Word has come to Tachiai via NHK news (and multiple other sources) that Yokozuna Kakuryu has decided to withdraw from the September tournament in Tokyo. Sadly this leaves us in a “nokazuna” situation, with a greatly depleted Ozeki corps to boot. Earlier in the tournament, Yokozuna Hakuho withdrew with a broken finger, leaving Kakuryu the sole Yokozuna competing.
We assume he was injured day 4 or 5, and gave up 3 consecutive losses, usually a mark of a performance limiting injury. For Team Tachiai, his kyujo was expected. As a result, his day 8 opponent, Tamawashi, picks up his second fushesho / forfeit win of the tournament.
At the moment there is no injury reported, but I would guess it is one of his multiple chronic injuries. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Welcome to Nakabi – the middle day of the basho. For folks with insomnia, or living in countries other than the US, NHK World Japan will be broadcasting the last 50 minutes of Makuuchi live. So do consider joining their stream if you have a chance, the coverage is always fantastic.
Where do we go from here? The leader in the yusho race, the undefeated Okinoumi, has yet to face any high ranking rikishi. But I would say for this basho, that might not be much of a threat depending on who he draws. Tachiai has been talking about the transition period longer than most sumo media (the Japanese sumo media included), but this is a tough basho all around. Sure there are some great competitors, but we really don’t have the “wall of sumo” at the top ranks that any rank-and-file yusho hopeful must overcome to lay hands on the cup. Maybe if we ask nicely and behave ourselves, lksumo might try to forecast who Okinoumi might have to face in week 2.
Ishiura vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu is up from Juryo to face a surprisingly refreshed and refreshing Ishiura. I am keen to see what kind of strategy he uses against his big, round opponent.
Tsurugisho vs Tochiozan – First time meeting for these two, and I am going to give an edge to Tsurugisho whose sumo seems to be ascendant, where Tochiozan seems to be fading out.
Kagayaki vs Toyonoshima – Kagayaki has lost 2 in a row, and each time he has been forced to deviate from his typical “focus on the basics” style and react to his opponent’s sumo. If Toyonoshima can dictate the terms of the match, he has a chance.
Shohozan vs Takagenji – Takagenji may be a write-off for Aki, if for no other reason than his off-dohyo world is a huge distraction. I am going to predict that Shohozan will probably pick him off today.
Azumaryu vs Daishoho – Veteran Azumaryu has a 1-3 record against Daishoho. But Daishoho only got his first win yesterday, and is fighting very poorly. I hate to label this another “battle of the broken toys”, but that does cross my mind.
Nishikigi vs Enho – I think Enho is hungry to stay in the yusho hunt, and he’s is going to take advantage of Nishikigi’s relatively slow sumo to tie him up and drop him.
Yutakayama vs Kotoyuki – Will we get the “out for fun” Kotoyuki today, or the “I am going to make you eat my mawashi” one? The big question for Yutakayama at the mid-point of Aki is: how is that knee holding up?
Okinoumi vs Onosho – Ok, Okinoumi is undefeated, and they are continuing to bottom-feed him. I don’t blame either rikishi, but as an Onosho fan, I have to say that he’s not quite the “red menace” he has been in the past. How about Ryuden instead? Or Abi? Or even Endo? I guess that is reserved for next week.
Kotoshogiku vs Sadanoumi – Both are going to want to grapple on this match, and I think it will come down to belt or armpit hold. If Kotoshogiku can get the mawashi, we all know what comes next. So possibly Sadanoumi aims high. Kotoshogiku aims low.
Meisei vs Kotoeko – After a cold start, Kotoeko has won 3 of the last 4, and I think he will possibly take Meisei out of the pack that is one behind Okinoumi.
Shimanoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – Both rikishi are 2-5, both are in dire need of wins, and both have been struggling daily during September. Terutsuyoshi has a 4-2 advantage over Shimanoumi, but right now neither of them is fighting anywhere near their normal level of intensity.
Takarafuji vs Myogiryu – These two have an 18 bout career history, so I think the 13-5 lead that Myogiryu holds might be an indicator.
Daieisho vs Ryuden – I had thought going in that at Maegashira 5, Ryuden would be at a comfortable rank. But he has not been able to produce wins. Daieisho is not doing much better, but has intensity on his side.
Asanoyama vs Aoiyama – Can we please see more Aoiyama V-Twin thrusting attack again? It’s much more compelling than the pulling nonsense he has used most of Aki. Asanoyama is going to want to get that left hand outside grip at the tachiai again, and Aoiyama is going to try to give him a big meaty palm to the face.
