Nagoya Wrap-up and Predictions for Aki

The battle for Komusubi

The Nagoya basho is in the books. The Emperor’s cup has been lifted, the giant macaron of victory has been presented, and the special prizes have been handed out. Let’s take a preliminary look at what the results will mean for the banzuke for September tournament; I’ll put up a more in-depth banzuke prediction post once I’ve done a proper analysis.

The Named Ranks

The Yokozuna rankings will remain unchanged. In the Ozeki ranks, Goeido and Takayasu will switch places, with the latter sliding over to the more prestigious East side. Despite picking up zero victories, Tochinoshin will also move to the East side into the slot vacated by Takakeisho. Goeido and Tochinoshin will both be kadoban at Aki, and will each need 8 wins to retain their rank, while Takakeisho will be Sekiwake with a one-time shot to immediately reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins.

In lower san’yaku, Mitakeumi (9-6) will remain East Sekiwake, while Takakeisho will take over from Tamawashi (5-10) as West Sekiwake. Abi (8-7) just barely defended his East Komusubi rank with 3 consecutive victories, capped by a flying henka which, while it drew a chorus of boos, should have been anticipated by the veteran Kotoshogiku given the stakes. And in an epic head-to-head battle for the West Komusubi rank vacated by Ryuden (4-11), Endo (10-5) prevailed over Hokutofuji (9-6).

Upper Maegashira

This is where it gets really crowded. The upper maegashira, ranked in the part of the banzuke often called “the meat grinder,” took full advantage of the absences and poor performances in the named ranks, with five winning records among the top eight rank-and-filers. M1w Hokutofuji did more than enough to reach the san’yaku ranks on most banzuke, but will have to settle for the top M1e rank on the September chart. M2e Aoiyama (8-7), M4w Ichinojo (9-6), and M7w Tomokaze (11-4) all put up performances that warrant a rank of M1 or better, and should be ranked M1w, M2e, and M2w, respectively, with Tomokaze getting the short end of the stick by virtue of lower rank and his newness to the top division. In turn, M1e Asanoyama (7-8) and M3w Daieisho (8-7), who deserve to be ranked M2, should get pushed down to M3, unless Tomokaze is really short-changed. Rounding out the top 10 will be Tamawashi, M3e Shodai (7-8), M6e Chiyotairyu (8-7), and M6w Shimanoumi (8-7).

A few other placements of note. I have Ryuden falling down to M7. Breakout star M16w Terutsuyoshi (12-3) could rise as high as M8 after his jun-yusho, trailed by one rank by fellow M16 Kotoyuki (11-4). As far as I can tell, 23 wins from the last two banzuke positions is unprecedented. Finally, Meisei (4-11) should fall all the way from M4 to M10.

Top-Division Demotions and Promotions

There should be four straightforward demotions from Makuuchi to Juryo: M15w Kaisei with one win, M11e Yoshikaze with none, M15e Yago with four, and M13e Chiyomaru with five. Chiyomaru should be ranked near the top of Juryo, and can return with a winning performance at Aki, and Yago will be within striking distance, but the two injured veterans will likely fall into the lower half of Juryo.

Their places in the top division will be taken by yusho winner Tsurugisho, finally making his Makuuchi debut after a whopping 22 straight tournaments in Juryo, and by Ishiura, Azumaryu, and Yutakayama. While Ishiura and Yutakayama were in Makuuchi as recently as May and March, respectively, Azumaryu will be returning after a five-year absence!

The two top-division men on the bubble are Takagenji and Tochiozan. It seems like Takanosho is the only plausible candidate to take the place of one of them, as the next-best candidate, Daiamami, is probably ranked too low at J8. My guess at the moment is that the banzuke committee won’t make a borderline exchange, but I think it could go either way—and who would get displaced if Takanosho does get the nod is not entirely clear either.

