Haru Story 1 – Shin Yokozuna Kisenosato


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Japan’s New Grand Champion

It has been the biggest story since Hatsu, and will continue to lead all other stories into Haru. Japan has gone stark raving bonkers for their first natively born Yokozuna in two decades. He is all over television, print, he is on instant noodle packages, he is what the bulk of what the Japanese sumo press discusses.

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But Kisenosato has, in the past, not operated well under hype, scrutiny and pressure. Fans will recall that the Yokozuna Deliberation Council put Kisenosato on notice that a yusho in September would result in his promotion. The result was an abysmal 10-5 record with Goeido surprising everyone and making a clean sweep of a fairly completive field.

To his credit, Kisenosato headed for the practice room, where he drilled, practiced and worked himself to exhaustion. He battled back to a somewhat questionable 12-3 Jun-Yusho in November. With all pressure seemingly off, Kisenosato fought well in January, and was handed a very lucky and fortunate series of situations that all broke his way. His 14-1 yusho was the crowning achievement of a long career of intense dedication to sumo, and he seemed almost dazed that it had finally happened.

What followed was an endless celebration where Kisenosato was the center of almost unbelievable attention, adoration and media coverage.  Everyone wanted to know what he thought about everything, and everyone wanted his involvement. It’s easy to get distracted when you find yourself thrust into the limelight, and suddenly a national hero.

But in just days, the shin Yokozuna will step on the clay once more, and this time he faces a complex and uncertain torikumi. In all likelihood, the Ozeki will be damaged and only partially functional if they can even show up at all. Harumafuji is likely still wounded, and lord knows if Kakuryu has his back and knees in working order this time.

The first week of any basho features the Yokozuna and Ozeki “warming up” against the upper Maegashira and the San’yaku. This time it is somewhat possible that it’s the San’yaku who may be hunting scalps in week one.

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In reports from the press, Kisenosato has perhaps let all of the fame and celebration get in the way of his sumo for the past couple of weeks. In a training session with Takayasu, Kisenosato could only manage 6 wins an 11 losses. While this is great news for Takayasu backers like myself, it does indicate that Kisenosato needs to focus on his sumo and prepare.

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The Tachiai team is genuinely looking forward to watching Kisenosato’s first tournament dohyo-iri, hopefully with his team wearing their (non borrowed) kesho-mawashi, and with Kisenosato’s personal sword. Word is it’s being made by the 25th Fujiwara Kanefusa – master sword smith.

Neil Fingleton has died at 36


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It is with sadness that I mention the death of Neil Fingleton. Many of you will know him from The Game of Thrones. I know him because we went to UNC-Chapel Hill together. At just over 7 and a half feet tall, he stood out on campus as the guy who seemed to be as tall as the street lights lining the quad and was actually taller than Brendan Haywood. While he didn’t exactly have a stellar career on the hard wood, he probably made more of a mark on Hollywood with small roles for giants and other big dudes.

The reason I mention his death is that it reminded me that many of our athletes live short lives. In Neil’s case, it was the gift of height that he was born with but for many others it’s the nature of the sport and the toll it (or “the life”) takes on the body which ultimately shortens the time which they have to enjoy it. Neil was heavily scouted and recruited to play basketball making it to the McDonald’s All-America prospect team.

With his passing, though, I can’t help but reflect on Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and other athletes who often pass before their time…though in Neil’s case it was startlingly young.

March Banzuke Released!


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Tachiai Formula Driven Ranking Comes Close

As expected, the banzuke for the Osaka tournament in March was published by the Japan Sumo Association this afternoon US time. Find it here. Much to our surprise, the formula defined after careful sifting of many past tournaments turned out to be fairly close in many cases. The most glaring miss was the demotion of Tochinoshin down to Maegashira 10, as opposed to rank velocity putting him only at Maegarshia 3. For future banzuke predictions, we will be adjusting the demotion scoring to try to get closer.

