We’ve had two days of fantastic sumo at the Aki basho. While some things are very much going according to plan (Kakuryu, Takakeisho, Asanoyama), others (Hakuho, Tochinshin) have changed the landscape of what to expect over the next week and a half.
In the week of Typhoon 15, and before a prolonged spell of rain sets in on Tokyo, let’s preview Day 3 of the Autumn tournament…
What We Are Watching on Day 3
Takagenji vs Tochiozan – Takagenji has struggled as predicted in the opening of the basho, while Tochiozan has looked, to my eyes, a little less than makuuchi standard in his opening fixtures. That’s not a good thing when you’re trying to stay in makuuchi. I feel somewhat emboldened by my Day 1 predictions so let’s get off the fence here and back Tochiozan to continue the misery for Takagenji, as I’m just not sure a veteran who has good all around technical ability and an ability to generate a plan B is the opponent that Takagenji needs to face right now.
Yutakayama vs Azumaryu – Azumaryu hasn’t really needed to get out of first gear to rack up two wins, and that’s exactly the kind of start he’d have hoped for on his return to the top tier. Yutakayama, meanwhile, has displayed some real quality sumo. For me this comes down to whether Yutakayama can establish his pushing and thrusting attack. History is on his side, having beaten the Mongolian 3 from 4 by oshidashi. Yutakayama looks good value for a deep run into the tournament high up the yusho arasoi. He should be targeting a special prize.
Ishiura vs Toyonoshima – Ishiura’s sumo is very erratic right now. Toyonoshima needs a win. He didn’t have enough strength to overwhelm Azumaryu, but I don’t think that will be a factor in this match. Ishiura can’t use a submarine tachiai against the joint-shortest rikishi in the division (though he may try), and I don’t know that any weird tricks will help him here, so that somewhat explains why their lifetime series is split 2-2 with all four matches decided by oshidashi. I’m backing the old timer here.
Tsurugisho vs Nishikigi – These guys haven’t met in quite a while, so the history goes a bit out of the window and you focus more on form. Tsurugisho has acquitted himself well enough so far, though he did get outthought by Ishiura on Day 2. Nishikigi doesn’t play games like Ishiura does, but I do think he is a better grappler than Tsurugisho and is in very good form coming into this match, so I’m going to tip the Isenoumi man.
Kagayaki vs Daishoho – Hard to separate these two. Kagayaki did well to see off Shohozan, but his sumo runs hot and cold it seems he isn’t always mentally dialled in to execute against his good tactical awareness. Daishoho hasn’t been able to get anything going so far, and while it’s still early I’m skeptical about his long term prospects in the division. Lifetime matchup is 1-1, so I’m staying on the fence. It’s a coin flip.
Onosho vs Shohozan – Shohozan isn’t really the opponent that Onosho needs when he’s 0-2. He has looked livelier now that he’s back in his red mawashi, but he has yet to really establish his powerful pushing and thrusting offense. To me this feels like it will be won in the tachiai because Onosho certainly has the ability to blow Shohozan away off the line, but if Shohozan can stay in this match, he has the dexterity and the movement to cause problems for Onosho, who is running on questionable wheels and can struggle with a mobile rikishi as we saw in his inability to finish Enho. Shohozan leads the series 5-3 and it wouldn’t be a surprise for Onosho to win his desperately needed first, but the smart money is on the veteran.
Enho vs Kotoyuki – Enho has had to pull some tricks out of the bag with two incredible finishes to his opening bouts, but if you look solely at that then you overlook both the things he’s been able to do to keep himself in those matches, and also issues that put him into a position where he needs to win in “come from behind” style at the edge. Kotoyuki looked good when he was able to blast Takarafuji off the dohyo, but really struggled against a mobile target like Terutsuyoshi. I think Kotoyuki will have another good tournament but if Enho can keep it moving then he should win this.
