Point Counter-point Discussions

Kyushu Basho Point Counter-point Discussion

Valentine: In the last decade, there has been an international surge in the popularity of amateur and professional sumo, while interest continues to dwindle in Japan. In India and Thailand, amateur clubs are popping up, and NHK broadcasts can be seen in parts of Oceania as well as South America. Worldwide, the popularity is growing faster in Mongolia and Eastern Europe than anywhere else.

In Mongolia, the popularity has soared because firstly the strengthening of relations between Japan and Mongolia, resulting in more Japanese business, money, products, etc. in Mongolia. Secondly, it’s only natural sumo would be popular in such a place. After being bitch-slapped around for centuries between Russia and China, Mongolia finally has a chance to look at nations beyond its bully neighbors. There’s NHK broadcasts on TV in Mongolia now, and there is sumo, which is not only similarly steeped in tradition as Mongolian bökh, but the rules and techniques are also similar. As popular as bökh is in the homeland, it is only natural young men from this tradition would want to go to Japan and join in sumo (read: more food, more money, more women).

The successes of Eastern Europe’s “home-grown talent” is not the reason for sumo’s popularity in the region, because the notion of “home-grown talent” is not accurate. Don’t get me wrong, Baruto is a household name in tiny (yet awesome) Estonia now, but don’t expect the Polish to care for his success, though sumo is a hit in Poland right now. Don’t expect the Polish to care for Bulgarian Kotooshu’s success, or Russian Aran’s success either. Do you think the French care for Beckham’s success in soccer? Do you think Germans care for Roger Federer’s success in tennis? How about the South Koreans caring for Ichiro’s success in baseball? As a Russian friend once told me “We were repressed from studying Western self-defense techniques during the communist days. We weren’t, however, repressed from studying Eastern martial arts, simply because the Soviets didn’t really understand it.” Interest in martial arts like judo proliferated all over Eastern Europe, and still does today. After the fall of communism, the interest has continued to grow in breadth, and now encompasses sumo. There’s no Polish rikishi today, but with the popularity of sumo in Poland, there will be one in the near future, then others.

Considering the rise of popularity of amateur and professional sumo in Mongolia, Eastern Europe, and other regions of the world, it’s worth asking why then, in the West, is sumo only seen in matches between drunk fat women in inflatable suits at the Texas State Fair? Given the backgrounds and nationalities of our contributors and readership, I for one would like to hear what ideas do you have to make sumo popular in the West?

Creswell: Being from the good ol’ US of A, I can’t really comment on the sports climate in other countries. However, given my experience in my own country, I can say that I think we need to worry about buying the chicken before we worry about laying eggs. With the exception of Hawaii, a few bigger cities in Canada, and various cities on the west coast, most of North America does not have large pockets of native Japanese population. So interest in and understanding of the sport needs to be fostered before we can worry about producing amateur and pro sumo clubs and ultimately cranking out top notch rikishi to compete in honbasho, because let’s face it American’s won’t watch ozumo intently unless there is an American in the makuuchi ranks.

Now it’s not like there isn’t time on one of ESPN’s million channels. For fuck’s sake, poker is not a sport. Get that out and put some real sport in there. However, if we just popped sumo in there without any background no one would watch it. Moreover, if a sport wants to make in America, and make it seriously, it needs to be marketable, and companies need to be able to make money off of it. Cats need to be able to sell gear, clothes, accessories, etc. Sumo doesn’t exactly lend itself to these things. There isn’t much, save the mawashi for brand names to be plastered on.

Sumo needs to have its strengths played out. In my opinion sumo is the best spectator sport. Approximately 3-5 minutes of ceremony that means pretty much nothing to Joe America. During this time one is free to eat, drink, gamble, and BS with one’s friends, while vaguely listening to the commentary. This is followed by 1 second to about 1 minute where one actually needs to pay attention. You even get a slow-mo replay. Sumo’s 6 tournament season has good potential, as it is always relatively accessible. In addition the rapid banzuke turnover makes for good drama and lends itself to exciting fantasy leagues. However the near media blackout state, at least in English, we get after each basho can be concerning, but that can be easily remedied by a few multilingual correspondents to pick up the news from Japan during down time. (hear that ESPN… I wouldn’t mind a press pass.) After that, all it would really take is some flashy graphics to explain rules and kimarite.

