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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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UFC London | 5 Fighters Who Have To Be On The Card

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Immediately after UFC London earlier in the year, the ball started rolling towards a second UK event in 2022 after Dana White made it clear he wanted to come back soon. Whilst the year’s first event at the O2 Arena delivered one of the best non-PPV events in recent history, there’s still more ground to cover. Aspinall vs Volkov was stacked with home fighters but there are still a handful that missed out on fighting in front of the UK.

Here are five UK fighters that deserve a chance to fight at the O2 Arena after missing out the first time. Not that we’re complaining if the likes of Paddy Pimblett and Jai Herbert show up on this card also.

5. Dom Wooding

Yes it is true, we will never stop banging this drum. After defending his Cage Warriors bantamweight title in December of last year, we had our fingers crossed that London would come around in time for Dom Wooding. The ‘Black Panther’ didn’t get the call up on that occasion but absence has only made the heart grow fonder. This is the time for Dom Wooding to fight in the UFC and if you don’t believe us, maybe ‘The Last Stylebender’ can change your mind.

4. Mason Jones

Mason ‘The Dragon’ Jones has had quite a stop and start UFC career since joining the promotion as a double champion in Cage Warriors. The Welshman is 1-1-1 in the UFC so far and would have picked up some decent momentum if his fight with Alan Patrick hadn’t been stopped due to an accidental eye poke in a fight he was winning comfortably. A win over late notice replacement David Onama, who recently picked up a first UFC win of his own, has got Jones back on the right path after a tough introduction to the UFC against Mike Davis. Jones always delivers great fights due to his high pressure and output style and a win in London could be exactly the kind of moment he needs to really put the past behind him and push on in the UFC.

3. Lerone Murphy

For the vast majority of UK fight fans, Lerone Murphy came out of nowhere when he debuted in the UFC. Now on a 3-fight win streak after his debut resulted in a draw at UFC 242, Murphy has been putting on increasingly impressive performances every time he has stepped foot in the Octagon. Still yet to fight in front of UK fans, ‘The Miracle’ will have a huge fight on his hands in his next outing as he looks to step foot in the rankings of the stacked featherweight division.

2. Davey Grant

Davey Grant has really made a name for himself in recent times as a must watch fighter who will steal a main card. After chaining back-to-back finishes, Grant may have lost two of his last three fights but his stock in the UFC has risen massively. His fights with Marlon Vera and Adrian Yanez put Grant on the map when it comes to value for money fighters. Now back in the win column after his 3rd round finish over Louis Smolka at the weekend, Grant said in his post fight interview about making a quick turn around and potentially fighting in London. We know we are asking for a lot with the card already being incredibly busy but Davey Grant opening the main card with a barnburner is sure to blow the roof off of the O2 just like the last time the UFC came calling.

1. Nathaniel Wood

Luck has not been on Nathaniel Wood’s side as of late. Three cancelled fights in a row meant he missed out on the first London card even after he was found a replacement opponent. An illness forced Vince Morales out of their bout which seemed to be opening the event and setting the tone for the evening with the return of ‘The Prospect’ in front of his people. After going 4-2 as a bantamweight in the UFC but losing to two top fighters in John Dodson and Casey Kenney, Wood has announced he is moving up a weight class since his fight in London fell off. Nathaniel Wood deserves this chance to fight in London after losing out at such short notice last time around and we can’t wait to see how he stacks up amongst the rest of the 145 pound division.

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Fight To Watch | Muhammad Mokaev vs Charles Johnson

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Fights are being booked fast and furiously for July 23rd as the UFC’s anticipated return to London approaches. With fireworks expected throughout the whole event, MMAPlay365 and VMTV have scoured through the card and selected Muhammad Mokaev vs Charles Johnson as our ‘Fight To Watch’ on the night.

Muhammad Mokaev returns to the octagon following a successful debut back at UFC London in March against Cody Durden. ‘The Punisher’ made light work of his American counter-part, submitting him in the first round via guillotine choke with very little problems. His upcoming opponent, Charles Johnson, signs with the UFC after an impressive four-fight winning streak on LFA, which saw him capture and defend flyweight gold.

