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Nagoya 2019 in Review

Win a yusho, get a comically large novelty macaron from the French government

Nagoya 2019 is now two days gone, and it's a decent time to look at the whole basho. We can also look forward a bit to Aki 2019. Here are the big lessons.

Kakuryu's 6th Yusho

Kakuryu was in lockstep with fellow Mongolian Yokozuna Hakuho, both standing at 8-0 going into the final week. Ichinojo overwhelmed the dai-Yokozuna on Day Nine, while Kakuryu bested Meisei. The Crane Dragon would never relinquish the lead, even when he lost to Tomokaze on Day Thirteen. He sealed his Emperor's Cup with a final day victory over Hakuho.

As is his wont, the victories were never thanks to overwhelming force or superior athleticism. He won with immense skill and determination. Three of his victories (and his one defeat) were by hatakikomi, the slap down, while another was by its close cousin katasukashi, the shoulder throw down. Even his yorikiri victories were straight ahead force outs, rather than back and forth struggles.

That is, until his final day epic against Hakuho. There he pulled out a great win to be able to win the yusho without a playoff. Kakuryu might be the kind of wrestler Nagoya's odd conditions favor, as he waits for his opponent to make a mistake. And while every Ozeki bowed out at some point due to injury, Kakuryu did go 14-1 and beat the other Yokozuna. Kakuryu is just as formidable as Hakuho on his day.

The New Guard is Coming...

26 year old Mitakeumi went 9-6 at Sekiwake East. Abi scored an 8-7 in his Komusubi debut at age 25. Asanoyama followed up his first yusho in May at age 25 with a respectable 7-8 at Maegashira 1. Hokutofuji registered 9 wins in the tournament where he turned 27. 25 year old Daieisho secured his first kachi-koshi in upper Maegashira. Ichinojo got 9 wins and a kinboshi, and he is just barely 26. The breakout stars of the tournament were two 24 year olds, Tomokaze and Terutsuyoshi, who got 11 and 12 wins, respectively. And Tomokaze was the only one to beat Kakuryu.

None of these men have yet to become an Ozeki, but they all set notice they might threaten it sooner rather than later. These are young, promising wrestlers who could all easily make their mark in Sanyaku. There were also some wrestler who aren't exactly old that did well. Endo is 28, has always had a ton of potential, and scored 10 wins at Maegashira 2. 27 year-old Kotoeko and 28-year old Kotoyuki are stablemates who seem to have found some new solidity. These are guys with a few years still to compete that are doing well.

Takakeisho, who had to go out with a knee injury, and Onosho, who was competing but looked uncomfortable, are both 22 and have shown in the past they could be forces. Sumo's upper ranks could look very different in just a few years.

...But the Old Guard Isn't Going Away

Yes, all of the Ozeki fell away, and 34 year old Sekiwake Tamawashi wasn't exactly a shining star. But the two Yokozuna are in their thirties and dominated. Aoiyama secured a winning record with his defensive sumo, while Kotoshogiku also looked like he still has plenty of spirit. In one year, the Sanyaku and upper Maegashira will see new faces, but some old ones are still hanging around.

Tellingly, the veterans who did well (and here's where Endo straddles the categories) were largely the excellent strategists. Younger athletes in any sport have an advantage in athleticism. Sumo can highlight this advantage because the matches often rely on one moment or one move. Yet that also provides an advantage to the veteran who can force a mistake.

Pushers are on the Acendancy

Mitakeumi, Abi, Hokutofuji, Tomokaze, and Terutsuyoshi weren't just some of the best young performers. They also are all wrestlers who usually start flailing when someone grabs their mawashi. Not everyone who won consistently is a pusher-thruster, but that style was on display in Nagoya.

The traditional thinking is that grappling is the better form of sumo, as demonstrated by every old man opposite the hard camera during any day's action. Certainly, a variety helps, and grapplers can flip to shoving more easily than the other way around. What stood out in Nagoya was that a well-timed and well-located shove is disruptive to anyone.

We have 47 days until the Aki basho begins. In the meantime, don't forget about Fantasy Basho. We'll have more entries in the Better Know a Rikishi and Heya, Heya, It's a Stable series. There will also be quite a few research pieces. Also, with a Jungyo tour taking place, actual sumo news might actually happen. So keep checking in.

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