- Fantasy Basho
Better Know a Rikishi: Kotonowaka Masahiro
For most rikishi, reaching the top division at age 22, getting three double-digit win bashos, and two special prizes would be a real achievement. But not all rikishi are the sons of former Sekiwake who racked up 7 special prizes and 8 kinboshi. That kind of legacy would also be pressure if that former Sekiwake was a rikishi's stablemaster, which is also the case. Oh, and understand that this riksihi's grandfather was a Yokozuna who became a legendary stablemaster of his current stable.
That is the case for Kotonowaka Masahiro. Unusually for a sekitori, his personal name is important, His father, the former Sekiwake who is his stablemaster, was Kotonowaka Terumasa in his fighting days. As is usual with Sadogatake beya wrestlers, Kotonowaka the Younger first wrestled with the stable's traditional first kanji, 琴 (Koto, a traditional Japanese harp), attached to his family name and was known as Kotokamatani. Yet Kamatani was actually originally his mother's father name. When Kotonowaka the first married his stablemaster's daughter, he took on the Kamatani surname and became the heir to former Yokozuna Kotozakura.
The current Kotonowaka may inherit it all as well. While he adopted his father's shikona when he made it to Juryo, it has already been announced that he will adopt Kotozakura as a shikona when he makes it to Ozeki. Kotozakura was not a legendary Yokozuna who racked up yusho after yusho. He was a long-term Ozeki who seemed like he would never make the ultimate leap, until he put together back-to-back 14-1 Yusho in November 1972 and January 1973. At age 32, he achieved sumo's highest rank. By his 34th birthday, he retired. He also had a cameo in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice.
Kotozakura took over the Sadogatake-beya and the elder name shortly after retirement when his stablemaster, ex-Kotonishiki, died suddenly. Kotonishiki reestablished Sadogatake and developed a Yokozuna, but it was the former Kotozakura who took the heya to new heights. In his time as stablemaster, he produced four Ozeki and four Sekiwake. He also established the tradition of every Sadogatake wrestler beginning their shikona with Koto-, and flooded the sumo world with Harps by expanding the stable. And for those of you who remember the professional wrestler John Tenta, better known variously as Earthquake, Avalanche, Shark, and Golga, ex-Kotozakura was the stablemaster who clashed enough with the still undefeated Kototenzan to make him leave sumo for All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Ex-Kotonowaka, to distinguish him again from his son current-Kotonowaka, has also had success as a stablemaster. He oversaw the Ozeki promotion of both Kotooshu and Kotoshogiku, while continuing to produce a string of sekitori. Sadogatake will have four wrestlers competing in Juryo or Makuuchi for Haru 2022. He also has some promising youngsters besides his son, as Kotoshoho is also in Makuuchi.
Can current Kotonowaka live up to all of this? Quite possibly. That's what makes him so intriguing. He isn't flashy or sensational, but he tends to win. Kotonowaka is also blessed with prototypical size at 1.88 m and 167 kg. He has gone 75-65 in Makuuchi, despite not being 25 until November. He also has had some minor knee injuries, which dented the record. When he has been healthy, he has been able to make an impression. That trend should continue in the near future.
The real key to Kotonowaka in the ring is his feet. Befitting his family legacy, Kotonowaka has outstanding fundamentals. On the tachiai, Kotonowaka looks like the good version of Shodai, catching an opponent more than doing any kind of signature maneuver. Unlike Shodai, Kotonowaka is an incredibly quiet rikishi in the dohyo. He slowly works his way into his preferred left-hand outside, right-hand outside, and then carefully works out for a simple win. His most common kimarite is yorikriri, and among the more unusual ones he likes an uwatenage, tsukiotoshi, and uwatedashinage. That is all possible because he keeps his feet wide and planted as well as any rikishi.
That trait also works for him in matches that don't go to his ideal plan. On Day 15 of Hatsu 2022, Kotonowaka faced Abi. On the line was a possible playoff spot and a guaranteed jun-yusho. Abi had spent most of the tournament thrusting both arms at opponents with such force and determination that he was ending matches quickly. Abi started that way against Kotonowaka, but didn't get any momentum. Kotonowaka's grappling was disturbed, but he kept his feet wide as they went around the dohyo. Abi is a masterful dancer, which meant the match kept regrouping. Abi ended up winning with a hikiotoshi, a hand pull down. Kotonowaka needs to be able to find one little trick in those scenarios to take a leap.
Most of the time, though, Kotonowaka is just dealing with his opponents' best shot easily. And he is beginning to find more oshidashi wins by just deflecting pusher-thrusters in his past two basho. He just is difficult to move around and unsettle. That's where he is as a 24 year old. The key to adopting Kotozakura as his shikona, which will come with an Ozeki promotion, is consolidation more than addition.