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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Kisenosato promoted to ozeki, Hakuho on 21


Special to The Japan Times Online

When the Kyushu Basho down in Fukuoka drew to a close on Nov. 27, much of the conversation was centered on sekiwake Kisenosato and whether or not he deserved his all-but-publicly announced imminent promotion to the rank of ozeki.

To some more comfortable with stats and pie charts, his 32 instead of "usual" 33 wins in the last three basho as a sekiwake meant he was being promoted unfairly. Others had won 32 but no talk of promotion was heard. In addition, talk of a sizeable dollop of sympathy apparently also helped following the sudden death of Kisenosato's stable master, Naruto Oyakata, just before the tournament.

To others, the quality of his sumo of late, and his consistency over the last year, were more important points to consider. And it was this factor alone that saw him judged worthy of serving in the sport's second highest rank.

Indeed, when looking at this aspect of his rise to ozeki, his 60 wins in 90 bouts over the past 12 months* is a record bettered only (by those already ozeki) by Baruto (62-28), and the Sadogatake Beya fighter, Kotoshogiku (64-26). Kotoshogiku was himself promoted following the September tournament. Over the same time frame, the remaining ozeki pair of Harumafuji and Kotooshu trail Kisenosato by 12 and 20 wins respectively, having had a rather dismal year overall.

Whatever opinions and comments passed between those in charge of making these decisions, Kisenosato is now master of his own fate. Unlike the pedal-off-the-metal mentality seen in the sumo of Kotooshu and Harumafuji following their own promotions to ozeki, in recent years the fire in Kisenosato's belly has burned more and more fiercely as he is not the kind of guy to be content with second best, so his own best years my still be ahead of him. (For a previous Sumo Scribblings interview with Kisenosato see /text/ss20061111a1.html)

As is, sumo now has a decent pair of Japanese ozeki ready to give top-dog Hakuho a run for his yen, and with Kakuryu from Mongolia one for the men in the second rank to be wary of at sekiwake (56-34 over the year), the top of the makunouchi division could well be in for a shake-up come this time next year.

The same cannot be said for the top rank — yokozuna. With Hakuho's fifth consecutive yusho in Fukuoka taking his career record to 21 Emperor's Cups, the once untouchable record of 32 career championships reached by Taiho between 1960, and 1971 is within sight. It took Taiho 63 tournaments to win 32 top division trophies; compare that to Hakuho's 21 in 33 so far! Even if he does ease up few would wager against Hakuho one day replacing the man he respects so much at the top of the pile.

His latest triumph in western Japan was marred only by defeat on the final day at the hands of Baruto who is himself arguably the only non-Japanese looking like becoming yokozuna material one day.

Newcomers to makunouchi, Myogiryu (10-5), Shohozan (10-5), and Aoiyama from Bulgaria (11-4) all turned in excellent scorecards and will enjoy significant boosts in rank, but it was left to veteran rikishi Wakakoyu from Chiba Prefecture to claim the title of "best of the rest" with a cracking 12-3 finish. A hefty promotion will follow leaving him up at the top of the maegashira ranks come January's Hatsu Basho in Tokyo, but nearing 30, the lon- time lower-ranked rikishi will do well to repeat the feat.

The action in the juryo division this time was just as exciting as that seen in makunouchi, with Ikioi of Isenoumi Beya securing the title with a 12-3 record in his first-ever tourney as a sekitori. Along the way he beat a handful of long-time and very experienced sekitori including Tamanoshima, Tosayutaka, Takamisakari and Tochinonada — men with a combined 255 basho in the upper echelons of sumo and accompanying bucketfuls of experience. He is still only in his mid 20s too, so could make it to upper maegashira or perhaps komusubi, but anything further might be a stretch of the imagination.

Sadly, the end of 2011 also saw Tamanoshima retire from the game having started the tournament at juryo 12, and then losing his first eight bouts. An extremely amiable man from Fukushima who entered sumo in March of 1998 and through the years featured in many memorable bouts, he will be much missed.

*November 2010 to November 2011 inclusive, as the March 2011 tournament was cancelled.



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