Its sumo time once more, and everyone is ready to see their favorites battle it out in Tokyo. For the first time in a long time, everyone in Makuuchi will be present day 1. Many of them are in less than excellent health, but ever last one of them is going to gamberize as much as they can and push. This could be one of the better tournaments in the past 18 months, and I suspect fans are in for a treat.
All eyes will be on Yokozuna Kisenosato. I expect the Kokugikan to erupt in a joyful noise when the yobidashi calls out, “Yokozuna Kisenosato, dohyo-iri masu!”. In spite of a permanently degraded left pectoral muscle, he has somehow gotten himself genki enough to give it a try. Of course this may in fact be the execution of a planned exit strategy. Prior to his injury, Kisenosato was Mr. Sumo. Missing a day of practice, let alone a day of honbasho was simply unthinkable to him. Such a competitor would not sadly fade into the background, but would likely go out “guns blazing”, delivering as much fierce competition as he could muster for as long as he could stand it.
Any way it plays out, the fans are in store for some fine sumo.
Everyone keep in mind as we start Aki act one. The purpose of act 1 is to see who is hot, and who is not. Everyone works to shed any ring-rust and get up to full basho combat power. For day 1, everyone outside the joi-jin is paired up east-west.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Note – we are watching everything, as we are live blogging..
Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze fans have been worried about “the berserker” for the past few months. He hit some kind of medical / mechanical wall, and his sumo has been without power and stamina. Everyone dearly hopes that he is in better condition now, and this will be an early indication. He holds a career advantage of 4-2 over Chiyoshoma, who has been struggling as well.
Takanosho vs Chiyomaru – Everyone’s favorite party balloon squares off for the first time against newcomer Takanosho. Takanosho existed Juryo after a fantastic 13-2 record in Nagoya. Will he have the kind of “hot basho” that many top division debutants enjoy? Chiyomaru ponderous bulk seems to have robbed him of all stamina as of late, and his many fans want to see him get his sumo back. Good ‘Maru!
Ryuden vs Takanoiwa – Ryuden, what are you doing down here at Maegashira 13? Oh, that’s right. You had your ass handed to you at Natsu and then struggled at Maegashira 15 in Nagoya. Takanoiwa returns to his rightful place in the top division at long last after recovering from cranial injuries sustained in an after-hours beating by Harumafuji. Welcome back, and get cracking. Sumo needs you.
Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Aoiyama is my pick for “sleeper” this basho. He has never lost to Daiesho, and I am going to guess he won’t today. Aoiyama does tend to suffer from quite a bit of “ring rust”, and he may be slow and vague on day 1. Daieisho needs to bounce back from his disappointing 6-9 in Nagoya. But I don’t see him getting inside Aoiyama’s outrageous reach.
Hokutofuji vs Daishomaru – Its about time that Hokutofuji got back in gear, after an injury during Hatsu in January, he has struggled significantly, but his firestorm 11-4 in Nagoya seemed to announce his return to full combat power. He is 3-1 over Daishomaru, who has been losing ground since Osaka. I am going to look for a low and brutal tachiai out of Hokutofuji, and it should be straight yorikiri from there.
Kagayaki vs Onosho – Kagayaki is mister deliberate. He is going to go in with a plan to negate all of Onosho’s favorite moves (aka “his brand of sumo”) and dismantle him a piece at a time. Onosho is going to come in there and just blow Kagayaki into the zabuton. I am eager to see if Onosho returns to the red mawashi.
Myogiryu vs Asanoyama – Getting up to Maegashira 5, we have a match with a lot of potential. These two are quite evenly matched, and will likely got at it with vigor. A longer match favors Asanoyama, who will likely try to keep Myogiryu from getting low.
Chiyonokuni vs Abi – Yes yes! My guess is this is where NHK will pick up the live broadcast, and it’s a perfect spot. Chiyonokuni is high energy and high intensity from the shikirisen. I am hoping we see a new move or two from Abi, as everyone in Makuuchi have decoded his double arm shoulder brake move, and most are now countering it well. Abi will try to keep Chiyonokuni’s whirlwind attacks back and away, and Chiyonokuni is coming in low and going for center mass every time.
Endo vs Ichinojo – We saw some fire from Ichinojo in the practice sessions leading up to Aki, in stark contrast to his passive sumo at Nagoya. Endo still seems to be struggling to get his sumo into a stable san’yaku class category, and he heads into this match with a 3-5 disadvantage against the Mongolian behemoth. Great test match for Ichinojo’s resolve and Endo’s speed.
Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Shodai is a mawashi-clad enigma. He presents himself as a bumbling Gomer Pyle style rikishi, who somehow can defeat some very serious opponents. His tachiai is terrible, and many times he wins because his opponents make horrible, stupid mistakes. Amazingly, he tends to beat Mitakeumi more often than not. He tends to get Mitakeumi disrupted, off balance, and then he throws him around like a stress relief ball. If Mitakeumi wants to make the case for Ozeki, he needs to rack wins early.
Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshi is looking for a quick and decisive 8 wins, coming off of a foot injury in Nagoya. His typical attack mode is left hand driving a “lift and shift” offense. That will be tempered by the sheer size and diameter of Chiyotairyu. Chiyotairyu has been focusing more on bulk than stamina, and this will likely be the decider as even if his foot were missing, Tochinoshin’s endurance is second to none.
Yutakayama vs Takayasu – As the leading man in the cohort I refer to as the “Freshmen”, Yutakayama comes into his day one match with a surprising 1-0 advantage over Takayasu. Takayasu has been nursing multiple injuries and miseries, and may be hard-pressed to present much offense during the second act. This match will be an excellent gauge of just how hurt Takayasu is, and how hungry Yutakayama has become. I will be watching to see if Takayasu unleashes his ridiculous shoulder blast, which I maintain is the source of his injuries, and should be put in a “seldom used” status at once.
Goeido vs Kaisei – Some sumo fans love mysteries, and we all know who the mawashi man of mystery is – Goeido! Which one is going to show up? The unstoppable sumo machine that dominates practice and could not be defeated during Aki 2016? Or the hesitant, vague and un-genki Goeido that frustrates everyone? Kaisei comes into the match at the bottom of a 4-14 hole against the Ozeki, so I am expecting that Goeido is going to give us a bit of a show.
Kisenosato vs Ikioi – What great way to start this basho for Kisenosato. He holds a career 15-1 advantage over Ikioi, and “by the numbers” should dispatch Ikioi with flair. But Kisenosato is no more than 75% of his old self, and Ikioi of late has been an unstoppable, armor plated sumo machine. No injury, pain or distraction stops him from mounting the dohyo and delivering powerful sumo. This one, in my opinion, is going to be a real fight. I am looking for Ikioi to try to get the Yokozuna high and moving backward straight from the tachiai. Kisenosato needs his low, crab-walk attack that overcomes Ikioi’s power-based offices.
Tamawashi vs Hakuho – A fun match, Hakuho is undefeated against Tamawashi. But Hakuho has undercarriage damage this tournament, and many learned fans think he won’t last all 15 days. I look for Hakuho to go left and throw in the first few seconds.
Kakuryu vs Takakeisho – Probably the most genki man in the top ranks, Kakuryu brings his reactive sumo up against Takakeisho’s “wave action tsuppari”. My instinct is this one is all Kakuryu.