2020’s retired rikishi (1/2)

While eagerly waiting for a fun, combattive sumo year 2021, let’s have a look back and pay tribute to the most famous rikishi – some of our readers’ favorite wrestlers – who called it a day in 2020. Some produced unforgettable moments in the past, and deserved an entirely unofficial farewell on our website. Sadly, the list always seems too extended…

Goeido Gotaro

Former ozeki Goeido Gotaro

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: ozeki

Number of yusho (makuuchi): 1

Number of kinboshi : 1

A famous name from sumo retired early on in 2020, following the loss of his ozeki rank in January. Goeido could have benefitted from a chance to bounce straight back in March as an ozekiwake – in front of his home crowd. But Goeido did not believe his body to have enough energy left, and announced his retirement.

It took the Osaka-born rikishi quite some time to reach sumo’s second highest rank (in September 2014), having produced an incredible fourteen basho streak at the rank of sekiwake.

From then, it’s fair to say Goeido has not met expectations. His first tournaments as an ozeki were underwhelming – he got 8-7, 5-10, 8-7, 8-7 and 8-6-1 records. Actually, he got infamously nicknamed one of the kadoban brothers, alongside Kotoshogiku. But more on that later…

Goeido’s career highlight was undoubtedly his stunning zensho yusho in September 2016, which suddenly turned him into a yokozuna candidate. The dream lasted during Kyushu’s first third of the tournament, where Goeido stayed undefeated. Unfortunately, he could not keep momentum, and ended up 9-6.

Goeido had one last surge at the same place, the following year. Spectators were close to watch a nokozuna, where no less than three yokozuna were kyujo, and Harumafuji was struggling at the beginning. However, the yokozuna showed class, and also benefitted from Goeido’s incredible meltdown in order to force a playoff, and give the ozeki no chance.

Arawashi Tsuyoshi

Arawashi Tsuyoshi

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: maegashira 2

Number of yusho (makuuchi) : 0

Number of kinboshi : 3

Poor Arawashi. While watching juryo during the Mongolian’s late career, the first stumbling block was to spot him properly. Indeed, the physical ressemblance with his “twin brother” – who actually isn’t his twin at all -, Chiyoshoma, was truly puzzling.

Then, injuries preventing him from maintaining himself among the salaried ranks. His last basho in juryo ended up in embarrassing fashion, as Arawashi stated, during a pre basho interview, that targeted the yusho, and nothing else. Alas, his weakened body abandoned him. Arawashi started strongly (3-0), but could add just two more wins, end ended up in makushita.

However, it is impossible to turn the 2020 chapter without having a look at Arawashi’s highlights. Following a fine 11-4 performance in Kyushu 2016, the Mongolian rocketed to a career high maegashira 2 the following basho – a rank that seemed too high for the light rikishi. 2017 started horribly with five losses, and then came the unexpected: Arawashi’s first two wins of the tournament, defeating Kakuryu, then Hakuho! I hotly recommend those who haven’t seen that bout against the dai yokozuna to watch Arawashi’s genius at the tachi-ai, some kind of “Harumafuji not henka” paving way to a death spin. Hakuho was left stunned, and so were we all.

Arawashi got no special prize for that feat, as he ended up make koshi. He slowly slided down the banzuke, all the way back to makushita – but not without earning a third and last kinboshi in March 2017, this time against another great wrestler, Harumafuji.

Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan Yuichiro

Age of retirement: 33

Best rank: sekiwake

Number of yusho (makuuchi): 0

Number of kinboshi: 6

Tochiozan was a hugely gifted, yotsu wrestler. The number of kinboshi he earned is impressive, but actually comes as no surprise. Several rikishi’s names immediately spring to mind, when discussions of Hakuho-less alternative reality occur: Kisenosato, of course; Harumafuji, and Kakuryu. But Tochiozan may have enjoyed an even better career – and indeed, ozeki promotion was within reach.

But Tochiozan was a wrestler of missed opportunities. He missed out on a golden chance to win a yusho in May 2012 – he cracked under pressure and let Kyokutenho lift the Cup instead.

If Tochiozan was a giant killer, giants also liked to defeat him – Harumafuji litterally bullied Tochiozan on his birthday, at the Haru basho in 2015! During his late career, Tochiozan had no less than comical bouts against Hakuho, where he seemed certain to get a seventh kinboshi, before losing in ridiculous fashion. Only Tochiozan had the secret of such losses… Without doubt, the Kochi-ken born rikishi has left the dohyo with many unanswered questions.

Wakaichiro Ken

Wakaichiro Ken

Age of retirement: 21

Best rank: sandanme 32

Having the privilege to watch a wrestler from Texas is a rare thing. Previously, American sumo fans had been able to watch another local hero, but for a very short period only – Brodik Henderson, known as Homarenishiki on the dohyo, retired under mysterious conditions, amid intimidation fears, in 2016, one year after his sumo debut.

