By Ken Marantz / Photo = Takeo Yabuki
TOKYO—Risako KAWAI went on the attack and came out on top of her latest showdown with fellow Rio Olympic champion Kaori ICHO, winning 6-4 in the women’s 57kg final at the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships.
Kawai’s victory on the final day of the four-day tournament June 13-16 set up another clash with Icho in a playoff on July 6 for the spot on Japan’s team to the World Championships in Kazakhstan in September.
Icho had beaten Kawai in the final in December at the Emperor’s Cup All-Japan Championships, the first of the two qualifying tournaments for the national team.
“Six months ago in December, I didn’t have the courage to go on the attack,” said Kawai, who earned the Meiji Cup as the tournament MVP. “Since that time, I anguished less over the fact that I lost and more about why I didn’t wrestle the way I wanted to. The big issue was the mental aspect. I feel I’ve grown from that standpoint.”
Kawai, the Rio champion at 63kg and current world champion at 59kg, moved down to the Olympic weight class of 57kg, putting her on a collision course with Icho, whose victory at 58kg in Rio gave her an unprecedented fourth Olympic gold medal.
In the final at Tokyo’s Komazawa Gym and before a national TV audience, Kawai built a 5-0 lead before Icho stormed back, pulling to within 1 point when Kawai was penalized for fleeing with 2.5 seconds left.
Icho made a last charge for the winning point, but just failed to beat the clock in forcing Kawai over the edge. An unsuccessful challenge made the final score 6-4.
“Looking ahead to the playoff, I’ll reflect on what went wrong today and make the necessary changes,” said Icho, who returned to competition last September for the first time since the Rio Olympics. “I don’t have time to feel depressed.”
Icho, who had to settle for the bronze medal at the Asian Championships in April, had survived a scare in the semifinals, when she levered Sae NANJO over after being taken down to win 3-3 on last-point criteria.
Meanwhile, reigning world champions Yui SUSAKI and Takuto OTOGURO will also need to win wrestle-offs to get a chance to defend their world titles, but took vastly different routes to that stage in the process, which also has ramifications regarding the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Susaki, who missed the Emperor’s Cup due to an elbow injury, cruised to a 10-0 technical fall victory in 1:36 over Rio Olympic gold medalist Eri TOSAKA to capture the women’s 50kg title.
“She was an athlete that I had always looked up to,” said Susaki, who will turn 20 on June 30. “After the Rio Olympics, that changed to wanting to beat her. I was very happy that the timing was right that I could face her here. I wanted to firmly defeat her and complete the generational change. That strong feeling led to this victory.”
Susaki survived a major scare in her opening match in the quarterfinals, when she scored a miraculous 4-point takedown with 2 seconds left to stun Emperor’s Cup champion Yuki IRIE, 6-2.
Susaki and Irie, the gold medalist at the Asian Championships in April, will meet in the playoff for the world team spot in a repeat of 2018, which Susaki won before going on to successfully defend her world title in Budapest.
Otoguro, who became at 19 years 10 months the youngest male world champion in Japanese wrestling history when he won the gold in Budapest, had been plagued recently with a knee problem that caused him to miss the Freestyle World Cup and Asian Championships.
Limited preparation seemed to take its toll when Otoguro, the Emperor’s Cup champion, was dealt a 15-5 technical fall loss in 5:23 in the freestyle 65kg final by Rei HIGUCHI, the Rio Olympic silver medalist at 57kg who captured the first Meiji Cup title of his career. It was Otoguro’s first loss to a Japanese opponent since junior high school.
Otoguro had gotten the best of Higuchi in recent years, and will now have to do so again in the playoff to make the team to the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan.
In other action involving high-profile wrestlers, former world champion Kenichiro FUMITA came out on top in his latest clash with rival and Rio Olympic silver medalist Shinobu OTA, winning 4-1 in the Greco-Roman 60kg final for his third title overall and first in two years.
