Who, exactly, is the old guard ?

So, the 2020 Haru basho went through all coronavirus fears, and, fortunately, could go all the way and without incident.

It certainly has been a pretty unusual basho, with no spectators admitted. However, some recurring themes went on appearing; among them, the continuous rise – and, on several occasions, disappointment brought by the new generation of rikishi.

Thirteen’s day musubi no ichiban, which saw Hakuho facing Asanoyama, could have been subtitled as: “Who is going to take the lead of this basho? Young talent Asanoyama, or old guard leader, dai yokozuna Hakuho?”

If it’s not too hard remembering when our youngsters made their makuuchi debuts (guessing the correct year, at least), who, exactly, constitutes the “old guard”?

Let’s divide this topic into two questions:

1. Who made the oldest makuuchi appearance?

2. Who has the longest uninterrupted makuuchi appearance from today?

First of all, let’s spoil things a bit, as the podium can already be determined. Three names spring to mind: both yokozuna, obviously, and former ozeki Kotoshogiku, now 36, who has stayed in makuuchi after his demotion.

Both yokozuna have stayed in makuuchi right from their first appearance (May 2004 for Hakuho, November 2016), whereas Kotoshogiku made one last stint in juryo before establishing himself in makuuchi on the long run (first appearance in January 2005, continuously in makuuchi since May of the same year).

36 and kicking : Kotoshogiku Kazuhiro (left)

So, who are the best of the rest ?

1. Who made the oldest makuuchi appearance?

Several names come to mind but it’s no surprise one of the “seven samurai”, Tochiozan, holds the oldest appearance, back in March 2007! He stayed in makuuchi the whole time since his unfortunate demotion by the end of 2019, which makes an impressive 12 years stint.

An impressive twelve year stint in makuuchi: Tochiozan Yuichiro

His career highlight? The nervous playoff he lost to Kyokutenho, in May 2012.

Tochinoshin is known for his famous comeback from makushita to makuuchi in 2013-2014, after having sustained a serious knee injury. What is less known is that he already had five years in makuuchi behind him, his debut being back in May 2008.

His career highlight? His promotion to ozeki after, notably, clinching the January 2018 yusho.

The year 2008 also saw the first appearance of Tamawashi. He took the lift down to juryo five times – never for more than one basho – from 2008 to 2013, before establishing himself for good.

January 2019’s surprise winner: Tamawashi Ichiro (right)

His career highlight? A nice run at sekiwake, which saw him clinching the January 2019 tournament.

Okinoumi got promoted to makuuchi in March 2010, and after a short period back to juryo, has fought in makuuchi with no exception since the end of that year.

His career highlight? Three runner up performances, and no less than four gold stars (three wins against Harumafuji, one win against Kakuryu).

However, the main core of the old guard belongs to the “2011 promotion”. Let’s pay tribute to these brave fighters. Under brackets, their age and numbers of jun yusho: Kaisei (33 y.o./2 jun yusho), Takayasu (30/4), Takarafuji (33/1), Aoiyama (33/1), Shohozan (36/1) and Myogiryu (33/0).

All of them have reached san’yaku: Takayasu got promoted to ozeki, Shohozan had a career best as komosubi, all the others went as high as sekiwake.

Let’s finally point out Ikioi, who began a makuuchi career in March 2012.

To sum up:

RikishiOldest makuuchi appearance
Hakuho ShoMay 2004
Kotoshogiku KazuhiroJanuary 2005
Kakuryu RikisaburoNovember 2006
Tochiozan YuichiroMarch 2007
Tochinoshin TsuyoshiMay 2008
Tamawashi IchiroSeptember 2008
Okinoumi AyumiMarch 2010
Kaisei IchiroMay 2011
Takayasu AkiraJuly 2011
Takarafuji DaisukeJuly 2011
Aoiyama KosukeNovember 2011
Shohozan YuyaNovember 2011
Myorigyu YasunariNovember 2011
Ikioi ShotaMarch 2012

2. Who has the longest uninterrupted makuuchi appearance from today?

Continuously fighting in makuuchi on the long run is no easy task, as we shall see. We may (and we should) all applause Kotoshogiku for his incredible longevity, as well as we can praise Okinoumi for being around since November 2010, and Takayasu for having not being demoted a single time to juryo, since his first makuuchi appearance in July 2011!

