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Sumo: An Introduction and Guide

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The powers that be at VMTV have kindly allowed me to cover the amazing Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling going forward. Before the next tournament gets going this November 14th, it seemed like a good idea to introduce Japan’s ancient sport to those who don’t know the score. Here you will find a basic guide and all the need-to-know information before diving in to one of the best combat sports on the planet.

The History

Sumo is an ancient sport that has been practiced for thousands of years. Japan is the only country in which it is practiced professionally but there are amateur clubs all over the world and world championships won by people from a variety of nations. Sumo started as a ritual dance performed to try and guarantee a good harvest, but it also exists in manuscripts from as early as 712AD which tell stories of the Gods. Legend says two gods had a Sumo bout to decide who would possess the Japanese islands they wanted.

A document from 720AD called the Nihon Shoki tells us about the first match between humans, which apparently took place in 23BC. This of course must be taken with a pinch of salt, having been written so far after the fact, but what is true is that this sport has at least 1400 years of history, as we know a tournament took place in 642AD in the royal court. Until the Middle Ages, Sumo was often fought to the death.

A Sumo woodblock print from around 1851.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), Sumo began to become more regulated and official sanctioned tournaments started. It was in this era that the first official Yokozuna (the highest rank of Sumo) appeared. Following the influence of the West after 1868, Sumo’s popularity fell. The Emperor Meiji held a tournament in 1884 which increased the popularity of the sport once more. The Japan Sumo Association increased the number of tournaments first from two to four, and then to six a year from 1958. Sumo has remained largely the same in format since that date.

The GOAT

Since I started with the history of the sport, it seemed appropriate to mention the Greatest of All-Time at this point. Like all sports, there is debate over who is the greatest to have done it. There are several candidates, but for me it is a no-brainer. The GOAT is Hakuho, a Mongolian wrestler who became Yokozuna in 2007 and remained so until just this year, when he retired after winning his final tournament.

He has won 45 tournaments, the most ever and is the holder of a host of records including the most undefeated tournaments (16), the most career wins (1187) and most tournaments ranked as Yokozuna (84). Other candidates for the title of GOAT include Taiho (32 tournament wins) who was the only wrestler to win a championship in the top division in every year of his career and Chiyonofuji (31 tournament wins) who wowed the crowed with his incredible technique and strength.

The GOAT – Hakuho

The Season

As mentioned earlier, since 1958 there have been six tournaments held each year. They take place in odd months in the year, so January, March, May, July, September and November. Three tournaments take place in Tokyo. The Hatsu Basho (opening tournament) in January, The Natsu Basho (summer tournament) in May and the Aki Basho (autumn tournament) in September. The Haru Basho (spring tournament) happens in Osaka in March. The other two are named after the locations they take place in, the Nagoya Basho in July and the Kyushu Basho in November, which is held in Fukuoka, the mayor city on the island of Kyushu.

The Athletes

Many scoff or laugh at the size of sumo wrestlers, but these guys are conditioned machines. They undergo insane training regimes at live-in training complexes from young age. Training will normally begin at 5am, with leg exercises designed to strengthen and also increase balance. Training continues through the day with exercises designed to increase agility and flexibility. The wrestlers can only eat twice a day to keep metabolism down, and they eat a meal rich in protein and nutrients but also high calorie. They can eat upwards of 10,000 calories a day to increase body mass and make themselves hard to move. The food is called Chanko and is a type of stew made with vegetables, chicken or pork, or sometimes all three. There is a strict disciplinary code inside the sumo stable, the elders are fed first, followed by the high ranks, and only when they have finished are the low ranking sumo allowed to eat. They are men of extreme discipline, strength, technique and surprising agility.

The Foreigners

There aren’t a lot of foreign wrestlers in Sumo. For now, only one foreign wrestler is allowed at each training stable and they must join before they are 23. That’s not to say foreigners are not successful in Sumo. The GOAT is Mongolian, the 1990s was a successful time for American Sumo wrestlers and there was even a wrestler from the UK. Right now in the ranks there are wrestlers from Mongolia (the most common after Japanese wrestlers), Bulgaria, Georgia and Brazil in the top division.

Tochinoshin, from Georgia, in action.

The Rules

If you step out of the roped-off ring or any part of your body that isn’t the sole of your foot touches the floor, you lose. You can force your opponent out, they can slip over, you can throw them to the ground. Each of these would result in you winning. The referee decides the winner, but there are also judges ringside. If the judges disagree with the referees decision, they have a chat about it and watch a video replay to decide who actually won the bout. If a winner can’t be determined, usually when the two wrestlers touch the floor at the same time, then they replay the bout.

