Rikishi Profile: Mainoumi Shuhei – Giant at Heart.

mainoumi

With the undersized Enho knocking at the gates of Makuuchi, Ishiura holding steady at the moment in Juryo, and Ura climbing his way back up the ranks, I thought I’d focus on perhaps the greatest and most popular of all the diminutive, underdog rikishi. Mainoumi stood at 5’7”, and weighed about 215 lbs. However, his actual height was a couple of inches less than that. He gained notoriety even before joining the professional ranks, by persuading a doctor to inject silicone into his scalp, so he could meet the then mandatory height restriction (which has been loosened somewhat since then). As a Makushita tsukedashi, he was immediately allowed to debut in the Makushita ranks, and quickly rose to Juryo in less than a year, making his Makuuchi debut in the 1991 September (Aki) basho, and would eventually last for eight more years in the upper division.

A look at his wild, and exciting style against future ozeki Musoyama:

You can easily see why he was an immediate fan favorite. The Hawaiian giants had already made their imposing presence felt by the time of his arrival, and his very existence as a sekitori seemed to fly in the face of what, at the time, seemed like an increasing size arms race. Of course, to last as long as he did, he had to almost solely rely on his incredible speed, cunning, and his extraordinary technical skills. His nickname was the “department store of techniques,” and his technical mastery was such, that you’d often see even extremely skilled wrestlers of the time, like Sakahoko and Wakanohana III, seem a bit tentative to get into a pure grappling battle with him.

Against Sakahoko:

Close loss against future yokozuna Wakanohana:

The two most common winning techniques in sumo are: the yoriki (frontal force out) and the oshidashi (frontal push out). In his entire career, Mainoumi only had 33 total wins by yorikiri and amazingly only 3 total wins by oshidashi! By contrast, he won by the rather rare kimarite, kirikaeshi (twisting backward knee trip), a remarkable 50 times. His most common winning technique was the shitatenage (underarm throw), which he won 105 times with, as throws and tripping techniques made up the bulk of his wins. A notable technique that’s often showed in Mainoumi highlight compilations, or television specials, is his use of the kimarite mitokorozeme (triple attack force out), which he’s credited as being the first sumotori to successfully pull off, in the modern sumo era.

A famous example of a mitokorozeme (a 3-point attack, where he trips one leg, grabs the other one, and pushes forward with his neck and shoulder) against future yokozuna Akebono:

Spectacular use of a sakatottari (arm bar throw counter) against Wakashoyo:

Kotenage (armlock throw) against Daizen:

It’s in his numerous wins against the largest opponents of his time that perhaps garnered him the most admiration, labeling him as a “giant killer,” by defeating a veritable who’s-who list of prominent, gigantic sumotori of the era, such as: Akebono (500+lbs), Musashimaru (500lbs), Susanoumi (500lbs), Toyonoumi (400+lbs), Tatsuhikari (400+lbs), Tochinofuji (400+lbs), Yamato (400+lbs), Daishoyama (400lbs), Kotobeppu (400lbs), Kotonowaka (400lbs), Mitoizumi (400lbs), Shikishima (400lbs), and Konishiki (600+lbs!) who he managed to have a positive 7-5 record in his favor.

Clinging desperately to future yokozuna Musashimaru:

Playing a brief game of patty-cake with ozeki Konishiki: 

It was in one of these matches against Konishiki where he suffered a devastating leg injury that subsequently robbed him of some of his speed and mobility, a key factor in the success of his intense, reactive style. He would last for about three more years in the upper division after that, dropping down to Juryo several times, until finally retiring in 1999. Still, it was his incredible heart and determination, and immense technical skill that made him such a beloved and entertaining rikishi to watch. For someone whose highest rank was komosubi, which he only reached once in his career, he’s still brought up and fondly remembered as much any ozeki from practically any era. His legacy is such that any undersized wrestler who’s on the cusp of entering into the makuuchi ranks, is immediately hailed as the next Mainoumi, but from even just a cursory glance at some of his videos, that’s sure to be a gargantuan act for any rikishi to follow.

More Vids:

Getting into a “footsies” battle with another notable leg tripper in Kyokushuzan:

A fierce battle with Terao, another relatively lightweight rikishi of the era:

Super-leaping henka against Kitakachidoki:

But Wait, There’s More:

An example of his unusual nekodamashi tachiai, where he’d clap his hands in front of a charging wrestler, in order to momentarily stun them:

Hakuho possibly paying homage to him, in this bizarre match against Tochiozan:

Featured briefly in a National Geographic segment on Sumo:

A behind-the-scenes look at Mainoumi’s small role in the film, “Memoirs of a Geisha:”

 

 

Rikishi Profile: Terao Tsunefumi – A Sumo Typhoon That Lasted Decades.

