Although many of us don’t want to admit it, Kakuryu’s loss yesterday has effectively reduced the number of rikishi competing for the Yusho down to one. Don’t get me wrong, I want Baruto to get the side-rope as much as anyone, I just don’t see him getting a legitimate win over Hakuho and then beating him again in a playoff, thus securing his two consecutive yusho. If Kagamiya-oyakata is to be believed, this means that Bart’s chances for yokozuna-ship are over (at least for now). I figured I would take this opportunity to talk about a rikishi that is not on the rise but rather one that makes a few of us rise when we see him in his mawashi. That’s right, I be talking about the sole Czech in makuuchi, Pavel Bojar a.k.a. Takanoyama.
With his rapidly receding hairline, extremely slim build (96kg), and bizzare brand of sumo, Takanoyama is easily one of the better known rikishi amongst the sumo watching gaijin populace. However as with any rikishi, he is not without his fair share of vocal detractors. Most often you hear complaints that he is simply unable to win straight up sumo, and has to resort to cheap tricks. The bouts that he does try to win straight up usually end up with him 4 rows into the stands after he takes a tsuppari from an oppenent’s arm that weighs more than he does. The only reason he is in Makuuchi is because he got a few lucky breaks after two consecutive scandals forced practically half of the upper divisions to retire. And although the guy undoubtedly has some fire in him, that just isnt’ enough when you weigh less than half than some of the guys (Gaga -199kg) you are fighting against. To those haters I would say: “So what?”
Here are 4 reasons why Takanoyama is not only worth cheering for, but also why he is good for Sumo in general.
1. He allows you to look at sumo a whole different way.
Be honest, when was the last time you saw a bout between Daido and, I don’t know, ANYONE where you were on the edge of your seat to see who was going to win? In fact when was the last time that you really paid that much attention to the bottom half of makuuchi? When the Czech is involved, matches between m16s all of a sudden seem to take a turn for the dramatic. People love nothing more in sports than a convincing storyline to follow, and a skinny-as-a-rail underdog is just the kind of man people can root for.
2. You never know what you are going to get.
You all know Yoriki, Oshidashi, and so forth, but how many of you know just what kimarite Tottari or Watashikomi is? Takanoyama allows a glimpse at many moves that “normal” rikishi are either incapable of or unwilling to pull off. Some might (and do) say that his particular brand of sumo is more akin to Judo than anything that is traditionally taught in a heya, but I just don’t see what’s wrong with that. Can you seriously imagine Hakuho falling to an uttchari by someone half his size? No, and the reason is because he has his basics down to an art and a science. A Scart. Aience. Whatever. What I am trying to say is that even if Takanoyama is using “trick sumo” to win, this only serves as a warning to the guys who lose to him to clean up their sloppy ass sumo that allows his “tricks” to work. And let’s be honest, there is nothing more satisfying that watching an overranked and overconfident rikishi taken on someone half their size before getting their leg swept out from under them before you can say nokotta.
All of this does not mean that he can’t improve his sumo, because he sure as hell can. It’s frustrating to watch him take on guys like miyabiyama in a tsuki-oshi match because he has absolutely no chance of winning like that. He needs to learn to stop backing straight up and use his light frame to get more quick lateral movement so he can get to the belt where he is more comfortable.
3. He is good for recruiting
Ok, I will admit I have no evidence to back this one up, but here is my gut feeling (besides indigestion from one too many gyoza last night): Sumo needs to get sexy again. Although the idea of a rikishi as a sex symbol might be strange for some, having fantastic looking sekitori was a staple of sumo during the boom years of the late 80s early 90s. If anyone out there is a doubter, then go back and look at pictures of Chiyonfuji back in the day, or of the brothers –hana. Granted, Takanoyama’s hairline probably isn’t winning too many fans (or is it?), but his muscular build not only draws in more fans but also potentially gives young’uns that wouldn’t normally be sumo-inclined a role model. Think about it, kids these days have practically unlimited options in the sports they can play at school, why would they choose to do half naked belly bumping if playing soccer is obviously going to give them better chances of getting laid? Sumo needs someone right now who can show that someone in the sport can still be ridiculously good looking.
4. He puts asses in seats.
This one isn’t necessarily Takanoyama specific, but it’s important nonetheless. You are undoubtedly hearing from multiple sources that this is a dark time for sumo rife with scandals, mediocre rikishi, and oyakata’s dropping singles. Now more than ever Sumo needs a charismatic wrestler who can show the masses just why this sport is so damned great. I am not saying that Takanoyama is Sumo’s only hope for the future, but the sport could sure do a hell of a lot worse than having a peculiar wrestler who directs peoples focus to the oft-ignored lower ranks. The JSA have seemed to notice this as well, which is apparent by him even being in Makuuchi this basho. Now, call me crazy, but it wouldn’t be hard to see a less-popular rikishi getting sent packing down to Juryo after a 6-9 performace at M14. Instead the elders have decided that he could be of more use to the sport by keeping him in the division, just barely. (WM16 is the lowest possible spot on the banzuke as west is slightly lower than east.) God knows they’ve made worse decisions lately.
Now by all reasonable calculations at 29 years old and the lightest in the division, prospects for Takanoyama’s future are uncertain at best. The guy should probably suffer a career ending injury any day now. But then again, by all reasonable calculations a 96kg Czech shouldn’t be in Makuuchi in the first place, which just makes me want to cheer for him all the more.