Since the match-fixing scandal broke, professional sumo has really been getting its lumps. If the latest article in Shukan Post (March 18) is to be believed, only four grapplers in sumo's Makunouchi upper division are certain to be "gachinko" (competing in earnest). The article identifies them as: Aminishiki (Isegahama-beya), Takamizakari (Azumaseki-beya), and Kisenosato and Wakanosato (both of Naruto-beya).
As for the others, well, don't take our word for it, the magazine says. Just turn on your TV the next time there's a sumo tournament. If you look closely for the tell-tale signs, it's not all that hard to figure out which bouts are fixed.
In a two-page sidebar running from the top of page 148, the magazine goes into detail.
First, take a match that begins with opponents exchanging a flurry of open-handed thrusts, known as "tsuppari." From the sheer energy expended, this would seem to be an indicator that a bout is the real McCoy. But no, says Keisuke Itai, former stable master of the now defunct Onaruto stable.
"At the jump-off, the one who is going to lose will aim all his thrusts toward his opponent's face, leaving his torso open, giving the opponent an opening to obtain a firm hold on the belt with both hands," Itai tells the magazine. "Then all the opponent needs to do is lift him up and carry him out by 'tsuri-dashi.'
"The point is to watch where the thrusts are directed," Itai continues. "Instead of driven downwards at the chest, if they land on the shoulders, they just glide off."
It may also be possible to tell if some matches are fixed based on which throwing techniques are used.
"If the winner pulls off a clean throw without really putting his body into it, it's probably fixed," says Itai. "Take the 'shitate-dashinage' technique (pulling under-arm throw). If it's the real thing, then while the throw is launched, the winner will use his free hand to force down his opponent's head. But it's not that easy a throw to pull off, and usually if a match is serious the winner will wind up using a 'shitate nage' (under-arm throw) or even just bowling over his opponent by 'yori-taoshi' (frontal crush-out)."
Many grapplers' repertoire of techniques are limited mainly to "oshi" and "yori" pushing, either with the hands or while gripping the belt.
"If a wrestler wins by use of one of these standbys, it will probably be harder to tell whether or not the fix is in," says Itai. "But on the other hand, if two wrestlers face off who both typically rely on pushing and one suddenly switches at the jump-off to attempt 'hatakikomi' (slap-down) or thrusting, you can tell what's going on fairly easily."
One pretext given for match fixing is avoidance of injuries (or aggravating existing injuries).
"Since the heaviest wrestlers are ones most at risk of getting hurt by falling out of the ring, there's a common pattern of having them take a fall inside the ring," says Itai. "Basically when a big guy is involved in a fix, the main thing to decide beforehand is how to make the outcome look decisive."
An unnamed stable master who admits to have frequently engaged in bout fixing is quoted as saying another telltale sign is when an opponent is dropped toward the center of the straw ring. Both times when Mongolians Hakuho and Harumafuji faced off in playoff matches on the final days of two tournaments, their bouts ended this way.
"When the match is determined by crossing the straw ring, winning by 'yori-kiri' (frontal force-out) technique should be suspect," confides an unnamed "tsukebito" (an attendant for an upper-ranked wrestler). "When someone is really going all-out to win, his momentum will usually push the opponent past the edge and down the side."© Japan Today