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.
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: