Welcome, sumo fans! The final basho of 2019 is upon us. Cooler temperatures may have already come to Japan, but the action on the dohyo is set to be intense, with many intriguing storylines set to be resolved over the next couple of weeks. I will be joining the action at the Kokusai Center later in the basho, and hopefully will find some more intriguing details to share.
Set the controls for the heart of Hakata, because the Day 1 torikumi has been posted!
What We Are Watching on Day 1
Daishomaru vs Wakatakakage – Arashio’s relatively new heyagashira makes his makuuchi bow against the returning Kansai meatball Daishomaru. These fellas have met in the four preceding basho with honours even. Wakatakakage tends to be a slow starter, so it would be nice to see him set the jitters aside and get an early trip to the interview room. Certainly his soon to be incoming oyakata Sokokurai will want to see that as well.
Terutsuyoshi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi returns to his spiritual home of Maegashira 14 where he meets a Terutsuyoshi who had a rough basho last time out, and will be looking to replicate the success he found four months ago. Terutsuyoshi wants to establish a pushing attack from down low here, as any devolution into a grappling battle will favour the larger man.
Takanosho vs Chiyotairyu – It’s a little bonkers to see these two drawn against each other, what with Takanosho having spent most of his recent days in Juryo and Chiyotairyu having been a regular fixture in the joi. Chiyotairyu needs to rediscover his cannonball tachiai if he is to have a chance of rebounding up the ranks, so this match should tell us a bit about his genki level.
Shimanoumi vs Yutakayama – This will be an interesting basho for Shimanoumi, as we get to see how he rebounds from his first real setback to his top division career. Yutakayama looks to continue his renaissance, and probably possesses the more powerful thrusting attack here when he is on song. Shimanoumi won their only ever meeting, earlier this year in Osaka.
Kotoshōgiku vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi has done a decent job of stabilising himself as a mid-table rank and filer, and faces an opponent who should draw loud cheers on his homecoming. Kotoshogiku hasn’t been ranked as low as M9 for a year, when he reeled off double digit wins in front of his adoring home fans. We all know the score here: if he sets the hug-and-chug then it’s game over. But can he? Narrative fans rejoice: The former Ozeki leads the career series 5-2 and a win here would take him closer notching his 800th career win in his shusshin later in the week.
Shohozan vs Kotoeko – Another homecoming, and another veteran who performed very well in front of his hometown supporters a year ago. Shohozan also sits within touching distance of a 500th career win that we can expect him to achieve this basho. He’s developed in to a much more able grappler which adds intrigue to a match against an opponent who is very able on the mawashi but perhaps possesses less street smarts than Shohozan. The 35 year old is 2-0 against Kotoeko and I’m tipping him to win again here.
Tsurugisho vs Enho – Much has been made of Enho fighting now at by far his highest rank and the new, higher level opponents he will encounter. First things first, however, as he meets a known rival. Tsurugisho is also now fighting as his highest rank and has taken all four previous encounters from the Ishikawa fire pixie. As ever, Enho’s mobility will be the key to a victory, and Tsurugisho will be attempting to lock his movement out of the gate in order to usher the tricky customer towards another shiroboshi.
Onosho vs Ryuden – A lot of what we can expect to see here depends on the health of Onosho, whose career has been blunted by injury but who slowly seems to be getting himself back on track. Ryuden has faced some brutal trips into the joi. At Maegashira 5 he will no doubt be called upon to face high level opponents later in the tournament when the kyujo announcements begin to roll in, but he has a good opportunity to pick up key early wins in the meantime. Onosho’s pushing attack has proven too much for him in the past however, and the popular tadpole owns a 3-0 record over Ryuden.
Aoiyama vs Kotoyuki – This is a bit of an undercard play, but it’s probably the best shot we have at a good old fashioned bloodbath on Day 1. Ever the pugilist, Big Dan takes on an entertaining opponent in Kotoyuki who has been in inspired form for the past several months. Both men somewhat improbably are past sekiwake. While conventional wisdom would dictate that the gunbai will fall in favour of the man who can establish a pushing attack, look for Aoiyama to hit the slap down against an opponent who is notoriously wild on his feet: several of the Bulgarian’s seven wins against Kotoyuki have come via this strategy.
Tamawashi vs Tomokaze – Tamawashi has spent half the year as a sekiwake, but apart from his stunning yusho ten months ago, looks to be settling into a spoiler role in the joi late in his career. Tomokaze has a good early chance to respond to his first ever make-koshi, and we could learn much about his genki level from this match. He was clearly haunted by the loss of senpai Yoshikaze and struggling for form at the Aki tournament, but up against a high octane pusher-thruster, we should get an opportunity to see which tools the ivory tinkler has been able to sharpen over the intervening months.