Present since 2010: Okinoumi Ayumi

Several rikishi have unfortunately suffered demotion since their debut, but do hang to makuuchi for quite some time: Tamawashi (present since July 2013), Takarafuji (since July 2013), Tochinoshin (since November 2014), Shohozan (demoted during the year 2015, present since November 2015).

Some of the courageous warriors have unfortunately suffered demotion lately. Myogiryu and Aoiyama came back to makuuchi in March 2018, whereas Ikioi, Tochiozan and Kaisei all stormed back in January 2020.

So, who complete our table? Incredibly, the “new guard”! Shohozan brought Mitakeumi with him, in November 2015. We witnessed, shortly after, Shodai (January 2016), Endo (May 2016) and Kagayaki’s (July 2016) rise.

Finally setting his sights on ozeki promotion? Mitakeumi Hisashi
RikishiStayed in makuuchi since
Hakuho ShoMay 2004
Kotoshogiku KazuhiroMay 2005
Kakuryu RikisaburoNovember 2006
Okinoumi AyumiNovember 2010
Takayasu AkiraJuly 2011
Tamawashi IchiroJuly 2013
Takarafuji DaisukeJanuary 2013
Tochinoshin TsuyoshiNovember 2014
Shohozan YuyaNovember 2015
Mitakeumi HisashiNovember 2015
Shodai NaoyaJanuary 2016
Endo ShotaMay 2016
Kagayaki TaishiJuly 2016
Myogiryu YasunariMarch 2018
Aoiyama KosukeMarch 2018
Ikioi ShotaJanuary 2020
Tochiozan YuichiroJanuary 2020
Kaisei IchiroJanuary 2020

So what’s the conclusion? Some of the old guard is having a rough time, with Shohozan, Tochiozan or Myogiryu having suffering big make kochi in Osaka, not even mentioning Takayasu’s worrying state.

At the same time, the clock is ticking for the young hopes to shine…

Sumo debates for 2020 – 1/3

Right after having enjoyed the countdown to the new decade, we’re already about to begin another countdown, till the first honbasho of the year.

Amongst New Year’s traditions, rikishi reveal on television their wishes and expectations for the coming year.

This article may be the occasion for us to discuss specific issues, which may become critical in 2020 or which are already razor sharp.

I’ll give my personal opinion on the matters but everyone should feel free to fuel some awesome debates !

1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

Probably the hottest topic currently. Takayasu’s been around for a while – he entered maku’uchi in 2011, and hasn’t had a very long ozeki career – about two years and a half.

Takayasu’s rise was no fluke however, as he produced some great performances, earning kinboshi twice in 2013 and twice in 2014. The Ibaraki-born has a first ozeki run in 2016, but a disappointing 7-8 record in Kyushu wasted fine 11-4 and 10-5 performances.

He returned stronger next year, though, and reached the second highest rank after 11-4, 12-3 and 11-4 performances early in 2017.

Takayasu’s quest for glory undoubtly reached its peak in 2018. Aged 28, he ended up runner up thrice. He narrowly missed a spot in a playoff in the last honbasho of that year.

Last year was much more difficult for him. Before sustaining a serious injury in Nagoya, he produced indifferent 9-6, 10-5 and 9-6 performances. He failed to recover properly from his arm injury, and will start 2020 as an “ozekiwake”.

His repeated training sessions with retired yokozuna Kisenosato – now Araiso oyakata – and new tachi-ai strategy have been criticized among Twitter followers.

In trouble : former ozeki Takayasu

Takayasu has to think his tale isn’t over at the top, as he never lifted the Emperor’s Cup. Turning 30 in February, with an irreversible injury to his arm, will he produce the necessary ten wins to regain his ozeki rank ? If he does, can he maintain his performances during 2020 ?

My prediction : no

2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

A tricky question. It seems Goeido has been hanging around forever – he produced a noticed 11-4 performance for his maku’uchi debut, back in 2007. He had short stints in san’yaku but spent several years in the maegashira ranks.

