Thursday, July 6, 2017

Japan's -73kg hotting up again

There was a brief period when Japan's -73kg had three world champions -- Hiroyuki Akimoto, Riki Nakaya and Shohei Ono -- jostling for pole position in that country.

Together, they dominated the -73kg category at the World Championships from 2010 to 2015. In 2010, Akimoto won the gold. In 2011, it was Nakaya's turn. Then in 2013, Ono took over (there was no World Championships in 2012 because it was Olympic year). In 2014, Nakaya won the gold again. By 2015, it went back to Ono.

Although Akimoto seemed to be out of the picture after 2010, he had not retired and would occasionally beat the other two. He defeated Ono in the 2014 Tokyo Grand Slam and defeated Nakaya as recently as last year at the 2016 Paris Grand Slam.

Akimoto remained a challenger long after his 2010 World gold but retired after failing to make the Rio 2016 team.
Akimoto retired in 2016 after failing to be selected for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games but Nakaya, who was also not selected, has decided to hang on. He's not the only rival to Ono though. In 2016, another top player had emerged: Soichi Hashimoto.

Hashimoto has not been beaten in the past year and a half and is currently ranked No. 1 in the IJF World Rankings.
Last year, Ono won the Olympic gold convincingly but Hashimoto has been unbeaten internationally since the start of 2016 and has amassed five IJF World Tour titles (three Grand Slams, one World Masters and one Grand Prix). He is a force to be reckoned with and is Japan's representative to the 2017 Budapest World Championships. (Ono did not compete in this year's Nationals so he wasn't selected).

So, now we're back to three top dogs for the -73kg category in Japan again. Officially, Hashimoto is the highest ranked -- he is currently No. 1 in the IJF World Ranking -- and by late August could very well become the world champion.

Ono, who has not competed in any IJF World Tour events since the Olympics, is currently ranked 15th but that placing does not reflect how dominant he really is in this category. Ask any player or coach and they will tell you he is still the most feared player at the -73kg division.

Double World Champion Nakaya may not be the player he once was but he's still a contender in Japan's -73kg class.
Nakaya, ranked 22nd, is considered past his prime but there is no doubting he is still a potent force in world judo. He recently got a silver medal at the 2017 Baku Grand Slam, which would be considered an impressive result if he were from any country other than Japan.

But three is not enough. Not in Japan anyway. News has just emerged that triple World Champion Masashi Ebinuma, will be joining their ranks in the -73kg division.

Will Ono stick to the -73kg division? Here he is training with heavyweight World & Olympic Champion Teddy Riner.
There is some speculation that Ono might move up a weight class though. He raised many an eyebrow when he opted not to compete in the 2017 All-Japan Weight Class Championships but took part in the 2017 Open Weight Championships instead. This fueled rumors that he had a weight problem. He's also shown a penchant for training with bigger guys. So, who knows, maybe he's gearing to move up a weight. Even so, it will be very interesting watching the -73kg rivalry in Japan play out after the 2017 World Championships.

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