Hatsu Day 15 Preview

I cannot remember a time in recent years where day 15 was this impactful. There are a number of matches where much is on the line, and this is before we get to the 4 men who may make a bid for the emperor’s cup. Our ace prognosticator, lksumo, has done a wonderful job of laying out the promotion / demotion options left to be sorted out on day 15. Go read that if you have not already.

After all of the work in the early part of week 2, Darwin’s funnel blew to bits on the chaos of day 12, but we still managed 3 Darwin bouts for the final day of sumo this January. I recoil because more than a few of them are rikishi I really want to see do well, but this is the nature of Darwin matches. One man loses and is make-koshi, one man wins and is kachi-koshi.

Then there are the yusho contenders. We get our first look at who will take the wild-card slot with the bug-tussle between Kotonowaka and Abi in the first half. The winner waits for the final match, to see if they get a shot at the cup. If Terunofuji should prevail, there will be a 3-way barnyard brawl for all of the hardware, including the glorious macaron of victory. I am so jazzed, I can hardly write this preview.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Kotokuzan vs Tsurugisho – Kotokuzan comes to visit from Juryo to try his sumo against ailing Tsurugisho, who is already make-koshi. Kotokuzan can finish with double-digits if he can put Tsurugisho in the top division opener today. They have never fought before.

Sadanoumi vs Oho – First of the Darwin matches, this is a rough welcome for shin-maku rikishi Oho, but this is what happens when you run out of stamina in week 2. He has dropped the last 4 in a row, and now he’s facing demotion back to juryo if Sadanoumi can use his superior speed to win today. I hope Otake oyakata works on your endurance, sir. You have a big future ahead of you, and we can’t have you checking out after the middle weekend.

Wakamotoharu vs Akua – With Wakamotoharu already kachi-koshi, this is just for the score, and maybe Akua can scrape together one last win to finish with 5. He’s getting a big boot down the banzuke no matter what, but maybe he can cushion the ride.

Myogiryu vs Ichiyamamoto – Unless Myogiryu turns in a lot better sumo than he did day 14, his return was a complete waste. He’s 5-9 at the moment, and another loss would give him a 5-10 that will see him toward the bottom of the top division in Osaka. Ichiyamamoto with 4-10 may need a win to keep people from considering him for a return to Juryo.

Chiyonokuni vs Kotoeko – Hey, lets take two compact, power-style sumo athletes and make them bash each other about on the final day. One is pretty genki right now, the other looks like he needs an undercarriage rebuild. Oh and make sure they are from 2 of the biggest, best known stables.

Chiyotairyu vs Tobizaru – Matching 6-8 records here, so this is all about who gets to finish with a 7th win and maybe a small demotion for March. I like Tobizaru’s odds on this one, has his 3-1 career advantage would seem to indicate that he has a good formula for dealing with Chiyotairyu.

Kotonowaka vs Abi – The wild-card match, the winner gets a chance at the cup of Terunofuji can beat Mitakeumi in the musubi no ichiban. They have never fought before, and have matching 11-3 records. Both have over-performed this January, and frankly this may be the more exciting match out of the “deciders”.

Hoshoryu vs Aoiyama – Oh my, what have we here. Are they really going to make Hoshoryu grab a double hand full of pasty white dumping meat to pick up his final win? Well, I recall a match with vivid horror where, when confronted with the reality of the situation, brave Harumafuji grimaced and applied a death grip to Aoiyama’s pendulous mammalian protuberances. The reaction was swift and crippling, though I am sure the Yokozuna was forever changed by that moment.

Terutsuyoshi vs Hokutofuji – Which one of these guys will get their 7th win? We know Hokutofuji is in his comfort zone, having used powerful sumo and reached make-koshi. So I think gives a slight edge to Terutsuyoshi. I would like to see him try an inside throw against Hokutofuji, and make it work.

Yutakayama vs Endo – Another pair of 6-8s, these guys along with the prior couple were once on track for Darwin matches, but we will have to watch the slug it out for the 7th win instead. If Endo is not too banged up, this should be his match.