Juryo-Makushita Exchanges

Here, there are three clear demotions to and corresponding promotions from Makushita. Make that two demotions plus one retirement. Leaving Juryo are Aminishiki, Akiseyama, and Ryuko. Taking their places will be Seiro, Irodori, and Tamaki. There’s one Juryo man on the bubble, our old friend Arawashi (J10w, 5-10), and two additional promotion candidates in Makushita: Ms4w Kaisho (4-3) and Ms5w Wakamotoharu (5-2). I’m not an expert, but those who are think that Wakamotoharu is ahead of Kaisho, and that he’s likely to force down Arawashi, but it’s a close call. At least with this one, we’ll find out on Wednesday, when new Juryo rikishi are announced, while for the rest of the rankings, we’ll have to wait until August 26th, two weeks before the start of the Aki basho.

Bouts From the Lower Divisions – Senshuraku

Do not irritate the kaiju

Here we are, at the end of what turned out to be a very interesting basho – and not just in the top division. Princes were dethroned (Hoshoryu and Naya make-koshi), new ones are in the making (one fresh nephew, and one Hakuho replica in maezumo). Let’s see what the last day brought us.

Jonokuchi

The big story in Jonokuchi was, of course, the three-way playoff between members of the same heya, Naruto beya. Marusho, Sakurai and Motobayashi did not allow themselves to be eliminated till the very end.

A three-way playoff (“tomoe ketteisen”) works like this – no matter at what division: two rikishi mount the dohyo, say A and B, and the third, rikishi C, awaits. Suppose A wins. B then descends the dohyo and waits, and C mounts it and takes on A. Should A win again, they yusho is his. if not, C stays on the dohyo, B joins him, and this continues until one of them wins two in a row.

So theoretically, this can go on until the cows come home. In practice, there is seldom symmetry of power, and the strongest one emerges pretty quickly.

Here is today’s three-way playoff. The yobidashi here also happens to be from Naruto beya – yobidashi kenta, who is nicknamed “Maeken” by his heya-mates. We start with Marusho on the right, Sakurai on the left, and Motobayashi waiting.

Well, Sakurai’s and Motobayashi’s university sumo experience tells. Marusho is merely a graduate of a good high-school sumo program. Sakurai wins the first bout, Motobayashi replaces Marusho and beats Sakurai, and then beats Marusho for the yusho. Motobayashi is a graduate of Kinki University, which produced many top-division wrestlers. In his school days he was considered Takakeisho’s rival, but he opted to continue his education when the future Ozeki left school for Takanohana beya.

Jonidan

Though the yusho has already been decided in Jonidan (Tokisakae), there were still rikishi who did not complete the seven matches. First, let’s take a look at long-legged Kitanowaka, the Hakkaku beya charmer, facing Tenei from Takadagawa beya. Both are 4-2, Kitanowaka is on the left.

Ah, we have ourselves a crane operator here. Kitanowaka finishes 5-2, and will get a decent bump up the ranks come Aki.

Next, we keep our watch out for Roman, the crew-cut man from Tatsunami beya. He is coming up against Isamufuji from Isegahama beya, and they are both 5-1. Roman is on the right:

This develops into a kind of dance in which both wrestlers try to keep their opponents from reaching the mawashi or any other hand hold. Eventually Roman catches an arm and pulls. He is now 6-1, and will get an even nicer bump up the ranks.

Finally, one we haven’t covered in these posts, but we all know and love. Well, at least, those of us who have been around before Isegahama beya lost its Yokozuna, and with him, its hold on the yumitori position.

I’m speaking of Satonofuji, of course. He is deeply make-koshi as he comes into this day, with 1-5, facing Shiraseyama from Kise beya with the same miserable result. One wonders why the 42 years old doesn’t call it quits yet. I’m guessing he has a couple of goals, yet. One is probably doing the yumi-tori shiki in Aminishiki’s retirement ceremony. The other may be that he is waiting to braid the last rope for his oyakata – the red one for his 60th birthday, to be used in the “kanreki dohyo-iri” performed by former yokozuna on that occasion.

Be that as it may, he has to go up the dohyo until then and do sumo, and here he is, facing us, while Shiraseyama is with his back to us.

It’s a bit of a slippiotoshi, one has to admit, but at least Satonofuji finishes senshuraku with a sweet taste.

