All Japan Championships

Sydney Olympic Medalist Nagata Fails to Turn the Clock Back Again at Japan Nationals

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (Dec. 19) — An Olympic silver medalist from yesteryear went out in the first round. A former world bronze medalist lost in the quarterfinals and promptly announced his retirement. And a current world silver medalist never even made it to the weigh-in. 

The All-Japan Championships in Tokyo had more downs than ups for the few featured wrestlers in action on the opening day.

Katsuhiko NAGATA, a silver medalist at the Sydney Olympics—for the young folks, that was in 2000—returned to the national stage again at 46, only to be defeated at Greco-Roman 72kg by a reigning collegiate champion less than half his age.

Nagata was unable to take advantage of the par terre position like his opponent, 21-year-old Minto MAEDA, who executed a lift and a roll in the first period and held out in the second to oust the veteran 5-1.

“He turned me on the ground, and I wasn’t able to turn him,” Nagata said. “That’s what makes the difference between victory, and that’s why I lost.” 

While Nagata won six consecutive national titles from 1997 to 2002,  he left little mark on the global stage — with the notable exception of his stunning run to the final at Sydney 2000, ending with a loss to Filiberto ASCUY AGUILERA (CUB). 

The Cuban would win the world title the following year in Patras, Greece, where Nagata would place 13th. In six trips to the World Championships, Nagata never finished higher than 10th, and he retired after placing 16th at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Nagata then spent five years as a pro fighter in mixed-martial arts, before opening his own wrestling school in the Metropolitan Tokyo suburb of Chofu. 

In 2015, he made a highly publicized and ultimately successful return to the mat at the All-Japan tournament, also known as the Emperor’s Cup, capturing the Greco 71kg gold for his seventh national title and first in 13 years. 

Nagata, a father of five boys ranging in age from 7 months to 10 years, said he trains three times a week with various teams, including his alma mater, Nippon Sports Science University (Nittaidai). Why does he do it?

“I want to give them a view of me in an actual match,” he said of his own sons and the kids in his club. 

Asked about coming back a second time in a pre-Olympic year, Nagata noted it might not just be a coincidence. “Maybe because it’s the year before an Olympics, I get caught up in the excitement and it gets my juices flowing.”

Takuto OTOGURO, a 2018 world champion, will be in action on Saturday at the All Japan Championships. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

There were only a few big names in action Thursday at Komazawa Olympic Park Gym, as the Japan federation has stacked the marquee weight classes on the weekend. 

That’s when such stars as Sara DOSHO and Takuto OTOGURO attempt to clinch places at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and others like Yui SUSAKI, Yuki TAKAHASHI and Shinobu OTA try to earn tickets to the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in March. 

At the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, a medal in an Olympic weight class by a Japanese wrestler meant an automatic berth at Tokyo 2020. Five wrestlers achieved that goal—Mayu MUKAIDA (53kg), Risako KAWAI (57kg), Yukako KAWAI (62kg) and Hiroe MINAGAWA (76kg) for the women, and Kenichiro FUMITA (60kg) in Greco-Roman.

On Thursday, competition proceeded through the semifinals in three Olympic weight classes, with a chance to go to the Asian qualifier going to the winners of Friday’s finals.

Atsushi MATSUMOTO (JPN), a 2018 world bronze medalist, was upset in the quarterfinals. In his post-match interview, Matsumoto announced his retirement, saying, "I think this is the end." (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

One wrestler who won’t be heading to Xi’an, China, is Atsushi MATSUMOTO, a 2018 world bronze medalist at 92kg. Having moved up to 97kg, his bid to compete at Tokyo 2020 ended with a 2-2 loss to Takeshi YAMAGUCHI in the quarterfinals. That appears to be the last match of his career, which also included a short stint in Greco.

“I think this is the end,” said Matsumoto, a member of the Metropolitan Police Department. “From now, I will try to contribute to Japan as a police officer.”

