Sumo is back!!! The second Basho tournament of the 2018 sumo schedule started on Sunday.
Again, it seems that most intrigue in the first week of a tournament involves the wrestlers not competing, rather than the ones who are. The two most popular Yokozuna, the legendary Hakuho and Japanese superstar Kisenosato, both pulled out of the Osaka Basho citing injuries of completely different severity.
Kisenosato is sidelined with his consistently injured pectoral muscle, which everyone has known for a while requires surgery. Finally, after repeated attempts at therapy, the Kisenosato camp has acknowledged what everyone knew, and opted to undergo surgery. Kisenosato will skip the next three or four Basho, and complete surgery and recovery. Unfortunately for Kisenosato the next tournament he returns to fight in will most likely determine his fate as a Yokozuna. The council has been clear that he will not be allowed to withdraw from the next tournament he starts. In fact, many in the sumo community find the whole idea of taking off time for surgery to be against the spirit of the sport itself. In their mind, a Yokozuna not competing for half a year is a very “un-sumo like” thing to do. And you think MMA is a meat grinder.
Hakuho on the other hand, has an injury that should clear up in time for May’s return to Tokyo. An absolutely disgusting big toe injury has taken the greatest sumo wrestler of all time off the Osaka tournament. I’m no doctor, but his toe injury has the symptoms of someone who broke his toe, and refused to stop training on it. That giant puffy, purple toe looks like it got inflamed, discolored, and then infected. No matter the severity, I expect Hakuho to return to sumo dominance by the beginning of May. Consider this first two tournaments of 2018 he spent injured, as a gift to allow the rest of the sport. Giving someone else a chance.
With this weakened field, a lot of people are speculating on a possible Tochinoshin repeat victory. With his new promotion to Sekiwake, Tochinoshin has matched his career best ranking. With only one Yokozuna and two Ozeki (both who lost on day one), the Georgian Beast has an opportunity early to thrive against much lower ranked wrestlers. Taking advantage could put him in the driver’s seat at the end of this tournament to capture back-to-back Basho victories, and complete one of the greatest comeback stories in sumo history.
Let’s watch Tochinoshin just bully Takarafuji for a yorikiri, or “frontal force out”, victory.
Perhaps the only competition for Tochinoshin is the sole remaining Yokozuna in the tournament, Kakuryu.
Kakuryu returned to Yokozuna form in the first tournament of 2018 by going 10-0 and looking like he was going to cruise to an Emperor’s Cup. But he lost four of the last five days in the tournament, falling from an easy tournament win, to end up not in contention during the final days. The Mongolian Yokozuna had previously pulled out of five of 2017’s six tournaments. So the poor showing in the last few days of the tournament keep a lot of critical eyes on Kakuryu.
Oddly enough, this Osaka tournament may be one of his best opportunities in a while to capture a Basho. With injuries abound, he won’t have to face much of the elite level of sumo that has dominating the last few years of the sport.
Let’s watch the sole remaining Yokozuna Kakuryu overpower Chiyotairu for a yorikiri (frontal push out) victory.
As we enter the first week of the Osaka Basho, always more about seeing who loses more than who wins. Any top ranked wrestlers who makes it to next Sunday with zero or one loss will become an early favorite to win. With day one losses this Basho for both Ozeki, both Tochinoshin and Kakuryu have stepped to the front of the tournament as favorites. They are clearly two Rikishi to watch closely as things develop in Osaka.
If you really want to dive deep into the sumo life, or if you want some dope background video while you work, here is all two hours plus of the opening day of the 2018 Osaka tournament, including announcing the wrestlers and Tochinoshin’s return of the trophy. Enjoy. And remember to watch Jason’s All-Sumo Channel on YouTube all tournament long for daily Sumo coverage.