This was the weakest performance by sanyaku wrestlers I’ve seen in a long time. I will try to dig through the stats a bit more for concrete numbers, but wow…what a depleted, underwhelming field. As Bruce noted, there were many double-digit performers this tournament but only 3 were in sanyaku: Kisenosato, Hakuho, and Takayasu. Only five winning records. Three kyujo, who the yusho winner did not have to face. The yokozuna and ozeki ranks should be picking up double-digit wins on a regular basis. They are not and that is why Kotoshogiku will be demoted to sekiwake, Terunofuji will be kadoban, retirement talk swirls around Harumafuji, Kakuryu, and even Hakuho.
Hakuho came out of the gate very aggressive. Kisenosato retreated, bided his time, and deflected Hakuho’s surge at the tawara. Kotoshogiku defeated Terunofuji in the Great Battle of Irrelevant Ozeki. If Kotoshogiku wins 10 bouts next tournament, the rotten egg smell emanating from Osaka may keep me away from sumo for a while. Terunofuji needs to sit and heal. I’ve said it about 10 times now but he shouldn’t have been competing in this tournament. He shouldn’t be in Osaka, either. Since the sanyaku ranks have been so utterly decimated, those were the only two bouts featuring two sanyaku wrestlers.
Unfortunately, many of our sanyaku regulars have not been able to maintain peak performance on a consistent basis over more than a couple of tournaments. I sincerely hope this changes with Takayasu’s performance of late. Myogiryu, Uncle Takara, Kaisei, Aoiyama, Tochinoshin, Tochiozan, Shohozan, Ikioi, Takayasu…and the list adds Shodai this tournament with his make-koshi record and likely fall back into the upper maegashira. Tamawashi and Takayasu will take the first swipe at advancement. Tamawashi’s 9 wins this tournament means any ozeki run will likely begin NEXT tournament but at least he maintained a winning record at Sekiwake…something we really haven’t seen since Goeido. But, is he healthy? He appeared injured in his loss today against Takekaze (who had a great tournament). Takayasu was also solid but let’s see more tournaments against sanyaku opponents. He won an 11th win and the Fighting Spirit prize after his hatakikomi win against Endo.
While sanyaku wrestlers underperformed, many of the maegashira really impressed me during this first tournament of 2017. My sincere hope is that our sanyaku wrestlers will be healthy in March and really put forward worthy tests for these up-and-comers. Sokokurai retreated steadily, finally catching Takanoiwa off-balance for the hikiotoshi win. Sokokurai won 12 matches, his best performance ever, won his first jun-yusho and first special prize – the technique prize. It’s an amazing achievement for someone who spent two years out of sumo during the yaocho scandal. His skill is clearly worthy of the upper reaches of maegashira as he mopped the floor with his opponents in these lower ranks. His best, most impressive bout was against Takayasu. Takanoiwa also out-performed his rank, picking up the award for outstanding performance by virtue of his 11-wins and Gold-Star victory over Hakuho. Both of these wrestlers will find themselves in the top half of the maegashira. We’ll see if they can have the same success in the higher ranks.
Mitakeumi has fought extremely well at this high rank but he will need to build on this experience if he wants to be a sanyaku regular. He also picked up a technique prize as well as an 11th win at the expense of Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has also shown real flourishes of ability as we may be trending away from immovable objects to skilled grapplers. Chiyoshoma also had a great tournament, though a bit inconsistent, as in today’s match with Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi needed the win today to cling onto his makuuchi berth. Both appear healthy and should do well next tournament.
Look for Kotoyuki to do well in March. His 6 wins belies his true abilities. In today’s bout with Chiyotairyu, he focused too much on going for the head with those short, stubby arms of his. Chiyotairyu got him spun around and ushered him out, uncomfortably by the thong of his mawashi. Kotoyuki is aggressive and that might have tripped him up during this two weeks. Count on him to adjust and perform well at the bottom of the rank-and-file.
The injured: Tochiozan and Osunaarashi need a break. Osunaarashi picked up a win but may have hurt his knee even more falling off the dohyo. Tochiozan put up only token resistance against Daishomaru and will tumble down the banzuke along with Tochinoshin. Myogiryu has also not been 100% and will plummet into the lower ranks.