As the Kyushu Basho, running Nov. 11-25, rumbles around once again, so does the regular talk of ozeki retirement.
In sumo there is nothing more depressing than seeing a one-time ozeki powerhouse hobbled by injuries and struggling to stretch their careers through a few more mediocre basho, offering only glimpses of their former prowess. The question this time is which local boy best fits this description? Chiyotaikai or Kaio?
So many times in recent years the bouts of both men have served as little more than schedule stuffers of no real importance: a time to visit the concession stand or grab a beer from the refrigerator before the yokozuna’s bout. The boys’ bouts only become essential viewing when they are fighting a title-chasing rikishi.
Neither wrestler really enters a tournament with an eye on the trophy anymore. For them, just reaching the final day in one piece and with at least eight wins is more important now. And even that is something Kaio has failed to achieve nine times in 43 tournaments at rank, Chiyotaikai faring even worse at 14 in 52 basho. Gone is talk of retaining ozeki honor by guaranteeing 10 wins basho in, basho out; Chiyotaikai scoring 10 or more only twice this year, Kaio but once! So for the upcoming basho, we’re bound to see at least one of them announce his long overdue retirement.
On a more positive note, a local lad with very bright prospects is the 155-kg komusubi Kotoshogiku of Sadogatake Beya — the only Kyushu-born makunouchi rikishi with any real hope of sanyaku (top three rank) success in the foreseeable future. For this Fukuoka lad, the upcoming basho offers the chance to turn it on for the home crowd. Coming off a 10-5 record in September, and with Asashoryu still recuperating in Mongolia, Kotoshogiku should sew up his winning record by the middle of week two as long as he stays injury free. He also enjoys the luxury of not having to go up against stablemates Kotooshu or Kotomitsuki. His only real worries from above are Hakuho and the sekiwake pair of Asasekiryu and Aminishiki, as well as fellow komusubi Ama. An outside chance for the yusho? Perhaps. Future ozeki material? Count on it.
What to watch for in Kyushu
At the top of the pile, Hakuho is the obvious favorite and will be looking to round off the year with his second yokozuna title.
Keep an eye out for the three “K-men”: Kotomitsuki, Kotooshu and Kisenosato. All are capable of putting up decent numbers, even if the feeling persists that for anyone bar Hakuho to claim the title would be a case of the Mongolian losing it rather than another rikishi winning it.
At the bottom of the division, keep an eye out for Baruto. If his dodgy knee holds out he could exploit his easy early fixtures, and if he hits double figures may even generate talk of a first yusho.
Wakanoho, now at maegashira 13 (west), has been tipped on these pages for some time and has just arrived in the top division. Just a few months past his 19th birthday, the youngster from Magaki Beya is the sixth youngest man to enter the top division in the modern era. Three of the other five went on to become yokozuna (Kitanoumi, Takanohana II and Hakuho).
A division lower, 30-year-old Yoshiazuma has the less-enviable ranking of sixth oldest wrestler to debut at juryo level since 1945. More eyes will be on Ichihara, seven years his junior and tipped as the Next Big Thing by those in the sumo know.
For fans of amateur sumo, look south in the middle of the month as the Thai city of Chiang Mai in the north of the country hosts the annual Asian Sumo Championships as well as the International Sumo Federation, Sumo World Championships and Shinsumo (women’s) World Championships from Nov. 16-18.