Welcome to the final day of this year’s Aki basho, the Autumn Grand Sumo tournament.
I will be returning to Kokugikan for the final day’s matches, and will look forward to sharing my thoughts on the experience on these pages and upcoming podcast(s). Thanks to everyone for joining us for this wild and unpredictable tournament.
We enter the final day with no fewer than three rikishi still very much in contention for the Emperor’s Cup (and the macaron, and that enormous trophy that the USA created, and beer and gasoline and lots of other prizes besides).
Leaders: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Okinoumi
What We Are Watching Day 15
Takagenji vs Chiyoshoma – Neither of these guys have looked fit for their rank over the past two weeks and will probably be grateful to see the back of this tournament. Both men are makekoshi, and in the case of Takagenji, heavily so. Takagenji needs a win only to cushion his fall into Juryo. There’s not a lot in this.
Kagayaki vs Azumaryu – Another makekoshi pair, Azumaryu probably needs a win here to confirm his spot in the division next time out. Neither showed much to dream on in this basho. This is their first meeting for three years, with the head to head rivalry being even at three apiece.
Shohozan vs Yutakayama – I think Yutakayama has performed much the better of these two over the tournament, in spite of their equal 9-5 records. Both can be happy with that return, though I think Shohozan has just about scratched out some of his wins to get there. This will be an oshi-zumo match, and I think Yutakayama’s pushing attack is the more dominant of the two at the moment, despite his flaws. I’ll tip him to upset the form guide and get his first win over the veteran at the third time of asking.
Onosho vs Tsurugisho – Tsurugisho really deserves our applause after keeping himself in the yusho race until Day 14. Onosho has really grown into the tournament and while he looks some way short of the strength he has displayed in the past, it looks clear that his fiery red mawashi has brought some of his sumo back. I don’t think Tsurugisho was expecting to be in the yusho race but it will be interesting to see how his elimination will affect him. Onosho has won 5 from 8, has the stronger thrusting attack, and I think he’ll finish strongly and win this.
Sadanoumi vs Enho – Enho will be relieved to get his kachi-koshi after a thoroughly entertaining tournament in which he has fully captured the imagination of the public. Sadanoumi’s mobility is still a bit hobbled and I can see Enho targeting the much taller man’s bad leg for a possible leg pick or tripping move. Losing this match wouldn’t be the worst thing for Enho as a succession of 8-7s is probably best for him to acclimate to the higher levels of competition anyway. But I think he’ll win it and finish strongly.
Terutsuyoshi vs Nishikigi – The manner of Terutsuyoshi’s defeat on Day 14 was actually more worrying for me than any of his prior defeats, in so much as he had the match won several times over and couldn’t actually finish it. Unfortunately for him, Nishikigi, while make-koshi, brings a lot more to the party than Takagenji. If Terutsuyoshi is unable to commit any power moving forward with his thrusting attack, Nishikigi should simply be able to wrap him up and contain him.
Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – It’s the 40th meeting of these two beloved veterans, and it brings a chance for the former ozeki to level the scores at 20 apiece. That shows just how even this matchup has been. I don’t think the Kyushu Bulldozer has been as bad as his 5-9 record suggests, but he has faltered in the second week and will be happy to welcome the next tournament on home soil. Tochiozan probably needs a win here to keep himself in the division – although as lksumo has noted there aren’t too many folks from Juryo banging down the door. I think this match all comes down to whether Kotoshogiku can set the “hug and chug” and execute his gaburi-yori. Look for Tochiozan to accept the grip but then attempt a throw to toss him aside.
Shimanoumi vs Daishoho –
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Daishoho leads the lifetime series.
Kotoyuki vs Shodai – Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Kotoyuki – yes that Kotoyuki, the one who rolls around and goes flying off the dohyo and into people’s bento boxes in the fifth row of the masu seats – is a former sekiwake. He’s gone a long way to making us remember in the last couple of tournaments. His pushing and thrusting attack has largely been good this basho, and he’s coming up against an opponent who will probably let him execute it given Shodai’s lack of tachiai. Shodai may have found some kind of inspiration with his much needed Day 14 win, but I’d imagine Kotoyuki will be gunning hard to finish strong and find his way as far up the banzuke as he can.
Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Finally, ten matches into the day’s events we find our first “Darwin” matchup of a pair of 7-7 rikishi. Tamawashi is probably in slightly the better form although he did get manhandled on Day 14 by a resurgent Hokutofuji. This is where the banzuke will probably tell the story as Ishiura has been in and around the top division for quite a while now, but these two have never met as they’ve largely stayed at opposite ends. Assuming the Angel of Henka doesn’t try anything wacky, he’ll look to get in very low at the tachiai and get a frontal grip on Tamawashi’s mawashi. The Mongolian will just look to pummel him out, though whether and how exactly he raises up the much smaller man with his trademark nodowa is going to be an interesting tactical question. Advantage is very much with the decorated veteran, though I wouldn’t rule out a shock totally.
Chiyotairyu vs Tomokaze – This is another match where mental strength will be as important as anything technical, as we get to see how Tomokaze reacts to his first ever make-koshi. Tomokaze fought with more heart that we have seen from him most of the basho on Day 14, but it was too little too late when coming up against a highly skilled opponent who was in the middle of a yusho challenge. Chiyotairyu has been more or less buried, and Tomokaze should seize the opportunity to minimise his demotion and keep himself among the high level competitors next time out – that is what will continue to improve him.
