Aki Reflections – Tadpoles In Stagnant Waters

tadpole Mitakeumi
Takakeisho moments after sitting on his big purple cushion ringside

Tachiai readers know that we have a cohort of sekitori that we refer to as “Tadpoles”. They are all fairly young, and feature a highly bulbous body shape, and a predisposition to primarily oshi-zumo. This group would include Mitakeumi, Takakeisho and Onosho, and the team recognize that they are a force for the future of sumo.

In the days leading up to sumo’s fall tournament, there was a great deal of interest focused on this group. Mitakeumi was on the cusp of meeting the criteria for Ozeki promotion, Takakeisho had returned to San’yaku after his first attempt at Komusubi ended in January’s disastrous 5-10 record, and Onosho had successfully returned to Makuuchi in July after sitting out Osaka for recovery to a damaged knee. With many of the top men of sumo looking questionable in the days before Aki, there was a good chance that we were going to witness tadpoles ascendant.

Instead, the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranged from “fairly genki” to “holy crap”, and fans enjoyed one of the better tournaments in the past two years. To underscore the idea that the Tadpoles represent a piece of the future, both Mitakeumi and Takakeisho managed not just a kachi-koshi, but a respectable 9-6 result. In broader context, Mitakeumi blew his Ozeki bid up in the second week, where he has been known to fade, it’s unknown when he will be able to reassemble enough wins to try again, but we are certain he will. For Takakeisho, his efforts will net him a move from Koumsubi West to East. It should be noted this is only the second time that Takakeisho has held a San’yaku rank, and after only one prior attempt, he was able to hold. The down side being, of course, as a Takanohana deshi, he will face the distractions and swirl around the closing of the Takanohana heya, and transfer to Chiganoura heya. Will it impact him? I would not be surprised.

That leaves us with Onosho, who at Maegashira 6 finished with 4-11. His offense was weak during Aki, and his mobility was poor. Clearly he is not quite healed from his knee surgery, and is struggling to compete effectively now. Under normal conditions, his sumo is at least equal to Takakeisho, but his fans must wonder if the damage to his knee is forever going to limit his ability to compete. Besides his returning to wearing his red mawashi, all of his fans hope that he can get his body healthy and return strong to Kyushu.

Summary – in spite of the sumo death-ray that melted so many, the Tadpoles exited Aki in fairly good condition. Should to top ranks falter for November or January, I am certain that we will see this cohort of rikishi step up and perform well above expectations.

Aki Story 5 – A Challenge For The Tadpoles

sumo-frogs

We already covered the specific challenge for Mitakeumi, and his bid to become the first tadpole to reach Ozeki. There remains the question of the two younger tadpoles: Takakeisho and Onosho. Takakeisho returns to the san’yaku as Komusubi West, while Onosho is just outside of the joi-jin at Maegashira 6.

At only 22 years old, Takakeisho is still on the upward march of his sumo career. His first visit to Komusubi resulted in a 5-10 drubbing that included some important matches. His day one match against Kisenosato was a clear signal of the Yokozuna’s level of damage. It is quite likely we may see a rematch between these two for day 1 of Aki. In the following tournament (March, Osaka 2018) he withdrew from competition with an injury, after started 3-8. Since then he has delivered back to back 10-5 records, and is clearly set to challenge sumo’s top men once more.

While the same age, Onosho started professional sumo 18 months earlier. He spent a good deal of time in Juryo, and at one point dropped back down to Makushita. From there he was driven to higher performance, and landed at Komusubi for Kyushu in 2017, and managed a kachi-koshi after a disastrous 1-6 start. The following tournament in January featured his withdraw from completion on day 10, and remaining out of competition for March as well to heal. His re-entry in May saw him take the Juryo yusho as a pit-stop back to the top division. His 10-5 record in the sweltering heat of Nagoya was only enough to boost him from Maegashira 11 to 6, but frankly for Aki this is a very good rank for him. In the middle of the Maegashira crew, he can and will do a lot of damage to the likes of Asanoyama, Kagayaki, Chiyonokuni and Abi.

Clearly both men are rising stars of the sumo world, and are solid contenders for residency in the san’yaku starting some time in 2019 or 2020. Both of them are very round, very strong and seem to be overwhelmingly driven to train and win. In comparison to some long-serving Makuuchi vets, their youth and energy will likely prove overwhelming. Against their peers (Abi, Kagayaki) their compact body shape and brutal oshi-zumo may seem tough to beat.