Fumita withstood Ota’s deadly front headlock throw attempt from the ground position, then managed to roll Ota when it was his turn on top. Fumita then narrowly avoided a step-out by shrugging Ota aside and gained the point himself to clinch his place on the plane to Nur-Sultan.
Fumita, the 2017 world champion who battled injuries last year, now holds a 6-4 edge over former Nippon Sport Science University teammate Ota in their head-to-head meetings.
“It went as I imagined, in which neither of us was able to score on our feet,” Fumita said. “It would come down to the ground position. I didn’t know which one of us would be on bottom first, but I knew he would use the front headlock, and I knew I had to roll him at least once. For both of those points to happen made the match go as I wanted.”
The women’s 53kg weight class featured a battle between reigning world champions that Mayu MUKAIDA won 2-1 over Haruna OKUNO. After giving up a point on the activity clock, Mukaida spun behind for a takedown at the end of the first period for the decisive points.
Mukaida, who suffered a stunning last-second loss in the final at the Asian Championships to North Korea’s PAK Yong-Mi, played it safe in the second period to hold on for the victory.
Mukaida, the Budapest world champion at 55kg who moved down to the Olympic weight, has now defeated Okuno, the world gold medalist at 53kg, in all nine of their career meetings.
Two-time world bronze medalist Hiroe MINAGAWA survived the challenge of double world cadet champion Yuka KAGAMI to win the women’s 76kg title, her eighth straight at the Meiji Cup, and earn a sixth trip to the World Championships.
Minagawa, 31, held on for a 3-1 victory over the 17-year-old Kagami, avenging a loss by the same score the previous day in their preliminary round group that was her first to a Japanese opponent since 2013. Kagami won the Emperor’s Cup at 72kg and will thus enter the playoff at that weight class.
Yuki TAKAHASHI, looking to regain the world title he won in 2017 at freestyle 57kg after having to settle for a bronze last year, earned his ticket to Nur-Sultan with a 6-3 victory over Kaiki YAMAGUCHI in a repeat of the Emperor’s Cup final.
Sosuke TAKATANI, the 2014 world silver medalist at freestyle 74kg who has transitioned over the past two years to the next Olympic weight of 86kg, earned a chance at a world medal and Olympic berth at that weight when he outlassed Masao MATSUSAKA 8-0 in the final.
Rio Olympic champion Sara DOSHO, who had to abdicate the women’s world 68kg throne last year after undergoing shoulder surgery, is poised to regain the world title, although she needed a come-from-behind victory over Masako FURUICHI to do it.
Dosho trailed 3-2 with 11 seconds left in the final when Furuichi launced an ill-fated attack that Dosho countered and spun behind for a takedown and a 4-3 victory.
Yukako KAWAI, Risako’s younger sister, will get a chance to improve on her world silver medal from Budapest after she defeated high schooler and Asian champion Yuzuku INAGAKI 3-1 in the women’s 62kg final.
This year’s World Championships holds extra significance as the Japan federation has decreed that any wrestler winning a medal in Nur-Sultan, which is also serving as the first qualifier for Tokyo 2020, will automatically earn an Olympic berth.
For a weight class like the women’s 50kg, the likelihood of a medal is extremely high, as Japan has finished either first or second at the worlds in the lightest weight class every year dating back to 2010, as well as the last four Olympics.
The playoffs for the Olympic weight classes will be held on July 6, with the remaining scheduled for July 21. Wrestlers who finish second in an Olympic weight class at either the Emperor’s Cup or Meiji Cup can choose to enter the playoff at a non-Olympic weight.
For example, that would give Ota a chance to make the world team at 63kg, if he so chooses, or Okuno could move up to 55kg, the weight class in which she won the 2017 world gold.
Atsushi MATSUMOTO, the world and Asian bronze medalist at 92kg, took a shot at the Olympic weight of 97kg, but came up short of even winning a medal. Still, as the Emperor’s Cup winner at 92kg, he can enter the playoff in that division. And, should 97kg winner Naoya AKAGUMA not win a medal in Nur-Sultan, Matsumoto can launch another challenge.