Abi vs Takarafuji – Fresh from a much ballyhooed apology over the his recent bondage scandal, Abi looks to play the dominator as the Shikoroyama man has established consistency at the Komusubi rank and targets a yusho. Takarafuji, unfortunately, will likely play the role of the submissive in this encounter: Abi’s whole attack is the full throated thrusting that has become his signature, whereas there are few rikishi in the top division that have been able to make as much of a career of stalemating, defensive sumo as Takarafuji. Abi leads the career series 4-3, and would probably be the favourite if not affected by recent events.
Meisei vs Tochinoshin – The Georgian will attempt for the second time this year to regain his Ozeki status, and also for the second time in history to do it twice. The Ozekiwake starts his 10 win campaign against Meisei, who returns to the joi following a successful September meet which saw him spending much of the basho in the yusho race. This should be a mawashi battle and we should learn much about the state of Tochinoshin’s health in what should be a tenacious fight. Meisei has won their only prior meeting, but the smart money is probably on the veteran.
Mitakeumi vs Myogiryu – Not enough words have probably been said about how impressive Myogiryu’s return from kyujo was last tournament to snatch an unlikely kachikoshi. OK, now we’ve said that, we can focus on one of the huge stories of this tournament, current yusho holder Mitakeumi’s latest Ozeki challenge. With all of the high rankers starting the basho, Mitakeumi has to win probably half of the matches against those ranked above him and be flawless against those ranked below him. Both of these men are known for quick powerful manoeuvres from the tachiai, and while their lifetime rivalry is locked at 3 apiece, I have a hard time believing that the Mitakeumi’s Ozeki challenge will come undone on Day 1, so I’m going to tip him here.
Takakeisho vs Okinoumi – Day 1 throws up a number of rematches of critical bouts from Aki, and in this match, veteran Okinoumi gets a chance at revenge for his elimination in last tournament’s final day of action. Again, we will learn much about Takakeisho’s health and chances of success in this tournament here. Okinoumi typically should not be a match for his overwhelming oshi attack, but should the Shimane man get a chance to land a grip, then it is likely the Ozeki may not have the power owing to his recent injury to keep the veteran away. That said, I’m tipping Takakeisho to continue his good form, as he should be able to win this on ability.
Daieisho vs Takayasu – I almost ran out of superlatives for Daieisho in the last basho, as he notched a kinboshi and came from well down to win four in a row and score a kachi-koshi which leads to his highest ever placement on the banzuke here, at Maegashira 1. No matter the opponent or the odds, he simply did not stop doing his style of explosive oshi-zumo. And in this match, I am going to tip him to upset kadoban Ozeki Takayasu. It is clear that Takayasu is not in full health, with his brutally damaged elbow having not fully healed, and I don’t know that even someone as good as him, short of form and fitness, can blunt the thrusting attack of an awkward customer like Daieisho.
Goeido vs Endo – Another critical match from Aki replayed, as Endo scored a big time upset of the Ozeki which helped dismantle early hopes that Goeido could be a yusho challenger last time out. Endo went on to score his first ever sanyaku kachikoshi. Goeido will likely be looking for a manner of revenge here. Endo has won the last 3 and 7 out of the last 9 of their matchups, and with both men being very able technicians, Goeido is going to have call on his hallmark speed from the tachiai in order to overcome the popular pin-up.
Hokutofuji vs Hakuho – The last time Hakuho was seen on the dohyo, he was walking off clutching a broken finger having been upset by a thoroughly fired up Hokutofuji on Day 1 of the Aki basho. If there’s one thing you can say about Hakuho, the legend has a knack for a narrative. And while he’s more GOAT than Elephant, he certainly never forgets. With that in mind, a chance to settle a score and put things right straight from the off against the man ranked Komusubi 2 is probably exactly what Hakuho is looking for. And it will be most exciting to see what kind of technique the Yokozuna chooses from his library to blunt Hokotofuji’s amped up pushing and thrusting attack. I’m tipping the Yokozuna here to win a gripping match.
Kakuryu vs Asanoyama – Growing superstar Asanoyama gets his sanyaku debut in this tournament, having scored his first yusho earlier in the year and his first kinboshi in the previous tournament against Day 1’s opponent. It’s yet another rematch of a key Aki battle, Asanoyama having dealt the Yokozuna his first of the consecutive losses which knocked him out of the tournament. This match in the musubi-no-ichiban is their third meeting. Asanoyama is one of few yotsu-specialists among the current crop of new stars, and the Yokozuna may be best served avoiding strength against strength if he can manage a pushing attack. Kakuryu is always susceptible to move backwards, however, and with questions over his health, this may be one of the more likely upsets we could see on Day 1.