At the top ranks, wrestlers have 15 bouts, one each day. The winner of the tournament is the one who has the most victories at the end of the tournament. Wrestlers tend to be matched against others around their own rank. If two wrestlers are tied for victories at the end of the tournament then there is a playoff bout to decide the winner.

The Techniques

There are many winning techniques allowed in Sumo. To start off with, I’ll explain what is not allowed. There can be no punches, although flat-palm strikes are allowed. Hair-pulling is not allowed, nor are kicks (leg sweeps are okay), scratches, gouges or grabbing the crotch area. If you commit any of these fouls you are automatically disqualified and your opponent is awarded the victory.

The most common winning technique is called Yori-kiri (frontal force-out), where you force your opponent out of the ring by holding his belt and pushing with your bodyweight. After that there is Oshi-dashi (the push-out), Uwate-nage (outside belt throw) Osoto-gake (outside leg trip) and Nodowa (the throat thrust). Watching Sumo, you might see cushions fly into the air as the crowd get excited. This is because a low ranking wrestler (Maegashira rank) has defeated a Yokozuna and earned a kinboshi (gold star). This is a big deal and the crowd get pumped at the sight!

Sumo fans throw their cushions in honour of a gold star victory against Hakuho.

The Controversies

Sumo might be long, storied and traditional, but it’s not without its controversies. The most dangerous to the sport happened in 2011, when police unveiled a match-fixing scandal. 14 wrestlers and stablemasters were involved and some admitted to the police they had fixed matches for money. For the first time since 1946, a tournament was cancelled in the wake of the scandal. The 14 were forced to retire from the sport after being found guilty. The May tournament did go ahead, but without TV coverage, without sponsors and without a trophy presentation. It was won by Hakuho, of course.

In 2010, a scandal involving the Yakuza rocked Sumo. The Japan Sumo Association banned a high-ranking sumo and his coach for betting on sports in an illegal Yakuza betting ring. A further 18 wrestlers were banned from the July 2010 tournament. The chairman of the association announced that Yakuza members were being banned from tournaments. In response, the largest Yakuza group in Japan purchased 50 prominent seats during a tournament so their members would appear on the live TV broadcast.

In a way similar to that you might have heard of in American universities, young Sumo wrestlers can often be subject to hazing when they join a stable. This went to an horrific extreme in 2007 when a 17-year-old Sumo wrestler called Takashi Saito died from injuries suffered in a hazing ritual involving the stablemaster. The stable master hit him on the head with a beer bottle, after which other wrestlers physically abused him further. The stablemaster was sentenced to six years in jail and the Sumo Association forced changes within the stables.

Following these scandals, interest in sumo fell to a very low ebb and with it so did ticket sales. Thankfully, the Japan Sumo Association did a lot of work to improve the reputation of Sumo at this time and interest slowly returned, although to this day it still hasn’t returned to former levels.

The Banzuke

The Banzuke

Two weeks before each tournament begins, the Banzuke is released. This is a list of all wrestlers in ranking order. Ranks are decided based on the record in the previous tournament. If you had a winning record in the last tournament you can expect to move up the rankings, and if you had a losing record, you can expect to fall in the ranks. There are 5 named ranks in the top division. These are split into East and West. The top of the list is the Yokozuna, and there are usually two of them (since Hakuho’s retirement, we currently have one). Following that, there are the Ozeki, of which there must be a minimum of two, one for East and one for West. East is ranked higher than West, so the top ranked East Ozeki is higher ranked than the West. After Ozeki comes Sekiwake and then Komosubi. These four ranks make up the San’yaku ranks. The rest of the wrestlers in the top division are in a ranking called Maegashira and are numbered from 1 to 15-17 East and West, depending on the number of wrestlers.

Currently, there is one Yokozuna, two each of Ozeki, Sekiwake and Komosubi, and 1-17 in both East and West Maegashira.

The glossary

Here are some words which will often come up in future articles and broadcasts of Sumo and will be useful to know;

Gyoji – The referee in the ring

Rikishi – The Japanese word for the wrestlers

Dohyo – The ring

Kachi-koshi – A winning record

Make-koshi – A losing record

Mawashi – A wrestler’s belt

Heya – The Sumo stable

Honbasho – A Sumo tournament

Kimarite – A winning technique

Mono-ii – The discussion between judges about the close decision

The Next Tournament

Terunofuji was the winner of the last tournament in September.