Terao Konishiki

My personal favorite rikishi of all time. Terao was most famous for his furious, windmill-tsuppari attack, and for his unusual longevity despite his small size, which topped off at around 255-260 lbs. His various, unique nicknames all reflect these qualities: “Tsunami,” “The Eternal Typhoon,”  and “The Iron Man.” Like the Hanada family dynasty (two Wakanohana’s and two Takanohana’s) he also came from a family with a rich sumo tradition, with numerous extended family members involved with the sport by either marriage or blood, most notably his father and two brothers. One of his older brothers only made it to the Juryo ranks, but somewhat fittingly, Terao, his father, and his older brother, Sakahoko, all managed to reach their highest rank of Sekiwake.

Here’s a look at his trademark tsunami thrusting style:

Terao vs yokozuna Hokutoumi:

Terao vs Akinoshima:

Terao vs Takatoriki:

You can easily tell that he’s the oyakata of Abi, as Abi’s relentless thrusting attack greatly resembles his mentor. However, unlike Abi, and practically all the other oshi specialists that hover around the lower Maegashira ranks today, Terao was also a very skilled grappler. In fact, I would venture to say that he was the best grappler out of any pure oshi specialist that at least I’ve seen. He usually only resorted to it, if his thrusting led to an opening, or if it just simply wasn’t working, undoubtedly because of his slim frame that was an inherent disadvantage in up-close yotsu grappling.

His weight handicap, despite his technique and grit, is very apparent here in this bout against the very tough 400lb Mitoizumi:

A great demonstration of his all-around skill displayed here against yokozuna Chiyonofuji:

Perhaps his more outstanding quality was his aforementioned longevity, especially considering his slender build and furious attacking style. I first began watching sumo in 1993. By that time, Terao had already been competing in the Makuuchi division for eight years, and would continue to wrestle on after 1993, for an additional nine more years in the upper division, having begun his sumo career in the Kitanoumi era in the late 70’s, and ending it at just before the Asashoryu era in 2002. (He actually fought against a young Asashoryu in Juryo).

In many ways, he’s a quintessential “unlikely” sumotori; someone who achieved far more than his physical sumo stature curtailed. If you didn’t know who he was and took a simple glance at him, you probably wouldn’t immediately peg him as someone that would have a successful career in the sport, and certainly not one that would last for an amazing 23 total years—17 of them in the upper division. His trademark windmill-thrusting attack, all-around skills, hard-nosed competitive spirit, and also a bit of luck in staying injury-free, all contributed to creating one of the most exciting, and distinctive wrestlers in recent memory.

More related clips:

Match against yokozuna Onokuni:

Against a young Takanohana:

His heated reaction after losing a close, hard-fought match, in another bout with Takanohana. His disappointment from this loss, compelled him to fight on for as long as he was physically able to. From a Japanese documentary:

Rikishi Profile: Kotonishiki Katsuhiro – A Missile on the Dohyo.

Kotonishiki

Before Harumafuji would rocket himself across the dohyo, there was Kotonishiki. One of the most explosive rikishi in sumo history, he’s probably best known for being the only Maegashira ranked wrestler to win 2 top division championships. Some might say, that’s an indictment on him, as he perhaps never lived up to greater potential, but I personally thought he used his talents as best he could in a very tough era, despite having some glaring physical disadvantages. The thing that immediately stands out about him, is his explosive tachi-ai charge. As I mentioned, it wasn’t until Harumafuji arrived that a wrestler was finally able to match that lightning-quick burst he displayed.

Kotonishiki blasting the exciting Mainoumi out and clinching his first Makuuchi championship:

Kotonishiki vs yokozuna Hokutoumi:

There were several physical limitations he had that probably contributed to him not winning more than he did. For one, he was light at around 290 lbs—another similarity to Harumafuji . Second of all, despite his speed-based oshi-thrusting style, he had short, stubby, T-Rex arms. Also, while he was skilled on the mawashi, especially for an oshi-specialist, it wasn’t his forte. Fellow oshi-specialists of the time like Akebono or Konishiki could use their longer limbs or much greater size and strength to help keep their opponents off their belt, while he had to rely more on his quick burst speed to attack before opponents could react, and keep them constantly unbalanced.