There are already pockets of amateur wrestlers in the states, wrestling for varied organizations, the largest of which seems to be the California Sumo Association. However, the US Sumo Open Competition, hosted by the California Sumo Association, is already dominated by Eastern Europe and Mongolia as well, with all but 1 of the 4 division titles going to Mongolians this year. In fact, ever since the Mongolians started competing in 2006 the Americans have only won 2 out of a possible 20 division 1st place titles. Although these numbers are only for the men’s divisions.

There are a lot of hurdles sumo has to jump to become big in the west, but I certainly think it can make it. A first good step would be to see sumo become an Olympic sport. The second would be to market the crap out of its strengths. Until these two things happen we won’t see many American/Western European rikishi in the big show, at least until Chalmers gets scouted by Fujishima beya.

Daly: An American in professional sumo combined with the power of social online content could bring a greater interest to the sport. There are however barriers. For one, there are currently no rikishi in the association who are officially considered American. That being said, there is a great amateur association in California doing its best to promote the sport. The organization has even begun to harness the power of online video that I believe will help create a larger fan base (though I would suggest they move their content to YouTube).

As Internet websites have essentially proven: if you build it (and your content is interesting) they will come. Great examples of this online for sumo (and by far the best written content, in my opinion) would be sumotalk.com and of course, ourselves. Find people with a shared interest or information other people are looking for, and they will find each other. Sumo is no different for the West. I believe the barrier however to Sumo and the West finding each other, beyond novelty customs, and the occasional tourist one stop trip to the Japan, is a lack of video content online. Sure NHK allows viewers worldwide to view a live feed without any announcers, but we all know it takes an interest to stay up and actually watch that. Sumo needs an online video presence to connect to the West.

Mediums such as Youtube and iTunes offer the association/NHK options to greatly expand their viewership and create a simpler method for fans to purchase historic and or interesting bouts. Allowing your content onto YouTube could also (depending on how the association/NHK chose to copyright material*) allow fans to easily rebroadcast videos into different languages around the world. Every video with your sumo association content could automatically be set up to link to iTunes where viewers could purchase the content.

The amount of money and promotion the Sumo Association would get out of this move would be unlike anything it could probably imagine. The remixes of content would benefit everyone: fans, rikishi, sumo elders, and people who simply know nothing about sumo and Japan! This might sound overly optimistic, but I believe this is the kind of potential available to the Association if it takes the Internet a little more seriously.

*YouTube has great information on the benefits of using their site and allowing others to remix content. It would be something they should look into.

Aki Basho Point Counter-point Discussion

Topic presented by Valentine: It was five years ago, in 2005, sumo really captured my interest.  There was a yokozuna dominating the sport, and no one was even close.  By the end of the year, Asashoryu collected six emperor’s cups, a feat never achieved before or after.  Sports Illustrated named New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady the 2005 Sportsman of the Year.  Brady led his team to an “OK” season, going 10-6 and losing out in the playoffs.  Asashoryu, however, achieved 84-6 that same year, setting a record for most consecutive yushō (seven) and best record in a calendar year.  Then, just like today, the Japanese public lamented “It’s not interesting because one man always wins.  I want to see a Japanese yokozuna.”

Today, in 2010, Hakuho is shattering records as well.  Last year, he improved on Asa’s calendar year victories record, going 86-4 in the year, yet only coming home with three trophies.  As we speak, Hakuho is matching the most consecutive wins in the post-War ear set by Chiyonofuji, a seemingly impossible 53 consecutive wins.  Next in the no-so-far distance is the all time consecutive wins set at 69 by Futabayama way back in 1939.