Tamawashi vs Ishiura – I title this: “Just how genki is Ishiura now”. He’s got 10 wins, but if he wants an 11th, he needs to fight someone 9 ranks higher, who has a 3-1 advantage over him. That would be Tamawashi, who snapped a 3 match losing streak to send Ura into a Darwin match.

Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – What are you going to do with your mega-fauna on the final day? You can’t send them out to graze yet, and if you let them run wild, they may just gather a crowd of fans who want to hug them and take photos. Fun as that may seem, it would be against COVID protocols, and we can’t have that in Japan, now can we? So let’s up the on the clay and make them fight in a Darwin match. They have a 25 match history that favors Tochinoshin 16-9, but in his current condition it may not matter. One thing that is likely, Tochinoshin will not be employing the Sky-crane against 200kg Ichinojo.

Ura vs Chiyomaru – The final Darwin match, and this one is the most worrisome of all. I really would like Ura to score his 8th win today, but frankly I think Chiyomaru deserves it more. Ura has a slight 5-4 edge in their 9 match history, but has struggled against high-mass rikishi this basho. So I think if Chiyomaru can be patient and set him up, Ura is ripe for a thrust down about 20 seconds into the match.

Okinoumi vs Kiribayama – I am sure everyone wants to see these two fine rikishi end with matching 5-10 records. They have had a miserable basho, and I am sure they just want to get in to a nice hot bath and start working toward Osaka.

Wakatakakage vs Onosho – Onosho will finish with at least 10 wins. A win today would give him 11-4, which matches his best ever score in the top division. There is a big difference between an 11-4 at Maegashira 12, and an 11-4 at Maegashira 5, so our junior tadpole has come a long way indeed.

Meisei vs Daieisho – Two more for the “lets get this over and done with” list. We finally get the Komusubi fight nobody has been waiting for, and it’s to see who has the worst record in san’yaku.

Takarafuji vs Takanosho – Sorry, spoke too soon. Should Takarafuji thump Takanosho today, he might just be in contention for the worst final score out of the san’yaku rikishi. I am going to guess Mitakeumi sucked up all of the nutrients at this rank and left the rest of them without any means to power their sumo.

Chiyoshoma vs Shodai – I will be honest, Shodai, as an Ozeki, has been relegated to fighting a Maegashira 5 on the final day, and I feel embarrassed for him. I can see why he has been moved aside for a contender who is actually showing up each day with some powerful sumo, but it’s got to sting the lone surviving Ozeki quite a bit. Maybe this is as good an indication as any what the promotion committee my have in mind. Should Chiyoshoma win, they would end with matching 5-10 scores. Ouch.

Terunofuji vs Mitakeumi – The “Brawl To End It All”, If Mitakeumi wins, he takes his 3rd yusho, and I would guess a promotion to sumo’s second highest rank. I don’t expect him to win. He’s not good against Terunofuji (4-12) and even though he is in top form for him, there is a lot that will happen to distract him tomorrow. The thought of the yusho and all it brings must weigh on his mind. The biggest change Mitakeumi has is what I suspect is fresh damage to Terunofuji’s left knee. The signs are there, but well hidden. I am sure he is going to try as hard as he can to set that aside and fight with overwhelming Kaiju power tomorrow. But if he wins, he needs to win at least one more match after that. A tough man who may be in that much pain. An ultimate sumo day ahead of us, dear readers, I would not miss it for the world!

Hatsu Storylines, Day 14

The Yusho Race

For those who read yesterday’s post, we ended up with scenario 3:

  • Mitakeumi wins to go to 12-2. Terunofuji loses to Abi, leaving both with 11-3 records. Terunofuji must beat Mitakeumi to force a playoff, which would be joined by the winner of the bout between Abi and Kotonowaka (11-3).

