Mitakeumi the one to watch in 2022, but with some reservations

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Mitakeumi, left, pushes out ozeki Takakeisho on the final day of the Autumn tournament on Sept. 26 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

Who is the sumo wrestler to watch in 2022?

Looking at recent results, I would definitely have to go with sekiwake Mitakeumi. He already has two titles to his credit — the Nagoya tournament in 2018 and the Autumn tournament in 2019 — and this year, his cumulative 55 wins was second only to the 77 posted by yokozuna Terunofuji.

At this point, he appears to be the wrestler closest to making ozeki.

At 1.80 meters and 169 kilograms, Mitakeumi is well-proportioned for a sumo wrestler. His heavy lower torso provides the support for powerful thrusts and pushes as he grinds forward.

Looking at Mitakeumi, when he is riding high, he can be so impressive that it leads one to think he will be promoted to ozeki the next day.

In the 29 tournaments over five years since 2017 (the Summer 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic), Mitakeumi was ranked in the sanyaku — the three ranks below yokozuna — for 27, including 17 at sekiwake. Of course, he remains a sekiwake for the New Year Tournament in January, his fourth consecutive tournament at that rank.

That said, the potential star also digs his own grave a bit too much with passive sumo, such as having a weak initial charge at the jump-off. Some flippant people in his native Nagano Prefecture make fun of him by calling him the “Top Failed Hope of Shinshu.”

For example, when given the chance for a joint practice with a yokozuna or ozeki, he was quoted as saying without qualms, “I have my own strategy, so I don’t want to do anything that reveals my hand to the opponent.”

To go up against a yokozuna or ozeki in practice with all one’s might is commonly regarded as vital, as it gives the wrestler a chance to directly assess how he compares physically with such a high-ranking opponent.

Some may contend that it is up to the wrestler himself to decide how he practices, but my instincts tell me that the rank of ozeki will remain outside of Mitakeumi’s reach as long as he thinks of such things as using a game plan to win.

It is nothing but irritating that he fails to consider such sumo maxims as “only gaining a solid power base leads to ozeki,” or “repay the upper-ranked echelon by beating them with direct confrontation.”

Mitakeumi turned 29 on Dec. 25, making next year the last for him in his 20s. He has more than enough ability to gain promotion to ozeki, and I sincerely hope it becomes a year in which he makes the big leap forward.