It’s finally here, sumo fans! Day one is upon us, and the Tachiai crew are eager for action. Everyone keep in mind, the first 3 days of any basho include quite a bit of rikishi in the top division trying to get themselves into tournament mode so we may see some rusty moves, some strange outcomes, and some favorites looking a little off-tempo. Interestingly enough, even though there is a good crop of new faces in Makuuchi, day one does not include any first-time match-ups. Maybe that will mean some careful strategy straight off the line.
With Makuuchi going down to Maegashira 17e, we are going to see a lot more action at the lower end of the torikumi, and as such it’s going to be tough for the NHK crew to decide how to fit it all into 20 minutes. Several of the shin-Makuuchi rikishi have a decent fan base already, and there may be a lot of good content to pare down to each day’s 20-minute show. For the hardcore, find Kintamayama’s channel on Youtube and enjoy the whole thing!
What We Are Watching Day 1
Daiamami vs Asanoyama – Let’s start it off right! After having a disappointing basho in Kyushu, Asanoyama the happy rikishi faces off against Daiamami in the first Makuuchi match of 2018. These two tend to grab a hold of each other’s mawashi, so maybe we will get a yotsu-zumo contest right off the bat. Career record 3-2 in Daiamami’s favor.
Ryuden vs Nishikigi – Hopefully the NHK guys will include some of the crowd reaction to Ryuden stepping onto the Dohyo. The fans really like this guy, and they are not afraid to show it. Even better is that these two have a tendency to try to throw each other, and that is seldom dull. Career record 2-1 in Nishikigi’s favor.
Ishiura vs Yutakayama – From sumo’s scratch and dent bin comes this battle of rikishi we wish were doing better. Ishiura started Makuuchi strong last year, and then everyone figured out his “one weird trick”, and he faded. Yukatayama seems to have confidence or focus problems as soon as he’s listed on the Makuuchi side of the banzuke. Both of them have the potential for explosive sumo, so there is hope. These two have split their prior 2 matches.
Abi vs Daieisho – Can Abi give Asanoyama a run for his money as the “Happy Rikishi”? Sumo fans finally get to see. With any luck, we will get to see Abi bring some magic shiko to the hatsu dohyo. Their only prior meeting was back in 2015 when Abi was fighting under Horikiri, and was in Makushita.
Kotoyuki vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo vs The Penguin! Aminishiki (Uncle Sumo) started strong in Kyushu, but I think his knees suffered terribly over the course of 15 days of top division matches. Now ranked Maegashira 10, he has a difficult path to climb. Kotoyuki seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and typically ends the match in the second row of zabuton. Career record 4-2 in Aminishiki’s favor.
Terunofuji vs Chiyomaru – Former Ozeki Terunofuji will face down surprisingly-super-sized Chiyomaru, who is still operating in sumo-Elvis mode. Due to a lack of knees, the yobidashi will likely pre-position the over-sized wheelchair on the east side hanamichi.
Takarafuji vs Endo – Heads up sumo fans, Endo is possibly the big sleeper this basho. He has been nothing special for more than a year and then sought surgery to repair some of his most serious problems. After dropping down to the bottom of Makuuchi, he has turned in two excellent tournaments. Takarafuji is a steady rikishi, who can be expected to calmly employ a fairly defensive bout strategy. This could be an excellent match. Career record of 6-2 favors Takarafuji.
Okinoumi vs Arawashi – Okinoumi’s sumo is very much a function of his chronic injury. When he has it under control, he is a solid upper Maegashira. When it’s bothering him, he is in trouble. With Okinoumi, it’s always hit or miss, and day one against Arawashi should show us how Okinoumi is doing. Watch for Arawashi to leave a small amount of salt on top of his mawashi.
Shodai vs Tochinoshin – The Tachiai team give Shodai a hard time because he tends to lose matches on the first step. His tachiai is usually a half step slow, and fairly high. Everyone knows this now, and they use it to dismantle him. Today he may compound his mistake by giving Tochinoshin a mawashi hold. Simply put, Tochinoshin has the strength of a bear that has the strength of two bears. Career record of 4-2 favors Tochinoshin, unless he has just woken from his hibernation, in which case Tochinoshin eats Shodai and Shikimori Inosuke while the NHK cameras pan away.
Mitakeumi vs Kotoshogiku – The San’yaku battle fleet is especially charged up and ready for action this tournament. Though he managed to land a kachi-koshi for every 2017 tournament, Mitakeumi can rightfully be cited for loitering. Hey, double digits Mitakeumi! Kotoshogiku is no pushover, so I guess Mitakeumi stays mobile to avoid the hug-n-chug from the Kyushu Bulldozer.
Yoshikaze vs Takayasu – Yoshikaze wants back in San’yaku. And everyone should note this guy can really dish it out. Takayasu is finally back to practicing with Kisenosato, so I am expecting him to revert to his former excellent sumo that focuses on strength and endurance. I am hoping NOT to see a forearm blast at the tachiai (hat tip to Murray Johnson of NHK).
Goeido vs Ichinojo – Wow! What a match. Goeido 2.0 is a speed demon who will have you backward and out before you can blink. Ichinojo is a large object suspected to be laid down over centuries during the Carboniferous era. Look for Goeido to launch low and inside hoping to catch Ichinojo not quite out of his tachiai crouch, and slap the big boulder down. The 6-5 career record slightly favors the mighty Ichinojo.
Kakuryu vs Hokutofuji – Can we take this to 11? Yes, yes we can! Hokutofuji’s careful offense vs Kakuryu’s reactive sumo. Can Big K keep Hokutofuji off his belt long enough for Kaio Jr to make his first and only mistake? My money is on the Yokozuna to keep Hokutofuji from going chest to chest and throw in a lateral move or two. Probably one for slow-motion replays.
Takakeisho vs Kisenosato – Please Japan, remember to breathe during this showdown. The schedulers give Kisenosato no easy start. Takakeisho is going to go hard left and attack without quarter. I am looking for Kisenosato to try to land a right-hand grip, not his favorite, and use that to try and remove Takakeisho’s “wave action” tsuppari from the match. These two have split their only 2 matches.
Hakuho vs Onosho – By thunder, Onosho, wear that red mawashi or stay home. This one will be all Hakuho, but I really think Onosho will make him work for it if he does not over-commit out of the tachiai. Of course “the Boss” knows this and will possibly give ground on the first step to draw Onosho forward.