Daieisho vs Kotoeko – Our second and final “Darwin” match sees this pair go head to head. I’m running out of superlatives for Daieisho, and the way he has continued his remarkable comeback to .500 by executing his strong pushing and thrusting attack really deserves credit. If there’s any justice, he will get it here. Kotoeko has faced poorer opposition over the course of the tournament to end up in the same place, and if Daieisho can come out of the blocks strong and keep his centre of gravity low while aiming his thrusts upward to raise his opponent, he’s got a good chance of completing a magnificent comeback.
Meisei vs Asanoyama – I think this might be a challenge too far for Meisei, who has stumbled badly in the second week after an incredible start to the basho that saw him atop the leaderboard at points. Asanoyama will not win this tournament, but has again raised his stature with double digit wins in the joi, regardless of the volume of opposition. I don’t think this tournament will end up factoring into an ozeki run, but it will be curious if an 11th win here changes the calculus for the banzuke committee as has happened before. Meisei will do best to utilise a pushing and thrusting attack – of which he is very capable, but if Asanoyama gets on the mawashi then the gunbai will fall to him.
Ryuden vs Aoiyama – After losing his first six, Aoiyama’s done well to at least stabilise himself and minimise his fall down the banzuke in the next tournament. Ryuden was moving along at a decent clip until getting drawn in to face much higher level opposition in the last three days. Both are make-koshi, and having seen what the last few days have taken out of Ryuden, and with him facing an opponent who won’t be entertaining a mawashi battle, I have to slightly favour Big Dan. Aoiyama should not be throwing henkas especially in matches with nothing to lose, and he will have an opportunity to bust out his pushing attack in this match.
Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – It’s a Fuji battle, which has gone 3 times from 5 prior meetings to the man from Aomori. Nonetheless, Hokutofuji has stormed back with seven consecutive wins and his opponent has faded in the last couple of days in which he has shown weakness against a strong pushing attack (Abi). So I’m going to tip Hokutofuji to continue his incredible final weekend form and finish strong.
Abi vs Myogiryu – In normal circumstances, Abi would be facing Takakeisho and Myogiryu would probably have had a “Darwin” match against someone nearer his own rank on the final day. So that’s bad luck. Abi had some good fortune in week 1 but has followed it up with some impressive second week performances to grab his kachi-koshi and more besides. There’s nothing (apart from pride and kensho) at stake for him in this match, as he will end up K1E next tournament regardless of results here or elsewhere. Myogiryu has done admirably in adverse circumstances after his return from kyujo and his hope here will be to get inside and get a grip on Abi’s mawashi while his opponent is pummelling away at him. Myogiryu has the throwing ability to use the taller man’s momentum against him, especially given the high centre of gravity which Abi sustains through most matches. Whether he can actually execute that however, is another matter entirely.
Okinoumi vs Takakeisho – The first truly momentous bout of the day. The schedulers broke with precedent and brought up M8 Okinoumi to face Ozekiwake Takakeisho on Senshuraku and hopefully deliver the climax that this basho deserves. These two 11-3 rikishi facing off means that a 12th win is guaranteed to someone, and so all of the 10-4 chasers are thus eliminated. Okinoumi could do worse than reference some of the video of Goeido’s win over Takakeisho earlier in the week. He won’t be able to account for differences in the tachiai, but he can at least look to Goeido’s quick movement to get over the top to land a belt grip. I think Takakeisho will be too fast for him, however. Takakeisho’s pushing and thrusting attack to me has almost looked effortless in the second week, and it’s been astonishing to see how many matches he’s been able to win with three thrusts off the tachiai. Takekeisho is unquestionably the favourite here, though Okinoumi has beaten him once in four previous tries.
Mitakeumi vs Endo – There will be a lot of kensho on this one. Mitakeumi must win in order to force a playoff against the winner of the previous match. 8-6 Endo will be fighting for nothing apart from pride and money. This has been a closer rivalry than it might seem, Mitakeumi having won 5 out of 9. Endo is a hugely underrated technician and Mitakeumi will do well to keep this match away from the belt. While Endo does occasionally engage with and disarm oshi-zumo battles, the laconic pin-up is also prone to a quick blowout loss and so Mitakeumi will want this over with before Endo can find a way to execute a counter-attack.
Tochinoshin vs Goeido – It’s quite possible that this will be the last bout of Tochinoshin’s Ozeki career, and unfortunately it’s a match with little overall meaning. Fortunately, it may not be a down note that ends the basho in the likely event that there is, in fact, a playoff. This is the 28th matchup of these two Ozeki, with Goeido leading 17-10. It’s a match of “what if’s” for both men. Goeido, as the highest placed rikishi in the competition, could – and probably should – have won this basho. Tochinoshin needed some luck in this tournament to get the 8 wins needed to retain his rank, but none of the breaks have fallen his way. The neutral here might be rooting for the Georgian to give both something to cheer as well as some hope that he can make his second Ozekiwake campaign in November at least competitive and interesting.