Indeed, in 2005 Asashoryu was at a prime unlike Tom Brady or any other sportsman.  Indeed, in 2010 Sports Illustrated will probably name Tiger Woods or some other lowlife wanker Sportsman of the Year because that’ll sell more magazines to dentist offices, but we all know already that no one else is on top of his sport in 2010 than Hakuho.

So, the debate question opens here; which yokozuna is truly the better yokozuna, Asashoryu 2005, or Hakuho 2010?  It’s not a question only of who is further ahead of the pack, but also who is the stronger rikishi in technique, in mental attitude, and in physical speed and strength.

Chalmers: Chalmers here to defend the claim that Asashoryu is, hands down, the best Yokozuna of our time, and superior to Hakuho.  Looking at the two Yokozuna in their most pivotal years, Asashoryu in 2005 and Hakuho in the current 2010 season, we’ll see that the former is the better technical fighter, the stronger willed athlete, and the more achieved rikishi.

In the 2005 year, Asashoryu made history with six consecutive tournament victories all within the calendar year, as mentioned before.  This achievement came off of five championships the previous year.  Asashoryu could have made it six in ’04, making what would have been an even more amazing 12 consecutive cups and two straight zenyusho years!  But unrelenting stress, media pressure, and lack of ring time, due to his wedding and controversy between the wrestler and Takasago Oyakata stemming from the wedding, severely handicapped the wrestler in the Aki Basho in September.  The result was a 9-6 finish, by far the worst record of his Yokozuna career and a performance he would never repeat up to his forced-retirement in January 2010.  Asashoryu’s six championships in 2005 make him the sole rikishi to achieve zenyusho the more than 2000 years that the sport has existed.  Hakuho still has yet to become even eligible for this feat.

From a technical standpoint, it is difficult to compare the two as Asashoryu has 3 years more experience in Makuuchi than Hakuho.  Based on the diversity of techniques utilized by each wrestler over the course of a year, we can make a clear comparison of the technical skill of each wrestler (over the course of that particular year).  For Asashoryu we look at 2005, where he won 84 bouts utilizing 23 different kimarite (deciding techniques).  Hakuho, in the year leading up to Aki 2010, won 86 of his bouts, but with only 13 kimarite, relying heavily on what are called “kihonwaza,” or basic techniques.  I dare you to find a more diverse fighter than Asashoryu.

Finally, the bare-bones, most fundamental component of all competitive sports is “competiveness.”  No matter what rules players and fighters follow to make one sport different from then next, all competition is what binds all sports together.  An athlete, no matter how strong or fast, even a prodigy, is nothing with out an opponent to compete against.  And there is no one to match the competitiveness of Asashoryu, in 2005 or any point in his career.  He defeated most opponents before the tachiai with a stare that could only be matched, if even, by the “Wolf” himself, Chiyonofuji.  Those who turned their back on him only provoked him further to try to make it clear to them that they had no place on the dohyo with him.  There was a fire in him that no one could control, even himself, and no opponent could put into check.  His Yokozuna run was made interesting by his only competition, Hakuho, there for all but his first 7 basho as Yokozuna.  Now that Asashoryu has retired, we have entered a true “Hakuhojidai,” and can only wonder how long Hakuho will reign, uncontested.  Hakuho himself conceded in tears to the fact that Asashoryu was his greatest and only opponent when interviewed about the forced-retirement of his adversary.

The mark that Asashoryu has left on sumo will be long felt, and he will be missed by many as the greatest Yokozuna of all time.  Like Tyson of Boxing, the Babe of Baseball, or the Tiger of Golf, Asashoryu brought something unforgettable and unparalleled to the sport, and had it all taken away by a bad decision… or two.

Creswell: 2005 Asa and 2010 Hakuho eh?  I, Patton Creswell, like the distinguished gentlemen from Hawaii said before, will look at technical skill, athleticism, and distinguishing characteristics to prove that Hakuho is not only a “better yokozuna”, but that he is on the track to be the “best” yokozuna.