His ability to mix it up on the feet and in grappling scenarios make this a much more dangerous bout for Mokaev stylistically, but it’s still nothing the 21 year old won’t be able to handle in the eyes of MMAPlay365 CEO, Adam Newsome:

“At this stage of Muhammad Mokaev’s UFC career every fight is going to be a test. And just because you haven’t heard of Charles Johnson doesn’t mean he isn’t a good fighter. Johnson was the Flyweight Champion in LFA. If you aren’t familiar with LFA it’s basically the American equivalent of Cage Warriors. You are battle tested in LFA and if you become a Champion the chances are the UFC are going to sign you.

So this is a very interesting match-up but still right now I don’t think that Mokaev gets tested enough to the point he loses. This is going to be another fight I see him doing extremely well in and I don’t see Mokaev losing a fight until he hits the top 20 of the division. But even when that time comes, he is going to have improved and developed so much that he could run through that pool of fighters at that time. If a fighter is going to beat Mokaev outside the best fighters in the division then now is the time to do it whilst he’s still developing. But even though he’s still developing he’s still a problem. I’m not sure Mokaev finds another finish here so I am predicting a dominant three round decision victory for Muhammad Mokaev.”

Cauley Quilty, Editor for VMTV, had this to say on the fight: “Muhammad Mokaev is always a treat to watch in action and his UFC debut back in March was nothing short of spectacular! He came to make a statement and did exactly that getting the first round finish and I see him doing the same thing when he steps back out there against Charles Johnson. His extensive amateur career and impressive run of professional performances make it almost impossible to not side with Mokaev in this bout, especially with the way he defeated Durden on his debut.

However, Charles Johnson isn’t an opponent anyone should underestimate as his resume and recent performances speak for themselves! His fight vs Carlos ‘Mota’ Tizil was a barnburner and with 8 of his 11 wins coming by way of finish you know he can get the job done when needed. Both fighters are highly touted and respected so expect the winner of this to receive a bump up in competition on their next outing.”

Who do you think leaves the ‘Fight To Watch’ with their hand raised? Be sure to let us know your predictions below!

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Sumo | Summer Tournament wide open after 10 days

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The Sumo Summer Tournament has a surprise joint-leader after 10 days, but many Rikishi are in with a shout of glory with only 5 days to go.

So far, only two have managed to achieve a guaranteed winning record, with M15 ranked Ichiyamamoto and M4 Takanosho posting 8-2 records 10 days in to the basho. It remains to be seen if he can keep up his championship challenge, but Ichiyamamoto is bringing back memories of the January 2020 basho when the M17 ranked Tokushoryu took home the title in a huge surprise. Whatever happens, Ichiyamamoto should see himself catapulted up the rankings for the next tournament if he can keep up this form. It is a welcome return to form for Takanosho who has previously been a Sekiwake.

Sumo: Summer Tournament – M15 ranked Ichiyamamoto finds himself in the joint-lead after 10 days of action.

Despite his patchy form, Terunofuji has scrapped himself to a 7-3 record, which puts him 1 behind the leaders in a large chasing pack. On day 10 he managed to get by a spirited Hoshoryu who is improving all the time. The Mongolian giant will be hopeful of taking home his first championship of the year. Others in the pack on 7-3 are Kiribayama, Ura, Sadanoumi and Aoiyama. With NINE more wrestlers on 6-4, only two behind the leaders and with an outside shot, there will be an amazing 16 Rikishi who may be dreaming of lifting the Emperor’s Cup come Sunday 22nd May. The chances of there being a playoff for the win for the second tournament running are looking pretty high.

Down at the other end of the table, it has been another tournament to forget for March’s playoff runner-up, Takayasu, who has posted a losing record of 2-8 so far. After doing so well to get himself back to M1 rank, he will find himself going down the rankings ahead of the July tournament. Ozeki Shodai has continued his poor form and one more defeat will once again see him staring down the possibility of losing his rank come July. March winner Wakatakakage, alongside fellow Sanyaku ranked competitors Abi, Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, are all fighting for winning records having gone 5-5 so far.

Keep an eye out for the next update after Saturday’s day 14 when I will be recapping the standings and looking ahead to what promises to be a very exciting final-day’s action.

Remember to check out the VMTV Sumo introduction and guide here if you need a refresher of the rules and some of the words used in these articles.

You can find the full rankings and results of the tournament so far at the Japan Sumo Association’s page here.

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