Table of Contents
- Setting the Stage
- In Memoriam
- The Banzuke
- New Recruits
- The Action
- Last-minute Kyujo
- Injury Policies and Training
- Mid-Basho Scandal?
- Yusho and Awards
Setting the Stage
In the lead up to the May Basho, the sumo world was rocked by news that a wrestler, Hibikiryu, had died while in hospital. The 28-year-old had been in hospital since suffering a serious spinal injury during the closing days of the March tournament. He died of pulmonary embolism, a blood clot which blocks an artery in the lungs. His injury had been the latest in a series of serious injuries on the dohyo and the delays and missteps in treating his injury has spurred growing calls for change. A training session was provided to elders of the Kyokai, where they learned how to respond to just such an injury.
The Tachiai team, the sumo fan community, and the sumo world mourn his loss and wish to express our condolences to his family and friends. He will be sorely missed. As is the case in any untimely passing, this is sadly how many of us learn of the impact they had on others in life that we only wish we could have shared in. The video below, taken from the movie “SumoDo,” and shared by its director, Sakada Eiji, features Hibikiryu, leading stablemates in a poignant sumo chant. This struck your humble correspondent in the same way videos of Shokkiri do, featuring Shobushi, wishing that I could have known the men better in life. RIP.
In mid-April, several wrestlers tested positive for COVID-19. However, in the days leading up to the tournament, no wrestlers or staff tested positive for the virus so the tournament was able to proceed without any sekitori kyujo. To date, by my count, 99 Kyokai staff have tested positive for the Corona Virus with the vast majority being those in lower ranks. Tamanoi-beya has been the hardest-hit of the known cases but many wrestlers have been impacted at undisclosed stable(s).
Unfortunately, Natsu Basho arrived during a State of Emergency because of the continuing Covid Crisis. Because of the State of Emergency, the first three days of the tournament were held without spectators. Fans were allowed in beginning on Day Four, with a cap on attendance and familiar restrictions on celebrations, distancing, and mandatory wearing of masks. The Natsu Basho would open as another “Silent Basho” but, if all went well, only briefly. As it turned out, the NHK, working with the Kyokai, took the opportunity to introduce the home audience to several new views of the action with more camera angles and a special boom camera.
The Sumo Kyokai released the May Banzuke on April 26th. This list was remarkable for several reasons. First, with the retirement of Kakuryu, it had Hakuho as sole Yokozuna for the first time since Harumafuji’s promotion in 2012. However, Hakuho was not going to join the tournament as he was kyujo because of knee surgery. Second, it includes four Ozeki due to Terunofuji’s stunning comeback, capped off by his yusho in March. With Hakuho out, sumo fandom openly fantasized about Terunofuji continuing his storybook run if he would continue to dominate.
Third, Ryuden, Midorifuji, and Aoiyama were all kyujo from the beginning of the tournament. According to reports, Ryuden’s absence was disciplinary due to contravention of Covid protocols. Midorifuji, on the other hand, and Aoiyama’s kyujo were due to injury. Aoiyama returned, however, mid-basho.
I included a rather unconventional look at the ranking list below in order to highlight the striking rise of several light-weight rikishi. Wakatakakage, Tobizaru, Kiribayama, Hoshoryu, Terutsuyoshi, Midorifuji, and Ishiura have swept into the top division in the past few years and we wonder whether the steadily increasing weight in the top division has reached its peak. Many of these wrestlers will top out in the maegashira ranks but some, notably Wakatakakage, possess the talents to not only crack into sanyaku but possibly achieve reach Ozeki. It is an exciting, transformative phase in the sport’s history as we begin to look past The Hakuho Era. Who comes next?
There were several high-profile recruits in this maezumo class. The ten young men below were joined by Ishizaki Takuma, whose amateur successes earned him entry at Sandanme 100. He excelled at that rank, reaching the playoff with a 7-0 record. Among the maezumo participants were the two sons of former Tokitsukaze-oyakata, Sakamoto Hirokazu (Kiryuko) and Shoma (Shunrai), who joined Tatsunami-beya (back row, second from right and center, respectively). Miyagi Yo (front row, second from right) joins Oguruma-beya from the University powerhouse that is Nitaidai after enjoying success in the lower weight classes. Next to him, in the center, is Mukainakano, a young lad joining Miyagino-beya. I’m eager to see all of these lads suit up in July.
Please enjoy this summarized table of Team Tachiai’s coverage of the action, notably the fantastic previews and highlights provided by Bruce, as well as bonus content from Josh, Herouth, and Leonid. After the table, I will pick up with the narrative.
The biggest story of the tournament was the disclosure that Asanoyama had visited a hostess club, a clear violation of Covid protocols, and he had to withdraw. Punishment was to be discussed and disclosed after the tournament but based on his 7-win record in May, he would be kadoban in July. If the Abi case is an appropriate precedent, he will surely face a lengthy suspension and demotion from the rank of Ozeki.
Yusho and Awards
The Makuuchi yusho was a thrilling contest that came down to the wire on Senshuraku. Terunofuji took the lead early in the basho, on an impressive opening run, remaining undefeated until a controversial hair-pull loss to Myogiryu on Day 11. He bounced back quickly, extending his lead to two-bouts by Day 13. However, on Day 14, he faced a resurgent and inspired Endo, fresh off his own upset of Takakeisho. Endo then claimed his second Ozeki scalp with a nail-biter against the leader. Terunofuji appeared to make the decisive throw but Endo’s flexibility allowed him to maintain contact with the dohyo while executing his own acrobatic attack. Finally, in thrilling fashion, Terunofuji emerged victorious.
Wakatakakage and Endo were awarded the Technique Award, for their success in the Natsu basho. Endo had an outside chance to win the Outstanding Performance Award if he also took home the yusho! He would have had to have defeated Shodai in his regularly scheduled bout, plus gone on to beat Terunofuji AND Takakeisho. Yes, that would have been an unquestioned Outstanding Performance of Hollywood proportions.
While all the attention was on Makuuchi, Ura won the Juryo yusho and has certainly claimed a spot back in the top division. If Terunofuji can keep the story going on his comeback, I’m sure Ura will do the same! Enjoy footage of the yusho-winning bout from the Kyokai’s YouTube Channel.
Amid all the successes in the pro ranks, we have yet ANOTHER comeback story. Abi, from Shikoroyama-beya, won his second consecutive Makushita yusho. The quality of his sumo was clearly beyond even the fierce competition in the Makushita Joi, making quick work of his opponents and likely ensuring his return to sekitori status in July.
Debutant Ishizaki won the Sandanme yusho in the Sanshuraku playoff. The win marks what will surely be a career in the top divisions. If the Tohakuryu and Yutakayama precedent holds, Ishizaki will find himself in Makushita, in the Ms50s, in July. As Abi showed us over the past two tournaments, however, the quality of sumo is quite different at the top and at the bottom of the division. In the next tournament, he may find himself odds-on favorite for the Makushita yusho, but the climb will be tougher in September. There is quite a crop of talent growing in the division. Good luck!
Tachiai is thrilled that Miyagino-beya will be able to celebrate the success of Senho in the Jonidan yusho! While still an active Yokozuna, Hakuho has already begun fostering quite a mighty stable.
There were several promising young recruits in Jonokuchi this tournament. It made for thrilling dinnertime viewing here in the Eastern US. Rather fitting that two stablemates, Fujiseiun and Suguro, AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BANZUKE –18 ranks BELOW Shonanzakura — put together matching 7-0 records. The Fujishima-beya pair faced off under the lights on senshuraku where Fujiseiun claimed the title. Both men will try to follow Senho’s success in Jonidan in July.