The Sumo Scene / Strong Work Ethic Put Atamifuji on Cusp of Title at Recent Tournament

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Although he just missed out on the Autumn tournament title, Atamifuji was rewarded with the Fighting Spirit Prize for his efforts on Sept. 24, the basho’s final day at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

A young warrior just 21 years of age left a vivid impression on the sumo ring at last month’s Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament. In just the second tournament of his career in the upper-most makuuchi division, Atamifuji came within a whisker of walking off with the Emperor’s Cup in a remarkable performance.

No doubt that this newcomer’s energetic sumo style had more than a few fans sensing that they were witnessing the emergence of a future star.

As his ring name infers, he is a native of Atami, the Shizuoka Prefecture city known for its hot springs resorts. After graduating from high school, he made his pro debut at the November 2020 tournament, which was held that year in Tokyo.

Despite being unheralded in high school and winning none of the major titles, he has made steady progress in the pro ranks. It took a little more than a year for him to make it from the lowest jonokuchi division to the salaried second-tier juryo division, making him a full-fledged sekitori.

Exactly two years after first stepping into the ring, he was in the makuuchi division for the Kyushu tournament in 2022. A losing record in that tournament sent him back to the juryo division, and he only earned promotion back to makuuchi for this year’s Autumn tournament, inserted near the bottom at No. 15 maegashira.

His style of sumo is as “straightforward” as the word implies. Taking full advantage of his well-proportioned 186-centimeter, 181-kilogram frame, his frontal attacks filled with the ardor of youth have caught many an eye. Many chalk up his rapid growth to the grueling training that is characteristic of the Isegahama stable to which he belongs.

The stable not only features yokozuna Terunofuji, but a large number of sekitori including makuuchi division wrestlers Midorifuji, Nishikifuji and Takarafuji, all of whom have different styles and physiques. When practice sessions with other stables were curtailed during the pandemic, Isegahama made use of its advantageous training environment, and wrestlers could expect from 60 to 80 sparring matches per day.

A saying in sumo goes “sannen-saki no keiko,” which generally means “training for three years down the road.” Atamifuji perfectly personifies this. He definitely put in the effort on the hard road and is now showing the fruits of his labor. Stablemaster Isegahama, the former yokozuna Asahifuji who is normally quite harsh when it comes to his wrestlers, praised Atamifuji, saying, “He trains very hard and is serious.”

At the Autumn tournament, Atamifuji was in the lead going into the final day, but ended up losing in a championship playoff to a devious strategy by ozeki Takakeisho to just miss out on a first career title. “I wanted to win, this is disappointing,” he said through gritted teeth. Still, this experience will surely pay dividends in his future.

Atamifuji is in for a hefty promotion for the year-ending Kyushu tournament, which means more matches against top-ranked wrestlers. It will be his chance to prove his performance was not a fluke.

— Kamimura is a sumo expert.