Summer sumo

Mongolian Yokozuna Asashoryu made history at the weekend, equalling the twelve titles won by Samoan-born wrestler Musahimaru. Meaning he’s only one victory away from becoming the most successful foreign-born fighter ever.

Thankfully this bit of sumo history gives me the excuse I need to post some pictures I took on Saturday. A decidedly fortuitous day, as not only did I get to see Asashoryu clinch the title on the penultimate day of the summer tournament, but it was close-up and personal from a ringside seat.

And talking of the Yokozuna, here he is in his pre-bout ceremonial outfit. Exuding the usual menace.

yokozuna asashoryu

Further down the ranks, the two wrestlers below seemed to be well aware of my picture taking deficiencies. Politely pausing in the middle of their fight to allow me the necessary time to fumble for my camera.


And last but by no means least, no sumo selection is complete without a picture of Toki and his retro facial fashion.

sumo toki


  1. says

    I’m just reading Freakonomics (terrible name, good book) and it has a half a chapter that conclusive proves the match rigging that goes on in Sumo. Has there been much made of that in Japan?

  2. says

    As far as I’m aware not recently, but this interview with an ex-wrestler a few years ago doesn’t paint the sport in a very good light.

    As each tournament draws to a close, there are always quite a few wrestlers desperately trying to achieve a winning record, and if they are up against someone with nothing to fight for, then I can see arrangements being made. Now whilst this wouldn’t be right (far from it), it wouldn’t make any difference in deciding the overall winner either.

    That said, I watch the sport a lot, plus when it’s in Tokyo I make a point of going to see it live. And whilst I’m nowhere near an expert, I have never seen anything that I’d class as suspicious.

    On Saturday, as I mentioned in the post, I was lucky enough to see the fights from close up. And there was no holding back from what I could see. On the contrary really, I even witnessed a rare show of emotion with one fighter (the Georgian Kokkai) glaring at his opponent after some particularly unsportsmanlike conduct.

    The sport is currently in trouble, as attendances are falling and the nation’s youngsters are simply not interested. Football (soccer) and baseball stars are their heroes, not sumo wrestlers. So I really hope there is no organized match rigging going on, as a huge scandal could cause potentially irreparable damage.

  3. Tim says

    Itai is the Jose Canseco of Sumo. You may as well believe one’s allegations as the other’s. I don’t know that he made it up out of whole cloth, but I imagine he embellished it to sell a scandal, like Canseco appears to have done.

    I thought Kokkai showed terrible sportsmanship on Sunday, flailing about like a drunken madman. On Saturday, he was as much a victim of his own poor tachi-ai as Miyabiyama’s henka. Asashouryuu would never have lost to a henka like that. If he worked on his tachi-ai he wouldn’t lose so easily, so he should blame himself. And besides, I’ve seen Kokkai do henka himself. You can’t be blame anyone when you get a taste of your own medicine.

  4. says

    Yeah, that’s a fair point about Kokkai. And his technique on Sunday did leave a lot to be desired to say the least.

    The reason I mentioned him though wasn’t to highlight Miyabiyama’s behaviour, but to try and make the point that wrestlers don’t hold back, regardless of how late in the tournament it is.

    Apart from the comments of Itai, what’s your take on the accusations of match rigging Tim?

  5. says

    From what I know of Sumo, and I’ve only been to one live, it wouldn’t be hard to “fix”. It can be so quick and such a tussle between strength, balance and agility that any half-decent wrestler, as these gents clearly are, could throw the fight without making it obvious.

    I’ll give you specifics. The author of the book did a study where he compared the win-loss ratio of those with a 7-7 record against a fighter with a 8-6 or 9-5 record. The theory was those at 7-7 had so much more to gain, whereas those with a winning record knew they couldn’t win the whole tournament. Sure enough, 80% (!) of those fights were won by the 7-7 guy, when you’d expect just less than 50% based on history.

    Is it just that no-one wants to talk about the 500 pound elephant in the room? Does it just suit everyone to ignore the problem? I’m very curious because in most places it would be a national scandal.

  6. says

    It could be argued that as the man with a 7-7 record has everything to gain, the odds on him winning will be a bit better than usual. But with figures in the region of 80%, it would be a brave (or very naive) man to say there isn’t something amiss there.

    I must say I find those figures very shocking to say the least. Do you know when the stats were compiled?

    As for ignoring the problem, that’s how numerous other issues are dealt with, so why should sumo be any different?

  7. says

    “…in most places it would be a national scandal.”

    Hmm, I have opinions about that. Why is it that in Japan, things suddenly become a “national scandal” after having been ignored for such a long time? An example is the Seibu empire boss, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, who was arrested recently. Well, already 10 years ago there were stories about his wrong-doings and bribes, and also before the Nagano Olympics there were rumours. And then suddenly, all of Japanese media and society erupts into a frency…

    I’m not sure that the 7-7 record of 80% is proof that Sumo is rigged, in the Western sense of the word. Hey, sumo is all about konjo, isn’ it?

  8. says

    The numbers are from Levitt’s book, but I think they’re distilled from a study he’s done. I’m sure a bit of Googling can find it.

    Next they’ll tell me WWF is rigged.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *