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October 2014: The Next of Kin

Just when you thought that the Mongolians couldn’t possibly get any more dominant in professional sumo, along comes a guy like Ichinojo to prove you wrong. This 21 year old powerhouse from the plains of Mongolia has made a big splash in his top division debut finishing runner up, collecting two special prizes and defeating two ozeki and a yokozuna in the process.

At the moment, we are in what I’ve been calling “The Era of the Mongolian” since the three men who currently occupy the highest rank in sumo all hail from Mongolia. In fact, there have not been any Japanese yokozuna since Wakanohana’s retirement in March of 2000. At the moment it looks like things are not going to get any more optimistic for a Japanese yokozuna since after the Aki basho there are a lot of rumblings about Ichinojo becoming the 72nd grand champion.

Rise to Stardom

Having been raised on the steeps of Mongolia to a nomadic family, Ichinojo practiced Mongolian wrestling and judo from a young age, winning the Mongolian wrestling championships at age 14. He moved to Japan in 2010 after being recruited for sumo and went on to have a very successful amateur career, which enabled him to debut “makushita tsukedashi” which means that instead of making his debut at the very bottom division in sumo with all of the other newcomers, he was allowed to start in the third highest division of makushita, becoming the first ever foreign born wrestler to do so.

Ichinojo breezed through his first two tournaments with 6 - 1 records gaining promotion to the second highest division of Juryo in just his third ever tournament where he actually won the championship with a record of 11 - 4. He nearly won back to back Juryo championships the next tournament from the J3 west slot, but lost to Tochinoshin in a playoff.

This past month in September of 2014 he made his top division debut in just the fifth tournament in his professional career, with his hair not yet even long enough to tie in a top knot. He got off to a 6 - 0 start before losing his day 7 bout to Ikioi. After day 9 he was tied with yokozuna Kakuryu in second place with a record of 8 - 1. This bumped him up the banzuke to fight the higher ranked wrestlers where he got a number of big wins including a day 10 win over the crafty M3-ranked veteran Yoshikaze and a controversial henka win over ozeki Kisenosato. He destroyed ozeki Goeido on day 12 and pulled a very ballsy day 13 henka on yokozuna Kakuryu, earning him his first gold star and a victory in his first bout against a yokozuna.

The Real Test

On day 14 Ichinojo found himself tied for the lead in the tournament with yokozuna Hakuho at 12 - 1. The two clashed in center ring with the winner most likely to go on to win the tournament. Hakuho quickly got his coveted right hand inside grip on the newbie. After patiently waiting for a deep grip on the mawashi, Hakuho made a move, forcing the rookie backwards towards the edge of the ring. Ichinojo tried to stand his ground, but got flipped down to the clay by the left hand of the yokozuna.


[Hakuho (brown) and Ichinojo (blue) go chest to chest]


What’s Next

Finishing runner up in his first ever top division tournament at 13 - 2 from the M10 slot, it’s very possible that Ichinojo will find himself in the sanyaku rankings in the November tournament, especially since every single wrestler ranked between sekiwake and M2 was make-koshi. If that is the case, he will be fighting each bout next tournament against sumo’s elite.

In the past several years there have been many wrestlers who have also made very memorable impacts on the top division rather quickly, only to fizzle out, the most recent being Endo who won the Juryo championship in his third ever tournament and debuted in the makuuchi division in the following one, but since then has been mediocre at best. There have also been guys like Kotooshu, Aran, Jokoryu and Osunaarashi who have made sudden and quick advancements to the top division, but then leveled off quite quickly. I think it will be very interesting to see how Ichinojo performs in November and if he can live up to the hype and the competition when going head to head with the big boys.

The King

Speaking of the big boys, yokozuna Hakuho is inching ever closer to breaking one of the most coveted records of all time - most career tournament wins. With his win in September, he now stands at 31, tying him with Chiyonofuji for second place. If he wins one more he’ll surpass Chiyonofuji and be tied with the all time leader Taiho at 32. In my opinion, Hakuho will go on not only to break this record, but leave it in the dust simply because there is no one that can stop him. The only thing that could possibly prevent it is injury. If he sticks around for a few more years, he’ll probably even beat Kaio’s record for most career wins.

The Rest

Below the Mongolians it starts to get quite pathetic. All three ozeki finished with less than 10 wins, which is generally frowned upon for the rank. Goeido just barely made kachi-koshi finishing at 8 - 7 in his debut at ozeki. There doesn’t really seem to be anyone else on the radar that can really compete with the three yokozuna at this point, in my opinion. Everyone else is just pecking around on the floor for crumbs, trying to make kachi-koshi. Everyone else but Ichinoji, that is.

Is this kid the next yokozuna? Will Hakuho finally have some real competition before he breaks Taiho’s record and retires or will Ichinoji just be another flash in the pan?




- Daniel Austin (Don Roid)


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