Abi vs Hokutofuji – The matches between these two are pretty ugly. You have Hokutofuji wanting to go for the nodowa, and Abi doing the double-arm shoulder thrusts. The result is usually a traffic jam of hands and elbows that can get jumbled up. Abi is fighting better right now, but continues to put his balance further forward than is prudent at times.
Chiyotairyu vs Endo – Readers know that I am usually not a fan of henkas, but I am hoping Endo does the sumo world a favor and lets Chiyotairyu get a face full of salt and clay.
Mitakeumi vs Takakeisho – To me this is “the” bout today. With the yusho race some sort of circus, Tochinoshin looking at Ozeki doom, the real story line left to play out is can Takakeisho make his 10 and return to Ozeki. I think this match is possibly the decider in that run, and Takakeisho holds a 4-7 career deficit. A note to readers, we have still not seen the “wave action tsuppari” attack. Time to bring out the primary weapon, tadpole.
Tomokaze vs Goeido – First time meeting, and I would love to see Goeido continue his “3 seconds and your are finished” sumo form. Congrats to Tomokaze for his kinboshi and all that, but his sumo has been cheap and sloppy for most of the basho. I only point this out because we have seen his “good” form (Nagoya) and we know what he is capable of.
Tochinoshin vs Shodai – Is this the saddest match in all of day 8? Both are 2-5, Tochinoshin is too hurt to fight, and I am going to guess Shodai may be highly demoralized at this point. As I sometime do, I suggest these two skip the dohyo and go to Popeye in Sumida for a LOT of beer instead.
Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – I am still sticking to the idea that Big K is hurt, but trying to hang tough for the fans. If Tamawashi up-ends him, it may be the signal it’s time to go kyujo.
The to It took a while for me to summon the mental state to write the day 7 highlights, as frankly my initial reactions to the corpus of day 7 Makuuchi was a blend of disappointment, disbelief and disappointment, and that’s no way to write about sumo. Transitional periods like the one we have been in for a while are chaotic and disorienting, regardless of the field of endeavor. In a sport like sumo, where its individuals rather than teams, the chaos can be more pronounced.
Day 7 featured a lot of sub-par sumo in my opinion. The higher up the torikumi, the worse the problem was. Cheap, sloppy and not quite what fans have been used to for the past 10 years. I can say that I was (and maybe others) were spoiled by the high level of sumo that has been our bi-monthly staple for a good long time. With the old guard winding down, and the new champions finding their way, there are going to be periods where it all looks like hell.
I think it’s emblematic of the period, and level of sumo, that Okinoumi remains undefeated and the sole yusho leader. Not to subtract anything against a solid, journeyman rikishi. He has had a few prior hot streaks in the past, my favorite being Kyushu 2017, where he picked up his 3rd Jun-Yusho and his 3rd Kanto-sho. But the fact that a rikishi whose hatsu-dohyo was in January 2005 tells me quite a bit about just how broken and battered the top division is right now.
On to the matches.
Azumaryu defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma up from Juryo, he made a good show of it at first, until Azumaryu shrugged of the face slaps, grabbed Chiyoshoma’s mawashi and gave him a reason to go put on his yukata.
Ishiura defeats Yutakayama – Yutakayama opened strong, throwing a lot of tsuppari against Ishiura, who used a fascinating tactic – absorb and shift. This kept Yutakayama constantly working for a firm stance, and prevented any durable offensive theme from emerging. As the seconds tick by, Yutakayama is becoming more frantic – Ishiura is draining him of energy, and it works! Yutakayama’s balance gets sloppy and he goes to grapple Ishiura. Once that happens, he’s easy meat for Ishiura, who takes the exhausted Yutakayama out in a rush. There was a long stretch of time when I though Ishiura was a lost cause, but he has shown some solid sumo, and some strategic thinking this basho.
Daishoho defeats Takagenji – It was bound to happen some time, and I am glad that Daishoho racked his first win at last. Daishoho did a masterful job of containing Takagenji and preventing him from really mounting a credible threat.
Shohozan defeats Tochiozan – I swear these two are fighting at half of their original speed. The skill is still there, but the lightning fast attacks are nowhere to be found. The two battled for some kind of grip, and fought back and forth for control of the inside position, and wore each other down. It ended when Tochiozan appeared to have run out of stamina, and Shohozan went for a Yorikiri.
Tsurugisho defeats Enho – Enho could not work his magic today, as Tsurugisho bracketed him and kept quite low at the end of the match. Like most of the tall rikishi, Tsurugisho struggled to figure out what to do with his grip all the way around the back of Enho’s mawashi. Many time Enho uses this awkward position to great advantage, and in fact Tsurugisho had to spend some time thinking it through.