Lets look at Asashoryu in 2005: At 24-25 years old, Asa was the lone Yokozuna, he had been for over a year since Musashimaru (whom he never really fought at the rank of Yokozuna) retired in Kyushu ‘03.  So he had more than entire year to build a good record which was unmolested by competition from other Yokozuna.  In 2005 he put together a string of 27 consecutive victories, which is nothing to sneeze at, but not his 35 from the previous year.  He snagged all the yusho, 2 of which were zesho.  He only lost to an Ozeki once in the entire year.  He never lost to anyone ranked below M6.  At the time of the Aki Basho that we are now in the midst of, he was at 67-5.  There were only 2 or 3 ozeki in 2005, two of which were getting up in years.  Over the year he employed 25 (by my count) kimarite (the most diverse of any rikishi in Makuuchi), the majority of which were bread and butter kihonwaza.  Asa would go on to end the year 84-6 picking up his 15th yusho. Asa was fast, like a goddamn racing horse out of the gates, and his tachiai was reminiscent of a tank battle.

Asa brought intensity and will to win to every bout he fought in, and he was never afraid to show it.  Like Chalmers said, Asa’s stare could melt metal and turn an otherwise confident rikishi into a quivering pile of blubber and chonmage.  His glower screamed at his opponents: “come on, i will take you apart brick by brick motherf*cker… I’ll rip you in two…and after I’m done with you I’ll eat your babies so your trick-ass shit won’t be carried on.” One time NHK showed a close up of him staring down Harumafuji and I think Daly might have dropped a hot deuce out of intimidation.  Asa had a fire and ferocity in the ring that truly dominated the sport.  However, since Asa’s ferocity and determination were always thrust to the fore, this eagerness on occasion led to losses to lower ranked wrestlers (Aminishiki M5, and Kokkai M6, Futeno at komosubi and twice to Kotooshi once as Komusubi and once as Sekiwake in 2005 alone).  Not only that, but it also caused several incidents off the dohyo that resulted in his ultimate demise.

Now lets look at Hakuho 2010:  At 24-25 years, Hakuho has been the lone Yokozuna since February, when Asa (his great rival) retired.  Still in the year leading up to 2010 Hakuho picked up 3 yusho, 2 of which were zensho and 3 jun yusho, never having turned in a score below 14-1 giving him an 86-4 record for the year.  Currently Hakuho  is on a streak of 60 consecutive wins, 2nd most in the modern era.  Hakuho has snagged all but one of the yusho this year, and all of his wins have been zensho.  He is the first man to achieve this amount of straight zensho in the modern era.  Hakuho lost 3 bouts this year, but only to Ozeki and one sekiwake, who was soon to be promoted to Ozeki.  However, he beat Asashoryu in regulation for the 7th straight time.  Right now Hakuho is at 69-3 where Asa was at 67-5 at the time in the year.  During 2010 there were either 4 or 5 Ozeki, some of which are past their prime, some of which are still settling, all of whom have proven in the past they are able to scrape out a win against Hakuho.  So far this year Hakuho has employed 14 different kimarite, although as Chalmers said he relies mostly on kihonwaza.  The reason for this “reliance”, however, is not lack of versatility.  It’s simply due to one of Hakuho’s greatest traits, his patience and cool head.  Hakuho goes in for the win every time.  He doesn’t let his emotions take over, and he waits for the right moment, and the safe moment to execute the win.  The fact is that Hakuho just doesn’t get into the situation where these complicated kimarite are required.  His tachiai is lightning fast, and he almost never fails to get some grip out of it.  Sometimes all it takes is the initial hit to seal the deal.  Hakuho has what everyone calls his “go to weapon.”  Look at the bouts between Asa and Hakuho just before Asa retired, even Asa knew well to avoid Hakuho’s outside lefthand grip.  Once he gets that grip the bout is over.

