Welcome back dear readers! It’s honbasho time, and the team behind Tachiai are very excited about the potential of this tournament. As we have seen in the past two years, any basho that has Kakuryu as the lone Yokozuna tends to be a battle royale, with a much wider field of competitors for the Emperor’s Cup, even into act 3. The scenario favors two rikishi in my mind – Takayasu and Tochinoshin.
Takayasu because he has been “just short of” yusho level sumo a few times. The big question is his back, which he has been struggling to keep in working order. There was a lot of commentary following the joint keiko sessions this week, and the comment at the YDC soken that Takayasu was not doing “his brand of sumo”. Sadly I have yet to see it in any detail, but I suspect we are seeing continuing evolution of Takayasu into a form that can compete closer to Yokozuna level.
Tochinoshin will come as a surprise to some readers. The fellow is on the outs now, having at least temporarily lost his Ozeki rank due to back to back make-koshi, brought on by a foot injury. Thanks to a commentator, we think of Tochinoshin as a “glass cannon”, with tremendous power as long as he is structurally intact. If Tochinoshin shows up healthy and in good working order, that enormous strength (he has the strength of a bear, that has the strength of two bears) can overcome practically anyone.
A reminder about how these basho start: Act one (the first 5 days) is all about getting people up to basho intensity, knocking off the ring rust, and starting to tune up the named ranks for the big fights later in acts 2 and 3. We may see some iffy sumo today, so don’t take it too seriously, and enjoy the next 15 days – it’s bound to be intense.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Chiyoshoma vs Toyonoshima – With Hakuho kyujo, there is a torikumi imbalance that will see a daily visitor from Juryo, unless and until someone else in Makuuchi decides to go kyujo as well. At Juryo 1 East, Toyonoshima could be back in the top division for the sweat-box in Nagoya if he can rack up 8 wins. Chiyoshoma will possibly be working on his henka.
Terutsuyoshi vs Kotoeko – While both men were make-koshi in Osaka, both of them managed to remain in the top division because so many rikishi at the bottom of Makuuchi had such terrible records. Watch for the glorious Terutsuyoshi salt throw, and for Kotoeko to work to keep Terutsuyoshi to his own front quarter.
Tokushoryu vs Enho – Enho’s first ever match ranked as a Maegashira, and I hope everyone who has not had a chance to watch his sumo before gets a high energy, enjoyable match. That fellow is indomitable.
Chiyomaru vs Sadanoumi – The bulbous Chiyomaru returns to the top division, and his first match is against fellow veteran Sadanoumi. Chiyomaru leads the series 8-3.
Shimanoumi vs Yago – After back-to-back Juryo yusho, Shimanoumi makes his Maegashira debut. In spite of his 6-9 record for Osaka, Yago is not out of his element in Makuuchi, and I expect him to find his pace this tournament, and become a mainstay of the top division.
Shohozan vs Tochiozan – A battle of the “ozan”, where the typically agile Tochiozan will attempt to out maneuver the street brawler Shohozan.
Kagayaki vs Onosho – It’s clear that Onosho is not quite back to his old fighting form which saw him kachi-koshi at Komusubi during Kyushu 2017. His 5-10 record in Osaka was a big setback for a rikishi that many see as an upgraded version of Takakeisho.
Nishikigi vs Tomokaze – A first time match between sumo’s underdog in Nishikigi, and young rising star Tomokaze. Many fans (myself included) were surprised that Nishikigi was able to survive for three tournaments in the joi-jin before a solid make-koshi pushed him back down to Maegashira 9.
Kaisei vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama has manage to beat Kaisei only once in their 5 prior matches, but this may be a different day. Kaisei tends to exhibit a good amount of ring-rust at times, and if Asanoyama comes into the match sharp and ready, he may get the jump on the Brazilian.
Shodai vs Meisei – I give Shodai an over-sized portion of grief most tournaments. He seems to have all the pieces for top level sumo, but just cannot seem to bring them together consistently. He is up against a surging Meisei, who is fighting at his highest ever rank. Shodai won their only prior match.
Takarafuji vs Yoshikaze – Can Yoshikaze muster the energy to dominate his matches? For fans of the Berserker, it’s been tough to watch him fade a bit in the past year. Likewise Takarafuji seems to have lost a half step in his sumo. This match is sure to be encrusted with ring rust, so bring one of those green scratchy pads if you are showing up at the Kokugikan to watch.
Ryuden vs Myogiryu – In the midst of the blood bath at the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke in Osaka, Ryuden managed to finish 10-5, and neatly identify himself as ready to return to higher rank. Today is a great test, as he has not beaten Myogiryu in either of their prior matches.
Okinoumi vs Abi – Are you ready for more Abi-zumo? I know I am! So what if he’s a bit one-dimensional, it’s always a good day when he is on the torikumi. He’s against Okinoumi, who is an excellent technical rikishi, and holds a 2-1 career lead over the man with the flailing arms…
Aoiyama vs Tamawashi – I was disappointed when Tamawashi finished Osaka 5-10, as he is a solid Sekiwake-class rikishi. But today he gets to put his brutal shove-piggy-shove attack against the bludgeoning meat mountain Aoiyama. Given the propensity for day 1 ring rust, this might not be the slug fest that one would want to see from these two.
Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – I liken Chiyotairyu to taking a Brinks armored truck, and fitting a top-fuel dragster engine to it. There will be a lot of mass moving at extreme speed, but past that you may be in trouble. If Tochinoshin can survive the tachiai and following slap down move, he should be in good position to use the skycrane and rack his first win on the road to 10. (He has a convincing 6-2 record against Chiyotairyu, whose style of sumo plays right into Tochinoshin’s enormous hands –PinkMawashi)
Ichinojo vs Daieisho – Which Ichinojo is going show up? The cuddly Ichinojo, or the pony tosser? If we see even a hint of his Osaka style sumo, it’s going to be a tough basho for a lot of rikishi. Plus, it looks like Ichinojo put on some extra mass…
Takakeisho vs Endo – Welcome to the Ozeki ranks, Takakeisho! Its great to have some young blood up at this level, and I think you are going to do well. Up first is a distinct challenge in Endo, who brings a very intelligent, maneuver-centric sumo to the dohyo. If Takakeisho can get his offensive rhythm established, he should have this match.
Kotoshogiku vs Takayasu – With a 11-4 finish at Osaka, Kotoshogiku looked a bit like his old, Ozeki class self. We get to see if he has been able to keep up the intensity with this day 1 match with Takayasu, who seems to be struggling a bit if pre-basho scouting reports are accurate.
Goeido vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji’s sumo has many aspects in common with Goeido’s, they both tend to blast out of the tachiai and stake everything on a big opening gambit. Goeido clearly knows how to shut down Hokutofuji’s “handshake tachiai”, so maybe Hokutofuji won’t go for the nodowa, and we will see something new.
Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – Kakuryu has not been able to dominate Mitakeumi, and their career record is tied at 5-5., with Mitakeumi taking the last 2. There are remaining questions about Mitakeumi’s knee, and general overall health, while Kakuryu appears to be in excellent form. I am keenly interested in this match.