Wakaichiro, in real life Ichiro Kendrick Young, lasted longer. He entered mae zumo in November 2016, and struggled to stay in sandanme during the first years. Results improved in 2019, and Wakaichiro actually retired early in 2020, after a series of kashi koshi that would have enabled him to slowly set his sights in makushita, being ranked sandanme 32.

Unfortunately, a series of chronic injuries prevented him to realistically target a place in the salaried ranks. Of course, one can reasonably wonder what lower ranked rikishi can get by staying down the banzuke – you don’t get paid before reaching juryo.

Earlier this year, Bruce dedicated a great article paying tribute to Mr Young.

Les lutteurs retraités en 2020 (1/2)

Tandis que nous attendons impatiemment l’arrivée d’une année 2021 combattive chez les sumos, il paraît opportun de rendre un hommage aux lutteurs – certains faisant parti des préférés de notre communauté de lecteurs – ayant pris leur retraite en 2020. Nous avons eu droit à des moments inoubliables par le passé, et ces lutteurs méritent des adieux tout à fait inofficiels sur notre site. Dans ce genre de circonstances, la liste paraît malheureusement toujours trop longue…

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And the best basho of the 2010 decade is…

Admittedly, this article could have taken place at the end of last year. But slowly putting myself in the mood for the final basho of the year, I was thinking of past great sumo moments, and wanted to switch from an internal monologue to a broader discussion with you guys, sumo fans.

So my question is: in your opinion, which basho of the past decade would you consider as “the best” ?

Before we start, I’d like to point out the fact that this article will be purely subjective, and does not aim to be scientific or exact. I myself haven’t seen several basho from the beginning of the 2010 decade, so it’s likely I missed some great moments along the way!

I’d like to thank once again Jason Harris for his awesome coverage during the past decades, and his videos I took the liberty to upload here.

The favorites

1. Natsu basho 2012

Had this basho taken place somewhere between 2018 and 2020, the final outcome would not have appeared that weird. But back in 2012, that basho was truly an anomaly.

Seeing an under-par Hakuho losing to Aminishiki on shonishi quickly made it clear the yusho would be up for grabs.

The eventual winner, Kyokutenho, started indifferently, with a 2-3 record after five days, whereas the ozeki were largely disappointing. All, except one: Kisenosato, who had a comfortable two win lead after ten days. But Kisenosato being Kisenosato (and Tochiozan being Tochiozan)…

To sum up this basho, I could of course have selected the playoff, but Kisenosato’s final bout, against Baruto, impressed me quite a lot. The Estonian’s stubborn resistance at the edge, even though nothing was at stake for him at this point, is stunning. Kisenosato’s inability to finish the big guy off is all the more painful.

May 2012, day 15: Kisenosato v Baruto

2. Osaka 2017

Definitely one of the blockbusters of the 2010 decade. The Osaka basho 2017 is the tale of three men, one yokozuna, one ozeki and one sekiwake. Two months ago, all three were ozeki. Kisenosato got promoted to yokozuna, Kotoshogiku could not save his ozeki rank, whereas Terunofuji entered the basho being sadly kadoban yet again. And all three entered the dohyo in fine form.

The shin-yokozuna pleased a delighted crowd, day after day, winning the first twelwe bouts. Terunofuji’s knees seemed to finally let him produce his A-game, having lost just once in the process. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku grabbed eight wins, and has to win the last two in order to complete what an ozekiwake wants to do: getting his ten, and reaching sumo’s highest rank again.

The rest is already part of the legend: an injury ending career, an infamous henka, a forgettable showing up on day 14, and a playoff of the crippled.

This time, I definitely chose to show the playoff, and not to bring further images of that Kotoshogiku – Terunofuji bout.

Osaka 2017, playoff: Kisenosato v Terunofuji

3. Hatsu basho 2019

My personal favorite, and the perfect definition of sumo chaos.

I can’t help but introducing that event with the usual pre-basho “bold prediction” thread from Grand Sumo Breakdown. Feeling that the upper ranks were far from their best, I predicted a total of no more than 30 wins, for all ozeki and yokozuna combined – that included Goeido, Takayasu, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato, so an average of five wins per rikishi! Jason thought I was losing it; I held on my prediction. How many wins did those six eventually get? 30.

Back to chaos. First of all, this was Kisenosato’s last basho. After an encouraging 10-5 in September of last year, the injured yokozuna could not grab one single win in November or in January, and had to call it a day.

Kakuryu and Tochinoshin also did not end the tournament – with two wins for the yokozuna, zero for the ozeki. Goeido and Takayasu got their kachi koshi, but varely more (9-6 for both).