The challenge for Takakeisho will be to see him fare better against the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps. The challenge for Onosho will be to see him overwhelm the other rising stars of the Makuuchi. I consider the anticipated Onosho – Yutakayama bout sometime in week 2 as a touchstone of the battles of 2019. Likewise I think the Takakeisho – Hakuho rematch, and the Takakeisho – Kisenosato rematch will be a litmus test of the old guard against the young stars.

We wish both men good health and overall an injury-free Aki basho. We are especially hopeful that we will see Takakeisho make broader use of his “Wave Action Tsuppari” technique, and that Onosho will return his blazing red mawashi to active use.

Aki Story 4 – Ozeki Hopeful Mitakeumi

Mitakeumi Yusho Banner

The Nagoya basho has, over the years, been a place where the unexpected can and does happen. This year witnessed a yusho by Sekiwake Mitakeumi, finishing with a respectable 13-2 record. With his prior tournament performance of 9-6 at Natsu, it was proclaimed that he was pushing for the credentials to be elevated to Ozeki. A successful bid would return us to 3 Yokozuna and 4 Ozeki, last seen in 2016 prior to Kisenosato’s Yokozuna promotion. Many fans have put an asterisk next to Mitakeumi’s July championship, citing just how many of sumo’s top men were injured and either did not compete or were not fighting at full power.

To further complicate matters, Mitakeumi has long been known to perform horribly in test and practice matches in between tournaments. Some commentators have gone as far as to imply that he does not put in the effort required to reach higher rank. His poor showing on practice matches has been especially bad leading up to the Aki basho, some examples:

  • August 30th vs an injured Tochinoshin: 3 – 10
  • August 31st (YDC Soken) against Hakuho, Kakuryu and many others: 1-13
  • September 3rd vs Tochinoshin. Tochiozan and Aoiyama: 6-13
  • September 4th vs Tochinoshin. Tochiozan and Aoiyama: 5-11

To even be considered for Ozeki promotion, Mitakeumi needs at least 11 wins at Aki. Its clear that his practice matches all stink, but this is not necessarily indicative of how he will do during the basho. Much of his fate will be decided by who is healthy enough to compete, it is typical for the Sekiwake to face the Ozeki and Yokozuna (if any) in the second week of the basho. Given the damaged nature of the upper San’yaku, time could be on Mitakeumi’s side. But the psychological advantage of having his portrait hoisted to the rafters of the Kokugikan on Saturday will be undeniable, as will his presence at the start of Sunday’s matches to return the yusho banner and the Emperor’s cup. This may rattle a few of his opponents, or boost his confidence when he needs it most.

One thing is certain, Mitakeumi is going to be pushing for every win he can muster, and we will be watching him with keen interest.

Nagoya 2018 – Tadpoles Rising?

sumo-frogs

Natsu 2018 was a fun ride of a basho, featuring the minting of a new Ozeki, and a long suffering Yokozuna beginning to come into his own.  For our fans, we all noted that one of our favorite groups – the tadpoles – were in rough shape. Both Takakeisho and Onosho had gone kyujo during Osaka and had been tossed unceremoniously down the banzuke. In the case of Onosho, it was all the way to Juryo, landing with a wet, flabby thump.

But as sure as the sun rises, our brave tadpoles came croaking back with gusto.  Onosho blasted his way to a 12-3 Juryo yusho, doing so even without the radiant power of his red mawashi. Takakeisho suffered some early ring-rust, starting the basho 2-5, then he went on to beat all challengers with sumo that improved daily, finishing the tournament with a respectable 10-5 record. Keep in mind, both of these rikishi were coming off of injuries, and may have not been at full tournament power.

Coming into Nagoya, fans should expect the tadpole army, led by Mitakeumi, Takakeisho and Onosho, to be a dominant force for the duration of the basho. Mitakeumi was bypassed by Tochinoshin on his rise to Ozeki, a slot that Mitakeumi has coveted, but the lead tadpole just can’t seem to take the next step up in his sumo. He trains hard, and is dedicated to his craft, but he is somehow just an inch short each time.

Takakeisho finished strong in Tokyo, but his sights are set on the San’yaku again, and he is ready to hunt. Our own forecast banzuke has Takakeisho at Maegashira 4 alongside Kagayaki, just inside the joi. I like this rank for Takakeisho, and I think he is going to play spoiler here. Note to fans, we have not seen him unleash “Wave Action Tsuppari” since January, perhaps due to injury.