Hakuho will take this yusho, and he will take it zensho.  As he will in Kyushu, which will end his year with 17 yusho.  2 more than Asa at the same time.  He will likely shatter Futabayama’s record of 69 consecutive wins (one win away from double Asa’s best), and, if so, he will reset the record for most consecutive zensho.  At his current rate if Hakuho is allowed to continue unchecked and injury free than he’ll have close to 40 yusho, way past Taiho’s 32.  Hakuho studies, trains hard, and improves with each basho.  On the dohyo he exudes confidence and his cool collected manner not only appeases the “hinkaku” crowd who said that Asa did not have the proper temperament, but his icy stare echoes in his opponents’ skulls ringing loud and clear the message that “perhaps it would be best for you to quit the dohyo forthwith…you cannot succeed here, and you will be given no quarter, for this is my land, and I have dominion over all that dwell here.”

While both Asashoryu and Hakuho are two of the greatest Yokozuna ever, I view them as sort of a yin and yan.  Asa’s brash, fiery, oft dramatic sumo to Hakuho’s perfect, ice-cold, calculating sumo.  Who is the better Yokozuna?  Hakuho.  Who would I rather watch?  Well… that’s a different question altogether.  One thing we all can agree on is that their senshuraku bouts will go down in history.

Natsu Basho Point Counter-point Discussion

Alright, it’s a bit late, but here you go.  Leave your own comments below, and add to the debate.

Creswell: It’s been an entire year since we’ve seen any new blood in the Sanyaku, going back to when Kakuryu and Tochiozan made komosubi back in Natsu 2009.  However, with Baruto’s recent promotion to Ozeki and the performances we saw last basho, we seem to have a question mark as to who will be the next strong candidate for promotion to sumo’s penultimate rank.  There is no lack of young guys bouncing around in sanyaku, most are between 23-26 with at least one younger guy knocking on the door and one slightly older guy still harassing the Yokozuna and Ozeki.  Although there is no shortage of special prizes and kinboshi among them, no one in sanyaku or joi has recently had 2 consecutive 10 win bashos in maegashira (save Toyonoshima back in 2008) nor have they squeaked out a single yusho between them (and no I’m not counting Goeido’s recent 1 day tournament yusho because nobody cares about the outcome of those tournaments.)  With that in mind… Who, in your opinion, will be the next rikishi to make a successful run for Ozeki promotion?

Valentine (Matagiyama):

Here’s a good trivia question; of all active non-ozeki rikishi, who has the highest winning percentage against Hakuho?  This could be a good barometer as to who deserves to be ozeki, right?  Well, the answer…Wakanosato, with 6-8 (0.429).  He’s made a few runs for ozeki in the past, but he’ll be 34 this year and he’s plain too old for promotion to ozeki.  Okay, so who’s second?  Next?  Also from Naruto-beya, Kisenosato is 4-17 (0.190) with the Yokozuna.  Four wins doesn’t mean a whole lot under most circumstances, but also consider that only three non-ozeki rikishi have achieved that many wins against Hakuho (Wakanosato, six; Miyabiyama, four; and Kisenosato, four).  Among his contemporaries who are often considered future ozeki, such as Kotoshogiku and Goeido, Kisenosato can work under pressure.  Kotoshogiku has only managed one win over the Yokozuna while Goeido never has.

Kisenosato will be 24 in July.  He’s not too old to be promoted, even if it takes another five years to do so.  Don’t forget Kotomitsuki was promoted when he was 31.  Kisenosato is still working towards his prime.  Unlike Kotoshogiku, who gets a powder-puff run each basho by not having to face ozeki-stalemates Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki, Kisenosato faces every ozeki.  While this seems like a disadvantage in an individual basho, it’s better for developing how to deal with pressure and becoming a stronger rikishi.

If you assume that just because a rikishi has bounced around sub-ozeki sanyaku for a few years without achieving promotion means it never will happen, you’d be wrong.  Kotomitsuki had bounced around sekiwake and komusubi most basho for seven years before getting his promotion.  Recently promoted Baruto had bounced in and out of sanyaku for three years before finally becoming ozeki this basho.

The next ozeki could very well be one of those men who’ve clogged the jōi ranks here for so long.  Check the last three promoted ozeki, and where was his successor was at the time of his promotion?