What about Hakuho? During the first days, he miraculously saved himself from seemingly hopeless situations – not without a bit of help of Tochiozan, who self destructed once again. Hakuho’s desperate fight against Hokutofuji was a particular highlight. He snatched the win, but injured his knee in the process, as we were to know several days after.

After the first days scares, the dai yokozuna seemed as good as ever – Herouth advised his stable to book a fish in advance, as Hakuho entered the last third of the basho with a two win cushion. From there, the yokozuna’s knee could not stand the effort anymore, and the basho ended up – of course – with a surprise winner.

I enjoyed Takakeisho’s win over Hakuho :

January 2019, day 13: Hakuho v Takakeisho

The outsiders

There were, of course, many more delightful sumo moments to enjoy during that decade. I remember Kisenosato’s fine effort on his quest for his first yusho, in May 2013, where he won the first thirteen bouts before succumbing to Hakuho and ending the basho 13-2.

Kotoshogiku’s unstoppable gaburi was fun, back in January 2016. After getting his kashi koshi as soon as on day eight, things became serious when he defeated Kakuryu, then showing Hakuho and Harumafuji who the boss is. His 14-1 yusho was stunning; perhaps even more than Goeido’s zensho yusho in September 2016, where  Hakuho was kyujo.

January 2016, day 11: Hakuho v Kotoshogiku

The Aki basho 2017 was symbolic in more than one way. The basho almost became a no-kozuna, as the only remaining yokozuna, Harumafuji, was seriously struggling with his elbow (how many no-kozuna have we witnessed since ?). It was also the Mongolian’s final yusho, before his sudden retirement a few weeks after. That basho was yet another anomaly – the last rikishi to win a yusho having sustained four losses was Musashimaru, in 1996.

Goeido’s meltdown was truly shocking – he had a three lead cushion to Harumafuji at some point. All in all, this basho’s scenario was really entertaining, much to Jason’s delight. 

Aki basho 2017, playoff: Goeido v Harumafuji

Jason would surely single out the Aki basho 2012, too. It saw Harumafuji’s second zensho yusho in a row, which prompted a fully deserved yokozuna promotion. On the other hand, Herouth might stress out Kakuryu’s yokozuna promotion, which took place in March 2014.

Aki basho 2012, playoff: Hakuho v Harumafuji

I would finally recall 2019’s Aki basho¸ which was really fun too, with many yusho contenders, and an enjoyable sekiwake duel between Takakeisho and Mitakeumi.

The Aki basho has definitely been entertaining during the past years. Would you pick one of the previous editions as your last decade’s favorite basho?

Asanoyama succeeded where others faltered

Upper san’yaku ranks desperately needed a new face, as the presence of just one ozeki required one of the two ageing yokozuna to be recorded as “yokozuna – ozeki” – but how long are Hakuho and Kakuryu last in the sport?

There was a certain amount of expectation surrounding Asanoyama’s ozeki quest, and a lot of pressure – inherent, of course, in such a run.

Other very talented rikishi, unfortunately, failed to meet ozeki standards as they were approaching sumo’s second top rank. Let’s look back at the past decade.

  1. Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan is certainly a name that springs to mind, as he was dubbed one of the “seven samurai”, alongside with Goeido, Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, Homasho, Tonoyoshima and Toyohibiki.

Looking as far back as 2010, he could show the extend of his skills. A 9-6 record as maegashira 1, produced during the Nagoya basho, wasn’t really mind blowing, but enough to open some possibilities – he defeated then ozeki Harumafuji and Baruto in the process.

In September, a strong 11-4 ranked sekiwake proved that Tochiozan’s ozeki run was very much on. This time, ozeki Kaio, Kotooshu and Harumafuji were his victims. With twenty wins amassed, and five ozeki wins over both tournaments, Tochiozan definitely had a shot at the ozeki rank, provided he could finish even better at 12-3. Or, worseways, just produce double digits and try his luck again the next tournament.

It started reasonably well in Fukuoka, Tochiozan being 4-1 after the first third of the tournament. Incredibly, the sekiwake lost seven bouts in a row – including everyone ranked above him, and noticeable names like Kisenosato or Aminishiki – to end up the basho with a make kochi (7-8). He could stay in san’yaku right after, but his quest was over.

Arguably, that was Tochiozan’s best spot, and perhaps most natural attempt to reach ozeki rank. Before we could see him performing well in san’yaku again, two other “samurai”, Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato, had long been promoted above him. Apart from seeing his great rivals wrestling well, he had to swallow another big disappointment, too: losing to a playoff to surprise winner Kyokutenho, during the famous May 2012 tournament.