Yamaguchi will face Naoya AKAGUMA in the final in a rematch of their world team wrestle-off last summer, which Akaguma won, but his first-round loss in Nur-Sultan reopened the door to the Olympic qualifying process for everyone else. The two have combined to win the past seven national titles. 

Yuta NARA (JPN) will take on Yuri NAKAZATO (JPN) in the 97kg Greco-Roman finals. (Photo: Sachio Hotaka)

Two other world team members, Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA at freestyle 125kg and Yuta NARA at Greco 97kg made their respective finals to stay on the potential track to the Olympics.

At the non-Olympic Greco 55kg, Shota OGAWA, who put on an impressive run to the silver medal in Nur-Sultan, struggled with his weight and did not show up for the early morning weigh-in.

A source close to Ogawa, who would have been aiming for his inaugural Emperor’s Cup title, said his condition had deteriorated so much he had to visit a hospital for an intravenous solution. 

That opens the way for Asian silver medalist Hiromu KATAGIRI to defend his title after storming into the final with two technical falls and a fall. In his path to the gold stands high schooler Yu SHIOTANI, who is coached by Shota TANOKURA, who won the last of his three national titles at the lowest weight in 2017. 

The 55kg division had another intriguing twist. As ancient as Nagata might seem, he is not even the oldest competitor entered in the tournament. As fate would have it, the two oldest wrestlers in the history of the Emperor’s Cup both qualified this year at Greco 55kg.

Tomohiro KAWAGUCHI, at 49 years 10 months, earned the honor of being the oldest ever (based on available resources), edging Kyosuke ASAKAWA, who turned 48—which would have been the record—11 days ago. Kawaguchi lost his opening match by technical fall, while Asakawa won a preliminary round match before losing in the first round, also by technical fall.

The previous record for most elderly competitor was held by Hidemitsu YUGAWA, a former national runner-up who was 47 years 9 months when he competed at freestyle 96kg in 2009. 

There was one surprise among the four women’s weight classes, when high schooler Tsugumi SAKURAI notched a 4-2 victory at 55kg over former world junior and U-23 champion Saki IGARASHI.

Sakurai will face Kana HIGASHIKAWA, Igarashi’s teammate at Shigakkan University, in the final.  

High schooler Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN) will wrestle Sara NATAMI in the 62kg Nordic group finals. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka).

At 59kg, rising star Yuzuka INAGAKI, the world junior and U-23 champion this year at 62kg, moved one win away from a second straight senior national title.

Competing in a Nordic group format as there are only six entries, the high schooler won two group matches and her semifinal without surrendering a point, setting up a rematch in the final with Sara NATAMI, whom she beat 5-0 in the group stage.   

Defending champion and Asian silver medalist Naomi RUIKE advanced to the final at 65kg, which also used the Nordic group for its seven entries. She also went unscored upon in two matches, before beating Miki KAWAUCHI by 11-0 technical fall in the semifinals.

By the luck of the draw, Kawauchi was placed in the same group with younger sister Saki, who is two years her junior. Facing each other in their opening matches, Miki played the standard role of older sibling and showed little mercy in coming out on top with a 12-4 victory. 

“She’s my younger sister, and more than anyone I don’t want to lose to her,” Miki said. “She’s my top rival. I went in determined not to lose.”

Miki explained why the Osaka Prefecture natives, who are teammates at Nittaidai, entered the same weight class in the first place. “This is my last tournament,” Miki revealed, “and I thought it would be good if we could wrestle each other, so we entered the same weight class.”

