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Notes on the Sekitori

I was glad to see the Sekitori win his match. Having lived under the same roof for a couple weeks, I felt a sort of loyalty toward him, despite his mistreatment of the stable's other wrestlers. But I was also surprised by how much support he got from other fans. Why had he received so many cheers?, I wondered.

One answer came in the form of an email from an English fan who said he trains at the same northeast Tokyo amateur stable where the Sekitori got his start. Most wrestlers grew up far away from Japan's big cities, off of Japan's main island or on it's northern and southern tips. But the Sekitori is from Saitama prefecture, much of which consists of bedroom communities for workers in Tokyo.

He "is basically a local lad of sorts," wrote the English fan.

I also learned from David Shapiro, the American sumo announcer, that the Sekitori is in the middle of a comeback. I knew that the Sekitori was competing in his second tournament as a juryo-ranked wrestler, but I didn't know that he had ascended to—and then fallen from—that rank once before. Shapiro told me that the Sekitori suffers from diabetes and had lost the rank before because he was weakened by his condition.

But, his health having improved, the Sekitori was now on the upswing. "He's a great kid with lots of promise and a great work ethic," Shapiro said.

The Sekitori had actually dropped his old ring name and taken on his current one, Ishide, as a way of distancing himself from his illness and losses. A few people told me that if he ascended even higher—as he stood poised to do if he performed well enough in this tournament—he'd likely change his name yet again.

"There's nothing special about a name like 'Ishide'," Miki explained over lunch the day before the tournament started. "It's like calling yourself 'Miki'."

In fact, the Sekitori did fight well enough to advance to Makuuchi rank in the tournement, winning nine out of 15 matches; but he's competing in the Osaka tournament as "Ishide".

NEXT: Afternoon at the Tournament