The San’yaku

K1e Meisei (5-9) and K1w Daieisho (5-8) are both make-koshi and will drop back into the rank-and-file. S1e Mitakeumi will either stay Sekiwake or move up. S1w Takanosho (6-8) will be demoted to Komusubi if he wins tomorrow, or maegashira if he loses. So the number of open slots in the named ranks is between 2 and 4. Abi leads the promotion race by the numbers, but Wakatakakage (8-6) gets first dibs on promotion as the top-ranked maegashira, and Onosho also has a strong claim. Hoshoryu, Tamawashi, Ura and Ichinojo are still within striking distance with only one day to go!

If only one Sekiwake slot is open, it should go to Abi if he wins; otherwise, the winner of Onosho vs. Wakatakakage should get it. If there are two, one should go to the winner of that bout and the other to either Abi or Hoshoryu (if he wins and Abi loses).

Juryo

J2e Kotoshoho (10-3) and J1e Kagayaki (8-5) have earned a return to the top division. They’ll be taking the spots vacated by absent Hidenoumi and Kaisei.

Will we see any other exchanges? The main promotion candidates are J2e Nishikigi (8-6) and J4w Kotokuzan (9-5), who each need a win for a strong case. The most-endangered maegashira is M14w Ichiyamamoto (4-10). A loss sends him down for sure, and even a win might not save him. M16w Tsurugisho henka’d his way to a much needed 6th win, but still needs one more, as does newcomer J18e Oho (7-7), who as the lowest-ranked man in the division has no margin for error. The key bout crossover bout tomorrow is Kotokuzan vs. Tsurugisho. A win by the Juryo man should guarantee promotion, but whose spot he’d take is not completely clear. Similarly, Nishikigi should earn promotion with a win. Come back tomorrow, when the picture might be clearer.

Makushita

3 Juryo slots are open due to the absences of Asanoyama, Chiyonoo, and Shiden; a 4th should be vacated by J13 Chiyoarashi (5-9) even if he wins. And these spots have been claimed, in roughly the following order, by Ms1w Atamifuji (4-3), Ms5e Ryuden (6-1), Ms2w Shimazuumi (4-3) and Ms3e Takakento (4-3).

On the Juryo bubble are Hiradoumi, Hakuyozan, and Kotoyusho. Each is safe with a win. Losses among the trio may or may not open the door to Ms4w Tochimaru (4-3) and Ms4e Kairyu (3-3) if the latter can defeat Chiyoarashi.

Hatsu Day 14 Highlights

Please remember, there are no spoilers in live sports.

Abi-zumo delivered today, and he put himself back into contention for the yusho. His access to a playoff match now rests on hopes Terunofuji can defeat Mitakeumi in the “Brawl to end it all” tomorrow. That outcome may trigger a 3 way playoff between Mitakeumi, Terunofuji, and whomever wins the wildcard match between Abi and Kotonowaka. Kotonowaka and Abi have never faced each other.

To myself, the matter of Mitakeumi’s Ozeki big looks pretty cut and dried to me right now. He has muscled aside Shodai to take the role of challenger in the final match of the tournament. He is performing as the rival Ozeki now, regardless of his rank today. Should he prevail in tomorrow’s final match, he will take his third yusho, which is more than either of the current Ozeki. What seemed like a long shot 2 weeks ago, now looks fairly likely to me.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi defeats Ichiyamamoto – Nishikigi, visiting from Juryo, makes short work of Ichiyamamoto. That’s win number 8 for Nishikigi, and he should be be back in the top division for March. Ichiyamamoto drops to 4-10.

Ishiura defeats Kotoeko – We had hoped this was going to be a high energy, high mobility match, and Ishiura and Kotoeko certainly delivered. After battling back and forth, Ishiura was able to get a quick pull and thrust combo to land against Kotoeko with the two near the tawara, and Kotoeko was out. Ishiura improves to 10-4, his best score since his top division debut in November of 2016.

Chiyotairyu defeats Aoiyama – Chiyotairyu moved for an early pull down on the second exchange out of the tachiai. It did not work, but it broke Aoiyama’s balance enough that he got Big Dan moving, and moments later thrust him out. Chiyotairyu improves to 6-8.