Day 1 Results

61kg (19 entries)
Ryuto SAKAKI df. Kodai OGAWA, 3-1 
Keita SHIMIZU df. Ryutaro HAYAMA, 3-2

70kg (16 entries)
Hikaru TAKADA df. Tsuyoshi NAKAMURA by TF, 13-3, 3:35
Shin HARAGUCHI df. Shinnosuke SUWAMA, 3-0

97kg (14 entries)
Naoya AKAGUMA df. Keiwan YOSHIDA, 7-1
Takeshi YAMAGUCHI df. Takashi ISHIGURO, 6-5

125kg (14 entries)
Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA df. Yasuhiro YAMAMOTO by TF, 11-0, 4:06
Tetsuya TANAKA df. Taiki YAMAMOTO, 3-1


55kg (23 entries)
Yu SHIOTANI df. Kagetora OKAMOTO, 7-3 
Hiromu KATAGIRI df. Hirokazu ONO by TF, 8-0, :39 

60kg (12 entries)
Kosei TAKESHITA df. Kaito INABA, 4-0 
Ayata SUZUKI df. Maito KAWANA, 10-3

72kg (22 entries)
Nao KUSAKA df. Minto MAEDA, 3-2
Takuya TOMIZUKA df. Takahiro YAMAMOTO, 6-6 

82kg (15 entries)
Satoki MUKAI df. Yuto MATSUZAKI by TF, 9-0, 2:33
Yoji KAWAMURA df. Shoma YAMASAKI, 5-1

97kg (14 entries)
Yuta NARA df. Masayuki AMANO, 3-0
Yuri NAKAZATO df. Masaaki SHIKIYA, 6-5

Women’s Wrestling

55kg (10 entries)
Tsugumi SAKURAI df. Tomoha UCHIJO by TF, 13-1, 5:57
Kana HIGASHIKAWA df. Hikari HIGUCHI, 6-4

59kg (6 entries)
Sara NATAMI df. Ayami SUGIMOTO by TF, 10-0, 3:44 
Yuzuka INAGAKI df. Yumi KON by TF, 10-0, 2:00

65kg (7 entries)
Miyu IMAI df. Rin TERAMOTO, 6-0
Naomi RUIKE df. Miki KAWAUCHI by TF, 11-0, 5:57

76kg (5 entries)
(Standings after 3 rounds)
1. Yasuha MATSUYUKI (2-0), 2. Rino ABE (2-0), 3. Mizuki NAGASHIMA (1-1), 4. Miku SAITO (1-2), 5. Yune KOMATSU (0-3).

All Japan Championships

Susaki Outlasts Rival Irie for Ticket to Olympic Qualifier; Otoguro Clinches Tokyo 2020 Spot

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (Dec. 22)—Given the stakes, it hardly produced the fireworks—and points—that were seen in their previous encounters. But a win is a win, and that was all that concerned Yui SUSAKI, who took a major step closer to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Susaki kept her once-faded Olympic dream alive by beating nemesis Yuki IRIE in an intense but ultimately dull 2-1 victory in the women’s 50kg final on the fourth and final day of the All Japan Championships on Sunday at Tokyo’s Komazawa Olympic Park Gym. 

All of the points came on the activity clock, and after Irie received her lone point with a minute to go, Susaki went into solid defense mode to preserve the victory and secure a ticket to the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in Xi’an, China, in February. 

“When she got a point, I kept believing I would win and didn’t panic,” said Susaki, who added to the lone national title she won in 2016. “I was able to wrestle to the end keeping a strong mind.”

Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist Rei HIGUCHI will also be on the flight to China, after he successfully dropped two weight classes and knocked off former world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI in an enthralling freestyle 57kg final with a razor-thin 7-6 win. 

Takuto OTOGURO, the 2018 world champion who secured Japan’s Olympic berth at freestyle 65kg with a fifth-place finish at this year’s World Championships in Nur-Sultan, filled that place himself by cruising to the title in that division. 

Susaki’s victory avenged a devastating loss in a playoff to Irie in July for a place on the team to Nur-Sultan. That not only ended her two-year reign as world champion, but, given the history of success by Japanese women in the lightest weight class, seemed to end her Olympic prospects. 

At Nur-Sultan, any Japanese winning a medal in an Olympic weight automatically filled the berth at Tokyo 2020. Five wrestlers fulfilled that criteria—Mayu MUKAIDA (53kg), Risako KAWAI (57kg), Yukako KAWAI (62kg) and Hiroe MINAGAWA (76kg) among the women, and Greco-Roman champion Kenichiro FUMITA (60kg).