The Osaka-native famously began an impressive run at sekiwake in May of 2012, which lasted fourteen tournaments until ozeki promotion after a fine 12-3 performance in Nagoya 2014. His inability to consistently produce strong performances raised doubts about his promotion quest. He got promoted a bit below the common 33 wins standards, with an indifferent 8-7 performance between two 12-3 results.

Goeido has been kadoban nine times (this year’s first tournament included), finished seven tournaments with just eight wins, and followers expected Goeido to produce an anonymous ozeki career.

Being kadoban, Goeido upset the odds during the Aki basho of 2016, winning his only yusho so far with a perfect 15-0 record. Suddenly a yokozuna candidate, he notched just nine wins the following tournament.

Exactly one year after, Goeido wasted a golden opportunity to lift the Emperor’s Cup during the Aki basho again, letting Harumafuji fill a three win deficit before defeating him in the ensuing playoff.

Holding his rank since 2014 : ozeki Goeido

Years 2018 and 2019 were solid albeit unspectacular from Goeido. However, he had to pull out of two of the last three tournaments through injury. Entering 2020 kadoban, aged 33, will Goeido suffer from the weight of the years ? Or will he regain full fitness and enjoy a Kaio-like ozeki career, until the age of 39 ?

My prediction : no

3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?

All eyes are watching Asanoyama since he unexpectedly won the May 2019 tournament. After a honourable 7-8 record as then highest ranked maegashira 1, he ended up the year strongly, with 10-5 and 11-4 records. He’ll make his sekiwake debut in 2020.

Officially, Asanoyama is not on an ozeki run – his two last ranks were maegashira 2 and komosubi ; he might also regret not having collected one or two more feasable wins in Kyusho.

Sumo’s next big hope ? Asanoyama Hideki

Nevertheless, Asanoyama’s quest is likely to be eased by the need for new blood at the ozeki ranks – Tochinoshin has been demoted, Takayasu is an uncertain ozekiwake for January, while Takakeisho and Goeido’s recent injury records are no cause for optimism.

Can Asanoyama be promoted as early as March after a tremendous yusho in January ? Or will he simply consolidate his performances, and reach the second highest rank this year ? Or will he fail to meet expactations, as Mitakeumi did so far ?

My prediction : yes

4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?

Note : that question does not include Takayasu or Asanoyama.

Abi seems more of a candidate than Mitakeumi, who disappointed again, after clinching his second yusho. Well he get another shot ?

Abi is on the rise, with 8-7, 9-6 and 9-6 records in san’yaku. Can he move up even higher ? His utter aversion for yotsu zumo might prove a stumblingblock, however.

Other candidates would be more original, but also wake up fans from all over the world ! Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Hokutofuji fans and others are welcomed !

 My prediction : no

5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?

This is a delicate question. Hakuho’s immediate target has long been identified: lasting at least until the Olympics. With his wish about to be granted, the obvious question is: what next ? Hakuho is on the top of almost every record – but is not the oldest rikishi having won a yusho: Kyokutenho achieved that feat, aged 37 years and 8 months.

He also said during the post-basho interview in November that he targeted 50 yushos – he currently has 43.

Many questions remain open: was he serious ? Is that goal actually realistic, given the general state of the field ? Will the ageing yokozuna (he’ll turn 35 in March) manage to hold his form ? Will he stay motivated ?

On a positive note, 2019 has been better for Hakuho than 2018, where he fully competed in just two tournaments. The past year, he competed in “three and a half” tournaments (he pulled out right at the end of the January basho), and won two of them.

Both yokozuna : Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

About the opposite can be said about Kakuryu’s recent form. After a bright start in 2018, with 11-4, 13-2 and 14-1 records, he had to pull out of part or all of five tournaments. His win in Nagoya of 2019 gave him some respite. Turning 35 in August of this year, will he be able to compete during the whole year ?

My prediction: it’s difficult to answer. Hakuho might decide to retire and Kakuryu to thrive during 2020. But the opposite might also be true, with Hakuho clinching a few more yushos and Kakuryu being unable to challenge properly for the Cup. There’s a chance of seeing one yokozuna retiring and one yokozuna remaining.