Yutakayama defeats Sadanoumi – Yutakayama employs a combo or right hand nodowa and left hand hazu to hurl Sadanoumi into the west side salt basket. The fall was spectacular enough that Yutakayama hustled over to make sure Sadanoumi was still in once piece. Yutakayama improves to 6-8, and Sadanoumi punches his ticket at 7-7 for a Darwin match.

Akua defeats Oho – Four losses in a row for Oho, and now as the bottom man on the banzuke, he’s got a 7-7 Darwin score. Akua kept him off balance and reacting, and it went poorly from there. Akua moves up to 4-10.

Chiyonokuni defeats Terutsuyoshi – The ghost of Chiyonokuni took a bit more material form today. Terutsuyoshi took an odd leap at the tachiai, and it left him off balance, out of position and a bit lost. Chiyonokuni made sure he never recovered, batting him about and using a double arm shove to send him into the front row. Chiyonokuni improves to 3-11, Terutsuyoshi is make-koshi.

Wakamotoharu defeats Tobizaru – In traditional Tobizaru style, he was all over the place today, and never quite on point with his sumo. Wakamotoharu stayed focused and centered, and kept control of the match to the point where he chucked Tobizaru into the waiting Okinoumi. That is his first win against Tobizaru in 6 attempts. Wakamotoharu picks up his 8th win and is kachi-koshi, Tobizaru his 8th loss and is make-koshi.

Tsurugisho defeats Chiyoshoma – Tsurugisho henka! Well, as much as someone of such ponderous bulk can henka. But there was early lateral motion involved to be certain. Tsurugisho improves to 6-8.

Tochinoshin defeats Okinoumi – The good news, Tochinoshin is not yet make-koshi. But he now has a 7-7 Darwin score. Tochinoshin got his left hand outside early, and there was not much Okinoumi could do from that position. He did try to rally, and put up a good fight, but Tochinoshin finished him with a slow motion uwatenage to improve to 7-7.

Tamawashi defeats Ura – Tamawashi finally finds his 8th win after 3 straight days of losses, and is kachi-koshi at 8-6. Ura gives him a solid grab-and-tug fight, but steps out to lose the match a moment before Tamawashi hurls him eastward in spectacular fashion.

Endo defeats Ichinojo – It was just like a regular match, but happening at ½ speed. Endo got solid hand placement early and converted it to a deep right hand inside grip. At this point Ichinojo found he was not set up to defend, and could not default to his “Boulder” tactic. Endo ran him about for a moment and then sent him out on the west side by yorikiri. Endo improves to 6-8, while Ichinojo has a 7-7 “Darwin” score.

Wakatakakage defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru tried a bit of a hit and shift at the tachiai, but it was poorly executed, and did little more than remove any defense Chiyomaru might have employed. Wakatakakage attacked and quickly took Chiyomaru out on the east side for his 8th win, and is kachi-koshi for January. Chiyomaru joins the small group of 7-7 rikishi waiting for their day 15 Darwin matches.

Hokutofuji defeats Kiribayama – Quite a messy bit of sumo from these two today. I think the theme from this is that Hokutofuji was staying in contact with Kiribayama no matter what. Once he had that grip, his lower body kept him in the match in spite of the fact that his upper body could not really find a decent avenue of attack. So it was down to carefully moving Kiribayama back a piece at a time until he could walk him out. Hokutofuji improves to 7-8.

Onosho defeats Meisei – Onosho hits double digits for the second time in six months. Meisei had early advantage, and was moving quite well. But Onosho broke contact with a big lateral move that left them both off balance. Onosho lunged in, connected with Meisei at center mass, and the mega-thrust was on. Two steps later, Onosho had his 10 win, improving to 10-4.

Daieisho defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu got one combo in, and then it was all Daieisho. A big thrust to the middle of the chest, and he kept Myogiryu moving in reverse. Daieisho improves to 6-8.

Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji – You can see Takarafuji try to set his feet to defend and drag the match out, but Mitakeumi’s forward pressure is just too great, and he is forced to give up territory again and again. Takarafuji tries an escape that works, but just for a moment, and Mitakeumi pushes him over the bales. 12-2 for Mitakeumi, and he’s at 32 wins in the last 3 basho now.