Wrestlers who claimed berths for Japan but did not medal could fill the spot themselves with a victory at the All Japan, also known as the Emperor’s Cup, while a loss would put them in a playoff on Feb. 1 with the gold medalist. Of the three in that category, only Otoguro came out as a winner. 

In Nur-Sultan, Asian champion Irie’s tournament ended with a quarterfinal loss to SUN Yanan (CHN), leaving 50kg as the only women’s weight class in which Japan did not qualify for Tokyo 2020. 

That reopened the door for Susaki, who was determined to take advantage of this second and last chance.

“I’ve had this dream since I was little,” the 20-year-old Susaki said. “All I thought was to get stronger and definitely take advantage of this chance so I can win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.”

Sasaki, who defeated Rio 2016 Olympic champion Eri TOSAKA in Saturday’s semifinals, scored on the activity clock in the first period, then again a minute into the second. Irie gained her point a minute later.

Neither wrestler was able to get in deep with anything resembling an effective attack, as both seemed to be exercising caution against making the kind of mistake that can proved fatal in such a high-level battle.  

“I wanted to score a technical point, but my thoughts got out ahead of me,” Susaki said. “From an emotional viewpoint, it went well. But looking at the wrestling, there is room for improvement and I will work to fix that before the Asian qualifier.”

A tearful Irie, who remains the only wrestler on the planet to have beaten Susaki—she has done it three times—was at a loss for words, so deep was her disappointment. 

“I was only thinking about not giving up points, and trying to get points,” said Irie, 27, who was the two-time defending champion.

Technically, Irie’s Olympic prospects are not zero. Should Susaki get injured, or fail to earn a Tokyo spot in China, Irie could be chosen to enter the final world qualifying tournament. Asked about her future, she said she had not thought about it. 

Rei HIGUCHI, the Rio silver medalist, defeated Yuki TAKAHASHI, 7-6, and punched his ticket to the Asian Olympic Qualifier. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Higuchi makes big weight loss pay off
Should Higuchi ultimately make it to Tokyo 2020, it will have been via a quite circuitous route. After winning a silver at Rio 2016, he moved up to 61kg, then up to 65kg in a bid for a second trip to the Olympics. 

He experienced some success, winning the world U-23 gold in 2018, but was ultimately unable to unseat Otoguro. Once Otoguro gained the Olympic berth for Japan in Nur-Sultan, Higuchi concluded it would be too difficult to beat him twice (at the All Japan and the playoff) and thus saw his only option as dropping down to 57kg to challenge Takahashi.

He started the process of cutting weight, having blown up to a lifetime heaviest of 68kg. “The temperance was really hard,” he said. “For three or four months, I had a diet of almost solely vegetables.”

In Sunday’s final against Takahashi, he showed no lack of energy, taking a 4-1 lead in the first period that he padded to 7-1 with a takedown and gut wrench early in the second.

But Takahashi has made a habit of putting on big comebacks, and in a 40-second span, put the pressure on and scored three step-outs. He then cut the gap to a single point with a takedown with :31 left.

At that point, Higuchi made a bold move and went for a single that, while ending in a stalemate, ate up precious time. That gave him some leeway to go into defensive mode and finish out the win for his first title since 2016 and third overall.

“I saw there was 30 seconds left on the clock, and I thought I had to go on the attack to keep him at bay and protect the lead, or he would get points,” Higuchi said. “In the end, it worked out.”

Takahashi had beaten Higuchi in two previous career meetings, but the last had been in 2014. 

Otoguro kept on track to the Olympics by routing 2017 world U-23 champion Rinya NAKAMURA, finishing up a 10-0 technical fall with one second left in the first period.

Otoguro could be joined at Tokyo 2020 by older brother Keisuke, who won the 74kg gold to set up a playoff with Mao OKUI, who clinched the Olympic spot in Nur-Sultan but fell Saturday in the first round.

