It’s the start of act 3 of the Hatsu Basho. It’s time to finish the yusho race, and sort everyone into make and kachi-koshi. The roster of who is likely to be kachi-koshi includes some pleasant surprises this January. As we are deep into the transition era, and we can no longer count on Yokozuna or Ozeki dominating the basho, all manner of lower ranked rikishi are given a chance to shine.
We head into day 11 with the last man on the banzuke, Tokushoryu, sharing the yusho lead. Tokushoryu is a 33 year old veteran who has been in professional sumo for 66 tournaments – since 2009! He has a jun-yusho from Hatsu 2015, where he went 11-4, and a Juryo yusho from Aki 2018. That he is a co-leader at this stage of his career is quite the Cinderella story. Starting day 11, the scheduling committee will put him against increasingly higher ranked opponents to try to break his lead. I am sure they would do the same with Shodai, but he has fought them all already, or they have withdrawn. That being said, I still expect someone to put dirt on Shodai at least one more time, so the yusho is likely open to anyone on the leaderboard as of the start of day 11. If you want unpredictable, this basho will provide.
Leaders: Shodai, Tokushoryu
Chasers: Takakeisho, Yutakayama, Kagayaki
Hunt Group: Hokutofuji, Terutsuyoshi, Tochiozan
5 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 11
Azumaryu vs Kiribayama – Both rikishi are close to the make/kachi koshi line right now, and will need to scrap for every win they can get. Kiribayama won their only previous encounter.
Kotoshogiku vs Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi dominates with a 3-0 career lead. Kotoshogiku needs to win 4 of the next 5 to lock in kachi-koshi. A loss today by Shimanoumi would be make-koshi, and nominate him for the Juryo barge of the damned.
Tochiozan vs Kagayaki – Oh goodie, this one is going to be wonderful. You have Mr Fundamentals, Kagayaki, who is going to do a lot of things right. But he puts a lot of motion into his sumo. He’s up against Mr Efficient, Tochiozan. Somehow Tochiozan is winning each day, putting progressively less movement into his high-efficiency sumo: just enough to win. Where does this one go? I can’t wait to find out!
Chiyotairyu vs Kotoeko – Kotoeko is already make-koshi, but since Ryuden ripped his elbow apart with a kotenage on day 9, Chiyotairyu is an easy mark. A loss today would mark Chiyotairyu as make-koshi as well.
Ikioi vs Ishiura – Both come in with a 4-6 record, and a long road to a winning record. For Ikioi, a make-koshi would almost certainly proscribe a return to Juryo. They are fairly evenly matched at 3-2, and it may come down to who grabs a hold of whom first.
Sadanoumi vs Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru seems to be able to beat Sadanoumi like a drum, holding a career 11-3 record over Sadanoumi. But this basho, Sadanoumi is fighting well and Chiyomaru is not, so I am eager to see how this one goes. Sadanoumi has been using quickness to win this January, but most of that depends on a mawashi hold, or close ranger chest-to-chest sumo. This is physically challenging with the bulbous form of Chiyomaru.
Takanosho vs Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi got tremendously fired up on day 10 again Aoiyama. Hopefully Takanosho knows not to push that button, as we saw a different level of genki out of Terutsuyoshi that I don’t recall seeing before. A Terutsuyoshi win today would secure win #8.
Tsurugisho vs Ryuden – My biggest worry today? So far everyone has been very gentle with Tsurugisho following his knee blow out on day 6. But Ryuden is almost never gentle. I suspect he may rough up the injured undercarriage of Tsurugisho, maybe compounding his injury. Truth be told – Tsurugisho should not be on the dohyo. If he gets more injured, its not really Ryuden’s fault.
Aoiyama vs Tokushoryu – I admit that sometimes I really like “Big Dan” and his sumo. But today I want to see Tokushoryu put him on the clay. Their last meeting was Hatsu 2018 in Juryo, where Tokushoryu won.
Kaisei vs Onosho – All tied up at 2 each for their career, this is a match between two men who tend to get forward over their toes and provide an easy mark for a slap down. I would actually give a slight edge to Kaisei this match, as I think has his sumo dialed in right now. Onosho is 2 losses away from make-koshi, so he needs to rally.
Shohozan vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama is kachi-koshi already, but I am going to guess he is not going to ease up on the throttle. Shohozan, at 5-5, is 3 wins away from his 3rd kachi-koshi in a row. I expect there to be a lot of hitting, shoving and maybe a throw in there. They share a 2-2 career record.
Okinoumi vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin surprised me day 10 with some solid sumo for a change. Dare we hope that maybe his knee is less of a problem for a bit, and we are going to get to see the former Ozeki crack on with some yotsu power? We can hope, but I am going to guess that Okinoumi takes him apart, and Tochinoshin’s knee is still beyond hope.
Hokutofuji vs Tamawashi – A Hokutofuji win today would be kachi-koshi for him, and make-koshi for Tamawashi. Tamawashi holds a small 6-4 career advantage and may be able to rally today to stave off his 8th defeat. Both of these rikishi are fond of this kind of match: High mobility, high force pushing. Bring it on!
Endo vs Myogiryu – Endo has lost his last 3, and really needs to rally now. He is still just 2 wins away from a kachi-koshi, and getting a white star today would hand Myogiryu his 8th loss, and make-koshi. They are tied at 5-5 over their career, but I will say if Endo can land his left hand frontal grip at the tachiai, he’s got this one.
Shodai vs Daieisho – The highest ranking potential opponents for Shodai are both Komusubi, and he ticks off Daieisho on day 11. Just one loss away from make-koshi, Daieisho has faltered his January. Maybe it’s injury, maybe something else, but I am going to assume that he will regroup and be back. His sumo is solid – not “future Ozeki” grade, but worthy of an upper Maegashira / lower San’yaku regular.
Abi vs Mitakeumi – Are we about to see Mitakeumi’s traditional act 3 fade? We have noticed him favoring that knee that got trashed last year, but still he fights on. I think Abi is due for a bounce back win in his 2-4 career record against the once future Ozeki.
Asanoyama vs Enho – Its Asanoyama’s turn to face the power pixie and ride the lightning. I am certain he studied the footage of Takayasu’s win over Enho, and has figured out a couple of things to try in their first-ever match. That being said, I am sure that Hakuho has been working with Enho to hone his opening gambit and follow on attacks. Any match with Enho has potential to be explosive, but when you have Asanoyama trying to rally after dropping 2 of the last 3, the potential his higher still.
Takayasu vs Goeido – Call this the “Heisei Nozeki Showdown” – Two rikishi from the previous era with a 31 match history (slight edge to Takayasu) meet to decide if Goeido is going to lose Ozeki and take Takayasu’s Ozekiwake slot in March in front of his home town crowd in Osaka. This is the kind of brutal match that is part of the fabric of sumo. It’s going to be ugly as Goeido goes hard against Takayasu’s injured left arm in an all out opening barrage.
Takakeisho vs Takarafuji – The “Defend and Extend” formula has worked wonders for Takarafuji this basho. He’s up against already kachi-koshi Takakeisho, who is still in the yusho hunt. So Takarafuji will seek to keep just enough distance to minimize the impact of Takakeisho’s thrusting attacks, while allowing him to return in kind and maneuver the Ozeki around the dohyo, draining him of stamina. Bonus points to Takarafuji if he can snag a mawashi grip and engage in the seldom seen shimpan bowling derby.