Emperor's Cup

Tosaka's Shocking Withdrawal Puts Showdown with Susaki on Hold; Mukaida Takes 55kg Title

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (Dec. 22) - The highly anticipated clash of the lightweight titans, Rio 2016 gold medalist Eri TOSAKA and reigning world champion Yui SUSAKI, will have to wait for another day. 

Tosaka won her opening match in the women's 50kg class at the All Japan  championships on Friday, but then in a shocking development, suddenly pulled out of the tournament due to lingering knee and ankle injuries suffered in October.

Tosaka, who underwent foot surgery after the Rio Olympics and only returned to competition in September, struggled to defeat Miho IGARASHI 6-4 in their quarterfinal match on day three of the four-day tournament at Tokyo's Komazawa Gym.

The win, in which Tosaka scored four points in the final minute, put her into the semifinals. But while speaking to the press after her match, her coach and national technical director Kazuhito SAKAE came by and urged her to pull out, saying it was not worth the risk of worsening the injuries. 

"I think you should stop," Sakae said. "I'm stopping you. You might want to still go out there, but it will be a problem if you make things worse."

Tosaka tearfully agreed it was the right decision.

Tosaka made a victorious return at the Japan Women's Open in September, where she won the 53kg title while admittedly looking rusty. She was working out the kinks at a national team training camp when, while sparring with rival Susaki, Tosaka suffered injuries to her left knee and ankle during a lift attempt.

"She was looking good, and I thought she would be able to beat the world champion Susaki," Sakae said. He added that after the injury, "We didn't know until up to the weigh-in here whether or not she would wrestle."

In Tosaka's absense, the 19-year-old Susaki has emerged as the premier lightweight in the world, capturing the 48kg world title that Tosaka had held since 2012. 

Susaki was as surprised as anyone to hear of Tosaka's withdrawal, and disappointed as well. Susuki won her first national title in 2016 while Tosaka was sidelined, and she was determined to defeat the star and prove she was the "true national champion."

"Now I want to win the tournament, and I'll take on Tosaka the next time," Susaki said.

Susaki advanced safely with a 10-0 technical fall in 4:22 over Miyu NAKAMURA, setting up a semifinal against 2015 national champion Yuki IRIE. The winner will take on Miho IGARASHI, who will receive the default from Tosaka.

The semifinals in the 10 remaining weight classes will be held on the final day Saturday morning, with the nationally televised finals in the afternoon. Dec. 23 is a national holiday for the Emperor's birthday, which is why the tournament is also referred to as the Emperor's Cup. 

In other action, world 53kg silver medalist Miyu MUKAIDA withstood a back injury and a late charge by Saki IGARASHI to notch a 4-2 victory in the women's 55kg final and win a second national title in a row. 

Mukaida picked up four early points with a takedown and a roll, but soon after felt pain in her right lower back. It was all she could do to hold off Igarashi, who scored a takedown with :05 left. 

Still feeling the sting of her stunning loss in the final at Paris 2017, when she blew a 6-0 lead and lost the gold to Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR), Mukaida has made it her mission to fight to the finish of every match. 

"After I scored to take the lead, I injured my back," Mukaida said. "I couldn't attack, so I have regrets about that. One issue I've been dealing with is not staying on the attack until the end, so it's disappointing that I couldn't work on that."

Mukaida said she moved up to 55kg, the division in which she won the world gold in 2016, because the two-day format for each weight class means having to weigh in each day. It meant having to deal with cutting less weight.

"For this tournament, I entered 55kg, which isn't my usual weight class. But no matter what weight class I enter, I always aim to win the title. In the end, I won so I'm happy."

Mukaida, who won all four of her matches at 53kg in helping Japan win the Women's World Cup, said she will consult with her coaches and others on whether to aim for Tokyo 2020 at 53k or 57kg. 

High schooler Naruha MATSUYUKI beat her more heralded twin sister Yasuha  to the title of "national champion" when she broke open a close match with four points in the last minute to defeat Masako FURUICHI, 6-1, in the women's 72kg final.

The victory by Matsuyuki, who usually wrestles at 69kg, came a day after Yasuha lost 2-0 in the 76kg final to world silver medalist Hiroe SUZUKI. 

