Konnichiwa from Tokyo and welcome to the official start of the Aki 2019 Grand Sumo Tournament!
No one has taken the dohyo yet, and already what a start it has been! We have missing ozeki, a pair of kadoban ozeki, missing sekitori, scandals, looming retirements, newly naturalised rikishi (including one Yokozuna), health questions, the excitement factory that is Enho, future stars in the joi-jin for the first time… oh, and the small matter of one Mr. Takakeisho attempting to reclaim the rank of Ozeki.
Are you ready? I’m ready. Let’s go.
What We Are Watching on Day 1
(Spoiler alert: everything)
Takagenji vs Chiyomaru – With Takayasu kyujo, the bulbous Chiyomaru makes a visit to the top division from Juryo. Chiyomaru has taken both previous matches from Takagenji and I expect him to make it 3 from 3 here against a rikishi who will have been dealing all week with the anguish related to his twin brother’s latest scandal and probable expulsion from the sport. Perhaps he will prove us wrong, but after a weak finish to the Nagoya basho, Takagenji has got a lot of work to do to turn around his form.
Yutakayama vs Tochiozan – Yutakayama looks a bit like a man renewed, and returns to the top division with an opening match against fellow mountaineer Tochiozan. The well rounded veteran has been in declining form, although it’s worth mentioning he went through a similar spell last year before working his way back up the banzuke. He’ll be desperate to stop the rot here, lest he end up the way of other vets toiling on the Juryo scrap heap. This will be the first meeting of these two rikishi in a year, Yutakayama having taken 2 of 3 (plus a fusen-sho) previously.
Ishiura vs Azumaryu – Everybody put your hands up if you heartily celebrated the return of Azumaryu to the top division! Now put your hands down and stop lying. The 32 year old has been lost in Juryo for years and finally found his way out the correct exit by posting a succession of 8-7s. We can be happy for his achievement but consistently posting average results in the second division doesn’t bode well for success against a stronger slate of opponents. It’s well possible the Mongolian’s return will rejuvenate him, but even a AAAA man like Ishiura should be able to see him off.
Tsurugisho vs Toyonoshima – Following the promotion of Shimanoumi earlier this year, another veteran finally makes his top division bow in Oitekaze-beya’s Tsurugisho. Usually I’d say we can expect some forward momentum from Juryo yusho winners but given that he’s struggled with up and coming top division talent previously, I think he may find it quite difficult in this basho on the whole. On the other side, who would have pegged Toyonoshima a year or two ago to be one of the last vets of his generation standing? Bizarrely, these two have only met once, a match won by Toyonoshima and I’m tipping him to win again.
Kagayaki vs Nishikigi – Finally, a match with a bit more to analyse. “Fundamentals Kagayaki” has not been doing justice to his nickname much this year, failing to make the progress some of us had hoped to see. Underarm grappler Nishikigi will be looking to keep the tall man’s centre of gravity high by getting both hands inside and then looking to move forward with a yorikiri or to try and toss him with a sukuinage. The lifetime series is tied 6-6.
Shohozan vs Daishoho – But for Shohozan’s advancing years this would feel like a bit of a mismatch to me and I’m shocked that he’s never beaten Daishoho in two previous attempts. I think – if he’s fit – that ends on Sunday. The slap artist has surprisingly good belt ability and while Daishoho is adjusting (slowly) to top division life, if Shohozan is genki and can launch a multifaceted attack he really should be able to win.
Onosho vs Enho – I’d say this match almost depends more on the fitness of Onosho than Enho. The key to defeating Enho is to lock his mobility and/or to just absolutely flatten him from the tachiai. It’s also difficult for him to make use of leg picks and other such manoeuvres against someone with a tadpole build like Onosho. Onosho has taken the only previous match, and while this could be exciting especially if Onosho isn’t at full health, I think the Onomatsu man’s thrusting attack will win the day this time.
Sadanoumi vs Meisei – Very quietly, Sadanoumi has done a good job of maintaining a consistent run at the bottom of the Maegashira ranks for a year and a half now after returning from Juryo. He’s been a fixture of the top division for most of the past 5 years, and he doesn’t really get a lot of love. He doesn’t really have one standout skill that elevates him above his peers. The same can be said of Meisei who, while he shows great heart, hasn’t quite shown the same kind of tenacious never-say-die ability at the edge, compared to someone promoted at a similar moment, namely Ryuden. Sadanoumi has more or less owned Meisei (who took a real beating last tournament), and may get his 6th from 7 against him here.
Terutsuyoshi vs Kotoyuki – This, for me, is the match of the first half of proceedings, to be sure, both men having very good tournaments last time out. Thrill a minute funster Kotoyuki gets the Jr Salt Shaker in his opening bout, and I think this is all about the tachiai. If Kotoyuki can explode off the blocks with his pushing attack he’s got a shot, but any good movement or belt grip from Terutsuyoshi will send this match the Isegahama man’s direction. That’s likely to happen, as his career 3-0 record against Kotoyuki indicates. Still, a genki Kotoyuki is well worth his top division spot so here’s hoping he shows up in good health.
Takarafuji vs Kotoeko – I know how the torikumi works but this may be a bit of a damp squib after the previous match. Both men are primarily mawashi guys and defensive sumo’s Takarafuji loves to stalemate his opponents and exploit their vulnerabilities. Kotoeko, while improving at this level, certainly has those, so I think Takarafuji will pick up his second win and second win in succession against the Sadogatake man.
