Better Know a Rikishi: Meisei
Over the last three basho, Meisei has put up two 10 win performances. Unfortunately for him, the middle basho, Nagoya, saw him only achieve 4 wins. It’s a remarkable, if not ideal, performance. In fact, it has only happened 9 times in Makuuchi since World War II. (Hokutoriki somehow did it twice, in 2003 and 2006.) What it really shows is Meisei has made himself good enough to beat the lower level Makuuchi wrestlers, but seriously struggles with the top ranked wrestlers. That’s not a good sign, since he is ranked at Maegashira 2 West for Kyushu. On the other hand, Meisei’s career so far shows he tends to find his level eventually.
Meisei joined professional sumo in 2011 as a 15 year old, turning 16 on the last day of his first official tournament at Nagoya 2011. There wasn’t too much to recommend him as a future sekitori. He was born and raised on Amami Oshima, one of the Ryukyu Islands south of Japan. Joining sumo when he did means he did not have a great amateur sumo background, and he hadn’t even gone to one of Japan’s elite sumo junior highs. At 180 cm, he had decent, but not great size. He had joined a formerly prestigious Tatsunami stable that had just seen its one sekitori, Mokonami, kicked out of sumo in the 2011 match fixing scandal.
The most remarkable thing about the young wrestler was that he chose his personal name, Meisei, as his shikona, rather than his family name, as is the usual custom. His family name of Kawabata is so common that he wanted something that would stand out more. He was rechristened Meisei Chikara, with his new sumo personal name meaning “power.” Otherwise, he was just another teenager slowly climbing the ranks.
Yet climb the ranks he did, which was certainly better than the alternative. He seemed to be a wrestler going up, but he never really gave the kind of performance that signaled “future star.” He won more than he lost. He also put up 4-3 records more than anything else. He didn’t have consecutive winning records consistently. From January 2013 to March 2014, he alternated 4-3 and 3-4 records. After that, he began making progress from Sandanme up into Makushita.
Meisei didn’t break through to Juryo until 2016, and in his first Juryo basho he went 5-10 and immediately got demoted back to Makushita. Yet he quickly came back up and was a firm Juryo rikishi for the next year. His Makuuchi debut came in the Nagoya 2018 basho, where he went 6-9 and got a demotion back to Juryo. After a 9-6 back in Juryo, Meisei became a Makuuchi rikishi for good. In fact, he went on a streak of 5 consecutive winning records at basho, ending in his 4 wins at Nagoya 2019.
A rikishi who goes 10-5 at Maegashira 7, then 4-11 at Maegashira 4, and then 10-5 again at Maegashira 10 is probably best suited to a rank of Maegashira 5 or 6. On the other hand, such wild variance means booming up and down the banzuke, past the wrestlers who go 8-7 or 7-8 in both directions. His real level is hard to pin down. Additionally, every piece of evidence from his career shows he needs a little bit to establish his position, but then he’ll improve and go up the ranking.
So here’s the big question: Can Meisei reach the Sanyaku ranks? It’s hard to say. He does not have ideal size, but he isn’t severely lacking in that department. More worryingly, perhaps, is that his sumo always seems solid, rather than spectacular. Meisei has the skills to handle lesser rikishi, but a truly powerful and imposing sumotori is probably too much.
Except Meisei has surpassed all expectations so far. Whenever he’s faced a setback, he comes back stronger. He’s also still unusual for using his personal name as a shikona, which has to be worth something.