The other interesting wrinkle was that the new Maegarshia promoted from Juryo were inserted higher in the banzuke than expected. Some highlights

Three Sekiwake – As predicted, there are three wrestlers ranked at Sekiwake for March. This is the normal two with the addition of demoted Kotoshogiku, who is at this rank while he attempts a 10 win comeback to re-secure Ozeki.

Komosubi Power CoupleMitakeumi and Shodai at Komusubi means there are no slackers in the San’yaku this tournament. This is going to be quite thrilling, I think. It also means that the Ozeki and Yokozuna are going to be vigorously challenged.

Takekaze top Maegashira – the veteran was strong in the January opener, and how he has a chance to really deliver the goods.

Takanoiwa was promoted to Maegarshira 2, vs the Maegarshira 4 predicted by the formula. As stated in the earlier posts, there is some hand modification done (it would seem) to get the banzuke “right”.

Hokutofuji was also 2 ranks higher, Maegashira 5 vs the predicted Maegashira 7. He had a strong run in January, and perhaps the NSK thinks it’s time for him to be tested above the middle of the pack.

Ura debuts in Makuuchi at Maegashira 12, I am hoping he makes the NHK World highlight show every day.

More in depth analysis coming from Tachiai now that we begin the march toward Haru. It’s time for sumo!

Sumo Fans – Break Time Is Over


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Osaka Banzuke Arrives Today

in between tournaments, it can be tough to be a sumo fan. Everything goes quiet and there is no source of news or events anywhere. You find yourself with “Learn Kanji” books trying to decode things on Japanese web sites, and all you come up with is Toyonoshima talking about his grannie’s recipe for Oden.

This time was somewhat different as the excitement of shin-Yokozuna kisenosato kept everything buzzing for several weeks after the end of the Hatsu tournament in January. But eventually the Kisenosato mania died out, and even the Japanese sumo press seemed to have run out of things to talk about.

All of that changes today as the banzuke (ranking sheet) for the March tournament in Osaka arrives in a bit under 9 hours. As always, Tachiai will bring you a box-car of sumo love throughout March, starting later today with our possibly painful comparison of the official banzuke with our amateur attempts to rank Sumo’s top men.

Ozeki Goeido Prepares For Haru


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Injured But Competing?

Readers will note that we have been following with great interest the story of Goeido’s injury on day 12 of Hatsubasho against Endo. It was clear the Ozeki, and Aki tournament winner, was seriously hurt in that bout. Later stories surfaced of significant damage to the Osaka native’s ankle, possibly requiring hardware to repair.

Now according to the Japanese sumo press, Goeido’s injuries were worse than originally feared, including a report of torn ligaments. As a result Goeido has been off of his ankle since his injury, and has not been able to take full training. He has compensated by focusing on his upper body only, doing push-ups, dumbells and other strength training that did not require him to stand.

In spite of his injuries and the slow nature of their recovery times, Goeido is quoted in the article as still intending to compete in Osaka. Goeido is a home-town favorite, and his zensho yusho in September only made him more of a star.

With the banzuke announcement only a few days away, we will soon see which of the damaged rikishis are going to be in, and who will have to sit.

Countdown to Haru Basho


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Just Over Two Weeks To Go

Attention Sumo fans! We are just a few days away from the official Osaka banzuke which will be quickly used to sweep away the questionable forecasts of the writers at Tachiai. Word from the sumo press is that most of the Beyas have actually started relocating to their temporary facilities in Osaka, and that rikishi are preparing themselves for the two week tournament.

There has also been word that one of the most important stories in Osaka is going to have a rough start. De-frocked Ozeki Kotoshogiku is still injured, and struggling to train. He has a one time chance to regain his Ozeki rank if he is able to secure 10 wins from his position at Sekiwake. As both Andy and I have stated, in his current condition it is likely impossible.

Tachiai will start our coverage of all the action leading up to Haru starting Sunday, when US fans get the banzuke during the afternoon hours. From there we will be wall-to-wall bringing you all things sumo leading up to and including the tournament itself.

Photograph above courtesy of John Gunning’s “Inside Sport Japan” twitter feed.

*Additional photos, including the one below showing Otake Beya’s temporary training area in Osaka can be found at Otake’s web site.

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