Starting off with the biggest story of the week…
Former Ozeki Kotoshogiku of Sadogatake-beya announced his retirement Friday, after losing his last professional match at the rank of Juryo #3 West. The ever popular 36 year old gave his all during this tournament and the one prior while suffering from a calf muscle strain sustained in September, as well as lingering knee issues. Kotoshogiku’s only win this basho came in the form of a day 2 push out of fellow 36 year old top division veteran Shohozan.
Dampening the sense of loss that many sumo fans may feel as they bid farewell to one of their favorites, Kotoshogiku will remain within the sumo-sphere as a coach by the name of “Hidenoyama.”
“In this world, you move up if you win. So I just keep moving forward,” the ‘gaburi-yori’ specialist said ahead of the November tournament, aiming to possibly bump his way back up to the top division. “You might think of it as a negative, but for me, there are a lot of positive points to it.”
In school, Kikutsugi Kazuhiro (Kotoshogiku’s real name) became “junior high Yokozuna,” and he led his senior high school sumo team to 7 titles. Entering the pros in January 2002 under his first shikona “Kotokikutsugi,” he took three years to enter the top division. After almost seven years as a Makunouchi mainstay, he was promoted to Ozeki, a rank he went on to hold for 32 basho.
Kotoshogiku is credited with breaking the 10 year Japanese-born yusho drought in 2016. At that tournament, he defeated all three Mongolian Yokozuna, as well as both of his fellow Ozeki. His only loss came from Sekiwake Toyonoshima, who also entered professional sumo at Hatsu 2002. Toyonoshima, now Izutsu-oyakata, retired earlier this year as well.
On Friday, before his match against Chiyonoo, Kotoshogiku displayed one last “Koto-bauer,” his signature pre-bout ritual backbend. It was something he had stopped doing after falling from Ozeki, and he was saving it for his final professional bout.
At 91 consecutive basho ranked in the top division, Kotoshogiku is in 4th place all time in that category. He’s also 6th place on the all time top division wins list, with 718 wins. Over the course of an almost 19 year/112 basho career, he boasts one top division title, three times runner-up, seven special prizes, and three gold stars. Kotoshogiku is married and has one son.
Sumo association chairman Hakkaku commented, “Kotoshogiku had a lot of injuries, but he fought to the very end without giving up. He wasn’t a tall wrestler, but he had heavy hips, some horse-power, and a unique personality. Kids these days are hard to discipline, so I want him to learn a lot as he becomes a coach.”
Kotoshogiku’s Lasting Influence“I was taught countless things,” said Kotoeko, who used to serve as Kotoshogiku’s assistant. “The one I remember most is ‘When in doubt, hit hard.’ Without fussing over whether I’ll win or lose, he taught me to believe in myself and go in with all my might.”
Current M17 Shimanoumi gave his thoughts on his high school senpai’s retirement. “He played an active role (in my development) way back then. As my senior, he taught me a lot. Even after the knee injury, his efforts didn’t stop, and I look up to him with respect for that,” said Shimanoumi.
Even during provincial tours, Shimanoumi said Kotoshogiku would give him advice. The two have faced each other in Makuuchi seven times, with six bouts going the way of the younger Shimanoumi.
“I see it as a privilege to have fought against him,” said Shimanoumi, “it was nice to be able to. As I get older myself, I’d like to go at it in that youthful way.”
Other notable wrestlers who were influenced by Kotoshogiku include stablemates Kotonowaka and Kotoshoho, former high school junior Tokushoryu, and several fellow Ozeki-experienced wrestlers such as Takakeisho, Takayasu, and Terunofuji, who gave their best wishes and expressed gratitude for his guidance and motivation.
A Rare Technique Appears!The “Koto-bauer” wasn’t the only significant backbend this week. Perhaps the honor for the most entertaining one would go to Juryo returnee Ura, who pulled off yet another technique from the sorite (backbending techniques) list on day 5 against Kyokushuho. This time it was categorized as an izori, or backwards body drop, the first of its kind in the salaried ranks since Tomonohana landed it in January 1993.
Ura is known for this type of move, having performed several sorite throughout the various levels of sumo. Still he insists even he “was surprised” when he did it. “My body moved naturally,” he said afterwards. “It’s difficult because you can’t really do that in the training room.”
A lot of Ura’s ability to pull off matrix-like moves can be attributed to his experience in freestyle wrestling, which he’s practiced since elementary school. Izori, tsutaezori, shumokuzori, and tasukizori are all on Ura’s list of successful kimarite.
Already on Tuesday, day 2 of the November basho, the crazy techniques began. Enho tried his biggest hasso-tobi yet, trying to clear 6’5″/195cm Kaisei at the tachiai. Reaching for a left grip over top, Enho was stuffed by the astronomically larger man and promptly pushed to the dirt.
Two Ozeki WithdrawBoth of the newest Ozeki withdrew in the first days of the tournament; Asanoyama on day 3, and Shodai on day 5. Chairman Hakkaku had already felt the need to apologize to the audience for the absence of both Yokozuna in his opening day greeting. He assured fans that, “The results of relentless daily training are sure to be displayed, and I hope heated bouts will meet your expectations.”
Asanoyama’s right shoulder injury from his day 1 bout against Kiribayama forced him to give up his last chance to win a title as Ozeki under current Takasago-oyakata. Master Takasago retires after this basho as he’ll reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 on December 9th.
Debuting at Ozeki, Shodai took a bad fall on day 3. As he squeezed out a win against Takayasu, the Shin-ozeki stepped down off the dohyo awkwardly on his left ankle, tearing a ligament.
This is the first tournament since 2003 that two Yokozuna and two Ozeki are on the sidelines. 17 years ago it was Yokozuna Musashimaru, Yokozuna Takanohana, Ozeki Chiyotaikai, and Ozeki Kaio.