Champions, Concussions, Changes, and Consequences | January News

It’s been a week since the sumo world pushed its 2021 luck with the New Year tournament. We all know by now that Maegashira #1 Daieisho won his first top division yusho, beating the entirety of a relatively strong sanyaku, and going 8-0 right from the beginning. If you haven’t seen how this played out, watch the video below, it’s pretty cool.

As with every honbasho, there were a few others with which to share at least a little bit of the spotlight…

Meet the Champions of Hatsu Basho 2021

JONOKUCHI: East #25 | Atamifuji Sakutaro | Shizuoka-ken | Isegahama-beya
18 years old | 185cm | 166kg | Yotsu-zumo | 9 wins 1 loss

Atamifuji took the 6-1 yusho in a three way tie-breaker on his first outing as a pro! He seems to be a promising grappler, winning most of his bouts with a belt grip.

Image: Nikkan Sports

“I had lost to Arauma in a regular match, but I beat him in the playoff, so that was good… My future goal is to be Yokozuna!”

JONIDAN: East #15 | Nogami Ren | Aomori-ken | Oguruma-beya
30 years old | 176cm | 160kg | Migi-yotsu | 245 wins 204 losses 41 forfeits

Before November 2020, Nogami had never won a title, despite spending ten years between the Sandanme and Makushita divisions. After taking five straight basho off due to a right ACL tear, Nogami came back to win both November’s Jonokuchi Yusho last year, and this year’s January Jonidan title — both with 7-0 records!

Image: Nikkan Sports

“I’m happy. That’s all I have to say. I want to have the confidence to reach salaried level.”

SANDANME: East #54 | Oginohama Shoma | Kanagawa-ken | Dewanoumi-beya
26 years old | 177cm | 137kg | Yotsu-zumo | 222 wins 191 losses 28 forfeits

Suffering from a major ankle injury in 2019, then a toe injury at the end of last year, Oginohama has come back to win his first championship (7-0)! Before his last injury which sidelined him in September, he went by the shikona of Aominohama. Thinking it could change his luck, he consulted with Stablemaster Dewanoumi (former Oginohana) about changing his ring name. Dewanoumi-oyakata gave him the go-ahead, and Oginohama took on his current name, similar to his stablemaster’s old shikona. It seems to have worked so far!

Image: Nikkan Sports

“I’ve won a title, but it doesn’t end here. One day at a time, one bout at a time… I haven’t really given (repromotion to) Makushita much thought, as I’m just taking it step by step.”

Oginohama vs. Roman for the Sandanme title

MAKUSHITA: West #19 | Sakigake Takeshi | Mongolia | Shibatayama-beya
34 years old | 180cm | 170kg | Oshi-zumo | 399 wins 377 losses

Another first time yusho winner (6-1), Sakigake emerged victorious over a playoff pool of nine Makushita wrestlers! Never having missed a day of competition in his 17 year professional career, the 34 year old Mongolian native’s accomplishments have finally been highlighted. Sakigake has been ranked in Juryo for a total of six tournaments in the past, and he says he’s aiming to get back to that level.

Image: Nikkan Sports

“It was enjoyable sumo. I’ve been wrestling for a long time, so nerves weren’t an issue.”

JURYO: East #8 | Tsurugisho Momotaro | Tokyo-to | Oitekaze-beya
29 years old | 182cm | 191kg | Migi-yotsu | 282 wins 235 losses 10 forfeits

Leading the pack from beginning to end, Tsurugisho clinched his second Juryo championship! It was an exciting start for the Tokyo man, setting a personal record of 9 wins in a row. But the finish may have left something to be desired, as an injured Ikioi finally took his first ever rest day on day 15, leaving Tsurugisho to simply accept the default win and, in the same motion, the yusho.

Image: Japan Sumo Association

“It was my first default win. Feels weird. I have mixed feelings about it, but I’m happy.”

MAKUNOUCHI: West M1 | Daieisho Hayato | Saitama-ken | Oitekaze-beya
27 years old | 182cm | 161kg | Oshi-zumo | 370 wins 313 losses

And your 2021 New Year Grand Sumo Tournament Top Division Champion: Daieisho! Taking out the entire sanyaku brigade right off the bat, and matching his stablemate Tsurugisho’s footsteps for 8 straight wins from day 1, Daieisho stuck to what he knows best, attacking head on with ferocious pushes and thrusts. Ozeki Shodai threatened a come-from-behind win towards the end of the tournament, but Daieisho was able to pull it together with a final day win against Okinoumi. He finished with 13 wins to walk away with the Emperor’s Cup, a Technique Prize, and an Outstanding Performance Prize!

Image: @grandsumointl

“I knew I had to focus until the very end… Everyone from Oitekaze Stable was in good form. It was great!”

What Do We Do About Concussions?

There is no avoiding cracking heads every now and then when playing a sport such as sumo. It’s inevitable that a professional sumo wrestler will sustain many a head injury over the course of his career. That being said, knock-outs and injuries of the sort have so far been treated with as much attention as Takayasu pays to his man-scaping routine.

