It’s nearly basho time again! End the year up-to-date on Japan’s national sport with these five reads:
- Takakeisho leads the three ozeki in the banzuke rankings released last week ahead of the New Year Basho. The sport’s second-highest rank illustrates both the promise and the peril of sumo’s elite wrestlers: While Takakeisho will try to seize a second straight championship and earn promotion to yokozuna, his two fellow ozeki need at least eight wins just to keep their ozeki status.
- Yokozuna Kakuryu held his final practice of the year Monday ahead of the basho, where he hopes to overcome a run of injuries that have forced his withdrawal from the past three meets. The pressure is on: After both grand champs withdrew from recent basho, Kakuryu and Hakuho received a harsh “warning” from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council to recover or else.
- Sumo somehow managed to keep going and provided much-needed distraction in a tough year. Unpacking all that happened over the past 12 months is no simple task, writes John Gunning. Every basho in 2020 contained what felt like several tournaments-worth of storylines, while events outside the ring at times came close to overshadowing the relentlessly thrilling action inside it.
- If the makuuchi division is sumo’s version of the Top 40 (or, more precisely, 42), tiers 2 and 3 (jūryō and makushita) make up the equivalent of the sport’s B-sides and album tracks. But just as with music, there are plenty of gems to be found if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, writes Gunning, as he introduces readers to some of the names to watch in the lower levels.
- Details of the short, but extremely eventful, sumo life of American wrestler Araiwa — aka Cal Martin — had been lost to the mists of time until the California native resurfaced in sumo circles online recently. Gunning spoke to the now-71-year-old about his story, from the dare that got him into the sport to his retirement after threatening to kill his stablemaster’s son.