Because I’ve just landed in Tokyo, am rocketing towards the heart of the city on the Narita Express, and JR East provides free WiFi, I’ve got a few moments to share with you the six matches I’m most looking forward to on the opening day. All of these have the potential to set up further key storylines throughout the basho:
Yago vs. Meisei
Yago has made a steady progression towards the top division in his ten basho since debuting as makushita tsukedashi, while Meisei has been Mr. Tenacious – after a first basho setback, he has settled into makuuchi nicely and deployed a nice mix of skill and heart on the dohyo. Eyes are going to be on the much hyped Yago to see what kind of debut performance he can put on versus a higher level of opposition this basho, and this is as good of a test as he could hope to expect in the lower reaches of the division. Meisei leads the lifetime series 2-0.
Kaisei vs. Asanoyama
The recent NHK Grand Sumo Review of 2018 was notable because it featured the NHK pundits bemoaning the current state of up-and-comers being predominantly oshi-zumo wrestlers. The notable exception to this was Asanoyama, notable for his emergence in the top division as a primarily yotsu-zumo rikishi. Here, he faces off against another fan of mawashi work in Kaisei, who’s had a pretty decent past 12 months, all things considered. The enormous Kaisei can be a force to be reckoned with when he’s in good health, so this matchup of strengths will prove an interesting opening bout test for both rikishi. Kaisei leads this rivalry 3-1.
Chiyotairyu vs. Onosho
The NHK review also highlighted the work that Onosho has put in to vary his techniques at the tachiai in order to better defuse his opposition. Here, he comes up against a rikishi who – it’s perhaps uncharitable, but nevertheless not totally untrue – to say is almost 100% tachiai. We’re looking for Onosho to return to mix it with the big boys and matches like this against Kokonoe-beya’s current star man should prove to be good challenges. They’ve split the victories evenly in their six contests to date.
Shohozan vs. Tamawashi
No analysis needed here: if everyone’s genki then this has all the hallmarks of a classic street fight. It could get tasty. Shohozan has a dominant 13-3 advantage in their lifetime series.
Takayasu vs. Ichinojo
There is some question over the health of Takayasu as he attempts again to shed his “bridesmaid” tag in search of an inaugural yusho, and there are always questions as to the genki level of Ichinojo. This is a tricky opening match to navigate for both rikishi: Takayasu will be desperate to open with a win and lay to rest the agonising manner of his Day 15 defeat in Kyushu, but here he features against an object who will doubtlessly be unmoved by his signature shoulder blast. Takayasu leads this rivalry 6-4.
Kisenosato vs. Mitakeumi
This is my unquestionable match of the day. Mitakeumi will have been knocked back by the manner of his make-koshi in Fukuoka, but his dismantling of Takayasu on the final day showed he didn’t magically lose his skill. He’ll be gunning to restart his ozeki run and is going to be licking his lips at a potential Yokozuna scalp to open what could be a pivotal basho for the Dewanoumi man. Kisenosato’s trials and tribulations were excellently covered in great detail by Herouth earlier in the week – be sure to check out her piece if you haven’t – and a day 1 loss would be ominous. Despite what the banzuke and history says (Kisenosato has won 6 of 7 from King Tadpole, and amazingly, 2 of 3 since his career-altering chest injury), Mitakeumi should be the favorite here and it’s the Mountain that will have to move him if it is to have any chance of staving off the inevitable retirement calls early in the basho.