The next tournament is the last one of the year, the Kyushu tournament in November. It is the first tournament since Hakuho retired and left a small power vacuum. The favourite for the tournament will be Terunofuji, who won the last tournament (Hakuho was absent through Covid) and was recently promoted to Yokozuna. Look out for Takakeisho, Shodai and Daieisho who are all capable of winning a championship on their day. In addition, the exciting styles of Wakatakakage, Tobizaru and Ura make them must-watch wrestlers. For outside shots at the title, look out for Myogiryu and Endo who have been making great improvements to their game. This tournament also sees the return of Abi to the top division, after being previously suspended for breaking Covid rules in Japan and working his way back up through the ranks. The retirement of Hakuho has removed the most dominant force in Sumo history, and hopefully the future will see some new tournament winners. That said, Terunofuji is the definite favourite to add to his tally of championships.

Stick with Violent Money to find out what happens in the November tournament. It runs from Sunday November 14th until Sunday November 28th. I will be bringing you the biggest stories and the daily results from all 15 days, so you can follow the tournament even if you can’t watch it. I look forward to bringing news to existing fans of Sumo and hopefully helping create new fans of this ancient sport.

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Sumo: Kyushu Tournament Day 14 – Can Terunofuji seal the championship?

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The penultimate day of the Kyushu tournament gives Terunofuji the chance to take glory as the 13-0 wrestler takes on his nearest challenger Abi who is on 12-1.

Before we dive into day 14, lets see how the leaderboard has developed since the last article. Abi faced Takakeisho yesterday in a battle between two wrestlers with 11-1 records. The former won the battle to move on to 12-1 in his first top division appearance since his suspension. Takakeisho moved to 11-2 and only has an outside chance of being involved in a playoff. Ura, in fourth place and the only other man to hit double figures so far, has no chance of winning the tournament as he sits on 10-3. Here is the top of the table at the end of day 13;

Terunofuji (Y) 13-0

Abi (M15) 12-1

Takakeisho (O) 11-2

Ura (M7) 10-3

Day 14

Day 14 promises to be full of action and drama as the top two men, Terunofuji and Abi finally face each other. If Terunofuji wins it, then he will take the tournament victory with an uncatchable 14 wins. 9 fighters on 7 defeats will be looking to avoid a losing record and both Endo and Chiyoshoma were looking to secure their winning records. Let’s see what went down on the penultimate day of the last tournament of the year.

It was an intense matchup between Yokozuna Terunofuji and Abi. Abi used his pushing and thrusting technique to great effect to back Terunofuji against the rope, but the big Yokozuna held on and managed to fend off the attack, finishing Abi with an oshitaoshi. Terunofuji moves to 14-0 and HE IS THE KYUSHU TOURNAMENT CHAMPION. He wins his 6th title, can he go 15-0 for the first time? It’s hard to see any other result.

https://twitter.com/MasakiKudo59/status/1464518250708881410?s=20

Such is the nature of a league-style tournament like this, at day 14 there are quite a few dead-rubber matches. Lots of wrestlers have already confirmed winning or losing records and are fighting for pride alone. However, aside from the championship race, there was still a lot to play for on the dohyo.

There was a showdown between the two Ozeki ranked fighters, Shodai and Takakeisho. Until yesterday’s defeat to Abi, Takakeisho was in with a chance of the title win. The disappointment of defeat didn’t seem to affect him though, as he beat Ozeki Shodai with ease. Shodai is not fighting like an Ozeki of late but is continuing to achieve winning records to maintain his rank. Can Takakeisho make another run on the Yokozuna rank in 2022?

Chiyoshoma produced a nice uwatenage finish to achieve winning record against Yutakayama. Out of all the wrestlers on 7 defeats, only Okinoumi and Yutakama confirmed their losing records, with their defeats to Ishiura and Chiyoshoma. It means there are many fighters left on 7-7 records, and so there it lots to play for on the final day.

Takanosho, Hokutofuji and Mitakeumi all managed to achieve double figures as they each improved their records to 10-4. Ura, who had a 10-3 record going into day 14, was defeated by Meisei and is the fourth man on 10-4. Both Komosubis were defeated as Ichinojo went down to Hokutofuji and Kiribayama to the young star Hoshoryu.