Keisuke Otoguro used counter lifts and spin-behinds to perfection to outlast spunky Daichi TAKATANI 14-8 in the most entertaining match of the day. Having moved up from 70kg, he landed his third career title in a third different weight class. 

“If I don’t win the playoff [against Okui], this championship will not mean anything,” Otoguro said. 

Takatani had also made a drastic shift in weight classes. He had been among the beaten challengers of Takuto Otoguro at 65kg, then moved all the way up to 74kg for this tournament. His fearless determination spurred him into the final, along with the hope of joining older brother Sosuke, the 86kg champion, at the Asian qualifier.

Miwa MORIKAWA will meet Rio 2016 champion Sara DOSHO for Japan's Tokyo Olympic spot at 68kg. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Morikawa takes title, gets 2nd shot at Dosho
In a showdown of reigning world junior champions, Miwa MORIKAWA edged Naruha MATSUYUKI 2-1 in the women’s 68kg final, earning her a place in the playoff for the Olympic spot in that weight class against Rio 2016 champion Sara DOSHO.

The playoff will be a rematch after Morikawa, the world 65kg junior champion, soundly defeated Dosho 9-2 in the semifinals on Friday. 

In the final against world 68kg junior champion Matsuyuki, Morikawa scored the winning point with a step-out with 1:29 left to win her first title in a weight class (67-69kg) that Dosho had dominated for the past eight years.

Dosho secured the Olympic spot for Japan in Nur-Sultan, but failed to clinch it for herself when she lost in the bronze-medal match to Anna SCHELL (GER). 

The two Greco-Roman tickets to Xi’an up for the grabs went to world team members. Defending champion Shogo TAKAHASHI defeated 2017 winner Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA 5-3 in the 67kg final, while Shohei YABIKU blanked Kodai SAKURABA 4-0 at 77kg for his first title in two years and fourth overall.

Day 4 results


57kg (25 entries)
Final - Rei HIGUCHI df. Yuki TAKAHASHI, 7-6
3rd Place - Kotaro KIYOOKA df. Taiki ARINOBU, 8-4
3rd Place – Yudai FUJITA def. Kaiki YAMAGUCHI by Def.

65kg (21 entries)
Final - Takuto OTOGURO df. Rinya NAKAMURA by TF, 10-0, 2:59
3rd Place – Shoya SHIMAE df. Ryoma ANRAKU, 3-2
3rd Place – Masakazu KAMOI df. Takuma TANIYAMA, 2-2 

74kg (26 entries)
Final - Keisuke OTOGURO df. Daichi TAKATANI, 14-8
3rd Place – Yuto MIWA df. Ken HOSAKA, 4-3
3rd Place - Jintaro MOTOYAMA df. Ranmaru AKAOGI by TF, 10-0, 2:42

67kg (21 entries)
Final - Shogo TAKAHASHI df. Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA, 5-3
3rd Place - Katsuaki ENDO df. Daigo KOBAYASHI by TF, 9-1, 5:02
3rd Place - Yuji UEGAKI df. Ryo MATSUI, 6-1

77kg (17 entries)
Final - Shohei YABIKU df. Kodai SAKURABA, 4-0}
3rd Place - Tomohiro INOUE df. Yudai KOMURO by TF, 9-0, 2:01
3rd Place – So SAKABE def. Takeshi IZUMI by Def.

Women’s Wrestling
50kg (25 entries)
Final - Yui SUSAKI df. Yuki IRIE, 2-1 
3rd Place – Miho IGARASHI df. Remina YOSHIMOTO, 4-2
3rd Place - Eri TOSAKA df. Umi ITO, 12-4

68kg (9 entries)
Final - Miwa MORIKAWA df. Naruha MATSUYUKI, 2-1
3rd Place – Rin MIYAJI df. Sara DOSHO by Def. 
3rd Place - Masako FURUICHI df. Hikaru IDE by Fall, 1:53 (8-0)