Will The Ozeki Corps Recover?
Day One was the kind of open that sumo fans dream about. The unexpected was out in full force, and everyone had their expectations re-set (myself included). As Tachiai had been implying, the up-and-coming crop of young rikishi are working hard to de-throne much of the established brand name sumotori we have loved for years. This is the natural order of things, and I welcome it. Be aware, things will revert to normal soon, possibly on day 2. Ozeki and Yokozuna have lost face massively, and they will fight with redoubled strength and determination today.
But it was a beating unlike any that has been seen in at least a decade. Out of the 7 men in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps, only 2 of them won. There were a couple of telling indications.
Kakuryu – Big K, who is frequently the one everyone worries will fall first, looked convincing and solid. Shodai is easy enough if you know his repeating weakness (crummy tachiai), but Kakuryu looked strong, planted, solid and (dare I say it?) healthy. If we have a genki Kakuryu, the fun factor goes up quite a lot.
Hakuho – Clearly the Boss is back in fighting form. Ojisan Kotoshogiku is a shadow of the Ozeki who won the 2016 Hatsu basho, so Hakuho’s win is no surprise. But the Boss is clearly running well and looking to be is normal dominant self.
Goeido – Did anyone else notice he reconstructed ankle was not taped? And that in his battle of strength with Tochinoshin he was pushing hard with both feet? I am happy to assume now that the repairs were effective, and we may get to see Goeido 2.0 again some day.
Kisenosato – Clearly he is still far short of his normal health. Mitakeumi picked a vulnerable route and worked it hard, with great success. That’s the real problem. As a Yokozuna, you are not supposed to have easily exploitable vulnerabilities.
Yoshikaze – Holy smokes! That was excellent sumo no matter how you slice it. I am greatly impressed that Harumafuji was able to mount such an effective defense at the drop of a hat. Yoshikaze is clearly still having a lot of fun being an active sekitori, and with bouts like day 1, I can see why. The NSK must be happy they made him San’yaku or they would be paying out still more kinboshi.
Once again, like day 1, the interest level in day 2 matches is broad and intense. There is the potential in Nagoya for one of the most pivotal, and exciting tournaments in several years.
Matches We Like
Nishikigi vs Gagamaru – Nishikigi was clearly unhappy with his visit to Juryo last basho, and it was a wake up call to tune up or give up. Today he faces Planet Gagamaru, who is a walking complexity of sumo malfunction. Popular in the broader Japanese media, Gagamaru seems to have lost any edge he may have had in the past.
Sokokurai vs Takekaze – Sokokurai looked very strong day one, and he needs some momentum going into week two. Tachiai expects any number of kyujo rikishi to throw chaos into scheduling, and any wrestler with a decent record will be pulled higher in the torikumi to fill in. Takekaze is no slouch, and he needs to get out of the lower Maegashira ranks to keep himself in business.
Chiyonokuni vs Arawashi – Chiyonokuni was lost and off balance day 1. He has in the past been strong and poised, and we worry the thumping he took during Natsu wrecked his confidnece and drive to win. He will get no quarter from Arawashi, who needs to renew his record, too.
Ishiura vs Daieisho – Ishiura pulled out a rather unsavory henka on day 1, and we can be certain that Daieisho is going to bring some caution to his tachiai. Watch for an early attempt at a slap down, or even a Daieisho henka.
Onosho vs Tochiozan – Onosho is picking up where he left off from Natsu. Today he is against Tochiozan, who seems to again be showing some rather good sumo. This is their first match up ever, so very interesting to fans.
Ura vs Chiyoshoma – Ura day 1 was impressive. He was a whirling mass of chaos with an overall theme that he used to his advantage. In their prior two matches, Ura has won them both, but I am looking for Chiyoshoma to deploy something new day 2.
Kagayaki vs Endo – It’s tough watching Endo with the new mawashi. My poor sleep starved mind just associated Endo with his old color. Kagayaki’s big problem is inconsistency. When he is “on” he has what it takes to be an upper Maegashira, but he struggles to maintain that form. Interestingly enough, Endo has yet to defeat Kagayaki!
Hokutofuji vs Mitakeumi – Could be the match of the day. Two lead riskishi in the class of “up and coming” square off for supremacy. Both are formidable, both are capable of winning. Both are going to bring a strong attack. Their only prior match was won by Mitakeumi, so pay attention to this bout!
Terunofuji vs Tamawashi – Terunofuji on day 1 looked quite disorganized. There were some reports that his knees were bothering him in the lead up to Nagoya, and this bout against the hard charging Tamawashi will tell us much about the Ozeki’s health. As a big Terunofuji fan, I do hope he is healthy.
Takayasu vs Ikioi – Ikioi looked like hell on day 1, and completely blew what could and should have been a competitive bout. Takayasu! Get it together! I will be highly agitated if the shin-Ozeki launches his career with a kadoban mark.
Yoshikaze vs Goeido – As with day 1, Goeido will need to decide if he wants to go strength or speed. If he lets Yoshikaze control the match, it will likely be speed and he will have to start on defense. Goeido 2.0 would go left hand inside at the tachiai and heave-ho the berserker off the clay before he can even blink.
Hakuho vs Tochinoshin – I know Tochinoshin is going to put up a strong and vigorous struggle, so I am eager to see how Hakuho wins this one.
Kotoshogiku vs Kakuryu – Bonus points to Big K if he lets Kotoshogiku set up the hip-pump attack and then defeats him. I am convinced a healthy Kakuryu has a way to counter almost any attack, so the more we can see him deploy, the better.
Kisenosato vs Takakeisho – This could be a really important match for several bad reasons. If we see Kisenosato once again defeated directly, it indicates that Japan’s favorite Yokozuna has little choice left except to put himself into the queue for surgery. I know the NSK and Kisenosato do not want that. But it may be that or retirement.
Shodai vs Harumafuji – I am looking for The Horse to get back to form, and to bend Shodai up onto a crane shape prior to sending him back to the dressing room. I think Shodai has a lot of potential, but he needs to work on some fundamentals to get to the next level.