I am in attendance on Day 6 of the Aki Basho, so here I am to tell you what I’m going to be looking for when the men in the top division set foot on the dohyo. If any of our readers are also in the building, come say hi! You can probably find me in a Tachiai t-shirt.
As Herouth related earlier, Yoshikaze’s retirement is now official. On a personal level I am sad not to see him take the dohyo again. Seeing him in person was always a great opportunity to tell a friend or a new sumo fan, “watch this” whenever he prepared for the tachiai. His head-first, fearless style of sumo when he was at his best was a joy to behold. In some ways he was very unique. Here’s wishing him the best in retirement, and I’ll look forward to trying to track down “Mr. Feisty” at Kokugikan some day in a blue jacket for a handshake. Of course, by then we’ll have to call him “Feisty oyakata.”
What We’re Watching on Day 6
Yutakayama vs Takanosho – Takanosho comes up from Juryo, where he’s been having a fine (4-1) tournament to make up the numbers after Ichinojo’s kyujo announcement unbalanced the torikumi. It’s a good opportunity for him to test his mettle against top division opposition again, as we’ll likely see him at this level in the next basho should he continue his good form. Yutakayama will sleep well tonight after Day 5’s epic with Kagayaki. I’d look for him to establish his pushing-thrusting style early and overwhelm Takanosho.
Ishiura vs Tochiozan – While I’ve never minded the henkas, I’ve always preferred Ishiura’s sumo moving forward because he is an incredibly strong, compact machine when he wants to be. Tochiozan is a wily opponent but I’d still expect Ishiura to get in low from the tachiai and try and establish an inside position, possibly with a hand on the front of Tochiozan’s mawashi to try and drive him out. Their all time rivalry is split 2-2.
Takagenji vs Toyonoshima – I actually would posit that Toyonoshima is in okay condition, he just doesn’t really have the power to go up against some of these really strong, much younger and powerful rikishi. He has trouble moving people, and I think that will be a problem against Takagenji. If you throw out fusen-sho, Takagenji trails Toyonoshima 3-2 over their lifetime matchups but if he loses this one I think it’s because he beats himself (which can’t be ruled out).
Azumaryu vs Nishikigi – The wheels have come off in the last few days for both of these guys, so both will be looking for a win here to right the ship. Nishikigi has a 3-2 edge in this and will be the favourite having displayed better sumo (even in this basho) and operated at a higher level, though his grappling style may play into Azumaryu’s hands.
Shohozan vs Tsurugisho – This is a first time matchup, which is always exciting! Shohozan rolled back the clock and looked like an animal on Day 5, which I loved. I’ll be curious to see if another all-action melee is on the cards, because if you’re not used to his style of sumo, it has to be a bit shocking the first time you face it.
Onosho vs Daishoho – Daishoho has just looked like a mess, so Onosho will have probably been thankful to see this one pop up on his dance card. A lot of credit is due to Enho for the silky manner which he simply disappeared from Daishoho in their Day 5 bout. I think Onosho, while rusty, has still looked better than his 2-3 record would indicate. He will want some explosiveness from the tachiai. He’s won 4 out of 5 against Daishoho and in their current conditions, a kuroboshi for the man in the magic red mawashi would be a shock.
Kagayaki vs Enho – These two have been rivals since they were kids, so it’s going to be a yet another can’t miss match involving the red flame. Kagayaki has won their only prior bout in professional sumo, however, and he looked in rude health on Day 5. Enho has brought magic to all five of his bouts so far, so I can’t wait both to see what he will have planned for Kagayaki as well as the special atmosphere that surely now awaits his bouts.
Terutsuyoshi vs Sadanoumi – Terutsuyoshi (1-4) desperately needs a win, and I’m backing him to get it here. I don’t think that his losses have necessarily come from a lack of aptitude so much as he’s just been outfought by fine margins on a couple occasions. Sadanoumi is really decent in straightforward bouts, but where the opponent shows a bit more in terms of mobility then he can suffer. If Terutusyoshi can use his speed and his lighter frame to stay mobile and use his style to pummel away at his larger, veteran opponent, then he has a good shot to win this.
Meisei vs Kotoyuki – Meisei has turned on the style in the past few days and he is looking on course to bounce back from his tough July tournament. Kotoyuki looks to be in decent condition and is bringing his A game. Their respective records would indicate a lopsided situation, but the lifetime tally is 3-0 to Kotoyuki. If he brings his style of oshi-zumo, I think the Sadogatake man has it in him here to bring Meisei back down to earth a bit.
Kotoshogiku vs Takarafuji – Kotoshogiku has done really well to execute his gaburi-yori in situations where opponents will not either be experienced, prepared or best suited to deal with it. None of those descriptors should apply to Takarafuji, despite him holding an 8 win deficit against the “Kyushu Bulldozer” heading into their 25th meeting. Takarafuji hasn’t looked absolutely brilliant this basho, and I don’t think his defensive style of yotsu-zumo is necessarily well suited to defending Kotoshogiku as it may invite pressure, but Kotoshogiku’s advancing age and lessening ability to execute his patented move makes this a little more of a coin toss for me.
Shimanoumi vs Okinoumi – Shimanoumi has won their only prior bout, but Okinoumi has looked impressive and prepared en route to his co-leading five wins in this basho. We still haven’t seen enough of Shimanoumi at this level to know if he has the ability to play spoiler up against a veteran makuuchi rikishi at the top of his game, but this match will go some way to informing that. Okinoumi is the favourite heading into this… on paper.