Shinozeki Hakuho May 2006            Kotomitsuki was Sekiwake, and had been in sanyaku for three years with only one exception.

Shinozeki Kotomitsuki Sept 2007            Ama was Komusubi, his fourth straight basho in sanyaku.

Shinozeki Hakumafuji Jan 2009             Baruto was Sekiwake, his third straight basho in sanyaku.

I don’t think I need to get into Kisenosato’s strengths and technical advantages because I covered that thoroughly in a previous Point-Counterpoint Dicussion (see Future Japanese Yokozuna from January).  But mentally, there are just a handful of men out there who have half the arrogance and unyielding fighter spirit that Asashoryu had.  The first of those men is Harumafuji, but more so back in the Ama days.  Second is Hokutoriki, but his attitude is way beyond his strength and skill, making him just comical.  The last is Kisenosato.  Kisenosato hates losing, and hates not being at the top.

I’ll admit that seeing Kisenosato become Yokozuna is a stretch, but it is quite likely he will come up with a yusho or more before his career is up, and I expect that barring any misfortunate injuries, he will become ozeki in the next few years.

Chalmers (Shima):

Though I think that Tochinoshin is a bit young in his sumo, I still want to keep my eye on him as he bumps around the ranks in Makuuchi.  He has already proven that he no longer belongs in lower Makuuchi.  He spend a year in the lower 10-15 from May 2008, to May, ’09.  But since then he has never looked back.  Though he tends to fold when thrown in the upper Makuuchi meat-grinder, I feel that it is more so because he is young, than that he is incapable.
Having been in thet pros for 4 years, only basho of which were spent in Juryo before making his Makuuchi debut, the man is clearly still learning what it takes to share a seat in next to the Sanyaku boys.  His inconsistency thoughout the past few tournaments can be blamed on bouncing back and forth between upper and lower makuuchi.  But once the man gets used to fighting Sanyaku ranks more consistantly, then he should be able to overtake them.
As we have seen during this Natsu Basho, Tochinoshin is more than capable of beating Ozeki of any kind.  And comparing the performances of he and new Ozeki, Baruto, he is no more inconsistant than Baruto was before making Ozeki.
If you look back into the bashos leading up to Baruto’s Sanyaku promotion, they produced quite similar results rank for rank.
Tochinoshin                             Baruto
Haru 2010 M6W 9-6                Nagoya 08 M5 10-5
Hatsu 2010 M1W 5-10             Natsu 08 M1W 5-10
Kyushu 09 M8W 12-3              Haru 08 M7E 12-3
Nagoya 09 M5W 9-6                Hatsu 08 M6E 7-8
Natsu 09 M13W 9-6                 Kyushu 07 M16W 11-4
Before that , both men were both floating around in lower Makuuchi or Juryo.
Granted Baruto made is ascent to through Makuuchi faster than Tochinoshin, but Tochinoshin is merely waiting for that break in his schedule to put up the kind of numbers that will get him considered by the association.
Tochinoshin has the youth, the body, the seriousness, and the will to make it into Sanyaku.  All he needs is the practice against the upper Makuuchi guys and he should make a break for Ozeki soon.  Lower Maegashira is a waste of his time…

Hatsu Point Counter-point #2

Creswell: The last Japanese-born Yokozuna to grace the dohyo was Takanohana (1995-2003) who retired back in Hatsu ’03 (his last Yusho coming in Natsu ’01), and former ozeki Tochiazuma was the last Japanese rikishi to win a yusho (Hatsu ’06.)  Before that it was Kaio back in Aki ’04.  Since ’06 we have seen nothing but foreign rikishi winning tournaments, only one of whom (Kotooshu, Natsu ’08) was not Mongolian.  All but two of the past 23 tournaments were won by our two current Yokozuna.  Asa with 9 and Hakuho with 12 (although only 9 of those 12 were at the rank of Yokozuna.)