On his way to his 2nd championship. This clip shows some of his belt skill against the great Takanohana:

This win against the ozeki Takanonami secured his improbable 2nd championship, seven years after winning his first one:

Kotonishiki was a unique, underrated, and exciting wrestler, who used his explosive speed and fierce will to blast out a multitude of opponents for over 11 years in the Makuuchi division. Although he often hovered around the Maegashira ranks, he was a key figure during a very stacked era, and was a constant threat for even the ozeki and yokozuna of the time, as shown by his long list of achievements: with two championships, eight kinboshi, and 18 total special prizes.

More clips of him in action:

Kotonishiki runs the great Chiyonofuji off the dohyo:

Kotonishiki vs a then-ozeki Wakanohana:

Kotonishiki vs Takanohana 2:

Clip of him training and flying around the dohyo in a tournament. From a longer Japanese documentary:

Kotonishiki’s Oyakata tearing up at ringside after his pupil’s second championship is clinched. From the same documentary:

Rikishi Profile: Takanonami Sadahiro – A Sumo Life Spent Living on the Edge.

One of the most unorthodox rikishi in recent memory, Takanonami was a part of the powerful Futogayama heya during the mid-late 90’s, when they were probably the most dominant stable the sumo world has ever seen. He was tall at around 6’7” and although he often did things that were technically wrong in a basic sense–like his proclivity for retreating and moving backwards–he was still able to carve out a very successful career with his unusual and singular style. He was especially famous for his kimedashi (arm-barring force out), or rather, the setup he would utilize once he was being driven back—right often to the very edge of the dohyo. From that seemingly desperate position, he would reach over and lock up both his opponent’s arms, and then steadily begin to march them out, or suddenly swing them around for the win. Using my personal methodology of pure “conjecture-science,” I estimate that he probably spent more time at the edge of the tawara (straw bales) than any other rikishi in modern sumo history. Not only did he spend a lot of time on the edge, but he strangely seemed to be most comfortable fighting from there as well.

Takanonami kimedashi vs Kotoryu:

Takanonami kimedashi vs Jumonji:

If that was his sole means of winning, he’d certainly not be as successful as he was, but from that position, he actually had multiple other means of attack. He could use the kimedashi, but he could also abruptly go for the uwatenage (overarm throw), which was the technique that made up the third most amount of his wins at 57. He could also turn and pull his opponents down for the shitatenage (underarm throw) which he won with 33 times. Or, if his opponent responded to try and prevent the kimedashi, he could suddenly focus on one arm for the Kotenage (armlock throw) which he had 67 wins with. He would often also use one of his legs to hook over one of his opponent’s legs, and drive forward for the sotogake (outside leg trip), something his opponents had to be constantly aware of. A lot of his wins that register as yorikiri were initially setup by this awkward retreating arm lock position.

Takanonami shitatenage vs Iwakiyama:

Takanonami sotogake vs Hayateumi:

Takanonami kotenage vs Tosanoumi:

Takanonami beating his stablemate Takanohana in a playoff, with a rare kawazugake, for his first championship:

Again, this was a highly unorthodox style, and his height and long arms were an essential contributing factor into making it all work. Mitoizumi, a contemporary of his, was also tall and heavy at 6’4” and 400lbs, and won a lot of bouts with the kimedashi as well, but it was by no means the central focus of his attack like it was for Takanonami. To me, it was Terunofuji (when he was healthy) who most resembled him at times, as he pulled off multiple kimedashi wins in a similar manner after first being driven to the edge. However, like Mitoizumi, that was not that main way he wrestled, as Terunofuji had a much more straight-forward, power-based style, and tended to use the kimedashi more as a last resort.

Terunofuji kimedashi vs Shohouzan:

Terunofuji kimedashi vs Mitakeumi:

Takanonami was an extremely unconventional wrestler who–regardless of the eccentric nature of his style–reached the rank of ozeki in 1994, which he held for seven years, eventually winning two basho championships. After suffering numerous injuries, he lost a good portion of his power, which was vital for his style to work, and was eventually demoted from his ozeki rank. He wrestled on for a further four years after that, finally becoming the last member of his once dominant heya to step down from the upper division ranks in 2004. He passed away in 2015, at the age of 43 from heart failure, having reportedly had a possible heart condition even while he was still wrestling. Yet, it was the memorable way he wrestled, and the success he garnered with that style, even while doing a lot of things technically wrong, that truly made him an unforgettable, one-of-a kind sumotori.

More vids:

Takanonami once again defeating his stablemate Takanohana in a playoff for his 2nd championship:

Against the ageless Kyokutenho:

Using the seldom seen “bent-crab stance” here against Akebono…

My self-appointed Takanonami Theme Song tribute:

Rikishi Profile: Kirishima Kazuhiro – Perhaps the Greatest of the Sumo Power Lifters.