"Always, in matches up to now, I was told that the reason I lost was in my head," Matsuyuki said. "From the beginning, I wanted to make sure I didn't lose mentally. That's what I was able to do."

The sisters, Aichi Prefecture natives who both attend wrestling powerhouse Shigakukan High School, are being touted as future prospects for Japan in the heavyweight divisions. 

Of the two, Yasuha has had the better results. At the world under-23 in November, Yasuha took the 75kg gold, while Naruha settled for silver at 69kg; at the world juniors, Yasuha was a silver medalist, while Naruha was fifth.

"Yasu has had better results, and the coaches and others have said she would win the All Japan first," Matsuyuki said. "But I was able to make the most of this chance, so I'm really happy."

Both sisters are being tapped for Tokyo 2020, but it is not year clear how they will fit into the picture. 

"This is not an Olympic weight class, so to go the Olympics, I will have to change," Matsuyuki said. "I will talk it over with our coaches and Yasu, and we'll try to work out a way that both of us can make it."

As for the touranment at the wrestling venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the family is not yet finished. Older brother Taisei MATSUYUKI has been assured of at least a bronze medal after advancing to the semifinals of the freestyle 86kg class.

In the other women's final Friday, Katsuki SAKAGAMI overwhelmed former world champion Chiho HAMADA at 57kg with a 12-2 technical fall in 5:35.

Among the other wrestlers who found success at a heavier weight class were world 70kg bronze medalist Yuji FUJINAMI and former world 74kg silver medalist Sosuke TAKATANI.

Fujinami built up a big lead in the 74kg final against Ken HOSAKA, then in a flurry of action caught him on his back and recorded a fall in 1:53 for his first national crown. 

"My body is still light [for 74kg]," Fujinami said. "Even if I win at 74kg in Japan, the world level is very high. Right now my ability is not enough, my strength is not enough. I'll work hard to be competitive on that level."

Takatani, who won six consecutive Japan titles at 74kg, picked up No. 7 overall with a victory in the 79kg division, which for him is a stepping stone to the Olympic weight class of 86kg.

Takatani showed he could handle the extra weight by forging a 10-0 technical fall in 5:59 over Tsubasa ASAI, a student at Takatani's alma mater of Takushoku University and with whom he often trains.

Takatani, who celebrated his victory with a dance and some preening of his chiseled physique for the matside cameras, said he has started an intense program to add weight through muscle mass. 

"To get the body I need, I've cut down on my running and focused mostly on weight training," he said. "Right now, my normal weight is 85, 86kg. To wrestle at 86kg, my aim is to gain weight up to 90kg by building up muscle.

"In general, I've put on one or two kilos every three months. It's been a good pace. Now I want to build strength that will allow me to compete overseas."

The other freestyle gold at stake went to Takeshi YAMAGUCHI at 97kg. He picked up his first title since winning four straight from 2012 to 2015 by edging Taira SONODA, 3-2. 

Sonoda's loss kept him and older brother Arata from becoming the first siblings since 2011 to win titles at the same All Japan championships.  

In the previous match, Arata SONODA capped the most dominating performance to date of the tournament when he needed just 1:49 to notch an 8-0 technical fall victory over Masahiro TANITA in the Greco-Roman 130kg final.

Sonoda had scored lightning-quick technical falls in his first two matches, winning in :28 and :31. 
 
In other Greco finals, Tomohiro INOUE claimed his first title in two years and fourth overall when he rallied to a 7-3 win over Kazuhiro HANAYAMA at 72kg.

Inoue spotted Hanayama a 3-0 lead in the first period, but came back in the second, knotting the score before going ahead with a pair of rolls from the par-terre position. 

In a tight battle between former champions for the 87kg gold, Masato SUMI edged Taichi OKA, 2-1, with all points scored for passivity. 

Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA, winner at the Dave Schultz Memorial in November, overcame a 5-0 deficit with a second-period rampage that included a big 5-point throw to defeat Katsuyoshi KAWASE, 10-5, at 67kg.

While fans have been deprived of a Tosaka-Susaki duel, there is still the possibility of another installment of the long-running feud between Greco-Roman stars Kenichiro FUMITA and Shinobu OTA.

Fumita, the reigning world champion, and Ota, the silver medalist at Rio 2016, both made the semifinals at 60kg. 

