The summer sumo tournament, which gets under way May 6, will be the first basho in modern sumo history with six wrestlers fighting at the rank of ozeki, and the sextet will likely face a long, hard battle on the road to promotion to yokozuna.
“It was tough to just get 10 or more wins (out of 15 bouts per tournament),” says one-time ozeki Wakashimazu, who was one of five ozeki of his time in the 1980s.
Wakashimazu was promoted to ozeki in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in 1983. He enjoyed his first tournament victory at the spring basho the following year. He also won the Nagoya tournament with a perfect score of 15 wins, racking up the most wins that year with a total of 71 winning bouts. He had been widely expected to be promoted to yokozuna following in the footsteps of Takanosato, who was from the same Futagoyama stable.
But right before turning 30, Wakashimazu began losing steam due to his battle with diabetes and having to fight four other ozeki for sumo’s top rank. In the heyday of legendary yokozuna Chiyonofuji, ozeki had to square off against one another to secure a win.
“When ozeki lost a bout, it would make headlines in the papers. From a certain period, I felt like I had to protect my status,” says Wakashimazu, who only managed to secure two-digit wins once during 11 tournaments when there were four other ozeki to fight.
Former ozeki Kaio experienced the five-ozeki era for the longest time. He fought in 23 tourneys out of a total of 54 tournaments in which five ozeki reigned.
“My opponents didn’t change much, but I felt stronger about not wanting to lose to wrestlers in the same rank,” Kaio says.
Kaio, who won five tournaments, including twice during the five-ozeki era, never made it to yokozuna because of his many injuries. He says he continued competing despite his chronic backache and injuries all over his body because he “felt the responsibility as an ozeki.”
Before Kaio made history with a career total of 1,045 bout wins at last year’s Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, he visited Ise Shrine for good luck. But he had so much back pain that he says he wanted to lie down on the gravel approach at the shrine. Kaio also had the added pressure of being the only Japanese ozeki during his last year until he retired at the age of 38.
Wakashimazu, the current stablemaster Matsugane, has some advice for the current six ozeki. “Age 30 is the limit for ozeki and yokozuna. The current six ozeki are 25 to 29. If they want to get promoted, now is the time,” he says, adding that in order for any of those six to be promoted to yokozuna, they need to stay injury-free and have no opponents who they always lose to.
Will any of the six be able to accumulate exemplary skills and break through the ozeki wall?
Matsugane hopes so.
“If they can get through this struggle, they can become a great yokozuna,” he says with high expectations.
- « Prev
- Next »