Let’s Get Started!
At long last your Tachiai crew is back in Basho mode. The NSK schedulers gave us a great first day to prep us for what could be a pivotal basho as the old guard fights to remain in the face of a powerful new generation of rikishi.
There are many unanswered questions about the health of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps that may only reveal themselves by day 7 or so. The Yokozuna and Ozeki have an “easy” first week fighting the lower San’yaku and upper Maegashira. In fact during the Hatsu basho, we saw a new side of Hakuho where he barely moved during the tachiai in the first week. He stood up and waited for his practice rikishi to come to him for folding and ejection from the Doyho.
But this time is different, but the San’yaku hopefuls and the upper Maegashira smell blood in the water, and even without the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps to face in the first week, they want to best each other jockey for as many as 4 possible Ozeki slots this year. It’s going to be a San’yaku bloodbath, and if the injured upper ranks are not careful, their they may get seriously hurt.
To folks who are recent to Sumo tournaments, a few pointers. Most westerners like myself naturally like to divide things into halves and quarters. Even numbers are happy and comfortable. A basho is 15 days long and does not split evenly. In fact it was never meant to. A basho actually tends to happen in 3 five day acts, each one drives priority and placement in the daily torikumi or match schedule.
The first third is all about warming up your stars, you Ozeki and Yokozuna. Preferably by crushing the daylights out of the Komusubi and Sekiwake along with a few upstart Maegashira. The more of them with make-koshi the better. And you see who seems to be on a “hot” run.
The middle third is all about grooming a leader group, the rikishi who are clearly going to be among the handful that will take the yusho, and ensuring that the “right” group emerges. This is also where you start to see sumotori withdraw due to injury.
The final third is where dreams and crushed, and the champion emerges.
With that being said, let’s get down to business
Day 1 Matches We Like
Takakeisho vs. Daishomaru – There is a strange theme in the lower part of Makuuchi for day one, the ranks seem to be facing off. Here Maegashira 13e faces 13w. There only prior meeting saw Takakeisho win by pushing Daishomaru out from behind (okuridashi)
Sadanoumi vs. Ura – In this one the Maegashira 12s go head to head. If this makes the NHK World highlight real, this may be many US fan’s first chance to see a broadcast of Ura in action. Their only prior bout was in Juryo where Ura won by sukuinage, which is actually a really trick Judo throw.
Ishiura vs Tochiozan – Ishiura starts his climb back where he faces Tochiozan for the first time. Tochiozan has been struggling of late, so there may not be much to this match, but it will provide us an early look to see if Ishiura is getting more comfortable in his sumo at this level.
Ichinojo vs. Aoiyama – Battle of the giants! Ichinojo is one of the few rikishi who might not notice when Aoiyama lands one of his amazing slaps. I will be certain that both men will be flailing away with reckless abandon, and frankly I give a slight edge to Aoiyama this time, although Inchinojo leads there career record 5-2.
Endo vs. Arawashi – Arawashi had a farily bad record coming out of January, and Endo had a losing record as well. They have only matched 3 times prior, with Endo taking 2. If Endo can land a grip within the first few seconds, it’s all Endo. if Arawashi can keep him away at first, he will likely prevail.
Shohozan vs. Takayasu – Another fine scheduling idea – let’s have Kisenosato’s retainers fight each other the first day. Because you know they both want to know who is better. So send the sword-bearer and dew-sweeper in to sort it out like Sumotori do. in their prior 9 matches, Takayasu holds a very slight 5-4 edge. But by all accounts in the press, Takayasu has been training in “Beast Mode” in Kisenosato’s fight-club dungeon in Osaka. So this will be an early show of his current mode of sumo.
Tamawashi vs. Takanoiwa – Dont’ let his Maegashira 2 rank fool you, I call him “Demon Hunter Takanoiwa” for a reason. When he gets going his sumo if fast and effective, and even the Yokozuna are never safe. Tamawashi holds a 3-2 edge from their prior meetings, but it will be interesting to see if Tamawashi can deploy his Sekiwake moves. If Takanoiwa can set up for a throw, it’s all over, so keep you feed low and your stance wide, Tamawashi.
Sokokurai vs. Terunofuji – Time to see just how damaged Terunofuji is, and Sokokurai drew the reconnaissance mission. All indications is that Terunofuji is still hurt, not very well tuned up and in demotion condition. Keep in mind Sokokurai has never won against Terunofuji, but there is always a first.
Goeido vs. Ikioi – Ikioi has been steadily improving all through 2016. Now he will test Goeido’s bolt-on ankle repair kit. Ikioi has only won once in their prior 14 matches, but he has more than enough mojo to handle Goeido 1.0 if he is still only partially recovered. If Goeido 2.0 takes the doyho, Ikioi may need a doctor standing by.
Harumafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Demoted Ozeki against one of the strongest pure offenses in sumo. I hope and pray that none of these men do Kotoshogiku any favors, and that they honor him by giving him their full measure. This being Kotoshogiku, he will try to lock up Harumafuji for the hug-n-chug. I am hoping for a death-spin instead. But we are more likely to see the mini-henka or worse yet the old “Darth Vader”.
Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – I think this will be the match of the day. Mitakeumi, if he stays healthy, is an important rikishi for many years to come. He had a chance to advance his cause with the most reactive and dynamic people in Sumo. I am convinced that Kakuryu has not pre-set plan, and waits for his opponent to open up, then concocts a series of countering moves that leaves that rikishi in increasingly bad positions, until Kakuryu just pushes them out or down. Kakuryu has won 2 of their 3 lifetime matches, so Mitakeumi has a chance to draw his mark early.
Special Wakaichiro Note
Tachiai favorite, Texas Sumotori Wakaichiro, fights his first bout in Jonokuchi early Sunday. He faces Jonokuchi 6 Shunpo, who has been strugging to escape Jonokuchi for 5 basho. Shunpo is only 16 years old and weighs about 213 pounds (97 kg). As always, we will post news and video as we can find it.