With the middle day of the Hatsu basho behind us now, we have a clear look at what a post current Yokozuna basho looks like. A wide open, full throttle barnyard brawl of young, strong rikishi up and down the banzuke beating each other to bits every day for the cup. As sumo fans, we have naturally gotten used to a very orderly sumo world. Hakuho takes the cup if he is present, and if not, one of the other Yokozuna. This is what I think of as the “Hakuho Effect”. Fans don’t recognize it yet, but there really has never been a period in sumo where you had a single rikishi dominate so completely for so long. His overwhelming skill and power completely wicked away all possibility of anyone else really making much of a mark, and really shut down this kind of tournament.
As stated a couple of years ago when the transition started, a transition period like the one we are in the beginning stages of are hugely exciting times in sumo. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotion and thrill a minute. With “The Boss” frequently in dry dock these days, we get new champions on the rise, and we can enjoy them as they mature and their sumo evolves.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the two relics that are mounting the dohyo each day: Goeido and Takayasu. Both of them have given their lives to sumo, and have been arch competitors. For Takayasu, now at just 3 wins, he needs to take the remaining matches to regain Ozeki. Given his level of injuries, it’s quite unlikely. For Goeido, he needs to win 5 of the next 7 matches to retain Ozeki, also a very tall order. Its kind of heart breaking in some ways, as these are great rikishi who have turned in wonderful tournaments in the past. Everyone would want to see them continue. But sumo is a near perfect zero-sum evolutionary sport. Win to survive.
Kaisei defeats Ikioi – Ikioi choses to go chest to chest with Kaisei for some reason, and his one attempt at a throw falls far short of enough torque to move the big Brazilian. The look of pain ok Ikioi’s face at the end of the match tells the story.
Mitoryu defeat Shimanoumi – Mitoryu gets to the tachiai early, and Shimanoumi never really can stage much offense to counter.
Tokushoryu defeats Kotoshogiku – There was little doubt these two would go chest to chest immediately, with Kotoshogiku attempting the hug-n-chug, but finding that Tokushoryu’s bulbous abdomen is a near perfect damper for the force of that attack. Kotoshogiku keeps pressing the attack, but his balance fails at a crucial moment and Tokushoryu swings him to the clay.
Kiribayama defeats Kotoeko – Like so many of his bouts this basho, Kotoeko fights well, with solid technique, but can’t manage a win. He yields morozashi to Kiribayama, and the two mutually try to throw each other at the tawara, but its Kotoeko who lands first.
Tochiozan defeats Tsurugisho – After his day 6 wheelchair match, its clear that Tsurugisho can’t transmit power to ground at all. I do love and respect how gently Tochiozan treats him. It’s like how you would expect him to yorikiri his 2 year old son.
Chiyomaru defeats Azumaryu – Azumaryu is single mindedly focused on getting a mawashi hold on Chiyomaru. But the entire time he is fumbling for a hand hold, Chiyomaru is pushing away at his chest, and Azumaryu runs out of room to escape.
Yutakayama defeats Terutsuyoshi – Fantastic match from these two, I loved Terutsuyoshi’s submarine-lateral tachiai. Yutakayama is not normally a yotsu fighter, but I am really starting to like him in this mode. As a natural rival for Asanoyama, this expansion of his sumo technique is welcome, and I am going to say may signal his assent to higher rank. Terutsuyoshi throws a lot into this match, with an excellent combination of gambits, but Yutakayama counters all of them and prevails.
Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – Big Dan misses his first attempt at his favorite hand on the neck pull down attack, and by the time he resets it, not only is Kagayaki chest to chest with him, but Aoiyama is out of real estate to employ it. The School of Fundamentals is still open, and it works again today.
Shohozan defeats Chiyotairyu – A set of matta to throw off the timing of Chiyotairyu’s all important tachiai gives Shohozan control of the match before it even begins.
Onosho defeats Ishiura – Onosho seems to have shed his ring-rust, gotten his balance under control and can now deliver good sumo several days in a row. Ishiura threw quite a bit into this match, but could not quite get Onosho off balance.
Takarafuji defeats Sadanoumi – Takarafuji’s preferred defend and extend tactic was not a good idea against the highly mobile Sadanoumi, so Takarafuji gets to work early and just drives Sadanoumi from the ring.
Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s really got nothing left on that knee. He is not even making an attempt at face to face sumo really now, as his body just can’t support it. The former Ozeki takes his 5th loss.
Enho defeats Endo – The match that folks around the world were cheering for, master technician Endo faced power pixie Enho for the first time. Endo clearly had one approach only – land a mawashi grip and use his superior size and strength to dispatch Enho. But Enho masterfully focused on making sure Endo never could get his hands secured to his belt. The result was flailing arms and scampering feet, with Endo frustrated time after time. Endo’s is going to need a formula to overcome Enho, but given his work ethic and dedication to the sport, he is going to be working that in the months ahead almost every day.
Myogiryu defeats Mitakeumi – Myogiryu reaches around Mitakeumi’s big belly to find his mawashi, but Mitakeumi can’t return in kind. Although Mitakeumi had a strong opening, he was unable to finish Myogiryu at the bales. Mitakeumi’s road to reclaim a slot in San’yaku is going to be long and ugly indeed.
Daieisho defeats Tamawashi – This match was won at the tachiai, as Daieisho took the inside position and never let Tamawashi counter. A strong advance and it was done.
Shodai defeats Asanoyama – Its rare to see Shodai fight this well, and employ this level of sumo. It’s actually quite refreshing and I hope this is his new “normal”. Asanoyama for some reason allows Shodai’s choice of thrust and shift to be the tone of the match, which plays to his strengths. By the time Asanoyama finally gets a hold of him, he discovers that Shodai’s defensive stance is set for a throw, and Asanoyama rolls to the clay.
Hokutofuji defeats Takayasu – I am saddened by yet another Takayasu loss. Hokutofuji relentlessly attacks the former Ozeki’s injured left arm, with great effect. But there was so much more than that. Hokutofuji consistently kept his hips lower, and kept the pressure on Takayasu. The two times Takayasu managed to drop his hips, he was able to push Hokutofuji back, but Hokutofuji’s defensive sumo was at its peak today. I marvel at how Hokutofuji’s mind can at times seem to be working the upper and lower body independently. No matter what his upper body is doing, winning or losing, his lower body seems to keep moving forward.
Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – Wait… Takakeisho goes chest to chest with Okinoumi? Then throws him? For the win? Ok, this was unexpected and delightful.
Abi defeats Goeido – Goeido can’t overcome Abi-zumo, as it is an almost perfect foil for Goeido’s massive frontal assault style. There was a monoii to check Abi’s ballet move on the tawara, but slow motion replay only made it look more skillful.