Terutsuyoshi vs Meisei – Meisei, like many before him, will be wondering how he lost to Enho on Day 2. He’ll likely not be too thrilled to see the pixie’s similarly undersized training mate staring back at him if he was hoping to put Day 2 out of his mind, especially given the 4-2 advantage that the Isegahama man holds in this rivalry. Terutsuyoshi is a more straight forward opponent. Again this comes down to the prevailing style at the tachiai – while Terutsuyoshi is by no means solely a pusher-thruster, if he can establish some chaos and keep Meisei away from him then he’s got a good shot to win this.
Sadanoumi vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji got absolutely dismantled on Day 2 whereas Sadanoumi did well to come back and beat Onosho, but I think this is the type of battle that the Isegahama veteran loves. He owns the rivalry 11-5, including 7 of the last 9 – but that’s really a nod to the styles at play. Sadanoumi is an opponent that can give Takarafuji the time he needs to set himself, dismantle his opponent’s attacking strategy and then either load a throw or walk him out for a yorikiri having neutralised him. Takarafuji can be a ponderous victor, which can sometimes make him hard to root for, but a Sadanoumi win would be a surprise here.
Okinoumi vs Kotoeko – Okinoumi has looked very decent against two very different types of opponent. Perhaps he was a bit fortunate to beat Kotoeko’s stablemate Kotoshogiku on Day 1, with everything coming down to foot placement. Kotoeko got torched on Day 2 and will want to get back on track, and I think his best bet here is a Takarafuji style war of attrition against the veteran Okinoumi, who I think will want this over with as quickly as possible. Okinoumi has the 3-0 edge and is the presumptive favourite.
Kotoshogiku vs Myogiryu – This is an excellent long term rivalry! Myogiryu leads it 12-10 if you discount fusen-sho. Myogiryu is in good form and comes into this as an easy pick, but I think just looking at Kotoshogiku’s two losses is a little misleading when you take into account he lost the first day by crossing up his footwork. The reality is that Myogiryu has the tools and speed in his locker to blow Kotoshogiku away but if he allows this to become a grappling match then the ex-Ozeki certainly still has enough to win it. Myogiryu has to execute with the speed of his stablemate Goeido without getting sucked into the veteran’s gaburi-yori.
Shimanoumi vs Ryuden – These guys haven’t met since they were back in Makushita, which might add some spice to the proceedings as both have developed quite a bit since then in terms of their overall ability to execute. Ryuden looks to have got therapy for his matta-addiction and seems to have adjusted well to the rhythm of upper tier sumo. Shimanoumi has a few tools but against someone like Ryuden who will want a grip and then to swing you one way and then the other, the biggest one he’ll need is composure. Shimanoumi is unquestionably the underdog in this, a match Ryuden will want to win with bigger tasks yet to come in his battle to move back toward san’yaku.
Chiyotairyu vs Shodai – Shodai did well to get a win from Ryuden in his last match but this is a very straightforward bout to analyse: Chiyotairyu will probably come in his with cannonball tachiai. If Shodai can take the hit and immediately get the mawashi grip he wants or manoeuvre into position for a beltless throw, then he will almost certainly win. If Chiyotairyu is able to knock him back from his standing position, he will be able to establish his own thrusting attack with a minimum of work needed to finish the job.
Tamawashi vs Tomokaze – It’s a first time meeting, and both of these guys are in good shape. If Tomokaze thinks that he will be able to sidestep Tamawashi like he did to Abi and hit a pull/slap down however, he’s got another thing coming. Tamawashi is more of a finisher (which is why I’ve felt his career represents a ceiling for Abi in Abi’s current form). If Tomokaze tries to win going backwards then he’s going to need to get in position to pull a throw if Tamawashi overcommits, and I don’t think that is a high percentage play. For that reason, I think this will be fought in the middle of the dohyo. Tomokaze is slowly learning and adapting to this part of the division but it’s clear he has the required tools to the job.