Jungyo Update: Takayasu Kyujo, Takakeisho to “Participate” from Oct. 16

As Herouth noted on Twitter, Takayasu will be kyujo from the upcoming Aki Jungyo. Hopefully this was a reassessment of his injury and not a training setback.

To update our earlier report about Takakeisho’s kyujo, Herouth also tweeted news that the re-Ozeki will participate in the latter half of Jungyo, starting with the Hamamatsu event on October 16.

Short Jungyo News – Days 3,4

Day 3 took place at Kusatsu, Shiga prefecture. Day 4 took place at Echizen, Fukui prefecture. Here are some of the things that happened, on and off the Jungyo.

Injuries

Yeah, we couldn’t do without those, could we? Takanosho, a.k.a Onigiri-kun, injured his right knee during practice, and left for Tokyo, joining his two heya mates who are already kyujo, Takakeisho and Takagenji. The only Chiganoura sekitori to stay in the Jungyo is Takanofuji, the evil twin. I hope it’s not one of those career-shattering injuries.

And Ryuko, who was having a streak of bad luck ever since he had the privilege of being Aminishiki’s last opponent, also made his way to Tokyo with an injury. It’s not clear whether it’s a new injury or a lingering one from the basho.

Meanwhile, we are informed that neither Takakeisho nor Takayasu will be joining this Jungyo at all. Chiganoura oyakata says Takakeisho’s state is improving every day, but still, he is not practicing at the moment, taking treatments and rehab with a specialized trainer. He will apparently not be in until banzuke day, and then, says Chiganoura oyakata “We’ll see if he can wrestle sekitori”.

As for Takayasu… you can see for yourself. Torn ligament, arm in a cast. He is not supposed to be in the keiko-ba (practice ground) at all, but he is, though apparently, mostly moving a bit and bossing the youngsters around. I’m more worried about him, with his heya’s history of… Kisenosato… than I am about Takakeisho, though.

Chiyonofuji’s Death Anniversary

Three years ago today (July 31), former Great Yokozuna Chiyonofuji, AKA “The Wolf”, died age 61. Members of Kokonoe beya participating in the Jungyo, including tokoyama Tokotake (I hope I got that right) and Gyoji Konosuke, held a moment of silence in his memory:

Mitakeumi declares an Ozeki run

OK, enough sad news. Yesterday, Mitakeumi had his first on-dohyo practice.

On that occasion, he told the press he was very dissatisfied with his result in Nagoya – a mere 9 wins – and declared he was aiming for double figures and the possible start of an Ozeki run in Aki. “I keep telling myself I am the next Ozeki”. So far he is mostly getting reverse butsukari – yesterday he was pushing TV star Tochiozan, today Abi. His moshi-ai results are not exactly Ozeki-level. He had 5 bouts with Tamawashi, Ryuden et al., won 2 and lost 3. But the Jungyo is still young.

Kawaigari du jour

Yesterday Hakuho rested his inner khan, giving nobody kawaigari. But today, he was back. He told Kizakiumi he might go with him, getting a nervous laugh, but eventually decided to break the shin-Juryo pattern, and go with Tomokaze. That was a 7 minutes ordeal, as befits someone who is much more likely to actually meet Hakuho on the dohyo some time soon.

Yes, white-haired guy on the other side of the dohyo, Hakuho is actually tripping his victim as he is trying to push. Kawaigari is great fun!

As for Kizakiumi, Hakuho said “Well, the Jungyo has just begun!”

Merchandising, merchandising!

Kototsurugi (the official sumo illustrator, a former rikishi) created a design for a new line of Enho products, and had Enho promoting it for him:

Enho is depicted as Issun-Boshi in this design. Issun-Boshi, the tiny hero who leaves his parents’ house to sail the seas in a rice bowl with a chopstick for an oar, is the Japanese equivalent of Tom Thumb.

Of course, somebody else would need to empty that rice bowl for him, though, because Enho himself is famous for his dislike for cooked white rice.

I predict this line of merchandise (I have seen this shirt and a lunch bag so far) will be scooped off the shelves as soon as it hits them. Enho is the hottest thing in Sumodom at the moment.