With that being said…
With promotion of the current Japanese Ozeki being a sick joke at best, which of the current lower ranked Japanese rikishi do you think will act as a Kamikaze and break the Mongol Monopoly to attain Sumo’s ruling rank?
Facts to be kept in mind:
In order to be considered for Yokozuna, one must attain the rank of Ozeki, posses adequate power and skill, and have the proper grace/maturity/dignity/je ne sais quoi (otherwise known as hinkaku 品格) to be awarded the top rank.  The typical standard requirement is to win two consecutive tournaments, or an equivalent performance (i.e. two non-consecutive yusho finishing as runner-up in each non-yusho basho.)  The entire process can be very vague and subjective, as it all comes down to what the sumo council thinks of the rikishi.
Valentine: The next yokozuna will not be Japanese.  Let’s make that clear from the start.  If I was asked “who are the top four contenders to be the next yokozuna?” it would be Baruto, Kotooshu, Harumafuji, and Tochinoshin.  All four of these rikishi are foreign, and three of the four are eastern European (perhaps the era of Mongol supremacy will give way to the former Eastern Bloc, just as it ushered out the era of Hawaiian domination a decade ago?).  Nevertheless, the question is who will be the next Japanese yokozuna?  To answer this, the question comes to mind; “if foreigners were never allowed into sumo (as many in the JSA wished), who would be dominating the sport today?”  The answer to this question doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as “who will be the next Japanese yokozuna,” but the more I analyze it the more I realize the name of only one rikishi can justifiably be replied to both questions; Kisenosato.
Kisenosato is only 23 years old, yet has over five years of makuuchi experience.  Three quarters of that makuuchi experience is at joi, yet he has a 251-222 (winning) record in the division.  Unlike many of his contemporaries such as Kotoshogiku, Goeido, and Tochiozan, Kisenosato has never really plateau-ed.  He is still learning, and improving his sumo.
One trick ponies can hang in makuuchi for a career (Chiyotaikai, Miyabiyama, Takekaze), but they are hard pressed to win a yusho, never mind advancing to yokozuna.  Kisenosato has a strong tachiai, and is just as good on the belt as he is with the thrusts.  In fact, records show that in the last year 35% of Kisenosato’s wins are yorikiri (belt), and 33% are oshidashi (thrusts).  He might need work on his nage (throws), which only accounted for 6% of his victories last year.  However, it is very important to point out that along with Tochinoshin he is one of Yokozuna Asashoryu’s favorite opponents in de-geiko.  Kisenosato is learning well from the best teacher in the business.
One might believe Kisenosato isn’t capable of advancing further because he’s already been in makuuchi for five years (32 basho, exactly) and hasn’t advanced to neither ozeki, nor yokozuna yet.  That’s not necessarily the case.  While it’s true that Aashoryu and Hakuho advanced quickly from makuuchi entry to yokozuna (14 basho and 20 basho, respectfully), other great yokozuna too longer.  Kitanofuji took 38 basho while Asahifuji took 46 basho.  Takanohana took 26 basho to advance to yokozuna, but his brother, Wakanohana, took 40 basho before advancing to yokozuna.
Kisenosato has the right demeanor to become yokozuna.  He never henkas, he has speed and is quick-thinking on his feet, and most importantly, he has the youthful arrogance reminiscent of Asashoryu circa 2002.  Kisenosato is well capable of becoming a great yokozuna, and is the best Japanese rikishi in sumo today.  Unfortunately for him, there are some extraordinary Eastern Europeans and Mongols who are also knipping at the heels of the yokozuna just as much as he is.
 
Daly: (since Daly has unfortunately been hospitalized Valentine will be briefly summarizing his thoughts on the matter)  Daly believes that there are no Japanese rikishi sekitori that will be able to take the title of yokozuna.  He acknowledges that Kisenosato is probably the top Japanese rikishi, but just does not see him reaching the rank  given the continued problems he has with the other Japanese maegashira.  Daly has been looking down into Makushita for some new blood and believes he’s found some potential in Aomori native Sasaki of Naruto beya (same heya as Kisenosato) and Yamanashi’s own Ryuden from Takadagawa beya.  Daly believes that these guys have the proper body type, and the advantage of cutting their teeth in a time when toppling the Mongolians is the goal.
if any of you have other thoughts feel free to comment.