Sandanme

In Sandanme we have yet another playoff, and it, too, is a playoff within the same heya – Asatenmai, the 38 years old from Takasago beya, faces Terasawa, the 24 years old who is just making his first steps in the sumo world. This is just a plain, single-bout playoff. Asatenmai on the right.

Hmm. I get a different atmosphere here than the amicable competition that ruled the Naruto three-way-playoff. Terasawa sends his ani-deshi (big-brother-heya-mate, similar to a sempai) off the dohyo and doesn’t even look back as he makes his way to his own starting point. Bad blood? Low-ranked rikishi operate in a seniority system, where the older ani-deshi boss them around.

In any case, Terasawa wins the Sandanme yusho.

Makushita

We start Makushita with the former Ozeki, Terunofuji, having his last bout. His opponent is one we have also been following – Natsu basho’s Sandanme yusho winner, Shiraishi. I have not been happy about Shiraishi’s bouts, mostly because of his henka or half-henka in the first ones. And I’m even less happy about this one, although he makes it pretty clear he is not going for a henka today.

Seriously, what is this? I get that he has some injury in the shoulder and the arm. But what is this? He starts the bout two thirds of the way from the shikiri-sen to the tawara. He tries to keep himself so far away from Terunofuji that his own tsuppari almost doesn’t hit him. This looks more like that Laurel and Hardy Battle of the Century. Shiraishi should be thankful he belongs to Tamanoi beya rather than Futagoyama, or he would have his ass kicked all over Twitter.

Next we have ourselves an Onami – the eldest one, in fact, Wakatakamoto. He faces Tochimaru from Kasugano beya, and they are both comfortably kachi-koshi, 4-2, hoping to increase their fortunes and banzuke chances. Wakatakamoto is on the left:

Alas, the eldest Onami drops this one, and once again fails to catch up with his little brothers.

Going up the Makushita banzuke, we have Seiro facing Kototebakari. Both are kachi-koshi, 4-2, and Seiro get a salary next basho. Kototebakari, again, is trying to win an extra match to improve his own position next basho. Seiro is on the left, Kototebakari on the right.

Seiro makes short work of the Sadogatake man, who usually shows a bit more fighting spirit than that. I guess kachi-koshi will do that to you. Seiro is 5-2, Kototebakari 4-3.

Juryo

At the very bottom of Juryo, we have another Onami brother, Wakamotoharu, making a visit that may open the door for him to return to the salaried ranks. He is 5-1, and at Ms5w, 6-1 can certainly propel him into Juryo. However, he is facing Kotonowaka, who is 7-7, and needs this win to avoid dropping back into Makushita, disappointing his father, and bringing shame to the shikona he inherited from him.

Wakamotoharu on the right, Kotonowaka on the left:

We see glimpses here of the old Kotokamatani, in what looks like a typical top-Makushita brawl more than a Juryo match. Kotonowaka saves himself from demotion. He may not advance much, but he stays in the silk zone, and gets to keep his huuuuge oicho.

I shall finish this report, showing you that Ishiura can still do sumo that’s more easy on the eyes than his frequent henka. The foe is Mitoryu from Nishikido beya, and I think I don’t need to tell you which is which.

Round and round and round you go, Mitoryu. Ishiura will probably get back into Makuuchi, qualifying for Hakuho’s dohyo-iri again. The big question, of course, is whethe Hakuho himself will qualify for it come Aki.

Nagoya Day 15 Highlights

It just would not be a yusho if Tachiai did not run a picture of the macaron of victory!

And thus we have reached the end of the Nagoya Basho. I do love the fact that Kakuryu took the yusho in direct competition with Hakuho. Was Hakuho hurt? You bet! I have nothing but respect for the greatest Yokozuna of our time competing through the pain, and making a solid showing of it. But Kakuryu was on his sumo this time, dropping only a single match against upstart Tomokaze.

Thus continues the evolution out of the Hakuho era, an era that really began when none other than Kotoshogiku took the yusho in January 2016, marking the first time in 10 years since a Japanese-born man won the Emperor’s cup. Since then, we have seen a steady increase in “Other than Hakuho” yusho, as “The Boss” fades a bit each tournament. This is nature at work, and it’s worth asking, how much longer will Hakuho be able to continue working through what is probably increasing damage to his arms? We know that he needs to stay active for a bit longer. He is working to secure Japanese citizenship to become a member of the NSK, and he would dearly love to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which are just about a year way.