Kotonowaka defeats Takanosho – Takanosho came in strong, and I would say a bit too strong and a bit too eager. Kotonowaka gave ground, and I think this convinced Takanosho to press his advantage. But all that was really happening was that he was moving himself closer to the bales, where Kotonowaka pivoted and threw him into the front row. Kotonowaka improves to 11-3, and remains just behind the leaders. Takanosho make-koshi at 6-8, and he will vacate his Sekiwake position for March.

Hoshoryu defeats Shodai – We saw the “wall of daikon” today, as Shodai poured on the big-body sumo against Hoshoryu, sending him face first into the tawara. Hoshoryu emerged bloody to find a monoii, as the shimpan discussed the result of the match. It was deemed to close to decide, and a torinaoshi rematch was declared. The second match, Hoshoryu did not let Shodai go chest to chest, but kept him at about a half arm’s length. At that distance, Shodai’s sumo fell apart, and Hoshoryu danced him about before sending him to visit Terunofuji in the front row. Hoshoryu improves to a commanding 10-4.

Abi defeats Terunofuji – Abi succeeded in breaking Terunofuji’s balance on the third volley, and it was all down hill from there. Unable to lower his hips or set his feet again, Abi dialed up the power and sent the Yokozuna out the west side. Abi takes the kinboshi, and both end the day at 11-3.

Hatsu Storylines, Day 13

The Yusho Race

Let’s quickly run through the scenarios:

  1. Terunofuji and Mitakeumi win their Day 14 bouts to go 12-2. Everyone else is eliminated, and the yusho is decided in the final bout between the two.
  2. Terunofuji wins to go to 12-2, dropping Abi to 10-4. Mitakeumi loses, dropping him to 11-3. Mitakeumi can force a playoff by beating Terunofuji on Day 15, and the playoff can be joined by Kotonowaka (10-3) if he wins his final two.
  3. Terunofuji loses to go to 11-3, tying him with Abi. Mitakeumi wins to go to 12-2. Now Terunofuji is the one who would need to win to force a playoff, which can be joined by Abi or Kotonowaka, but probably not both, since I am expecting them to be matched up on Day 15.
  4. Terunofuji and Mitakeumi both lose, making both of them plus Abi, and possibly Kotonowaka, 11-3. If all 4 are indeed tied, and the schedulers pair them up, we’re guaranteed a playoff between the winners. Otherwise, it either an outright yusho or a playoff against one or both maegashira for the winner of Terunofuji vs. Mitakeumi.

The San’yaku

K1e Meisei (5-8) and K1w Daieisho (5-8) are both make-koshi, and should be dropping back into the rank-and-file. S1e Mitakeumi will either stay Sekiwake or move up. S1w Takanosho (6-7) needs one more win to be ranked no lower than Komusubi, and two to hold rank. The two leading promotion contenders are Abi and Wakatakakage (who, as the top-ranked maegashira, should get first dibs if he’s kachi-koshi). Just behind them is Onosho, with Ura, Ichinojo, Hoshoryu, Tamawashi, and Takarafuji all within striking distance with only two days to go!

Juryo

J2e Kotoshoho (10-3) and J1e Kagayaki (8-5) have earned a return to the top division. They’ll be taking the spots vacated by absent Hidenoumi and Kaisei. J4w Kotokuzan (9-4) needs another win to make a top-division debut. The others with promotion chances are Nishikigi, Tohakuryu, and Daiamami.

The most endangered incumbents are Tsurugisho and Ichiyamamoto, who need two wins to stay in Makuuchi. One win should do it for Chiyonokuni, Oho, and Akua, while Tochinoshin and Yutakayama could also use one more as insurance. Everyone else is already safe. Key matchups tomorrow include Oho vs. Akua, with the winner safe from demotion, as well as the crossover bout between Nishikigi and Ichiyamamoto.

I’ve covered the Juryo/Makushita exchange picture elsewhere.