to the top flight.

Oitekaze-beya is another stable whose rikishi could be placed for success next time out. The heya features seven sekitori and despite setbacks for Daishomaru and Daieisho in Nagoya, both should be well placed for success. Oitekaze’s fan favorite Endo, meanwhile, should return to the joi and Juryo man Daishoho may well be positioned to compete for his makuuchi promotion.

Heya Power Rankings: Natsu-Nagoya 18

Kakuryu Yusho Parade
The ranking is strong with this ichimon

Yes, it’s that time again, the time when we tabulate all the points and rank the top heya based on their respective sekitori rank and performance in the previous basho. Last time out, Izutsu-beya grabbed the top spot off the back of a long awaited yusho win for Yokozuna Kakuryu. How do the top stables fare this time compared to last time? Onward:

Heya Power Rankings: Natsu-Nagoya 2018

And now that we’ve added a couple more new (but non-sekitori-bearing) stables to the chart, let’s have a look at this in our Top 20 format:

  1. (+-) Izutsu. 95 points (even)
  2. (+4) Kasugano. 90 points (+40)
  3. (-1) Tagonoura. 50 points (-40)
  4. (+4) Miyagino. 50 points (+14)
  5. (-2) Oitekaze. 48 points (-17)
  6. (+1) Kokonoe. 47 points (-1)
  7. (-3) Sakaigawa. 45 points (-15)
  8. (-3) Tomozuna. 32 points (-23)
  9. (+2) Tokitsukaze. 25 points (+5)
  10. (+3) Minato. 25 points (+5)
  11. (+8) Isenoumi. 25 points (+10)
  12. (+8) Nishonoseki. 25 points (+10)
  13. (**) Sadogatake. 25 points (+11)
  14. (-5) Takadagawa. 22 points (+1)
  15. (+2) Oguruma. 22 points (+6)
  16. (**) Takanohana. 21 points (+8)
  17. (-7) Dewanoumi. 20 points (even)
  18. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+20)
  19. (-5) Isegahama. 18 points (-1)
  20. (-8) Kise. 15 points (-5)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, higher position in the previous chart breaks the tie. Shikoroyama and Kataonami also scored 15 points but were lower placed than Kise on the previous chart)

Movers & Losers

We’ll group both sets of upward and downward bound heya together this time. It’s an interesting chart to put into context this month because the absence of so many rikishi at the top of the banzuke meant that several rikishi from heya usually found further down the listing put up better results, grabbed kachi-koshi they otherwise might not have (see: Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, etc), and added more points to their stable’s tally.

So, this creates a situation where a heya like Takadagawa can actually score one more point than last time (via addition of Hakuyozan to Juryo) but slide 5 places overall. Similarly, Dewanoumi put up an equivalent score to last time (our model gives Mitakeumi the same amount of points for a kachi-koshi at Komusubi as a make-koshi at Sekiwake), yet slid 7 places overall. The more cynical among us might say there were 16 more impressive storylines than Mitakeumi eking out his winning record from a position where he looked like he’d throw it away again.

Izutsu-beya holds the top spot with no change in the tally owing to Kakuryu’s repeat yusho, while Kasugano-beya reclaims the second spot after Tochinoshin’s sansho-laden jun-yusho. His promotion means he’ll add more points to the heya’s tally next time as an ozeki, but the overall points tally will be dependent on yusho challenges going forward as he’ll be unable to repeat his special prize wins.

Beyond those two stables there weren’t many remarkable performances among the groups: Kokonoe actually took a step backwards in terms of points in spite of Chiyonokuni’s remarkable sansho-winning exploits, as the four other sekitori in his heya all put up make-koshi en-route to a miserable 23-37 combined record.

In terms of what’s next, the stables to watch with potential to bound up the listings in Nagoya are going to be Tagonoura (who will be forced into action next time with the return of kadoban Takayasu and a potential last stand for Kisenosato) and Kise. Kise-beya receives two promotees from Makushita (Kizenryu and Churanoumi-née-Kizaki) and will have fully 1/4 of Juryo with no fewer than seven rikishi in the division next time out. And potentially making way on the chart could finally and sadly be Isegahama-beya which slips to the penultimate spot this time: perma-injured Aminishiki has been relegated to Juryo, and Homarefuji and Terutsuyoshi will be hovering ominously in danger zone to the Makushita demotion to which former Ozeki Terunofuji has now been condemned.