Meisei defeats Kagayaki – Meisei pulled out a rescue move at the tawara, with Kagayaki advancing strongly for the win. A couple of the shimpan looked like they thought a monoii was in order, but the call stood, and Meisei holds on to his 1 loss record to stay just behind Okinoumi.
Sadanoumi defeats Nishikigi – Sadanoumi wrapped up Nishikigi, and kept him from doing any defensive work. With Sadanoumi firmly in control, he quickly moved to yorikiri and put the match away. A sound tactic given Nishikigi’s habit of stalemating his opponents and using his stamina to gain advantage.
Kotoyuki defeats Toyonoshima – There are days when Kotoyuki looks dead serious, and days when he looks like he’s just out for some fun. Today was serious, and the serious Kotoyuki and deliver some winning sumo.
Takarafuji defeats Onosho – Onosho never really had a handle on this match, and was frankly trying anything he could muster against the pillar of stability that Takarafuji can sometimes become. If you want to see someone really execute a deflect defense, go watch Takarafuji in this match. Each time Onosho drives power to the inside, Takarafuji routes it away. It’s fitting that the match ends with Takarafuji routes a vigorous Onosho thrusting attack leftward and down to the clay.
Kotoshogiku defeats Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi attempted a henka, but Kotoshogiku does not tachiai quite like he used to, and easily rolls to attack the leaping Terutsuyoshi. Both men went down in a heap, but the win went to Kotoshogiku after the judges figure out that Terutsuyoshi was simply ballast at the point that Kotoshogiku touched out.
Okinoumi defeats Myogiryu – Apologies if I seemed to detract from Okinoumi unbroken winning streak in the opening commentary. The man has been executing some of the best sumo of the tournament each and every day. Myogiryu puts him to the test, and comes up short. Take a look at Okinoumi’s harmony between his upper body and his footwork. I swear that this guy must have studied ballet at some point, as he puts on a master class of controlling balance, force and stability in motion. In spite of Myogiryu getting a double inside grip, Okinoumi controls this match.
Kotoeko defeats Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi got a bit hasty trying to seal the win, and allowed Kotoeko to escape and set up to switch to offense. Good to see Kotoeko keep in the fight, even if it looks like he is about to hit the clay.
Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Asanoyama’s tachiai keeps improving. Today he was able to land that left hand front grip that he has used with great effect so many times. Ryuden knows at once he’s in trouble, and struggles for any part of his opponent to hold on to. Asanoyama advances for a quick win.
Aoiyama defeats Hokutofuji – The second winless rikishi in the tournament picks up his first win. After a pull, we finally get to see some long-missing Aoiyama V-Twin attack. Where has that been hiding? See what it did to Hokutofuji? Now keep using that, please.
Abi defeats Endo – The risk of fighting Abi is that if he can bracket you in, it’s nearly impossible to recover from the relentless tsuppari torrent this guy unleashes. Endo probably had an excellent, well thought out plan for this match, but Abi trapped him in the avalanche and buried him under a rain of blows. Thought they went out together, Endo touched out first. Another close match that got no review. Fine…
Chiyotairyu defeats Takakeisho – One of the larger let downs of the day, Chiyotairyu decided to henka rather than fight.
Mitakeumi defeats Shodai – Was anyone else surprised and delighted when Shodai executed a pretty good tachiai, raising Mitakeumi up at the shikiri-sen? If anything it seems to have motivated Mitakeumi, what turned on the power and advanced. As is his custom, Shodai went evasive with great effect, but Mitakeumi stuck with him and kept him pinned down.
Daieisho defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s got nothing left in that leg. Each day he moves less well, and fans have to wonder just how much more damage he is accumulating by continuing to compete.
Goeido defeats Tamawashi – The best chance to beat Tamawashi is to open strong and shut down any offense he might think he wants to try. Goeido executed this with great effect, including a bit of a spin that leaves Tochinoshin completely disrupted.
Tomokaze defeats Kakuryu – Three days, three kinboshi, and his second consecutive kinboshi to Tomokaze. Kakuryu is probably torn between healing whatever injury has put him into his “soft” mode and making sure the fans in Tokyo have at least one Yokozuna match in their sumo day. Tomokaze, leaving the dohyo, bursts into tears. I think the tumult in Oguruma may be at least partially to blame. In less than a year we have had Takakaze and Yoshikaze both go intai. For a young rikishi like Tomokaze, the realization that YOU are now the future of that stable can be rather a lot to take in.