Emperor’s Cup champion Yuhi FUJINAMI will need to take the playoff route back to the World Championships at 74kg if he wants to improve on his 2018 bronze medal at 70kg, after injuries scuttled his chances to clinch the berth.
Still recovering from a knee injury suffered at the Asian Championships, Fujinami suffered a back injury a week before the Meiji Cup. His limited movement played a factor as he succumbed by fall in 4:23 to Mao OKUI in the semifinals.
Okui went on to defeat Jintaro MOTOYAMA, last year’s Meiji champ at 70kg, 6-2 in the final to set up a rematch with Fujinami in the playoff. It remains to be seen whether three weeks will be enough time for Fujinami to fully recover.
In other weight classes, Yudai TAKAHASHI of Kyoto’s Amino High School became the first high schooler to win a title in the 23-year history of the Meiji Cup, capturing the non-Olympic weight of freestyle 79kg, which drew just four entries and was competed as a round-robin.
At 17 years 6 months, Takahashi eclipsed the record for youngest-ever champion set in 2013 by Daichi TAKATANI, who was a little over one year older. Ironically, NSSU freshman Nao KUSAKU’s 10-1 technical fall victory over Tomohiro INOUE in the Greco-Roman 72kg final the next day would have made him the new record-holder—by 6 days over Takatani.
With her victory at women’s 59kg, Yumeka TANABE joined father Chikara as a Meiji Cup gold medalist, making them the first father-child title tandam in tournament history. Chikara Tanabe won twice, in 1998 and 1999, at freestyle 55kg, and was the bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Shohei YABIKU will have the momentum going into the Greco 77kg playoff after rolling to an 8-0 technical fall victory over Emperor’s Cup champion Naotsugu SHOJI in the final.
In the three heaviest Greco divisions, Masato SUMI (87kg), Yuta NARA (97kg) and Arata SONODA (130kg) all retained their titles and earn tickets to the World Championships. Nara won for the fourth straight year and Sonoda made it eight in a row.
World junior and U23 champion Saki IGARASHI, the Asian silver medalist, won her first title by taking the women’s 55kg gold, while Misuzu ENAMOTO’s victory at 65kg made her the first-ever champion from Okayama’s International Pacific University at the Meiji Cup and its predecessor, the Queen’s Cup.
57kg (12 entries)
Final – Yuki TAKAHASHI df. Kaiki YAMAGUCHI, 6-3
(Takahashi wins 5th title, 3rd in row)
3rd Place – Toshihiro HASEGAWA df. Shotaro SUWAMA, 6-0
3rd Place – Rikuto ARAI df. Daiki ARAKI, 8-2
Yuki TAKAHASHI df. Toshihiro HASEGAWA, 7-4
Kaiki YAMAGUCHI df. Daiki ARAKI by TF, 10-0, 5:35
61kg (11 entries)
Final – Yo NAKATA df. Ken KIKUCHI by TF, 12-2, 5:09
(Nakata wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Ryutaro HAYAMA df. Keita SHIMIZU by Def.
3rd Place – Kodai OGAWA df. Wataru TADANO by TF, 14-4, 5:05
Ken KIKUCHI df. Keita SHIMIZU, 6-4
Yo NAKATA df. Wataru TADANO by TF, 10-0, 4:40
65kg (11 entries)
Final – Rei HIGUCHI df. Takuto OTOGURO by TF, 15-5, 5:47
(Higuchi wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Yujiro UENO df. Koki SHIMIZU, 8-1
3rd Place – Takuma TANIYAMA df. Shoya SHIMAE, 4-2
Takuto OTOGURO df. Yujiro UENO by TF, 10-0, 2:38
Rei HIGUCHI df. Takuma TANIYAMA, 9-0
70kg (8 entries)
Final – Haruki SENO df. Kojiro SHIGA, 5-3
(Seno wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Jin HARAGUCHI df. Yuta NAKAMURA, 4-3
3rd Place – Kengo MATSUDA df. Shinnosuke SUWAMA, 3-2
Kojiro SHIGA df. Jin HARAGUCHI, 5-2
Haruki SENO df. Shinnosuke SUWAMA, 2-1
74kg (12 entries)
Final – Mao OKUI df. Jintaro MOTOYAMA, 6-2
(Okui wins 2nd title, 1st in 3 years)
3rd Place – Yuto MIWA df. Yuhi FUJINAMI by Def.