Chiyotairyu vs Myogiryu – Chiyotairyu’s record after five days is not great at 1-4, but like any match of his, this one will mostly be decided at the tachiai, and by his ability to leave his opponent off balance. Myogiryu, like Okinoumi, is showing a bit of a latter-career renaissance and Old Endo is smart enough to know that if he can take the hit and immediately land a mawashi grip, then his opponent is going to be mostly defenseless. Chiyotairyu has won the last 3 here and 5 of 6, but I think Myogiryu should be narrowly tipped for the kensho under the current circumstances.
Kotoeko vs Ryuden – Kotoeko reaches the dizzying heights of midway through the second half of action in this bout, as he takes on a somewhat struggling Ryuden. It’s a concern for Ryuden that he’s sitting on three losses without having faced many top ranked opponents, and if he doesn’t turn it around then he might not. Ryuden holds a 4-1 edge in this rivalry, and given that this is likely to be a mawashi battle against Kotoeko, I tend to favour his style both attacking and defending on the belt in this matchup.
Shodai vs Tomokaze – These guys are both 2-3. One thing about Tomokaze is that even if he takes a second to settle in at a level (this in spite of his much vaunted unbroken kachi-kochi streak), you can always see him watching and learning and then later applying. This has really helped him develop. That said, he’s been lethargic for parts of this tournament, and I thought he absolutely got out of jail when executing a second pull down moving backwards against an extreme pusher-thruster. You just can’t do that all the time. Shodai is not an extreme pusher-thruster, and this should be a good match because in a tournament where Tomokaze has looked a bit deferential, it will require him to take the initiative from the tachiai. Shodai has won their only prior match.
Abi vs Aoiyama – Abi got paid by Mitakeumi on Day 5 for the loss he should have had from Tochinoshin on Day 4. Aoiyama looks absolutely abysmal and has been moving backwards and trying really weak pull down moves all basho long rather than firing up his old V2 engine. Abi should not let himself get beat by this, and if he can execute his own tsuppari then the Komusubi should easily be the favourite. Big Dan holds the 3-1 all-time edge.
Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – This is a really tough one to call, simply because I think Hokutofuji has been a lot better than his 1-4 record would indicate, but he’s had the hardest possible schedule so far. Mitakeumi has done well to very professionally eliminate a couple of recent opponents and keep himself in the yusho race at one off the pace. Mitakeumi can absolutely cope with Hokutofuji’s oshi-zumo style and has more tricks besides, but he doesn’t always show up right from the tachiai and this is the nugget of hope that Hokutofuji will hold on to. I don’t think Hokutofuji’s san’yaku challenge is dead yet but a win here would go a long way to reviving it, if he hasn’t mentally beat himself up about his record.
Endo vs Takakeisho – This one looks like the match of the day, with 4-1 Endo coming up against undefeated Takakeisho. With Kakuryu’s loss on Day 5, Takakeisho now finds himself in the driver’s seat for the yusho race, and it will be interesting to see how this affects his sumo going forward. He has shown incredible positioning and ring sense in the first five days which have helped make up for his physicality not being where it usually is. This being said, he was as close to 100% against Hokutofuji as we have seen in a long time, and holds a 2-1 edge in this rivalry. Endo has performed above expectations, dropping only his bout to Kakuryu and winning several in impressive fashion. This should be Takakeisho’s toughest challenge yet.
Asanoyama vs Goeido – Just when it was looking like the lustre had faded a bit, up pops Asanoyama again with a stunning win against a Yokozuna and his first kinboshi. Goeido has by and large been a ruthless killing machine as he looks to both shed the kadoban tag and get in yusho contention. Goeido needs to execute his high octane brand of sumo straight from the tachiai. If he comes forward hassling and harrying Asanoyama into a defensive position, it will be very tough for the Maegashira to defend. But if Asanoyama is afforded time to get his preferred left hand outside grip, then Goeido will be in trouble.
Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – Tochinoshin comes in 2-3 but has a load of reasons to feel good about where his sumo is going at this stage of the tournament. He faces another pull-down candidate here in Tamawashi, though it might be a thought to maybe try a different technique than grabbing the back of the head as he was dangerously close to the top-knot again against Tomokaze. Tamawashi only has one style of sumo which is a brutal tsuppari, usually incorporating a strong nodowa, with the plan B of an arm-breaking kotenage if his thrusting doesn’t get the job done. Tochinoshin is already down one limb but given that his weakness has always been pusher-thrusters, I can see him trying another pulling manoeuvre even if his quality of opponent means he may end up circling the dohyo a few times to do it. Tamawashi trails 18-10 in the rivalry, but has won the last two and I’d make the odds here fairly even.
Kakuryu vs Daieisho – NHK has spent a lot of time talking about Kakuryu’s desire for a first zensho yusho, but after his upset loss on Day 5, it won’t be happening here. Prior to that, he had shown an almost Hakuho-like approach to tailoring his game plan to his opponent’s strengths. However, he walked right into the battle Asanoyama wanted, and if he doesn’t want to cough up another kinboshi, then he will need to have a think about how he’s going to deal with Daieisho. I think Daieisho actually did a fabulous job of executing his style of sumo for the first four days of the tournament, and I don’t think his record reflects his form particularly well. When he starts to get rank-and-filers again, we should see the wins come back, but he’s a massive underdog against a Yokozuna he has never beaten in four prior attempts.