When a wrestler is knocked out during a match, generally it results in a win for the conscious wrestler. Standard practice has been to allow the fallen wrestler to flop around until he has the ability to wobble to his corner and exit the dohyo.

Then there was Shonannoumi on day 10 of Hatsu. I’ll let Chris Gould explain this one:

Chris Sumo talks about recent calls for a concussion protocol

Overlooked by most in this discussion was Churanoumi, who first cracked heads with Takagenji, then hit his head hard falling from the dohyo on day 13…

Although no “comprehensive” concussion protocol has been drawn up yet, sumo has taken a step in the right direction with a recent rule change. The new rule allows judges to decide if a rikishi is unfit to compete before the tachiai, resulting in a forfeited match, instead of going ahead with it.

COVID’s Toll

A chunk out of the torikumi: Just before Hatsu 2021, four stables found the virus amid their ranks. Among the infected was Yokozuna Hakuho, meaning all of Miyagino-beya would be barred from competing. A few others at Tomozuna, Kokonoe, and Arashio stables contracted the virus as well, meaning each entire stable, hairdressers and all, were not able to participate in the New Year meet. Almost 100 sumo personnel in total, and 65 wrestlers were in quarantine as the rest slugged it out in front of a live audience.

Retiring young: As this went on during a surge in virus cases, one particular lower division wrestler from Sadogatake Stable named Kotokantetsu ended up resigning for fear of catching COVID. Having suffered from heart issues, the 22 year old did not originally wish to quit pro sumo altogether. However, when he asked if he could withdraw from this tournament, sumo officials responded, “Withdrawing from fear of catching the virus? Unheard of!”

They gave him the option to go forward with matches, or retire. He chose retirement, as stated in his twitter post. This comes not one year after the death of Shobushi, a young wrestler from Takadagawa Stable who had contracted the virus.

Another breach of safety protocols: As callous as the Japan Sumo Association seems to be to the needs and suffering of even its highest grossing employees, extra care has been taken each step of the way to ensure that each basho is, if not completely safe, at least feasible. This meant no outings for stable-dwellers.

It came as little surprise when “trouble-maker” Abi made his late night runs to the bar during quarantine (he by the way is scheduled to return to action this March, but he won’t be getting much coverage on TV from down in the Makushita division). Some were surprised however, to hear that the head of Tokitsukaze Stable was the latest to break the rules.

Tokitsukaze-oyakata had been found to be frequenting a mahjong parlor while he should have been home at the stable. This was not his first offense of this type either. The consequences for risking further spread of the coronavirus are to be discussed at the JSA’s board meeting next month. Consequences could range from a written apology to straight up firing, but Tokitsukaze has reportedly prepared himself for resignation.

Stay up-to-date on Twitter: @grandsumointl

The good news: One of the stables to get hit the hardest with the virus, Kokonoe, has seen a homecoming of its stablemaster and most if not all of its infected wrestlers who had been hospitalized. Hakuho has also beaten the virus and is back home safe and sound.

Early Banzuke Revelations

Welcome to Juryo: Based on decisions made by the sumo association’s Banzuke Deciding Committee this past Wednesday, two new faces will prepare to don the colored belts and ceremonial aprons of salaried rikishi in March. They are 24 year old Takakento, a Kumamoto native fighting out of Tokiwayama-beya; and Fujishima-beya’s first sekitori in a while, Bushozan, a 25 year old from Ibaraki.

Returning to the second division are Ichiyamamoto (Nishonoseki) after 7 basho below, and Nishikifuji (Isegahama) after just 2 basho.

What about all the absent wrestlers? The four stables that reported coronavirus pre-basho contained 65 wrestlers. All of them, infected or not, were unable to compete at Hatsu 2021. Unlike in the past where Tamanoi-beya’s wrestlers were given rank forgiveness, having withdrawn specifically due to the virus, this time only lower division rikishi are allowed to maintain their ranks from January’s banzuke.

This means that despite the fact some wrestlers who did not even have the virus were unable to compete because of others in their stable, if they are in the top two divisions, their absence will be counted as usual, and their rank may drop. According to some sources, those who have dropped in rank due to COVID have only dropped as far as 1 rank. We wont know for sure until late next month when the full rankings chart is released.

Yokozuna Tochinoumi Dies

The 49th Yokozuna Tochinoumi died on Friday (January 29th) due to aspiration pneumonia. At 82 years old, he was the second longest living Yokozuna.

During his career he won three top division titles and was known for his technical ability. After retirement from competition, Tochinoumi became the 10th generation Stablemaster Kasugano. He served the stable until retirement in 2003.

Image: Nikkan Sports

A final bit of information: The March tournament, usually held in Osaka, will be held in Tokyo this year.

Nikkan Sports
Kyodo News
Sumo DB
Japan Sumo Association
Chris Sumo

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