It’s the final weekend of Hatsu, and we have a tie between two leaders that will be resolved today. The head to head matchup between Shodai and Tokushoryu is a welcome change from how this would normally be resolved – a potential playoff on Senshuraku. But given that Shodai has already walloped everyone with a strong record, it makes perfect sense to have him try his sumo against super-energized veteran Tokushoryu. How is this one likely to go? The last few matches, Tokushoryu has gotten in a defensive mode, and converted his opponent’s forward rush into the energy powering a winning move. Interestingly enough, Shodai has been using this gambit too. Both men have taken to using a balanced attack / defend tactic in their matches, but Shodai has a famously weak tachiai. Mathematically, a Tokushoryu win would be the most interesting, as it could set up a day 15 match to bring 3 rikishi to a 13-2 record, with the cup being decided by elimination bouts following the final match. Their only prior match was a Shodai win in 2016 by yorikiri.
Beyond the headline match, there are a number of bouts to set up the day 15 roster of “Darwin matches” that pit two 7-7 rikishi against each other, with the winner kachi-koshi and the loser make-koshi. Only one can survive. Today there are a series of “Mini-Darwin” matches where both rikishi are one loss away from make-koshi, so the loser of the day 14 match gets a freshly minted losing record for January.
The last question I think that team Tachiai is pondering today – Will Goeido fight Takakeisho on day 15? Tradition says he shall, but there may be other more interesting options, depending on how that Tokushoryu vs Shodai match ends.
Leaders: Shodai, Tokushoryu
2 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 14
Azumaryu vs Kaisei – This could be a gimme for Kaisei, he has he has never lost to Azumaryu in the prior 3 matches – except for the playoff at the end of Kyushu 2019. Sure, let’s have a rematch of that one!
Terutsuyoshi vs Tochiozan – Both are kachi-koshi, so this one is purely for ranking in March. Terutsuyoshi won both of their previous matchups, so lets see what the compact powerhouse does against Tochiozan’s high efficiency sumo.
Ikioi vs Chiyomaru – A mini-Darwin match where the loser exits with a make-koshi, and the winner likely gets to endure a day 15 elimination match. It’s a tough spot to be in, but this is a big part of sumo: survival of the fittest. Chiyomaru holds a commanding 5-1 advantage.
Chiyotairyu vs Shimanoumi – The second mini-Darwin match in a row, this time we see if sumo’s thunder spirit, Chiyotairyu, can continue his remarkable rally and survive to a day 15 test. Shimanoumi holds a 2-1 advantage.
Sadanoumi vs Tsurugisho – Sadanoumi will go up against the injured Tsurugisho, whose knee is more or less useless now. Prior match counts don’t matter, as Tsurugisho is in no shape to be competing, and is already 4-9.
Kotoshogiku vs Ishiura – Ishiura has yet to take a single match from the former Ozeki. Kotoshogiku is already down to 5-8, and will face a possible henka in the day 14 match. If Kotoshogiku prevails, it will be make-koshi for Ishiura.
Aoiyama vs Kiribayama – A first time match which is probably all about figuring out rank for March. Aoiyama is probably looking at a final record featuring double digit losses, and he is up against a red-hot debut performance by Kiribayama, who comes in at 9-4.
Okinoumi vs Takanosho – Takanosho has an 2-0 career advantage coming in against Okinoumi, who needs one more win for kachi-koshi. Takanosho has struggled to win consistently this January, and needs to win both remaining matches to reach 8 wins.
Tokushoryu vs Shodai – The match, the two leaders face each other, and I have no idea where this one is headed. Both of them are on fire this January, but I think that Shodai comes in with a bit of an advantage due to size and brute strength. Frankly, I can’t wait to watch this.
Tamawashi vs Kotoeko – Both of these rikishi are already at double digit losses, so it’s really broken, injured rikishi having to do something for day 14. If you are staying up to watch it, time your bio break or kitchen run about now.
Hokutofuji vs Kagayaki – I am going to pretend that someone on the scheduling committee reads Tachiai, and said “Hey, let’s give Bruce a reason to stay up all night to watch a match.” So they threw a couple of high output favorites into a match that is akin to catnip for me. Sure, Hokutofuji leads the career record 5-1, but it’s all about the fight for me.
Ryuden vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi week 2 fade? Why yes, here we are again. This time we don’t even need a healthy Yokozuna and Ozeki corps to wear him down. I think that knee is still far from healthy, and I will be happy if he can find some way to get his 8th win. Ryuden brings a 4-1 career advantage to this match.
Endo vs Yutakayama – Oh yes yes yes! I think this is another “find the rank” match where we see just how strong Yutakayama is right now. Endo has struggled into week 2, but he is still a very potent and competent rikishi. They have split their prior 5 matches 3-2. When Endo wins he tends to slap down Yutakayama, and when Yutakayama wins, he tends to overpower Endo and toss him around. This one has great potential.
Onosho vs Myogiryu – Much to my surprise, Onosho needs just one more win to get his 8, and here he is doing another “find the rank” match against the already make-koshi Myogiryu. The two are even, 3-3, over their career.
Abi vs Takarafuji – Both are already, sadly, make-koshi. Both have fought very well this January, but too many times just could not finish the match with a win. They are tied 4-4 over their careers, so it’s an even fight.
Enho vs Daieisho – Another “Find the rank” match! Enho tries out a possible lower San’yaku fit by taking on the flagging Daieisho. He won their only prior match, so it’s up to Enho to grab some unattended body part and tug with fierce energy.
Tochinoshin vs Takayasu – Battle of the Ozeki relics, both of them sadly could not make their 10 at Ozekiwake, and are both make-koshi, and both headed down the banzuke. It’s a battle of countless tears that only makes sense to determine how banged up Takayasu is right now. Ugh.
Takakeisho vs Asanoyama – From sadness to anticipation. I still like Asanoyama as an Ozeki some day, going up against an increasingly genki and versatile Takakeisho. I think we would need to see double digits from Asanoyama to re-punch the Ozeki run ticket, even though his sumo has been a step lower than prior basho. Takakeisho needs to win this one to stay in the yusho hunt.
Shohozan vs Goeido – Regardless of Goeido’s final win score, he’s Ozekiwake in his home town of Osaka. So this is all about filling a day on the torikumi. They have met 21 times before, and Goeido holds a 14-7 lead in the series.