3rd Place – Ryuki YOSHIDA df. Ken HOSAKA, 6-4
Mao OKUI df. Yuhi FUJINAMI by Fall, 4:23 (4-1)
Jintaro MOTOYAMA df. Ken HOSAKA, 8-1
79kg (4 entries)
Round-Robin, Final Standings
1. Yudai TAKAHASHI (3-0)
(Takahashi wins 1st title)
2. Komei KAWABATA (2-1)
3. Yuto IZUTSU (1-2)
Key match: Yudai TAKAHASHI df. Komei KAWABATA, 5-4 in 2nd round
86kg (12 entries)
Final – Sosuke TAKATANI df. Masao MATSUSAKA, 8-0
(Takatani wins 6th title, 3rd in row)
3rd place – Hayato ISHIGURO df. Yuya NISHIKIDO, 4-2
3rd place – Takahiro MURAYAMA df. Shota SHIRAI by Def.
Sosuke TAKATANI df. Hayato ISHIGURO, 10-2
Masao MATSUSAKA df. Shota SHIRAI, by Injury Def., 2:04 (1-0)
92kg (5 entries)
Round-robin, Final Standings
1. Takuma OTSU (4-0)
(Otsu wins 1st title)
2. Takumi TANIZAKI (3-1)
3. Koji YAMANE (2-2)
Key match: Takuma OTSU df. Takumi TANIZAKI, 2-1 in 2nd round
97kg (12 entries)
Final – Naoya AKAGUMA df. Takeshi YAMAGUCHI, 3-2
(Akaguma wins 3rd title, 2nd in row)
3rd place – Keiwan YOSHIDA df. Yusuke FUJITA, 2-2
3rd place – Taira SONODA df. Atsushi MATSUMOTO, 7-0
Naoya AKAGUMA df. Keiwan YOSHIDA, 5-2
Takeshi YAMAGUCHI df. Atsushi MATSUMOTO, 4-2
125kg (12 entries)
Final – Taiki YAMAMOTO df. Katsutoshi NAKAZAWA, 3-2
(Yamamoto wins 3rd title, 2nd in row)
3rd place – Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA df. Masae TOMIE by Fall, :54 (4-0)
3rd place – Tetsuya TANAKA df. Yasuhiro YAMAMOTO by Def.
Taiki YAMAMOTO df. Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA, 3-2
Katsutoshi NAKAZAWA df. Tetsuya TANAKA, 2-1
55kg (8 entries)
Final – Shota OGAWA df. Hirokazu ONO by TF,10-0, 1:05
(Ogawa wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Kenta KOSAKA df. Hiromu KATAGIRI by Def.
3rd Place – Kota OTANI df. Kazuto KATO by TF, 9-0, 1:59
Shota OGAWA df. Hiromu KATAGIRI by TF, 9-0, 1:50
Hirokazu ONO df. Kazuto KATO, 5-0
60kg (12 entries)
Final – Kenichiro FUMITA df. Shinobu OTA, 4-1
(Fumita wins 3rd title, 1st in 2 years)
3rd Place – Hayanobu SHIMIZU df. Kiyoshi KAWAGUCHI by TF, 10-0, 1:50
3rd Place – Ayata SUZUKI df. Ryotaro SUZUKI by TF, 10-2, 5:51
Kenichiro FUMITA df. Hayanobu SHIMIZU by TF, 9-1, 4:15
Shinobu OTA df. Ayata SUZUKI by TF, 9-0, 3:19
63kg (9 entries)
Final – Yoshiki YAMADA df. Ichito TOKUHIGA, 2-0
(Yamada wins 1st title)
3rd place – Kohei YOSHIKAWA df. Naoki GODA, 6-4
3rd place – Masaki ISHIKAWA df. Ryota KOSHIBA by TF, 9-1, 2:30
Yoshiki YAMADA df. Naoki GODA by TF, 8-0, :44
Ichito TOKUHIGA df. Masaki ISHIKAWA by TF, 10-0, 1:43
67kg (12 entries)
Final – Shogo TAKAHASHI df. Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA, 2-1
(Takahashi wins 3rd title, 1st in 2 years)
3rd Place – Katsuaki ENDO df. Katsuyoshi KAWASE by Def.