A talented rikishi: Tochiozan Yuichiro

Tochiozan did fare well as a sekiwake – jumping forward to 2014, where he produced 9-6 and 10-5 performances in March and May, defeating Kotoshogiku (twice) and Harumafuji along the way. Sadly, he went kyujo in Nagoya, after getting a precarious 2-5 record. He had a final noticeable stint as a sekiwake, where he stayed during four basho between 2015 and 2016 – he produced double digits one single time. After a 7-8 make kochi, he never reched that rank again.

2. Myogiryu Yasunari

Myogiryu used to produce great sumo; even if he wasn’t really on an ozeki run, I enjoyed watching him on the dohyo, and some fine performances are definitely worth mentioning.

A skilled man: Myogiryu Yasunari

One of his best runs came as early as 2012, where he received the gino sho (the technique prize) three times in a row. For his san’yaku debut in Nagoya, Myogiryu went kachi koshi (8-7) while defeating ozeki Kakuryu and Baruto, to secure a spot as a sekiwake. Remarkably, he produced double digits (10-5) as a shin sekiwake, defeating Kakuryu again. Unfortunately, he couldn’t raise his level further up, ending the next tournament 6-9 to end up an early dream.

3. Mitakeumi Hisashi

It is simply impossible not to mention Mitakeumi’s case. Of the modern era, he’s the only rikishi, alongside Kotonoshiki, to have won the yusho more than once without ending up promoted to ozeki. In fact, it looks a bit awkward to rank a double yusho winner down the maegashira ranks.

Mitakeumi is a hugely talented boy. He started his career doing ochi zumo, before – unlike Takakeisho – successfully switching to yotsu zumo.

He entered makuuchi at the end of 2015, and produced three double digits records as early as 2016. He began an incredible run in san’yaku after a fine 11-4 performance in January 2017, where he earned two kinboshi. He finally left san’yaku, after seventeen (!) tournaments of uninterrupted presence. In comparison, Goeido’s run – which did not see a single demotion from sekiwake to komusubi – lasted fourteen tournaments, before reaching… ozeki status.

Obviously, Mitakeumi missed two golden opportunities to reach the desired ozeki rank, after each of his two yusho.

Looking back at 2018, Mitakeumi produced a respectable 9-6 record in May, without defeating any ozeki or yokozuna. However, his first yusho, obtained right after in Nagoya, following a career best 13-2 record (including a win against Goeido) meant another fine performance in September would be enough to climb one more step on the banzuke.

Mitakeumi started the Aki basho 5-0 while defeating Tochinoshin. He got some quality wins, he got an impressive san’yaku streak, he almost got the numbers – what could go wrong? After a reasonable loss to Goeido on day 6, Mitakeumi bounced back, defeating then komusubi Takakeisho to move up 6-1.

Did pressure prove too heavy for his shoulders? Mitakeumi litterally crumbled, losing in succession to Ikioi, Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kaisei and Kisenosato (yes, that make or break basho where Kisenosato came from nowhere). Scratch these unnecessary losses to both maegashira, send a 8-3 Mitakeumi against an obivously not 100% fit Kisenosato, and get him a 9-3 record. He’s almost there!

Two time yusho winner, and maegashira in January 2020: Mitakeumi Hisashi (left)

Obviously, things – could have, but – didn’t happen that way, and his five defeat streak did not impress any one. Ozeki run over.

Story kind of repeated one year later. After a respectable, albeit a bit slack 9-6 performance in Nagoya, Mitakeumi clinched his second yusho in a playoff, after having amassed twelwe wins. He defeated ozeki Tochinoshin and Goeido, although nobody was impressed by the henka produced on the latter.

In Fukuoka, nobody was talking about ozeki run any more, after four losses over the first six days. Just like Tochiozan, Mitakeumi’s first attempt to reach ozeki rank was arguably the most serious. Can he prove us wrong in the coming months?

4. Tamawashi Ichiro

Tamawashi has been around for quite some time. After a somewhat indifferent career – with a few juryo drops, the Mongolian has had a great later career.

2017 has been remarkable for him, spending almost the entire year in san’yaku (he ended up as maegashira 1 in Fukuoka). Tamawashi produced 9, 8, 10, and 7 wins as a sekiwake. Pretty decent, but not enough for a clear ozeki run.

That quest came after his stunning yusho, won in January of 2019. Tamawashi has beaten, along the way, everybody ranked above him who showed up on his path: Tochinoshin, Takayasu, Goeido and Hakuho!

Irresistible in Hatsu 2019: Tamawashi Ichiro

Prior to that, Tamawashi had a reasonable 9-6 tournament in Kyushu, where he defeated Tochinoshin (and won by default against Kisenosato). Twenty one wins amassed and a yusho in his belt meant Tamawashi needed a strong performance in Osaka to reach, in incredible fashion, the rank of ozeki.

The dream did not last long, however. After a win on shonichi, three defeats in a row burried Tamawashi’s late hopes of success.