The second summer sumo shindig recently finished up in Nagoya and it was a highly enjoyable affair. There was a lot of good daily commentary and prognostication over at Tachiai, where I spilled most of my fan-thoughts in the comments section. Over here at my humble blog, I thought I’d just hit some highlights.
The main story out of Nagoya: mighty Hakuho added to his incredible legend by handily seizing the yusho (tournament victory). In the process he nearly went undefeated for a second basho in a row, with a late blemish to a rising star in Mitakeumi. More significantly, he broke the all-time wins record of 1047 held by Kaio. From here on out, every win just puts that record further and further out of reach. He’s been yokozuna for 10 years and, the way he looks right now, might have at least another 15-20 basho in him. Pretty much every record is already his, but he could still take the “most basho as a yokozuna” if he competes another two years.
The second big story of the fortnight: injuries, injuries, injuries. Hakuho’s march to 1047 went relatively unimpeded because a slew of top rikishi withdrew. Injuries are an inevitable part of this combat sport, but it’s always disappointing to see the competition thin out when it strikes at the heart of the lineup. We want to see our legend challenged along the way, at least! At least two of the injured are facing possible end-of-career situations. Consider it the forest fire that clears dead wood for new trees to grow. Speaking of dead wood, a moment of silence for Kotoshogiku, the beloved former ozeki, who will drop out of the san’yaku ranks for the first time in basically forever. The end is upon you, my friend.
The counterbalancing good news is that lower-ranked fighters got to wrestle “up,” facing higher-ranked opposition than they normally would. A lot of these fights were exciting, there were upsets along the way, and the new wave of rikishi got a little seasoning. There are a terrific number of rising stars to follow and enjoy: Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji, Onosho, Ura, and, though he had a miserable basho fighting at his highest rank ever, Takakeisho. Part of the ebb and flow of a sumo career is taking lumps upon rising to the next level of competition. Mitakeumi has been through a lot of that fire and is standing just outside the door to ozeki, but the other guys got their first taste of the next level. Assuming it does not destroy their confidence, these guys should all see a big improvement in their sumo.
The shock of the basho was Aoiyama, who took the jun-yusho (second place finish) despite being a mere mortal wrestling “at the top of the bottom of the bracket.” Partially because of the injury bug and partially because of some curious scheduling choices, the White Mountain (that’s what his shikona, or ring name, means) only faced one upper level fighter, and only on the last day. Against the lesser wrestlers he just cleaned house.
Normally Aoiyama is no threat–he’s a stereotypical “huge fat man” wrestler who wins against lesser opponents with his size but hasn’t the strength or skill, especially in his base and footwork, to defeat anyone of note. In this basho he really put together some very decent sumo–almost never off-balance, always patient, inexorable. The mighty Bulgarian had a shot at a playoff match against Hakuho, but the legend took care of business on the last day and did not allow the White Mountain to catch up. I was rooting for a playoff, even though there is no way he could have defeated Hakuho.
That was Nagoya from 30,000 feet. Now we patiently wait for two months until the start of the Aki basho in September. Here’s a parting video of Aoiyama just so you can get a sense of how enormous he is. His final-day opponent, Yoshikaze, weighs over 300 lbs.