3rd Place – Yusuke KITAOKA df. Yamato UI, 5-3
Shogo TAKAHASHI df. Katsuaki ENDO, 2-1
Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA df. Yamato UI by TF, 8-0, 1:58
72kg (12 entries)
Final – Nao KUSAKA df. Tomohiro INOUE by TF, 10-1, 3:24
(Kusaka wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Keisei SHIMABUKURO df. Naoki KAWABE by TF, 8-0, 0:47
3rd Place – Takuya TOMIZUKA df. Ryoma HOJO by TF, 9-0, 1:40
Tomohiro INOUE df. Keisei SHIMABUKURO, 4-0
Nao KUSAKA df. Ryoma HOJO, 12-7
77kg (11 entries)
Final – Shohei YABIKU df. Naotsugu SHOJI by TF, 8-0, 2:24
(Yabiku wins 3rd title, 3rd in row)
3rd place – Amane SHIMOYAMADA df. Takeshi IZUMI by Fall, 5:06 (10-4)
3rd place – Kodai SAKURABA df. Shoma YAMASAKI by TF, 8-0, 5:19
Naotsugu SHOJI df. Takeshi IZUMI, 4-4
Shohei YABIKU df. Shoma YAMASAKI by TF, 9-0, 1:43
82kg (9 entries)
Final – Yuya OKAJIMA df. Satoki MUKAI by TF, 9-0, 3:27
(Okajima wins 1st title)
3rd Place – Masao TANAKA df. Yudai SASAKI by TF, 11-3, 4:04
3rd Place – Yoji KAWAMURA df. Tatsuya FUJII, 7-5
Yuya OKAJIMA df. Masao TANAKA by TF, 8-0, 2:38
Satoki MUKAI df. Tatsuya FUJII, 3-1
87kg (7 entries)
Final – Masato SUMI df. Takahiro TSURUDA, 5-3
(Sumi wins 2nd title, 2nd in row)
3rd place – Ryota NASUKAWA df. Kanta SHIOKAWA, 9-4
Takahiro TSURUDA df. Ryota NASUKAWA by Fall, 2:07 (7-4)
Masato SUMI df. Kanta SHIOKAWA, 2-1
97kg (9 entries)
Final – Yuta NARA df. Masaaki SHIKIYA, 3-1
(Nara wins 4th title, 4th in row)
3rd place – Naoki MATSUMOTO df. Yoshiki SHIRATORI, 5-1
3rd place – Taichi OKA df. Yuri NAKAZATO, 4-1
Yuta NARA df. Naoki MATSUMOTO by TF, 10-0, 2:41
Masaaki SHIKIYA df. Taichi OKA by TF, 9-0, 3:32
130kg (8 entries)
Final – Arata SONODA df. Keita BANCHI by TF, 8-0, 1:15
(Sonoda wins 6th title, 6th in row)
3rd Place – Shoma SUZUKI df. Satoshi KAIZUKA, 3-1
3rd Place – Sota OKUMURA df. Ryota KONO, 3-2
Arata SONODA df. Shoma SUZUKI by TF, 8-0, :37
Keita BANCHI df. Sota OKUMURA, 3-1
50kg (12 entries)
Final – Yui SUSAKI df. Eri TOSAKA by TF, 10-0, 1:36
(Susaki wins 4th title, 4th in row)
3rd Place – Yuki IRIE df. Miho IGARASHI, 8-3
3rd Place – Kika KAGATA df. Remina YOSHIMOTO, 5-2
