|2010 World Champ Akimoto makes a comeback at the 2014 Tokyo Grand Slam|
It's very rare for any country to have two top players in the same weight class, it's almost unheard of to have three in the very same category.
It's happened before though. At one time, South Korea had Lee Won-Hee, Wang Ki-Chun and Kim Jae-Bum, all at -73kg. Wang emerged victorious, causing Lee to retire young and forcing Kim to move up a weight class to -81kg. (Interestingly, Wang himself has now moved up to -81kg but is finding it difficult adjusting to his new weight).
Now, it's Japan's turn to be spoilt for choice, coincidentally also at -73kg. Its 2010 World Champion was Hiroyuki Akimoto. However, by 2011, he had been supplanted by Riki Nakaya as Japan's No. 1. Nakaya went on to win the 2011 Paris World Championships.
However, Nakaya lost to Russia's Mansur Isaev in the final of the 2012 London Olympics and by 2013, he had been replaced by Shohei Ono as the new Japanese No. 1. Ono promptly went on to win the 2013 Rio World Championships.
For the 2014 Chelyabinsk World Championships, Japan sent two players for the -73kg division, with Ono as the lead contender and Nakaya as the alternate. Ono was seen to be the one to beat but he was spectacularly footswept for ippon by a unknown South Korean player in the second round. Nakaya however made it all the way to the final where he defeated North Korea's dark horse Hong Kuk-Hyon by countering a counter for ippon.
The 2014 Tokyo Grand Slam was supposed to be the event where Ono would redeem himself. With Nakaya not contesting, it seemed like a sure victory for the young upstart. However, in the final he had to contend with Akimoto, who was making a comeback. And it was the 28-year old Akimoto who prevailed, throwing the 22-year old Ono with a very low and delayed seoi-nage. It scored only yuko but it was enough for the 2010 World Champion to win the gold medal in the final IJF world circuit event for the year.
A look back at Akimoto, Nakaya & Ono's victories
Going into the new year, Japan now has three absolutely world class (indeed world beating) fighters at -73kg. Who will be the one (or perhaps two) to represent Japan in the 2015 Astana World Championships? Will it be Akimoto & Ono or Akimoto & Nakaya or Nakaya & Ono?