Alas, the final day of a historic basho is upon us. We have seen the retirement of a yokozuna, the retirement of a long time fan favorite, some injuries, some more injuries, some further injuries, and also some more injuries. And some injuries as well.
However, we’ve also seen a potentially successful conclusion to an Ozeki run, the potential start of a new Ozeki run, and either another new champion or another yusho portrait on the way for one of sumo’s young stars. Will the Emperor’s Cup return to Chiganoura-beya, or will the Massive Macaron go to a man who probably could make one himself?
What We Are Watching on Day 15
We’ll cover all of the top division matches today – with no competitive sumo for six weeks, there’s no point leaving anyone out:
Takagenji (Juryo) vs Daishomaru – Takagenji had a glorious opportunity to snatch one of the four or five places that will be up for grabs in Makuuchi for the Haru basho in Osaka, yet has, not for the first time, been unable to get over the finish line. You have to be ruthless in these situations and he had a very favorable set of promotion circumstances, with a pair of intai and a pair of M16 make-koshi. Daishomaru (3-11) has looked better in the last few days, and will want to try and grab a final day win to pad his fall into the second division.
Kagayaki vs Yutakayama – a pair of make-koshi guys fighting for pride and against banzuke-gravity on the final day. Kagayaki has probably done about enough to keep himself safe, but both of these guys would want to sign off with a win in otherwise disappointing circumstances.
Yago vs Abi – it’s a party all around, as fan favorite Abi has grabbed 10 wins despite not looking spectacular for most of the tournament, and top division debutant from Hokkaido Yago has grabbed his kachi-koshi after sagging in the second week. Abi probably has more to gain from a win in this (a spot in the joi), whereas Yago needs time and experience to consolidate his top division place, so I’m tipping Abi.
Ikioi vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama is 7-7 and so faces a make or break matchup against a rikishi who, in spite of all of the injuries referenced above, has managed to stay on the dohyo for all 15 days while looking like a toddler’s stuffed toy that’s been mauled by a dog and then patched up haphazardly in a desperate attempt to stem a temper-tantrum. Ikioi is in the better form despite only a slightly better record at 9-5 but Asanoyama will be desperate to grab his 8th after a great second week, and it’s kind of tough to make Ikioi the favorite in his current shape. This will be their fourth match, with Ikioi having won 2.
Sadanoumi vs Daieisho – another party between two, perhaps unlikely, kachi-koshi rikishi. Sadanoumi has displayed some surprisingly good sumo in January in spite of – like Ikioi – a glaring head wound. These two have split their eight previous matches evenly and it’s probably a coin flip on current form.
Ryuden vs Kotoeko – One thing that Ryuden has reminded me of in this basho is that regardless of the outcome, his topknot is always an absolute shambles after a match. According to Wikipedia, Takadagawa-beya’s tokoyama has reached first class status, so this makes it all the more confounding. He does also have a notoriously wobbly head, so it’s possible that that factors into the equation. One day I will figure out whose fault it is, but I am committed to lead the inquisition. We’re talking about this basically because there has been not much good to say about his sumo this tournament. Kotoeko is looking for his first winning record in the top division and, while Ryuden does usually put up a very spirited fight, if Kotoeko can’t win here against an opponent who’s already down, he probably doesn’t deserve a promotion anyway.
Meisei vs Onosho – Meisei is 7-7 and facing a make or break match against an opponent who’s clearly still getting back to his best shape and has just about scraped across the line. Onosho is holding an 8-6 record and will be trying to keep Meisei off the mawashi, although Meisei is more than capable of a thrusting battle himself. Both of these guys finishing 8-7 in this tournament sounds about right given their form, and Meisei has won their previous two encounters, so I’m tipping Meisei.
Chiyotairyu vs Takarafuji – This will be the 14th matchup between these two, with Little Uncle Sumo Takarafuji having a slight edge 7-6. However, Chiyotairyu has won the last three, and despite both men being 8-6 in this basho, I think his sumo has been a little better than Takarafuji’s this tournament so I’m tipping Sumo Elvis to deploy the cannonball tachiai and get the better of the Isegahama man.
Daiamami vs Yoshikaze – If you were being told a Maegashira 16 was getting called up to face a Maegashira 5, you’d probably think, “wow, he must have having a great tournament.” In fact, this may be the last Maegashira 5 that Daiamami faces for a while as he already has posted double-digit losses and will stare into the Juryo abyss in March. And it may be the last time that Yoshikaze is at this rank for a while as well, having had a shockingly poor tournament that has only yielded two wins so far and has been tough to watch. They’ve only met once before, with Yoshikaze the winner, but with neither man displaying good sumo it’s a tough one to call. Against most logic, I’d probably say Daiamami has the slight edge here if he can arrive even a little bit genki.
Kotoshogiku vs Chiyoshoma – Kotoshogiku (5-9) has had a much tougher fixture list than Chiyoshoma (6-8) and his losses have mostly, as usual, come as a result of an inability to get his feet planted and put power to ground in order to drive forward. He will be susceptible to a flying henka which makes this a little tougher to predict than it should be. If it’s a straightforward battle, the former Ozeki should have the edge, but if Chiyoshoma reaches into his bag of black magic, then a ten loss Kotoshogiku could be on his way to a reunion with potentially Makuuchi-bound old pal Toyonoshima sooner than later.