Abi vs Daieisho – Abi will be refreshed from his freebie win on Day 2, but he meets an opponent here who has thrown absolutely everything at his first two matches only to end up with nothing to show for it. This is as nailed on of a street-fight as we’re likely to see in the day’s fixtures. If Daieisho can use his lower centre of gravity to keep Abi high, he’ll have a decent chance of making progress in the match. The lifetime series is split 4-4, but Abi has won all 3 matchups in 2019 including one with a throw, which may be his key here if he wants to keep Daieisho winless, in what is a key match to preserve his own san’yaku status.
Asanoyama vs Takakeisho – Something has got to give here: either Asanoyama’s perfect start in pursuit of san’yaku or Takakeisho’s perfect start to his Ozeki reclamation bid. Takakeisho – at far less than 100% – has done a good job of using his ring sense to eke out results thus far. While he’s faced two pusher-thrusters, this match against Asanoyama will present an entirely different challenge and the speed with which the May yusho winner landed his preferred grip against Tochinoshin was impressive. That will be much harder to do against a less obliging opponent: to me it’s unclear that Takakeisho is necessarily in far better condition than the Georgian, but he certainly isn’t going to invite a mawashi battle. Asanoyama is in both the better form and fitness, but Takekeisho has showed us time and again to expect the unexpected.
Mitakeumi vs Ichinojo – As Bruce predicted in our pre-basho podcast, Ichinojo has more or less showed up switched into “on” mode. Mitakeumi, to these eyes, has not looked impressive, and Daieisho gave him hell on Day 2 even though he managed to prevail. If Ichinojo can keep this match in the centre of the dohyo, block Mitakeumi’s attacks, and maintain a strong grip, then I think this is winnable for him (either via yorikiri or throw). However, most of Mitakeumi’s strategy revolves around a relentless forward attack (either in oshi or yotsu mode), and the Mongolian’s biggest weakness is his uncontrollable backward momentum, so I think the Sekiwake will squeeze out another result here. Mitakeumi holds an 8-4 advantage including 7 of the last 8.
Tochinoshin vs Hokutofuji – Tochinoshin looks awful right now. That said, I do think he should stay in the basho until it’s absolutely confirmed that he will have a make-koshi, because especially with Hakuho having left, he still has a better chance to win 8 of 13 here than I think he will of taking 10 of 15 next time. And he can win this. But I don’t think he will, because he hates facing opponents like Hokutofuji (especially genki ones). And whereas Kakuryu was able to step back and defuse the extreme thrusting of the Hakkaku man by reverting to his own old school oshi-zumo ability, Tochinoshin’s whole game revolves digging right in and establishing his preferred grip. So, inviting someone who’s (at least) a step or two quicker than him off the blocks to pummel away at him does not feel like a winning recipe.
Endo vs Goeido – These two have split their rivalry 6-6, but Endo has won 6 of the last 8 dating back to the start of 2017, so he’s got the Ozeki’s number. Endo’s sumo was impressive against Tomokaze, whereas Goeido didn’t have to get beyond second gear in beating the giants Aoiyama and Ichinojo. It seems clear that he will remove his kadoban tag yet again, but this is the kind of match that can tell us whether he can mount a title challenge that is very much there for the taking in the absence of Hakuho and Takayasu, and the poor form of some of his other competitors. It’s a tough call. The percentages and odds make my head say Goeido, but experience and gut makes me say Endo.
Kakuryu vs Aoiyama – Because Goeido is such an unreliable customer, Kakuryu will see a clear path to retaining the championship. His route next goes through Big Dan, and Kakuryu owns a dominant 19-1 mark against the Bulgarian. Aoiyama came out with a plan for Takakeisho on Day 2 which he failed to execute, so it will be curious to see whether he brings a strategy to the Yokozuna beyond his signature twin piston attack. Whatever he brings, we can expect Kakuryu to react and dismantle it accordingly.