Can Hashimoto surge past Ono?

Soichi Hashimoto is both a World and Asian Champion. With credentials like that, he should be the top -73kg contender from Japan. But it so happens that in his weight category is Shohei Ono, a double Olympic, triple World and Asian Games Champion (the Asian Games is more prestigious than the Asian Championships).

The two players couldn’t be any more different in terms of style. Hashimoto is a tewaza player. He is able to do seoi-nage to the right and the left, and he has a powerful tai-otoshi as well. His most spectacular throw is his one-handed sode, which although is technically classed as a hip technique, looks very much like a seoi-nage variation.

Ono, in contrast, is an ashiwaza player with uchimata and osoto-gari as his tokui-waza. He does other techniques as well but not like his unstoppable uchimata and osoto. Once he gets two hands on his opponents, it’s just a matter of time before they get thrown.

Ono doesn’t just supersede Hashimoto from the standpoint of results but also reputation. Hashimoto is a top contender, of course, but he doesn’t inspire fear in the way Ono does. Although Ono can be beaten (he has been defeated nine times in international tournaments), there is an aura of invincibility about him. Hashimoto doesn’t have many international losses either (14 so far) but in contrast to Ono there is a sense that he can be beaten.

Why that is so probably has to do with their fighting styles. Ono attacks frequently whereas Hashimoto likes to wait until he has the perfect set-up for his powerful throws. As a result, sometimes whole matches go by without a single serious throwing attempt by Hashimoto. This would never happen with Ono, who takes chances and throws big, all the time.

Watch Ono and Hashimoto square off in the 2019 All-Japan Weight Class Championships.

But Ono has a tendency to not compete as much. These two have competed in almost the same number of international matches (120 for Hashimoto and 122 for Ono). But it must be remembered that Ono started his international career much earlier, in 2010. In contrast Hashimoto only started competing internationally in 2014.

In the recent All-Japan Weight Class Championships, which serves as a trial event for the World Championships, Ono did not participate (strangely though, he did compete in the All-Japan Open Weight Championships, where he lost in the first round). As a result of his absence from the trials, it is Hashimoto (the winner at -73kg division) who will be representing Japan in the upcoming World Championships in Tashkent.

Although both players are already 30 years old, they both seem intent to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. For Ono, it’s to match the great Tadahiro Nomura’s unprecedented three Olympic gold medal haul. For Hashimoto, it’s to take part in his first Olympics (he missed out on Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 because of Ono).

Both have strong (albeit different) reasons to be hungry.

So, will Hashimoto be able to surge ahead in terms of crucial Olympic ranking points in the next two years? Possibly, if he continues to compete regularly while Ono continues to skip many major events.