Aoiyama vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has a surprising 5-1 edge in this rivalry and is already kachi-koshi, while the buxom Bulgarian will be desperate to avoid defeat at 7-7. Aoiyama started this tournament strongly but his twin cylinder piston attack hasn’t been working at the top level. Hokutofuji finds himself between the calibre of opponents where Aoiyama’s attack has been effective and ineffective, and he’s a tricky customer to call: despite having 8 wins and 3 against Ozeki in the first three days, two of his wins have come via fusen-sho and he was otherwise on a miserable run until a really nice throw against Nishikigi on Day 14. I think Aoiyama might do this, but I also think it could be ugly.
Shodai vs Ichinojo – It’s a pair of 6-8 guys who never seem to live up to their billing. Ichinojo in particular has been dreadfully disappointing after a 4-1 start that saw him knock out two Yokozuna and two Ozeki. He simply should not be in this position, but has more or less been walking backwards and over the tawara for the past week, and was pushed out in 2 seconds by a one-legged Mitakeumi. He was even thrown by extreme slapper Shohozan. Shodai has looked a little bit better in week two, though this match has the danger of never ending in the event both guys just stand up and stare at each other from the tachiai. Ichinojo leads the series 7-2 but you wouldn’t back him against a brick wall at the moment so I’m going with Shodai to finish 7-8.
Tochiozan vs Shohozan – This battle of two mountain men couldn’t be more even: both are 5-9 heading into the final day, with their career series even at 11 apiece. Shohozan displayed incredible intensity in Fukuoka, but it’s been missing from a lot of his bouts in this tournament. Tochiozan, meanwhile, has been displaying a reliable brand of sumo that works really well at M12-M4 but not much higher. I don’t know if this will be a classic, but with Shohozan winning the last four of their matches I think it might be Tochiozan’s time, especially if he can get an early belt grip.
Nishikigi vs Mitakeumi – These guys more or less have mirror records with Nishikigi putting up 8 losses to Mitakeumi’s 8 wins. Mitakeumi clearly should not be on the dohyo right now as evidenced by the nature of his Day 14 loss to Takayasu. He’s proven his point by solidifying his rank but the only thing he potentially has to gain by fighting another day is that if his 9th win at Komusubi starts a run similar to the one Takekeisho is currently displaying, having also started his Ozeki run off 9 wins. However, Mitakeumi is causing serious harm to an already seriously injured knee with every day he mounts the dohyo at the moment. We keep talking about how Nishikigi has overachieved, given that we all thought he would end up with one of those humiliating 2-13 or 3-12 tournaments when he made his joi debut. But, after grabbing an 8-7 last time, and with the pressure off Mitakeumi this time, a 7-8 at M2 with a kinboshi would be extremely creditable and I’m backing him to pull it off.
Myogiryu vs Okinoumi – Both of these guys are make-koshi and Myogiryu is headed out of san’yaku after the longtime sekiwake had a lovely run of form in 2018 which propelled him all the way up from Juryo to Komusubi. The lifetime series here favors Okinoumi 9 to 8. They’ve had some very watchable matches in the past as well, with Okinoumi’s kotenage win from two years ago being a particularly highlight for me. With not much on the line, let’s hope we see more of the same this time.
Endo vs Tamawashi – The third final bout on Senshuraku is for all the arrows and it might be for all the marbles as well. M9 Endo gets drafted up into possibly one of the most consequential matches of his career to date, with the Yusho on the line – for Tamawashi. I do want to take this moment to remind everyone that on a previous Tachiai podcast (like and subscribe!), Andy predicted a Tamawashi Yusho. Unfortunately, he only predicted it a couple tournaments too early!!!
At the age of 34, Tamawashi is on the verge of completing his ultimate career goal, needing just a win to grab the Emperor’s Cup and start his own Ozeki run. Endo has 10 wins and has been in fairly good form, but can he play spoiler? Tamawashi leads the lifetime series 9-6.
Takayasu vs Kaisei – Takayasu fended off the kadoban threat on Day 14 with an easy win over disabled Mitakeumi, and with Hakuho now out of the picture, we’ll see the Ozeki taking on M8 Kaisei in the penultimate bout of Senshuraku. Their lifetime series is 11-6 favoring Takayasu, and I think this one is very slightly in his favor. The Ozeki deserves great credit for overcoming illness and poor form in Week 1 to have now posted 4 wins from 5. Kaisei has had a wonderful tournament of positive, forward moving sumo, and I don’t think anyone would begrudge him a win here, however unlikely.
Takakeisho vs Goeido – Takakeisho can likely make his Ozeki promotion certain with a 34th win in three tournaments. The rivalry favors Goeido 5-3, but while the Ozeki has got himself out of jail with 5 wins in a row (including a fusen-sho gift from Hakuho), Takekeisho may have a Yusho to fight for if Endo can upset Tamawashi in the earlier match. If that’s the case, a win here would then prompt a playoff. Goeido of course can play the role of spoiler, but he’s only beaten one opponent above M1 in this tournament, and that was against a clearly troubled Takayasu. Whether or not the Yusho is decided by the time these two men mount the dohyo, this match still may signal quite a bit about the future of top level sumo and the Ozeki ranks.