AVT_Kazumi-Yoshinaga_4213

With Tochinoshin recently bringing in a lot of new international sumo fans, I thought I’d give a brief spotlight to a somewhat forgotten rikishi who fought in a similar power-sumo style. Like Tochinoshin, Kirishima became Ozeki relatively late in his career at the age of 31. In fact, he has the all-time record for being the slowest to ever reach the rank. Also like Tochinoshin, he was especially famous for his incredible strength, and tsuri-dashi (lift-out) wins in particular. He retired with an amazing 56 wins by tsuri-dashi, at nearly 10% of his total wins. By comparison, Tochinoshin currently has 22 tsuri-dashi wins for about 4% of his total wins, although he has about 7 years to match or surpass Kirishima, who retired at 37. Another winning technique that requires a tremendous amount of strength is the utchari, where a wrestler lifts and swings his opponent around at the edge. He had 19 wins by utchari including this notable example against the gigantic yokozuna Onokuni:

Kirishima vs yokozuna Onokuni:

He was a fitness freak, who would run before sumo training began, and then lift weights afterwards. He was also very undersized at around 280 lbs. Imagine someone who was around Harumafuji’s size (10 lbs. less in fact!), who instead wrestled with a strength-based, power style like Terunofuji. Rikishi were already big by that time too during the 80’s – early 90’s era in which he wrestled (around 15-20 lbs. smaller overall than today). He certainly wasn’t as strong overall as Baruto, Tochinoshin, Terunofuji or Akebono, and he didn’t get the sheer “air time” on his lift-outs that Tochinoshin does, but I personally consider him the greatest pure lifter in recent history at least, because of how small he was, and the fact that nearly all of the opponents he lifted out (besides Chiyonofuji) often outweighed him by 30-80lbs or more.

More video clips:

Against the great Chiyonofuji:

Winning his only championship against yokozuna Hokutoumi, while his family, wife, and supporters cheer him on:

Funny match against Mitoizumi, that had 3 torinaoshi’s! (redo’s):

Footage of him training, drinking a specially made protein drink his girlfriend would make for him, and eating with fellow stablemates Terao and Sakahoko (both now Oyakata). It’s from a Japanese documentary with no English subtitles unfortunately:

Rikishi Profile: Akebono – The First Foreign-Born Yokozuna.

*Note: I gathered a lot of this info from the book, “Gaijin Yokozuna” by Mark Panek, the book, “Takamiyama: The World of Sumo” by John Wheeler, various Wikipedia articles, and a slew of documentaries and TV specials, whose names I’ve since forgotten.*

The Historical Pretext:

Akebono is perhaps best known for his gigantic size and for being the first foreign born sumotori to reach the rank of yokozuna. However, Akebono’s ground-breaking promotion to sumo’s highest position was only made possible by several other Hawaiian sumotori that came before him, who piece-by-piece, slowly managed to chip away at the insular nature of the sumo world and give it the more diverse, international representation that it has today. Takamiyama, the oyakata that invited Akebono to Japan, was the first foreign born rikishi to win an upper-division championship. Although an affable and very popular figure in Japan during the 1970’s, he was very careful to keep his head down and not cause any waves. I.e., he was good and managed to have an incredibly long career, but he wasn’t good enough to ever threaten making the highest ranks. He was, in a sense, the perfect foreign representative, as he proved that foreign born rikishi could indeed adapt to both the sumo world and the Japanese lifestyle as well.

Japanese Commercial featuring a Cuddly Takamiyama:

Konishiki, the next Hawaiian sumotori to follow him on the other hand, was not only vastly different in terms of temperament, he was also indeed good enough to actually threaten making the top ranks. Unlike Takamiyama, Konishiki had a brash and outspoken personality. His rapid rise, inelegant brute-force style, and gargantuan size (about 630lbs at his peak), left a bad impression in the eyes of some sumo purists. In 1992, after winning two out of the previous 3 tournaments and getting a 12-3 record in the other, some felt that he should’ve been promoted to yokozuna. He himself was quoted as saying that if he was Japanese he would’ve already been promoted—something he later denied saying and subsequently apologized for. The current thought that some in the sumo world had at the time, was that foreign born rikishi would never possess the appropriate grace and honorable qualities required by the lofty rank, with some Japanese sumo elders and newspaper articles openly stating that. Nevertheless, he was denied the promotion, and honestly in hindsight that looked like it was the correct call because his career soon went on a huge downswing after that. Still, the blunt and forceful way he burst onto the scene and made his large presence known, required the sumo world to take a harder look at the issue and helped further pave the way for Akebono’s later ascension.

