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.
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.