We have Onosho at Maegashira 9, where I expect him to be a wrecking ball on the lower end of the banzuke. In fact, it’s possible that he could be counted in contention for the yusho at the end of act 2.  This would be an interesting situation, as many folks lower down the banzuke who seem to be winning a lot have little chance of actually beating a Yokozuna or Ozeki – whereas Onosho has demonstrated his ability to surprise any rikishi on any day.

Nagoya 2018 should be an excellent season for the amphibians, and we will be watching closely as they battle their way through the tournament.

Natsu Senshuraku Comments

Natsu-Macaron

With the final day in the books, we have already covered some of the big news of the day. But before we can consider Natsu complete, there are a few other topics to bring up.

Special Prizes

There was a flurry of special prizes awarded today, in fact more of them than I can remember in recent tournaments.

Shukun-Sho (Outstanding Performance) went to Shohozan, for being the only rikishi to beat the yusho winner, Kakuryu. The prize was dependant on Kakuryu winning the final match. In his sansho interview, you actually get to see Shohozan smile! Nah, it’s still moderately scary.

Kanto-Sho (Fighting Spirit) went off in cluster-bomb fashion to: Tochinoshin, Chiyonokuni and Kyokutaisei. Tochinoshin because he was some kind of European winning machine, Chiyonokuni because he seems to have finally found his sumo at his higher weight, and Kyokutaisei because he went double digits in his first top division basho, and he was a movie star.

Gino-Sho (Technique) went to Tochinoshin, as it seems the NSK want to load him up with sansho before his Ozeki promotion, as a way of saying “Nice work you big bear!”.

Notable Matches

There were also a handful of matches that were worth note

Ishiura executed some actually solid sumo against Juryo visitor Kyokushuho for a win. That win may have saved him from relegation back to the farm division, and we may get to see him occupy the Nishikigi memorial “last slot on the banzuke” position for Nagoya.

Speaking of Nishikigi, he went double digits and handed Asanoyama his make-koshi. For a man who has struggled much the last couple of years, I was impressed to see Nishikigi that genki. I just worry he may get over-promoted.

Takakeisho sounded the call heralding Nagoya’s tadpole march, by racking his 10th win of the basho against Sadanoumi. Takakeisho closed out the basho with 8 continuous wins, after having a very rough start that made his fans worry that he was not going to get his sumo back after going kyujo in Osaka. Never fear, he’s back and he’s ready now it seems. Nagoya will see ur-Tadpole Onosho rejoin the crew, and it’s tadpole sumo once again. Frankly, I can’t wait.

Chiyonokuni put Kagayaki away by controlling the form and pace of the match. With Chiyonokuni hitting 12 wins, he’s going to get a huge promotion for Nagoya, and I am going to guess he is going to suffer much like Natsu of 2017 where he was promoted to the joi, and it took him months to recover. Kagayaki will escape a disastrous promotion velocity and have time to patiently continue to incrementally improve. This guy is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy.

Yoshikaze got a first hand look at Abi-zumo, and shrugged. Abi was all over the place, doing all kinds of things that don’t normally work in sumo. He’s up on his toes, he’s leaning far forward, and his balance is shifting moment to moment. But hey, it got him 7 wins in the joi, and a kinboshi. But honestly the veterans are starting to deconstruct his attacks, and he’s going to be bottled up soon enough. Hopefully he learns some new tricks, because I think he has a lot of potential.

Tamawashi really needed the win he grabbed over Shodai, he scoped by into kachi-koshi territory, and will likely be back in san’yaku for Nagoya. If he can keep his injuries under control, he will have a chance to dislodge the likes of Ichinojo from his transitional Sekiwake rank.

With Natsu done, all of the rikishi have about 60 days to train, seek treatment for injuries, fly off to Europe to see family or just generally carry on with sumo functions. Big events will come next week, as we are expecting to see at least a handful of retirement announcements, announcements of shin-Sekitori coming from Makushita into Juryo, and the announcement of a new Ozeki in the world of sumo. I will write more later about Tochinoshin, as there is much to examine.

But for now, thanks for reading Tachiai, we have had a great time covering the Natsu basho, and we hope you have enjoyed our site.