The Spring Sumo Tournament: Living up to the hype

The 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament kicked off on March 10th in the western city of Osaka. With the retirement of a big star Yokozuna Kisenosato in the New Year Tournament in January, people were wondering what kind of tournament it would be this time.
As it turned out, it was nothing short of spectacular with the championship hanging in the balance until the very last moment.

Getting the job done

Heading into the contest, all eyes were on Takakeisho who was gunning for a promotion to the second highest rank of Ozeki. This was his second chance to make the rank after he came up short in January.
Takakeisho had personally told me that he wanted to earn the promotion this time, because the chance to make the rank doesn't come around very often. He said he was determined to rise to the rank by performing at a very high level.

In Osaka, he needed to win 10 out of 15 bouts to make the rank. Entering the final day, the 22-year-old Ozeki hopeful had 9 wins and 5 losses... meaning that his Ozeki promotion was on the line in his final bout. On Day 15, Takakeisho faced off against the Georgian Ozeki Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin was also desperate to win his final match in Osaka, because with a loss he would face a demotion and fall out of the rank of Ozeki.
The match was over quickly with Takakeisho blowing Tochinoshin away with his fierce pushing and thrusting attacks. With the victory, Takakeisho ended with 10 wins and 5 losses... enough to earn promotion to Ozeki.

By the way, for Tochinoshin, the loss meant he'll be competing at the third highest rank of Sekiwake in the following tournament.

Takakeisho manhandles Tochinoshin to clinch his promotion to Ozeki.

On March 27th, Japan Sumo Association's board of directors officially decided to promote Takakeisho to Ozeki. He's the sixth fastest and the 9th youngest wrestler to be promoted since the current
six-tournament-a-year system was introduced in 1958. Upon receiving the promotion, Takakeisho said he will continue to work hard in order not to disgrace the title of Ozeki. He also expressed joy in fulfilling his childhood dream.

At his official promotion ceremony, Takakeisho pledges to continue his hard work.

In the next tournament, we'll have three men fighting at Ozeki... Takakeisho along with Goeido and Takayasu.
People are already talking about who among the Ozeki trio will make the highest rank of Yokozuna. The youngest rikishi in the top division Takakeisho has already said that he has no plans of slowing down. Since there's one more rank above Ozeki, he'll do everything he can and work even harder to make the top rank of Yokozuna someday.

One thing's for certain... Takakeisho will be drawing huge attention when he competes as the newly promoted Ozeki in May in Tokyo.

Sumo's top dog does it again

As for the championship in Osaka, Yokozuna grand champion Hakuho was the sole leader entering Day 15 with 14 wins and no losses. He faced off a fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu hoping to finish with a perfect record championship. The bout turned into a seesaw battle, as both men refused to give in. In the end, Hakuho buried Kakuryu to take the match and win the spring tourney championship. Hakuho won his 42nd title by going 15 and 0. It was the 34-year-old Mongolian's 15th perfect record championship.

Entering the competition, people questioned Hakuho's condition and his stamina, because he had withdrawn from the January tournament with injuries to his lower body. But Hakuho silenced the critics by staying unscathed from start to finish. Not only did he put on a perfect showing in Osaka, he did it in a flawless fashion winning the majority of his matches convincingly.

After winning the title, he expressed his gratitude by saying that he had knee surgery last October and everyone including his stablemaster helped him so much to win the championship in Osaka.
There's no doubt that in Osaka he was able to redeem himself and prove once again that he's the king of the ring.

Hakuho receives the Emperor’s Cup with the help of a stablemaster.

That said, there's one concern for Hakuho moving ahead. The Yokozuna injured his right arm during his match against Kakuryu. Hakuho says he injured the arm at the very end of the match when he executed the underarm throw that put Kakuryu away.
During the victory ceremony, a sumo elder gave Hakuho a helping hand when the Yokozuna received the Emperor's Cup.

Hakuho left Osaka with another feather in his cap, but we'll have to wait and see whether Hakuho can compete in the next tournament in May.

Ichinojo's hopes dashed... again

Hakuho won the championship, but one man kept breathing down Hakuho's neck throughout the tournament. That was Ichinojo, who also hails from Mongolia. Ichinojo is the biggest rikishi in the field of 42 Makunouchi top division combatants... he tips the scales at 226 kilograms.