I would expect Hakuho to take at least half of the coming tournaments off, and work to preserve what function remains as much as possible. Without the headwinds of Hakuho’s career peak dominance as a cap, the new upper ranks are starting to form, just as they should. The next two to three years will be transitional, and we will see a lot of new heroes rise. If change makes you anxious, this is a poor time to be a sumo fan. If you love the drama of competition, and the path to glory, this is a golden age for sumo.

The statement above raises the question—what is sumo headed towards? I think parts of that were on display today.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru battled his way back to the top division out of the Juryo swamp, only to be pummeled into double-digit losses. For fans of “His Roundness”, it’s a disappointment. Former upper Maegashira Cinderella, Nishikigi, fared little better at 6-9 for Nagoya.

Enho defeats Daishoho – Enho matches seem to have a requirement for at least one matta. Is it because he moves at near relativistic speeds at the tachiai? The gyoji struggle to measure his hand placement due to the momentary inflection of space-time near Enho as he launches. Enho gets a front grip and drops Daishoho to his knees. Enho, if he can stay healthy, is going to be a fun addition to the top division.

Tochiozan defeats Shohozan – Tochiozan is also clearly fading out, and ends Nagoya 5-10, but managed to take his final match to possibly save his slot in the top division. Tochiozan got the better of the tachiai, and kept focusing his thrusting attack at center-mass. Good sumo fundamentals here, was it enough?

Okinoumi defeats Kagayaki – First Darwin match of the day favors experience over youth. Kagayaki got a double inside grip, but could not use it to finish Okinoumi. I think this is indicative of some injury with Kagayaki that we don’t know about, as his ability to generate forward pressure is not what it has been. Okinoumi switches his grip (make-kai), gets his right hand outside, and finishes the match for a kachi-koshi.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Tomokaze – This was fun because it was a bit of a playoff, with both at 11-3, both winning special prizes, and both in competition for the yusho well into the second week. Anyone else notice that Tomokaze’s pre-tachiai stance is a replica of Yoshikaze’s? That gave me a smile when I noticed it. Tomokaze attempted a pull-down early, and that was a fatal mistake.

Kotoyuki defeats Myogiryu – I continue to ask – which alien species abducted this Kotoyuki in 2016 and gave us the clown version for 3 years? Well, the good version is back, and wow! An 11-4 finish punctuated by a tsukidashi over his much higher ranked opponent, Myogiryu.

Chiyotairyu defeats Toyonoshima – Second Darwin match, Chiyotairyu stayed focused, in control and on the attack. Chiyotairyu kachi-koshi, and Toyonoshima make-koshi. As a consolation, Toyonoshima carried the yusho banner for Kakuryu in the yusho parade.

Takarafuji defeats Yago – Yago remains an injured rikishi fighting the toughest men in sumo. Back to Juryo with him, and our sincere hopes that he can get his body back to good health and return.

Ichinojo defeats Kotoeko – Ichinojo was on the attack today, and when that happens, you just have to take whatever he wants to give you.

Shodai defeats Takagenji – Shodai was in the driver’s seat the entire way, as Takagenji seems to have no defense with that injured right ankle.

Aoiyama defeats Daieisho – The Man-Mountain did what he needed to, and picks up his 8th for a kachi-koshi, but further complicating the pecking order at the top of the Aki banzuke. I am sure lksumo will sort it all out for us in time.

Endo defeats Hokutofuji – Possibly the best sumo match thus far in 2019, this was an absolute burner of a fight. Hokutofuji is delivering relentless forward pressure, and lightning attacks. Against that you have Endo who is unleashing combination gambits that only partially work before Hokutofuji deflects and resumes the attack. The fight raged between Endo’s and Hokutofuji’s control, with neither man gaining a clear advantage. Unable to finesse Hokutofuji to defeat, Endo resorts to simple sumo mechanics—he drives low and pushes ahead with everything he has. Wow, what a match!