Yui SUSAKI df. Miho IGARASHI, 5-2
Eri TOSAKA df. Kika KAGATA, 9-2
53kg (11 entries)
Final – Mayu MUKAIDA df. Haruna OKUNO, 2-1
(Mukaida wins 4th title, 4th in row)
3rd Place – Ibuki TAMURA df. Yu MIYAHARA, 7-4
3rd Place – Nanami IRIE df. Momoka KADOYA by Fall, 2:31 (6-0)
Mayu MUKAIDA df. Ibuki TAMURA by TF, 11-0, 4:48
Haruna OKUNO df. Nanami IRIE, 5-2
55kg (6 entries)
Final – Saki IGARASHI df. Kana HIGASHIKAWA by Fall, 1:36 (8-0)
(Igarashi wins 1st title)
3rd place – Hikari HIGUCHI df. Mizuki ISHIMORI, 10-2
Saki IGARASHI df. Mizuki ISHIMORI by Fall, 5:26 (6-1)
Kana HIGASHIKAWA df. Hikari HIGUCHI, 5-4
57kg (7 entries)
Final – Risako KAWAI df. Kaori ICHO, 6-4
(Kawai wins 4th title, 3rd in row)
3rd Place – Sae NANJO df. Akie HANAI by TF, 10-0, 1:17
Risako KAWAI df. Akie HANAI, 2-1
Kaori ICHO df. Sae NANJO, 3-3
59kg (6 entries)
Final – Yumeka TANABE df. Kiwa IWASAWA, 11-8
(Tanabe wins 1st title)
3rd place – Sena NAGAMOTO df. Ayami SUGIYAMA, 3-1
Kiwa IWASAWA df. Sena NAGAMOTO, 7-4
Yumeka TANABE df. Ayami SUGIYAMA by TF, 12-2, 5:08
62kg (12 entries)
Final – Yukako KAWAI df. Yuzuka INAGAKI, 3-1
(Kawai wins 2nd title, 2nd in row)
3rd Place – Yui SAKANO df. Kiwa SAKAE by Fall, 3:09 (6-0)
3rd Place – Miwa MORIKAWA df. Kumi IRIE, 4-2
Yukako KAWAI df. Kiwa SAKAE, 4-0
Yuzuka INAGAKI df. Kumi IRIE, 2-0
65kg (5 entries)
Round-Robin, Final Standings
1. Misuzu ENAMOTO (4-0)
(Enamoto wins 1st title)
2. Miki KAWAUCHI (3-1)
3. Saki KAWAUCHI (2-2)
Key match: Misuzu ENAMOTO df. Miki KAWAUCHI, 8-0 in 4th round
68kg (6 entries)
Final – Sara DOSHO df. Masako FURUICHI, 4-3
(Dosho wins 6th title, 1st in 2 years)
3rd Place – Rio WATARI df. Chiaki SEKI by Def.
Sara DOSHO df. Chiaki SEKI, 8-0
Masako FURUICHI df. Rio WATARI, 9-4
72kg (4 entries)
Round-Robin, Final Standings
1. Mei SHINDO (3-0)
(Shindo wins 1st title)
2. Mai HAYAKAWA (2-1)
3. Kanon KOBAYASHI (1-2)
Key Match: Mei SHINDO df. Mai HAYAKAWA, 2-1 in 3rd round
76kg (6 entries)
Final – Hiroe MINAGAWA df. Yuka KAGAMI, 3-1
(Minagawa wins 8th title, 8th in row)
3rd place – Yasuha MATSUYUKI df. Miki SAITO by Def.
Yuka KAGAMI df. Miki SAITO by Def.
Hiroe MINAGAWA df. Yasuha MATSUYUKI, 2-1