Japan's other male world champion, Yuki TAKAHASHI, had no trouble making the semifinals in freestyle 57kg, although Rei HIGUCHI, the Rio 2016 silver medalist in that division, was an early casualty at 65kg as his struggles continue with the added weight.

Higuchi rallied from a 5-1 deficit to tie his second-round match with Takuto OTOGURO, only to allow a tilt with :10 left and fall 8-5. 

Higuchi's slump started with a semifinal loss at 61kg at the Asian Championships in May, and continued when he lost to Rinya NAKAMURA in the final at the national invitational championships in June, then again to Nakamura in a playoff for a spot on the team to Paris 2017.   

"I have to fundamentally change my style of wrestling," Higuchi said. "At 65kg, power is not the problem, but my size (163cm) is a minus. After the Rio Olympics, everyone has studied my single-leg tackles and I can't do anything."

Results of Day 3 Finals

Freestyle

74kg (14 entries)
Yuhi FUJINAMI def. Ken HOSAKA by Fall, 1:53
Bronze medals: Momojiro NAKAMURA and Mao OKUI

79kg (11 entries)
Sosuke TAKATANI def. Tsubasa ASAI by TF, 10-0, 5:59 
Bronze medals: Yuta ABE and Hayato ISHIGURO

97 kg (13 entries)
Takeshi YAMAGUCHI def. Taira SONODA, 3-2 
Bronze medals: Naoya AKAGUMA and Hiroto NINOMIYA

Greco-Roman

67kg (15 entries)
Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA def. Katsuyoshi KAWASE, 10-5
Bronze medals: Shogo TAKAHASHI and Taiki KOBAYASHI

72kg (19 entries)
Tomohiro INOUE def. Kazuhiro HANAYAMA, 7-3
Bronze medals: Muuto SAWADA and Takahiro YAMAMOTO

87kg (12 entries)
Masato SUMI def. Taichi OKA, 2-1 
Bronze medals: Atsushi MATSUMOTO and Kanta SHIOKAWA 

130kg (13 entries)
Arata SONODA def. Masahiro TANITA by TF, 8-0, 1:49
Bronze medals: Naoto YAMAGUCHI and Yuya FUJITA

Women

55kg (6 entries)
Mayu MUKAIDA def. Saki IGARASHI, 4-2
Bronze medals: Arisa TANAKA and Momoka KADOYA

57kg (7 entries)
Katsuki SAKAGAMI def. Chiho HAMADA by TF, 12-2, 5:35
Bronze medals: Akie HANAI and Sae NANJO

72kg (4 entries)
Naruha MATSUYUKI def. Masako FURUICHI, 6-1
Bronze medals: Mei SHINDO and Rin MIYAJI

Pairings for Day 4 Semifinals

Freestyle

57kg (23 entries)
Yuki TAKAHASHI vs Kaiki YAMAGUCHI
Yasuhiro MORITA vs Toshihiro HASEGAWA

65kg (22 entries)
Shoya SHIMAE vs Daichi TAKATANI
Kiryu KINJO vs Kei YONEZAWA

86kg (8 entries)
Masao MATSUSAKA vs Taisei MATSUYUKI
Takahiro MURAYAMA vs Shota SHIRAI

Greco-Roman

60kg (11 entries)
Kenichiro FUMITA vs Kiyoshi KAWAGUCHI
Hayanobu SHIMIZU vs Shinobu OTA

77kg (15 entries)
Shohei YABIKU vs Kenryu KUZUYA
Ryosho KAMEI vs Takeshi IZUMI

82kg (16 entries)
Yuya MAETA vs Tatsuya FUJII
Yuya OKAJIMA vs Nobuaki TESHIGAWARA

Women

50kg (13 entries)
Yui SUSAKI vs Yuki IRIE
Miho IGARASHI vs Eri TOSAKA

53kg (8 entries)
Haruna OKUNO vs Kana HIGASHIKAWA
Yuka YAGO vs Yu MIYAHARA

62kg (7 entries)
Risako KAWAI vs Honoka IMAGAWA
Aika YAGO vs Yurika ITO

68kg (4 entries)
Sara DOSHO vs Umi FUKUSHIMA
Mai HAYAKAWA vs Chiaki IIJIMA