Kotoshogiku vs Okinoumi – Sadogatake-beya’s third consecutive match of the afternoon in the top division comes here with storied vet and some-time bulldozer Kotoshogiku getting his 25th opportunity to take on the man from Shimane-ken. Kotoshogiku has controlled this rivalry during his Ozeki years and beyond his demotion, but I’m tipping Okinoumi to get his 9th win against the former yusho winner here. I just think that as Kotoshogiku has aged, his footwork and lightness on his feet has been his undoing and a solid all-rounder with good mawashi skills like Okinoumi can take advantage of that so long as he doesn’t concede ground at the tachiai.
Shimanoumi vs Myogiryu – Shimanoumi’s start to his makuuchi career has been impressive. Myogiryu aka Old Endo has been trucking along. Myogiryu won their only prior matchup last time out. I don’t really have a horse in this race, both guys have decent all around skills without being spectacular in any one area, although Myogiryu probably has the edge in speed.
Chiyotairyu vs Ryuden – These early matches are important for both guys, as it’s likely they will get pulled into the meat grinder at some stage. Ryuden got pummelled on his san’yaku debut, something Chiyotairyu has lived to tell about. Both guys are better for the experience, but Ryuden’s multi-dimensional sumo might perhaps give him a more sustainable future towards the top of the banzuke and it’s not hard to at least project him as a future Sekiwake. If he’s going to start the march back now and even their rivalry at 2 wins apiece, then he needs to defuse the cannonball tachiai from Chiyotairyu and make this a belt match.
Tamawashi vs Shodai – Pusher-thruster vs No-tachiai. This should be a pretty straight forward one for Tamawashi, but he has flattered to deceive since his incredible yusho earlier this year. Tamawashi controls this rivalry 8-4, but Shodai will find a way in if Tamawashi can’t keep him off the belt.
Abi vs Tomokaze – This is where we get to some pretty exciting meaty stuff. These matches against the guys beneath him are the bouts that Abi needs to win if he’s going to continue to retain or improve upon his Komusubi position. But Tomokaze has done something that Abi hasn’t, and that is develop from a strong pusher-thruster into more of an all-round rikishi. He started to show glimpses of his ability to win with other moves toward the end of his time in Juryo, and his success in developing this further will inform how far he can go. We know what Abi will do, so the question is whether Tomokaze will go strength against strength, or pull one of his new tricks out of the bag? It’s their first ever meeting.
Daieisho vs Takakeisho – A battle of two mates at the start of one of the more intriguing storylines of the tournament: Takakeisho’s quest to reclaim his Ozeki rank with 10 wins. Like Abi, these are the matches he must win, because in week 2 the matches against other desperate Ozeki and yusho-chasing Yokozuna will follow. Both guys are extreme pusher-thrusters so this should be a quick one. Daieisho has a good record against Takakeisho (3 from 5), but his wins were years ago and Takakeisho has taken the last 2. Takakeisho has quite a bit of ring rust so I’d make this one a coin flip.
Mitakeumi vs Asanoyama – It wouldn’t be hard to frame this as a battle of two future Ozeki, although Mitakeumi is making it harder and harder to dream on him in that role with his inconsistent performances. Asanoyama came back down with a little bit of a bump after the dizzying heights of his hatsu yusho, but finished strong to end the last basho at 7-8 and is very much in the mix to challenge for a promotion to san’yaku this tournament. Asanoyama is an extreme yotsu-zumo rikishi and Mitakeumi will do well to engage his early-career pushing and thrusting strength, and utilise his lower centre of gravity to get Asanoyama – who has not beaten him in 2 prior attempts – high and out.
Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – Tochinoshin is not in great condition, has a chronic knee injury, and is desperately seeking 8 wins to retain his Ozeki status. So, he’s surely super excited to start with his left-hand-outside-lift-and-yorikiri strategy against the heaviest person in the division. Ichinojo will be searching for his 6th win in the 23rd meeting of these two goliaths, but much will come down to his ability to simply dig in and stalemate Tochinshin. The Georgian may have difficulty digging in if he can’t get forward momentum at the tachiai.
Aoiyama vs Goeido – Goeido has won 22 out of 25 of these matches, including the last 9. Aoiyama can beat anyone on his day, and is always good for an upset, and his best strategy here may be to employ the Ichinojo-lite pull down manoeuvre if Goeido flies out of the blocks in typical attacking fashion from the tachiai. I actually think Aoiyama has a better chance of winning with that than his normal NC-17 rated twin piston attack, because Goeido on bad ankles may be more prone to the pull/slap down with forward momentum. If Goeido is able to land a grip however, he should win it pretty comfortably.
Hokutofuji vs Hakuho – I make Hakuho and Kakuryu joint favourites for this basho, but Hokutofuji could be a really annoying thorn in the side. He has the ability to disturb both Yokozuna with his extreme oshi-attack, and is going to be hungry for a higher position in the banzuke that he will see as there for the taking in November. Hakuho is the heavy favourite as he is in all encounters, but we should see some indication as to his current fitness as Hokutofuji will be looking to test and push the Yokozuna’s limits.
Kakuryu vs Endo – Endo makes his second appearance in san’yaku and gets rewarded with a Day 1 scrap against a Yokozuna. The current yusho holder, Kakuryu will be hoping to go for back-to-back championships for a second time his career, and probably sees an opportunity to inch closer to 10 yusho and climb the all time ranks a little more before he inevitably bows out. All indications are that Big K is in good condition, so I’d make an Endo win here to be an even bigger upset than if Hokutofuji were able to score a kinboshi in the earlier match.
But hey, predictions are only here to make us look silly, right? Bring on the sumo!