Konishiki moving shockingly well for a 550+ lb man:

Sumo Career:

At 6’8”, Akebono’s long, gangly limbs were initially seen as a huge handicap, as he was thought to be too top-heavy and prone to getting swept and thrown. In fact, his younger brother Ola, who had a more balanced and ideal sumo body type similar to Musashimaru, was actually the more prized recruit. Takamiyama practically agreed to accept Akebono as a throw-in, on the condition that he would later get his brother Ola to join, who was only 16 at the time and would have to wait a couple more years to be eligible. Upon arriving in sumo, Akebono quickly learned that he would have to keep as low as possible, and utilized an incredibly fierce thrusting and driving attack. People are often quick to mention his devastating oshi (thrusting) attacks, but I always saw him more similar to an NFL Offensive Lineman, in the way he used his long, powerful arms and legs to drive his opponents off the dohyo and subsequently keep them off his belt at the same time. See this clip for an example:

NFL Lineman Driving:

His long limbs, that were initially seen as a disadvantage, were now turned into an advantage as once he had a hold of you and got momentum going, he was like a runaway bulldozer and nigh impossible to stop. The savagery and aggressiveness of his attack often made it seem like he wasn’t just trying to beat his opponent, but literally obliterate their living presence from the dohyo as well.

Akebono giving Wakanohana a free front row seat in the crowd:

Fittingly, he arrived into sumo at the exact same time as two brothers and future yokozuna rivals: Takanohana Koji and Wakanohana Masaru (as well as the great ozeki Kaio). They were both the sons of an extremely popular rikishi from the 1970’s (Takanohana I), and were the nephews of another very popular yokozuna from the 1950’s, Wakanohana Kanji I. Akebono would consistently state that those two were responsible for his success, because from the time he arrived in Japan, he heard nothing but talk from the media and sumo world of how the two of them were going to dominate sumo for years to come. This helped give him the added motivation and determination to succeed and beat them. Before his very first match with Takanohana in the Jonokuchi division, his oyakata and stable mates simply told him to do as well as he could, as if his losing to him was a foregone conclusion already.

Early Jonokuchi clip of Akebono & Takanohana’s very first match:

Even by that point, you can already see the aggressive, ferocity in Akebono’s attack. This next clip against Takanohana years later, was the match that clinched Akebono’s second consecutive championship at Ozeki, thereby securing his inevitable yokozuna promotion:

Akebono wins his 2nd consecutive championship:

He was then after promoted to yokozuna, and forever put to rest the issue on whether foreign-born rikishi could even do so, but as I wrote earlier, he was the last part of a link going back decades that led up to that breakthrough moment. Like Takamiyama, he kept his head down, and pretty much managed to stay out of trouble during his tenure in sumo. Although he was initially dominant and racked up 4 championships in his first seven bashos at yokozuna, he was later slowed down by a broken foot, back injuries, and increasing weight, and would soon be overtaken by Takanohana. In the next 5 years, he would only manage two more yusho championships, while Takanohana would win 16 during that same time period. (Wakanohana would also win 4, and Musashimaru would win 3 during that same time span). Takanohana did enjoy a huge advantage in having an extremely powerful stable (possibly the strongest ever in sumo history) with multiple rikishi he didn’t have to fight except in play-offs; including his brother: a fellow yokozuna, an ozeki Takanonami, and two former sekiwake’s: Takatoriki and Akinoshima, while Akebono had to go through all of them. Give credit where credit is due however. Whenever it came down to the final day to determine the championship during that period (which it often did), Takanohana nearly always defeated Akebono or Musashimaru to clutch out the championship. Takanohana did have that extreme will to win and added clutch factor, and he was the reigning dai-yokozuna of that era for a reason.

Excellent match. Takanohana wins his second consecutive zensho-yusho and secures his long-awaited yokozuna promotion:

Akebono’s rivalry with Takanohana and Wakanohana in the mid-late 90’s helped lead sumo to one of its “golden eras,” and among its highest levels in popularity and attendance. His breakthrough in reaching its highest rank helped paved the way to further internationalization (and subsequent dominance) of the sport by later foreign-born rikishi—like the future Mongolian greats—that were soon to come.

More video clips:

A compilation of matches against Takanohana. I personally agree with the video, that it was probably the greatest rivalry in sumo history. Asashoryu and Hakuho could have potentially surpassed it had Asashoryu lasted longer and not been prematurely kicked out:

Akebono vs Takanohana match compilation pt. 2:

Song about Akebono, Musashimaru, and Konishiki by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole: