Having been fortunate enough to be in the Kokugikan for day 2, and shooting imagery like a mad man during the Hakuho-Endo fight, I could not resist going back over the pictures this morning and reviewing that match.
Some background (laced with opinion): Years ago, Endo was the next “Big Thing”, he was a rising sumo star. Then he got injured and faded quite a bit. People still liked him and thought the world of him, but he was never quite the same. In some athletes, a serious injury can add a layer of caution that robs them of the last 5-10% of their capability, and I am going to guess that may have been at work with Endo. It’s not conscious, it’s just a visceral, animal caution that asserts itself.
Watching the match in more detail, the caution I usually see from Endo is gone. In fact he’s like a wild man, bent on victory no matter what. In fact, he comes a hair’s breadth from loss more than once – and manages to not only recover, but recover not into defense but into effective offense. A photo set to help illustrate.
Frame 1 – Hakuho is in the process of throwing Endo. Endo’s left foot is completely off the dohyo, and only the tip of his right toe is in contact with the clay. Yes, look at that right big toe. Look at how he’s digging it in – that’s his life line. Now if I just showed you this frame, you would say that Endo is going for a ride into the east side zabuton, or maybe say hello to Dr Takasu. You don’t see opponents of Hakuho survive this.
Frame 2 – This is fractions of a second later. Endo is full reconnected to the clay, he has Hakuho’s left arm pinned to his body, and Endo has two hands on Hakuho’s mawashi. That deep left hand (on Hakuho’s mawashi knot) mean that Endo has a very dangerous hold on “The Boss”. Hakuho still has superior foot placement, but the evolution between frame 1 and 2 (which only took a few hundredths of a second) is almost unexplainable.
Hatsu day 2’s match against Endo may in fact be a watershed moment for Hakuho, but the coming months will tell us that. The frustration on Hakuho’s face was plain for all to see. It is perhaps a stark reminder to the greatest Yokozuna of all time that the hour is later than he led himself to think.
What We Are Watching Day 3
Hidenoumi vs Kaisei – Today’s juryo visitor is Hidenoumi, and he gets to try his sumo against big Brazilian Kaisei. Kaisei had a decent win on day 2 against Tokushoryu, but seems to be struggling to get into his normal basho form. The key to beating Kaisei is never stay in front of him.
Tochiozan vs Tokushoryu – A recurring theme in Hatsu 2020 are these battled of long-serving, storied veterans. Tokushoryu has yet to find a way to win against Tochiozan, and there is no reason to assume Tochiozan is going to let that change today.
Kiribayama vs Ikioi – Ikioi is off to a cold start, and has looked strong but not moving well this January. Some of it may be ring rust, some of it may be age, some of it lingering effects of his injuries. But I would guess Kiribayama will have the upper hand today.
Terutsuyoshi vs Azumaryu – I think Terutsuyoshi has gained a fair bit of mass since Kyushu, and I am not just talking about an endless stream of Christmas KFC. He was already fairly muscular, but he seems to have added not just kilos but strength. These two are evenly matched, so we may see a good bout today with plenty of action.
Shimanoumi vs Kotoeko – Kotoeko was surprisingly effective day 2 against Chiyomaru, and I suspect that he’s about a half step faster right now than most of his peers at this end of the banzuke. He will have his hands full with the larger Shimanoumi who also comes in with a day 2 win (Ikioi).
Tsurugisho vs Kotoshogiku – I adore Kotoshogiku, but its really painful to watch him compete. In fact I think most of the crowd in the Kokugikan respect that he mounts the dohyo every day, but worry about him daring his lower body to spontaneously combust or disassemble itself during a match.
Chiyomaru vs Kagayaki – I think Kagayaki came into Hatsu in really sharp form, and each day he has been able to use his fundamentals-based sumo to deliver wins. Chiyomaru, however, presents a whole new class of problems. Chiyomaru tends to overwhelm Kagayaki with his sheer enormity, and that may be the plan of the day.
Sadanoumi vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu’s high energy “Cannon-ball” tachiai has been more or less absent thus far from Hatsu. Sadanoumi has enough maneuverability to deflect Chiyotairyu’s preferred opening gambit, so this match will come down to each rikishi’s second step.
Ishiura vs Yutakayama – Ishiura has been trying to use straight-ahead sumo for the first 2 days of Hatsu, but I think its about time for a henka. I am pretty sure he can sell it to Yutakayama, who seems to be at only about 80%.
Aoiyama vs Takanosho – Aoiyama seems to be back in his “stand them up, knock them down” groove. I expect he will deploy it again against Takanosho, who needs to resist any urge he has to try and pull Aoiyama down in the first few seconds of the match.
Shohozan vs Onosho – Onosho is showing a lot of ring rust, and even worse than typical balance. He might be easy pickings for Shohozan on day 3. I do like that he is back in his “Red Menace” mawashi. That thing is even crazier looking in person.
Ryuden vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin has not been able to show us his enormous strength on either of the first 2 days, and I have to think the condition of that injured knee is bad enough he is simply playing for time and hoping. I don’t think Ryuden is going to give him any quarter, and it might be another loss for the former Ozeki.
Meisei vs Enho – Regardless of whether Enho wins today, the Kokugikan is going to go nuts when he shows up. People love this little guy, and really enjoy his sumo. Meisei still needs his first win, so expect him to take great care not to let Enho execute his normal submarine attack.
Takarafuji vs Shodai – Takarafuji may want to modify his “contain and maintain” approach as Shodai tends to uncork some strong and unpredictable sumo following his traditionally questionable tachiai. Both men are tremendously strong, so I am keen to see who grabs a hold of whom first.
Abi vs Tamawashi – I really hope to see Abi get a solid match today, with a fast tachiai that rolls into his double arm “Abi-zumo” attack. I know he got injured in the work up to Hatsu, and it seems to have slowed him down a bit. Maybe an IV infusion of that tomato-based chanko will help.
Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – This is probably going to be a sad match for Takayasu fans (of which I am one). He is not looking at all genki, and if I had to describe his sumo it would be “He’s not protecting that damaged arm as blatantly as he did before”. Although he holds a 12-6 career record over Mitakeumi, I think the Ozekiwake may take his second loss today.
Asanoyama vs Okinoumi – Asanoyama comes into this match 2-0, and I think he can extend that to 3 wins if he does not let the veteran wear him down. I think Okinoumi will move early to stalemate Asanoyama, and force him to expend energy trying to generate a winning gambit.
Endo vs Goeido – Endo has 2 kinboshi in 2 days, he’s beaten both Yokozuna, and as far as I am concerned he does not have to rack another win for the rest of the basho to finish with pride. But I think that just maybe Endo has discovered his missing “overdrive” gear that he once used, and we may seem him dominate this tournament. This day 3 match will be a bell-weather for that. Goiedo is still looking for his first win, and can surprise anyone.
Takakeisho vs Daieisho – This match plays into Takakeisho’s strengths, but the career record of 4-3 means that this is an evenly balanced match. With only 2 days in, we have yet to see Takakeisho’s “Wave Action”, but I sense it may appear today. Got get ’em Grand Tadpole!
Hokutofuji vs Kakuryu – Hokutofuji tends to have hot and cold streaks, but right now the big monster is on fire and will be a challenge for Kakuryu. The Yokozuna has been quick to get his reactive sumo running, and will need to evade that Hokutofuji nodowa for a win.
Hakuho vs Myogiryu – Myogiryu, you are in the wrong spot on the banzuke on the wrong day. I imagine Hakuho has a lot of emotions to work through following his day 2 loss, and you may find yourself getting a rough ride.