Asanoyama defeats Sadanoumi – The sumo grumps have been criticizing Asanoyama’s performance this tournament. But I would note that his first trip this far up the banzuke, while it did end in the customary make-koshi, was a 7-8 make-koshi. There is some strength and endurance here, and he’s going to be pushing hard against the injured Ozeki and Yokozuna corps for the next year. I see Asanoyama, and in time Yutakayama, as wedges that will force some of the old guard down the banzuke, and help close out the Hakuho era. Let’s go boys, I can’t wait!

Meisei defeats Ryuden – I really want Ryuden to get it together by Kyushu. This was a tough tournament for him. We did not see the same level of sumo from him that was the engine for his promotion to Komusubi. Injury? Probably so. Heal up, Shin-Ikioi, we await your return.

Abi defeats Kotoshogiku – Not a hit and shift, not a henka, but a flying henka delivered at the tachiai. I was disappointed in that I wanted to see a clash of sumo styles. We got one, but not the one that was anticipated. Some of the crowd did seem to find it a bit amusing, which is unusual for a henka.

Mitakeumi defeats Shimanoumi – Mitakeumi finished with 3-4 in the final week. If he ever wants to truly contest for an Ozeki rank, he needs to fix that. I think that knee injury from Osaka is still bothering him, and until that is resolved, and his week 2 performance improves, the best he can manage will likely be Sekiwake.

Kakuryu defeats Hakuho – This was a real Yokozuna battle. Two men at the top of the sport going head to head, throwing everything they could muster at the end of a punishing 2-week ordeal into the fight. Hakuho got the better of the tachiai, but the lack of elbows robbed him of his coveted “nage” moves, which I would have expected him to unleash as soon as that left hand had Kakuryu’s mawashi. But the roll never came, and Kakuryu kept applying the pressure, fighting for a hold, and eventually finding it. The two lock up again in the center of the dohyo, finally comfortable in their preferred grip with left hand inside / right hand outside. But look at the feet. Hakuho’s feet are close together, his ankles aligned and his toes pointed at Kakuryu. Kakuryu is standing with his left foot behind and pointing out: He’s loading a throw. Hakuho tries a couple of time to drop his hips, but Kakuryu keeps digging deeper, waiting out Hakuho. The reactive sumo style has stalemated the greatest Yokozuna of our time, and Hakuho knows it. Hakuho tries one more advance, but can’t get far. Sensing that Hakuho has reached the limit his damaged elbows can take, Kakuryu shifts to a double inside grip, lifts Hakuho, and carries him out for the win, and the Emperor’s cup. Damn fine sumo.

Thank you all for joining us for a basho that I would call “other than expected” in almost every way, but it was still a solid tournament that gave a new crop of promising rikishi a chance to shine, and a chance to bring their sumo to higher levels of performance.

Nagoya Special Prizes

Sanshō 三賞, literally “three prizes” are the three special prizes awarded to top (Makuuchi) division sumo wrestlers for exceptional performance during a sumo honbasho or tournament. The prizes were first awarded in November 1947. The three prizes are:
Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize

Wikipedia

Who will get the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with each one? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are awarded conditionally. Usually, the condition is that the rikishi must win his last bout, but sometimes it can be something else, such as winning the yusho.

The July prizes have just been announced. One outstanding performance prize will go unconditionally to Tomokaze for his defeat of Kakuryu. A second outstanding performance prize will go to Kotoshogiku for his defeat of Hakuho, provided that he can achieve a winning record by beating Abi on Day 15.

One fighting spirit prize will be awarded, and it will go to Terutsuyoshi, who richly deserves it by animating the yusho race from the last rung on the top-division ladder.

Finally, two technique prizes will be awarded, one to the consummate technician Endo and the other to small-man-sumo wizard Enho, pleasing the many fans of both rikishi.

So that’s at least four prizes to be handed out; if Kotoshogiku can make it 5, that would, as far as I can tell, tie the record for most prizes in a tournament, which happened only twice before, in March 1994 and May 1998.