Hatsu Point Counter-point #1

Valentine: Former Yokozuna Kitanoumi and current Yokozuna Asashoryu are tied for third place in all time yusho with 24.  In September Asashoryu will turn 30, which is the average retirement age for yokozuna.  Will Asashoryu win one more yusho so that he can stand alone at all time third with 25 yusho, then retire, or will he continue to fight even after winning his 25th yusho?

For the record, Asa would have to win seven more yusho to surpass Chiyonofuji who is second all time, and eight more yusho to surpass Taiho who is first all time in number of yusho.

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Creswell: Asa will continue to fight after winning his 25th.

First off, the top three yokozuna on the all time list retired at ages 32, 35, and 31 respectively.  Near the end of their careers none of them were near taking all of the yusho in the year.  Taiho only captured four yusho in his last three years,  Chiyonofuji had five in his last two and half years, and Kitanoumi had nine basho (not counting those he sat out due to injury) in between his last two yusho over three years.

Asa will be 30 this September.  However, Hakuho has gotten 12 Yusho in four years, and he’ll be turning 25 this year, we can expect AT LEAST another 12 from him in the next few years, probably more with the way he’s running the show now.   Although I’m sure Asa doesn’t want to end up staying too long and looking like Chiyotaikai, who can’t even connect with his tsuparri anymore, Asa certainly will want to create more of a distance between his record and Kitanoumi’s.  As long as he can keep his head in sumo, stay healthy, keep in shape, and not throw any bouts for stupid reasons, I think it’s safe to say that we can expect a few more yusho out of him, especially the way the sanyaku has been performing lately.  Maybe he won’t surpass Chiyonofuji, but he’s got a few more left in the tank.

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Daly: Asashoryu will retire after number 25.

Here are a few items to consider, Asashoryu will likely be third on the all-time Yusho list and is one of the fastest rikishi to ever reach the status of Yokozuna. When he leaves sumo he will simply be historic, one of the best all-time, yet the Japanese media and Sumo Association have constantly held him to a imaginary standard in which he simply could not win.  This is why he will eagerly retire after yushu number 25.

The double standard the Association and media hold Asashoryu to appears to be a grown up version of poor losers. He’s the first Yokozuna ever to be suspended by the Sumo Association. To put his suspension into a context we can all understand, there are Japanese rikishi and oyakata who have straight up broken the law (allowed a young rikishi to die from over-training, illegal drug use, etc.) and they were not suspended! I dare anyone to read the Asahi Shinbum.  Here’s an example of what was written yesterday,

Asashoryu, hoping to win his 25th title, wasn’t at his best, but never had much of a challenge from top maegashira Tochinoshin. The Mongolian strongman had a weak face-off, then got back in the bout to win with good beltwork and two closing thrusts.

Read quotes from Akita-native and token female member of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, Makiko Uchidate and try finding a line about Asashoryu that is not filled with underlying passive aggressive malice. You won’t find it. In fact in the last Basho when Asashoryu won the Yusho, the Asahi Shinbun decided not to cover the piece altogether!

If his performance starts to drop, you can expect Asashoryu will be forced into retirement. In fact, I believe reading quotes from members of the Association stating essentially those words. This is conversely the opposite of what happened to Kitanoumi who was encouraged to stay on as Yokozuna until the Ryōgoku Kokugikan was completed in 1985.

Also, Asa hasn’t taken the Japanese citizenship. He’ll leave on top, unlike Yokozuna Kitanoumi and the former Ozeki Chiyotaikai. He’ll retire after number 25, and return home where he’s been given one of Mongolia’s highest honors. The man certainly prefers his home where he is respected for being the great athlete he truly is.

One response to “Point Counter-point Discussions

  1. Hakuho a better Yokozua than Asa? What pills are you taking?

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