Can there be an oshi-zuna?

To rehash: at November’s Kyushu Basho, Takakeisho lifted the Emperor’s Cup and picked up with it all of the appropriate speculation over where his career will take him. Will he take advantage of the flux in the upper ranks and follow Tochinoshin to a swift Ozeki promotion? Or will that opportunity fizzle, as we saw from Mitakeumi? It may come down to a question of fighting style.

In the NHK’s English-language preview special, Murray Johnson makes the case that Takakeisho needs to develop his yotsu-zumo in order to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Oshi-zumo is a pushing-thrusting style of sumo while Yotsu sumo is generally known for grappling and heavy use of grips on the opponent’s mawashi, or under the arms.

I had an interesting exchange with Herouth and Leonid about belt-battling versus pusher-thruster-style wrestlers. My contention was that specialization can get a wrestler into the upper echelons of the sport. What I didn’t realize until I dug into the data was just how committed to oshi-zumo Takakeisho is…perhaps to the point of “one-trick pony” status.

Takakeisho kimarite, winning (top) and losing (bottom)

This chart (data from the amazing SumoDB) shows us how Takakeisho has won and lost bouts during his career. His bouts are almost exclusively fought to his style. Not only do his wins come largely from oshidashi, the majority of his losses do, too, with hatakikomi slap-downs. Tsukiotoshi is probably the most “grappling-style” that he uses to win, while his opponents have some success with yorikiri/yoritaoshi, as well.

I’m still in a bit of disbelief that Takakeisho is this allergic to yotsu-sumo. He has won two bouts by yorikiri…only one of those was a makuuchi bout. I had brought up the infamous Kotoshogiku as an example of a successful “one-trick pony,” this time of the yotsu-style. He has been able to reach Ozeki, nearly exclusively using his patented hug-and-chug.

Kotoshogiku kimarite, winning (top) & losing (bottom)

As we can see, nearly all of Kotoshogiku’s bouts are fought in his favored, yotsu-style. Even when he loses, the winner generally wins with yorikiri or with throws. I’ve always been surprised that Kotoshogiku has never developed throwing skills of his own and I think that (and being injury free) could have taken him to Yokozuna, without needing to develop an oshi-style.

The two styles seem to be diametrically opposed, physically, with entirely different muscle development and training needed for each. Kotoshogiku clearly focused on legs. Others who follow that mold are Toshinoshin, Terunofuji and Ichinojo. Large men with massive, powerful legs. Tochinoshin adds another muscle group complementary to that yotsu-style: the trapezius (neck/back/shoulder) muscles and powerful biceps. Arawashi is another yotsu-style wrestler, though he’s not quite as one dimensional. He’s clearly been able to evolve throwing capabilities to make up for his smaller size but he’s not quite as capable of dictating a yotsu-style bout, as the others are, since more of his opponents are able to force an oshi-bout.

We love the dramatic Kaiju-mode of Terunofuji, Giku’s hug-and-chug, and Tochinoshin’s atomic-wedgies. But it comes at a cost. All of these guys put immense strain on their knees and backs. With so many of the top ranked yotsu guys struggling with injuries, I’m not surprised by the sudden surge of the largely oshi-style tadpoles.

Abi is a great example of an oshi-wrestler, hoping to cross-over into yotsu-dom. As Herouth has mentioned in her Jungyo reports, Abi is trying to battle more on the belt but we haven’t seen it much “in prime time”. What shocked me most is that he actually LOSES more to oshidashi than he wins. The big difference seems to be his ability to win by hatakikomi. Perhaps this is why he’s felt the need to diversify a bit more urgently than Takakeisho?

This said, I don’t think we will see Abi successfully shifting any time soon because it is such a dramatic change. In the NHK preview video, Onosho – another oshi tadpole mentioned how his training has changed. And he seems to already have a bit more of a yotsu foundation than Abi. Takakeisho would probably be more like Abi, requiring a drastic shift in weight training and tactics. But he’s also a much more successful oshi-artiste so he may be able to carry on longer and advance further. Tamawashi has been able to remain a sanyaku main-stay with an almost exclusively oshi-style and Takakeisho seems better because he is able (so far) to dictate the style of sumo.

None of the current Yokozuna, however, are oshi-specialists so my question about whether Takakeisho can be one is still not looking good. I had pointed to Harumafuji. As a small(er) champion he bled kinboshi as larger opponents could pick off wins. He had that henka-non-henka-Tazmanian-devil-death-spin thingy that he could resort to…which may have exacerbated those elbow issues?

Anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait-and-see where this goes. But before I close, I want to mention Yago, Gokushindo, and Enho. These guys are interesting to me because they’re 1) successful, 2) young, 3) diversified. Yago and Gokushindo are very interesting as balanced oshi/yotsu guys. While Enho is just totally different, characterized by shitatenage throws.

I hope you enjoy playing with the new visualization. I’ve sure enjoyed building it. Keep in mind this is ACTIVE wrestlers only, for now. I hope to add some of the recently retired soon. Again, a huge thanks to the SumoDB for such amazing data.