After a lengthy pause in sumo action, we are at long last on the eve of the July tournament. With the torrential rains in Japan, this could be one of the most hot and tropical fortnights in Nagoya in some time. Conditions in Nagoya are always somewhat unique. Rikishi find the dohoyo slippery in the humid air, and endurance is sapped by the endless heat. I will reminder our readers that we tend to look at each basho as a series of three acts, each with their own mood, tempo and purpose. Some of this is driven by the scheduling team, and some of it from the rikishi themselves.
Act One – Who is hot, and who is not. Many competitors will have been training hard, outdoors in the humid Japanese summer for the past two weeks, but will begin Nagoya with a layer or two of “ring rust”. Some rikishi may be slow off the line, some may be slow or clumsy. But for many it will take 2-3 days to get up to full tournament power (or maybe more). Act one is where we find out who is going to be strong, and who will suffer.
Act Two – We narrow the field to find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and to start sorting the survivors from the damned. As act two includes the middle weekend, we usually find out who is going to be actually competing for the yusho.
Act Three – Hopes get smashed, dreams get crushed and we crown a champion. Someone takes home the hardware and hoists a big fish. We see who survives with a kachi-koshi, and who gets relegated to the demotion queue with a maki-koshi. Act three can sometimes be a snoozer if one rikishi is really dominating. The schedulers try their hardest to make sure the yusho race stays interesting up to the end.
With that in mind, let’s step off into the Nagoya basho. Ready or not, here we go!
What We Are Watching Day One
(Who am I kidding, I am watching the whole thing)
Hokutofuji vs Ryuden – The battle of “what are you guys doing here” on day 1. Both of them are hard-charging up and coming rikishi who took a beating during Natsu. Both are at the bottom end of Makuuchi now, and hopefully both have recovered some of their sumo. Both of them are people we will be very excited about next year, so get with it men!
Kotoeko vs Asanoyama – Welcome to Makuuchi Kotoeko, please spend your first day with the happy rikishi, Asanoyama. Kotoeko looked very strong in Tokyo, and rightfully earned his spot in the top division. I am eager to see him going the distance with power and spirit that has become the hallmark of a rikishi’s first Makuuchi tournament.
Sadanoumi vs Onosho – Will Onosho suit up with the red mawashi? Some of his fans think that a portion of his power flows from that thing. I think he’s just got some fantastic sumo. Sadanoumi may come in more tuned up, and may hand Onosho a surprise on his first day of what we hope will be an impressive return to the top division.
Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi somehow managed to do fairly well for a change during Natsu, and now he’s going to be facing a somewhat heavier caliber of rikishi. Up first is the man-mountain Aoiyama, who will probably slap him into submission. But Nishikigi is so genki, I think that even if you knocked him out cold his lower body would continue to move forward.
Chiyomaru vs Yutakayama – Chiyomaru needs to bounce back – heck, so does Yutakayama after his disastrous tournament in May. Chiyomaru has a legion of fans who just adore his dirigible aesthetics, but his sumo is pretty sharp too. He had a LOT of ring rust for Natsu, I am curious how his pre-Nagoya workup has been proceeding.
Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei turned in a great performance in May, with a stunning 10-5. He was able to leap from Maegashira 15 to Maegashira 8, and is now facing against much higher grade competition. Myogiryu also went 10-5 in May, and it’s time to see which one of them has an edge to start Nagoya. I think this could be a highlight match of the first half.
Takarafuji vs Chiyotairyu – I want Chiyotairyu to show up with sideburns that would put the great Takamiyama to shame. I dearly hope he gave the kami that gives him power (and lives in those side burns) a fiercely tufted thicket of faciale hair from which to operate. Takarafuji is a solid rikishi with outstanding fundaments, but seems to lack about 5% each and every match. I wish we could give him some kind of tune up. I expect that Takarafuji will absorb Chiyotairyu’s cannonball charge, and it will be Chiyotairyu who will be on defense.
Endo vs Yoshikaze – Time to see if Endo’s arm is still hurt. If you recall, he withdrew for a while in May, and then came back for some reason only to lose every single match. The diagnosis on the certificate that took him kyujo in May was a torn bicep. Just like Kisenosato’s torn pectoral, that’s surgery time in most cases. One thing is for sure, the crowds in Nagoya will be shouting with both lungs for these two fan favorites.
Daishomaru vs Kagayaki – I make no effort to hide that I really like Kagayaki’s sumo. It’s driven by fundamentals, and his technique is steadily improving. It will be great to watch him deal with Daishomaru’s low center of gravity and energetic oshi-zumo style. If he can get Kagayaki moving backward, he wins.
Kaisei vs Takakeisho – What a great match. The truly massive Brazilian against a tadpole with something to prove. Takakeisho is out-massed by a large factor, so I am curious if we are going to see him unleash the “wave action” tsuppari to overcome the gravity well.
Abi vs Mitakeumi – Back at Sekiwake, Mitakeumi needs to get in gear. He has the potential to join the Ozeki ranks, but he just can’t seem to get consistently into double digits. Abi has a lot of potential, but his sumo is a bit narrow right now, and this may be the basho where everyone figures out how to negate his enormous reach.
Ichinojo vs Chiyonokuni – The battle of the Grumpy Badger and the Boulder, my only disappointment is that the match is on day 1 when both men are going to be slow and rusty. Watching Chiyonokuni flail away in his energetic style against a rikishi made of stone is best savored in week 2, when everyone is warmed up and eager for wins.
Ikioi vs Tochinoshin – Eager for wins? Why yes, we have three Ozeki, and two of them are kadoban and need wins at all costs. Reports going into Nagoya hinted that the right wrist, which Tochinoshin hurt in May, is still bothering him. During the break prior to Nagoya, Tochinoshin traveled home to Georgia, and attended many functions and events. I think even his hard core fans know that he is going to be less than fully genki this time, and that’s ok. Ikioi is hopefully in better physical shape than he was for the last two tournaments, where he could barely walk off the dohyo at the end of each match.
Kotoshogiku vs Takayasu – A savory match. Kadoban Ozeki Takayasu, who looked pretty terrible in pre-tournament practice bouts, up against a re-energized Kotoshogiku. We hope that Kotoshogiku continues to carry forward his winning ways in Nagoya, as it would be a delight to see him return to the San’yaku for Aki. Takayasu needs 8 wins to clear kadoban, which should be easy for him if he’s healthy.
Goeido vs Shodai – Goeido also needs 8 wins in the worst possible way, and we just hope he does not resort to lame-ass sumo techniques like daily henkas and obligatory pull downs. His day 1 against Shodai will be all about Goeido, as I am not sure Shodai can repeat his startling performance of Natsu, where every opponent seemed to find ways to self-defeat to Shodai’s benefit.
Tamawashi vs Hakuho – The Boss is looking solid. If he can keep his toes in working condition, he’s a yusho contender this time. Tamawashi is eager to push back to Sekiwake, and if possible double-digits.
Kakuryu vs Shohozan – Kakuryu, at times, is the crown prince of ring rust. But I think he will overcome Shohozan’s mostly frontal attacks. Just don’t complain if he does it moving backwards.