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Rivalries in Amateur Sumo #5 - Mori Tomoki & Ichihara Takayuki

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Posted (edited)

The story begins with a very enthralling bout inside the Kokugikan Stadium. The year is 1994, and the occasion is the Grade 4 final of the 10th Wanpaku National Championships. On the left we have Mori Tomoki from Tokyo, and on the right we have Ichihara Takayuki from Nagoya.


Most of the stories in the Rivalries in Amateur Sumo series thus far have been about how certain rivalries began, and how they have developed, but this one is slightly different, as we already know how their story ended.

Wanpaku Years

As you can see from the video, Mori Tomoki (eventually) got the better of his opponent and future rival Ichihara Takayuki when they met in Grade 4, with a little luck from that torinaoshi decision. During the post-bout interview, Mori said that he couldn't believe that he had won the Yusho, while Ichihara expressed his disappointment about how the bout turned out.

2 years later, Mori Tomoki would win his second Wanpaku Championships, leaving Ichihara empty-handed from his primary school days.

A Change of Fortunes

As you may already know, there are 2 major tournaments in middle school sumo - the National Middle School Student Championships and the National Middle School Championships. Theoretically it is possible for someone to win both tournaments three years in a row, but winners are almost always third year students. Only some very talented second year students are exceptions to this (such as Onosho).

In his third year at middle school, the much improved Ichihara Takayuki managed to bag both championship titles, an incredible feat to say to least. This is the first time he's been national champion, and it most certainly won't be the last. Mori Tomoki, on the other hand, could only manage a third-place finish in both of these tournaments.

Away from Home

By the time they reach high school, both of them decided to leave their hometowns to study sumo at a powerhouse high school. For Mori it was Tottori Johoku, where Terunofuji and Ichinojo graduated, and for Ichihara it was Saitama Sakae, where Goeido and Hokutofuji studied.

Mori had some success during his high school days, winning the openweight division at the Class-by-Class Championships (one of the only tournaments where weight classes exist). However, Ichihara would have the last laugh, as he followed up his Middle School Yokozuna title by becoming High School Yokozuna, in his sophomore year no less.

All Roads Lead to, Nihon University?

Despite having grown up and studied in different cities for their entire lives, both Mori Tomoki and Ichihara Takayuki decided to continue their amateur sumo careers at Nihon University, and thus rivals became team-mates. Club-mates who were in the same year as them include Yamamotoyama and Tenkaiho.

College sumo was kinder to Mori, as he became College Yokozuna in his fourth year. This was Mori's first Yokozuna title since his Wanpaku days. For Ichihara though, things were even better as he claimed not one but two major titles - Kokutai Yokozuna and Amateur Yokozuna. And so all 3 major college titles were brought home to Nihon University that year, talk about the dream team.

Makushita Tsukedashi

Following their college successes, both Mori and Ichihara earned to right to start off their Ozumo careers in Makushita, which they duly did.

Ichihara made his debut in Hatsu 2007 at Makushita 10. It took him five bashos to make it to Juryo, and another to make it to Makuuchi. In Hatsu 2009, he changed his shikona to Kiyoseumi.

Mori debuted in Ozumo in Haru 2007, one basho later than Ichihara, and started off at Makushita 15. He would struggle to get any momentum going as a pro, even going 2-5 in his opening basho. It took him 10 bashos to make it to Juryo, double the amount of time it took for Ichihara.

Incidentally, Mori had a chance for promotion to Juryo one basho earlier at Makushita 1, where he was 3-3 after 11 days. His all-important final bout on day 12 was against, as fate would have it, Ichihara, who was 6-6 at the time (in Juryo). Mori would finish 3-4 and be forced to wait a bit longer for his promotion. Ichihara would finish 8-7.

Once in Juryo, Mori changed his shikona to Daishoumi, which was decided in a phone call with his coach back at Nihon University. However, this would not change his fortune, as he would later be plagued by an elbow injury, and was forced to retire in Kyushu 2011.

Injuries would also affect Ichihara's time in Ozumo, but he would ultimately be remembered for something very different. In 2010, he admitted to being involved in illegal betting on baseball, and was suspended from the Nagoya basho. Less than a year later, he was found to be guilty of match-fixing (the infamous yaocho scandal in 2011), and was forced to retire.

What Could Have Been......

It is very rare for someone to remain successful throughout their entire amateur sumo career, a span of up to 13 years. It is amazing that not only were Mori and Ichihara both incredibly successful throughout this entire period, but they achieved this together, as rivals and as team-mates.

Things didn't turn out for them in the end, but once upon a time, when they stepped onto the dohyo for a Wanpaku final, when injuries were not yet a concern, they produced a bout to remember, and a rivalry was born.

Edited by mikawa
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