Full Results

Winners in italics, record after day 14 shown

Keisei (M17e) 7-7 vs Chiyonokuni (M14w) 8-6 – Oshidashi

Kotonowaka (M11e) 6-8 vs Tochinoshin (M13w) 6-5-3 – Yorikiri

Akua (M16e) 8-6 vs Terutsuyoshi (M11w) 6-8 – Shitatenage

Chiyotairyu (M10e) 6-8 vs Shohozan (M17w) 3-11 – Tsukidashi

Aoiyama (M9e) 4-10 vs Chiyomaru (M15e) 7-7 – Hatakikomi

Sadanoumi (M16w) 8-6 vs Tobizaru (M8w) 7-7 – Hikiotoshi

Yutakayama (M13e) 6-8 vs Chiyoshoma (M7w) 8-6 – Uwatenage

Shimanoumi (M6e) 5-9 vs Kagayaki (M14e) 4-10 – Tsukidashi

Takarafuji (M4e) 5-9 vs Kotoeko (M8e) 3-11 – Oshidashi

Okinoumi (M3e) 6-8 vs Ishiura (M12e) 7-7 – Yorikiri

Onosho (M2e) 5-9 vs Myogiryu (M3w) 2-12 – Hatakikomi

Hidenoumi (M9w) 8-6 vs Takanosho (M2w) 10-4 – Yorikiri

Daieisho (M1e) 7-7 vs Takayasu (M5e) 5-9 – Tsukiotoshi

Endo (M4w) 7-7 vs Wakatakakage (M1w) 7-7 – Yorikiri

Ichinojo (Ke) 5-9 vs Hokutofuji (M12w) 10-4 – Tsukiotoshi

Hoshoryu (M5w) 6-8 vs Kiribayama (Kw) 5-9 – Yorikiri

Mitakeumi (Se) 10-4 vs Tamawashi (M6w) 9-5 – Hatakikomi

Ura (M7e) 10-4 vs Meisei (Sw) 6-8 – Oshidashi

Shodai (Oe) 9-5 vs Takakeisho (Ow) 12-2 – Tsukidashi

Terunofuji (Ye) 14-0 vs Abi (M15w) 12-2 – Oshitaoshi

Watch the matches from today here. Find the VMTV Sumo Guide here. Stay with us to find out what happens on day 15!

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ONE: NEXTGEN III Final Weight and Hydration Results

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ONE Championship™ (ONE) today released the ONE: NEXTGEN III Final Weight and Hydration Results. In todays event, former UFC athlete Jarred Brooks squares off against Lito Adiwang in a highly anticipated strawweight match-up which could see the victor earn a spot in the divisional rankings. A Bantamweight Muay Thai bout between Alaverdi Ramazanov and Pongsiri PK.Saenchai Muaythaigym will take place as the co-main event.

ONE: NEXTGEN III Final Weight and Hydration Results

Mixed Martial Arts – Strawweight (52.3 KG – 56.7 KG)
Lito Adiwang (56.70 KG, 1.0053) vs. Jarred Brooks (56.00 KG, 1.0027)

Muay Thai – Bantamweight (61.3 KG – 65.8 KG)
Alaverdi Ramazanov (65.55 KG, 1.0207) vs. Pongsiri PK.Saenchai Muaythaigym (65.80 KG, 1.0244)

Mixed Martial Arts – Strawweight (52.3 KG – 56.7 KG)
Alex Silva (56.70 KG, 1.0103) vs. Rene Catalan (56.60 KG, 1.0066)

Kickboxing – Flyweight (56.8 KG – 61.2 KG)
Panpayak Jitmuangnon (61.20 KG, 1.0160) vs. Daniel Puertas (61.20 KG, 1.0168)

Mixed Martial Arts – Lightweight (70.4 KG – 77.1 KG)
Pieter Buist (77.10 KG, 1.0222) vs. Ruslan Emilbek Uulu (76.40 KG, 1.0070)

Kickboxing – Bantamweight (61.3 KG – 65.8 KG)
Felipe Lobo (65.60 KG, 1.0156) vs. Rodlek PK.Saenchai Muaythaigym (65.80 KG, 1.0078)

Hydration values less than or equal to 1.0250 earn a passing mark, while values greater than or equal to 1.0251 earn a failing mark. Athletes who failed weight and hydration tests on Day 1 or Day 2 are given another chance to clear tests on the morning of the event.

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Sumo: Kyushu Day 11 of 15 – who will take glory?

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Kyushu Day 11, Fukuoka, Japan. The Kyushu tournament heads into day 11 of 15 and we are two-thirds through. Who is going to take the tournament victory?