The Mongolian behemoth got off to 7 wins and no losses before he lost his first match on Day 8. But, that was the only setback he suffered and he finished the contest with 14 wins and 1 loss. This type of record would normally give you a championship, but due to Hakuho's perfect outing Ichinojo fell short of his dream of winning his first ever top division title... again.

Ichinojo comes close, but no cigar. His hopes of winning his first title are dashed.

Ichinojo also was in a similar situation in the 2014 September tournament when he finished that contest with an impressive 13 wins and only 2 losses, but ended as a runner-up. The rikishi who got in Ichinojo's way was none other than Hakuho, who finished as the title winner with a 14 and 1 record.

Ichinojo has been unlucky twice already, so the next time he contends for the championship he wants to be the man who comes out on top. Maybe it'll be third-time lucky for Ichinojo to win his first title next time. But, as they say, to be the best you have to beat the best. Therefore, he has to account for Hakuho and beat Hakuho if he really wants to haul in his dream.

The special prize winners

There are no points for second place in sumo, as everybody shoots for the Emperor's Cup. However, those rikishi who stood out during the tournament always get rewarded with special prizes.

Runner-up Ichinojo left Osaka with the Outstanding Performance Award for staying in contention till the last moment by racking up 14 wins.

Bulgarian Aoiyama was given the Fighting Spirit Prize for being aggressive throughout the tournament and winning 12 matches.

Takakeisho won the Technique Prize. He was highly praised for beating many foes with his magnificent pushing and thrusting attacks.

Special prize winners, from left: Ichinojo, Takakeisho, Aoiyama.

Popular Kisenosato keeping himself busy

Former Yokozuna Kisenosato retired in January and has begun a new career as a stablemaster, with a new name, Araiso. He joined the Spring Tournament as a rookie stablemaster. His fans were happy, because he now looks more relaxed compared to his days as Yokozuna... and smiles a lot. He was seen posing for photographs with many fans at the venue and also entertained them working as a commentator on a live TV broadcast.

Former Yokozuna Kisenosato is now a stablemaster. He says he wants to keep entertaining fans by nurturing exciting rikishi.

I had a chance to talk to Araiso recently and he told me that because he retired before he could fulfill his fans' expectations as a Yokozuna, he would like to keep entertaining them as a stablemaster by raising many exciting rikishi. He also said that he's having a great time nurturing young rikishi from the beginning of their careers and continuing to be part of the sumo world he loves.

As a sumo rikishi, Kisenosato reached the highest rank of Yokozuna, gathering many fans as he did so. His journey to "pay back" his fans as a stablemaster has just begun. Please check out my one-on-one interview with him on the Newsline website!

May tourney outlook

The next grand tournament will be held in May in Tokyo. As I alluded to earlier, Hakuho injured himself on the final day of the spring tourney, but many are hoping for his quick recovery and to see him in action when the competition gets underway on May 12th.

The newly promoted Ozeki Takakeisho will try to become the first new Ozeki to win a championship in 13 years. The last man to accomplish the feat was Hakuho when he won the top division title in his Ozeki debut contest in the 2006 May tournament.
To move up to Yokozuna, Takakeisho will have to win 2 tournaments in a row or put up performances somewhat equivalent to that. We'll see how Takakeisho will handle and overcome all the pressure competing at Ozeki level.

A couple of Ozeki combatants, Goeido and Takayasu, made things exciting in Osaka by contending for the title with double-digit winning records. People are hoping to see the same type of outing by the two Japanese Ozeki again in Tokyo.

The man who just fell out of the rank of Ozeki, Tochinoshin, will get another chance to reclaim the title in May. He'll compete at the third highest rank of Sekiwake in Tokyo, but if he can score 10 wins he will return to Ozeki for the July tournament. Anything less than 10 wins, Tochinoshin will be forced to start from scratch.

Finally, don't forget to keep your eye on Ichinojo. He was so disappointed for coming up short in Osaka, so I can tell you that he'll be determined to win his first title in May... that is, if he can get past the formidable Hakuho.