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SUMO ABC No. 88 / Mitakeumi should prove in practice ring whether he’s ready for ozeki status

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Sekiwake Mitakeumi stands by a commemorative photo for his tournament victory at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sept. 8.

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterSekiwake Mitakeumi ended up 9-6 at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September, where he was expected to seek promotion to ozeki, the second-highest rank of the sport.

He seemed to show drive initially, winning his first five bouts, but neither his record nor fighting performance had made much of an impression by the time the 15-day tourney concluded. It was far from a breakthrough.

Expectations that Mitakeumi would become an ozeki soared when he won his first title at the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in July with a record of 13-2.

The Nagoya tourney was not one of the fiercest. All three yokozuna — Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato — plus one of the three ozeki — Tochinoshin — were either absent throughout the tournament or left midway through. As a result, four of the top six wrestlers were ultimately absent. As for the other two ozeki, Mitakeumi defeated Goeido, but lost to Takayasu. So I would say the value of the Emperor’s Cup was somehow lessened.

Nonetheless, Mitakeumi enjoyed the honor of capturing two of the three nontitle prizes: outstanding performance and technique. Naturally, people expected him to be promoted to ozeki if he won at least 11 bouts in the Autumn tourney.

Then came the Autumn tournament, with all the yokozuna and ozeki ready and steady. Mitakeumi beat ozeki Tochinoshin on the fifth day, marking his fifth straight win, but he lost momentum after losing badly to ozeki Goeido on the sixth day. The three yokozuna crushed him: Hakuho on the ninth day, Kakuryu on the 10th and Kisenosato on the 12th.

Stablemaster Onomatsu, who heads the judges division of the Japan Sumo Association, said Mitakeumi “has to start from scratch.”

It wasn’t the sekiwake’s results that disappointed Onomatsu, but rather his performance. He cannot be blamed for succumbing to yokozuna, but there was no sense of the fighting spirit of a challenger, giving them a good fight.

I’ve been told that Mitakeumi rarely uses his full strength in training bouts with yokozuna or ozeki. This might be a strategy of “not showing his hand” to opponents. But if that’s the case, what’s the point in having such opportunities to practice with them? You can only get an idea of better wrestlers’ abilities by putting in 100 percent.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Mitakeumi, left, pushes out Shodai on Day 1 of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament on Sept. 9 in Tokyo.

It’s shortsighted to make plans without knowing the real strength of the yokozuna. Mitakeumi should realize the significance of having only one tournament with double-digit wins, the July tournament, despite competing nine straight seasons as a komusubi and sekiwake. He is still young, just 25. I really need to see him ferociously charging against his opponents.

— Miki is a sumo expert.

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