The story so far

Yokozuna Terunofuji is the only undefeated wrestler left after Takakeisho was defeated by Meisei on day 10. Abi got back to winning ways and joins Takakeisho sitting on 9-1. Whatever happens, Abi is in for a huge surge up the ranks for the first 2022 tournament in January. It looks very likely that the winner of the tournament will come from one of these three rikishi, but Mitakeumi and Ura are among four wrestlers who have an outside chance currently holding 8-2 records. Here are the leaders going into day 11;

Terunofuji (Y) 10-0

Takakeisho (O) 9-1

Abi (M15) 9-1

Mitakeumi (S) 8-2

Tamawashi (M6) 8-2

Ura (M7) 8-2

Hokutofuji (M12) 8-2

All of the above wrestlers in the Maegashira rank have also confirmed a winning record for this tournament and can expect to move up the rankings for the next tournament. Myogiryu, Kotoeko and Shohozan already have 8 defeats and can no longer post a winning record. Shohozan will likely be demoted for the next tournament.

Day 11

Such are the records after day 10, no rikishi can achieve a guaranteed winning record as none of them currently sit on 7 wins. However, there are seven wrestlers including Komosubi Kiribayama and high-ranking Maegashira Daieisho and Wakatakakage are in danger of securing a losing record and moving down in the rankings for next tournament.

Terunofuji was put to the test by Ichinojo who managed to find some fighting spirit. After a long and hard battle, Terunofuji came through with the victory and extended his run to 11-0 to continue leading the tournament by 1.

Abi faced Ura in a highly-anticipated matchup between two of the most exciting rikishi in the sport. It was a quick affair in the end as Abi continued his fine form on his return to the top division. The M15 ranked fighter moves to 10-1, Ura moves to 8-3, his winning record already confirmed. Ozeki Takakeisho joins Abi on 10-1 after seeing off a spirited effort from Endo.

Kiribayama again managed to hold off the losing record with an impressive liftout victory against Myogiryu. Kiribayama remains on 7 defeats for another day, after going 0-6 from the start it would be an incredible feat to end up with a winning record.

Aoiyama continued his poor form, after winning the first 3 matches, he has now lost 8 in a row. Maegashira ranked Hokutofuji and Tamawashi both moved to 9-2 records alongside Sekiwake Mitakeumi.

An exciting battle between two of the smaller wrestlers saw hot prospect Hoshoryu overcome the flying monkey Tobizaru.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Ozeki Shodai over Sekiwake Meisei, and former tournament winner Daieisho against Onosho. To watch the matches from Kyushu Day 11, click here (all credit to NattoSumo and NHK). For a guide to Sumo and some of the words used, click here. See the full list of results from Day 11 below.

Full Results

Winners in italics, record shown after day 11

Chiyomaru (M15e) 5-6 vs Hokutofuji (M12w) 9-2 – Okuridashi

Ishiura (M12e) 5-6 vs Sadanoumi (M16w) 7-4 – Yoritaoshi

Kagayaki (M14e) 3-8 vs Terutsuyoshi (M11w) 5-6 – Oshidashi

Kotonowaka (M11e) 4-7 vs Akua (M16e) 6-5 – Yoritaoshi

Kaisei (M17e) 5-6 vs Hidenoumi (M9w) 6-5 – Yorikiri

Aoiyama (M9e) 3-8 vs Chiyonokuni (M14w) 6-5 – Tsukitaoshi

Kotoeko (M8e) 2-9 vs Shohozan (M17w) 3-8 – Yorikiri

Tochinoshin (M13w) 4-4-3 vs Chiyoshoma (M7w) 6-5 – Yorikiri

Ura (M7e) 8-3 vs Abi (M15w) 10-1 – Tsukitaoshi

Chiyotairyu (M10e) 5-6 vs Tamawashi (M6w) 9-2 – Tsukiotoshi

Shimanoumi (M6e) 5-6 vs Yutakayama (M13e) 4-7 – Oshidashi

Tobizaru (M8w) 5-6 vs Hoshoryu (M5w) 5-6 – Yorikiri

Takarafuji (M4e) 4-7 vs Takanosho (M2w) 7-4 – Yorikiri

Okinoumi (M3e) 4-7 vs Wakatakakage (M1w) 4-7 – Hikiotoshi

Daieisho (M1e) 4-7 vs Onosho (M2e) 4-7 – Hatakikomi

Myogiryu (M3w) 2-9 vs Kiribayama (Kw) 4-7 – Tsuridashi

Mitakeumi (Se) 9-2 vs Takayasu (M5e) 5-6 – Yorikiri

Endo (M4w) 5-6 vs Takakeisho (Ow) 10-1 – Oshidashi

Shodai (Oe) 7-4 vs Meisei (Sw) 5-6 – Yorikiri

Terunofuji (Ye) 11-0 vs Ichinojo (Ke) 4-7 – Yoritaoshi

Stick with VMTV to see how the rest of the tournament plays out!

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