Thus we come to the end of Hatsu, what a change from 3 years ago this basho has been. At that time, we were watching Kisenosato win his first yusho, he was just days away from being elevated to Yokozuna, creating a rare situation where 4 Yokozuna existed at the same time. Sadly we were not to see that anticipated thrill of a full-throttle battle of grand champions due to injury, poor luck, and poor decisions.
Fast forward to 2020, we have a most unusual outcome before us. The man at the bottom of the Makkuchi banzuke, Tokushoryu, is alone atop the leader board. Should he lose to Takakeisho today, he may have to face off against Shodai, should Shodai win, to decide the yusho. A Tokushoryu win would give him the cup outright, a situation unparalleled in modern history, when a rikishi ranked that far down the banzuke was handed the Emperor’s Cup. But the cast of rank and file yusho winners has been growing since we entered the transitional period, and it won’t really change much until such time as the new champions can consolidate their sumo. With only one functioning Ozeki (and no function Yokozuna) this basho, there was now apex competitors to grind the lower ranked rikishi down.
We look forward to congratulating either Tokushoryu or Shodai at the end of the day. Both have done a tremendous job of keeping up the intensity this January.
Of course day 15 would not be the same without what we call “Darwin Matches”. These are two 7-7 rikishi facing off. The winner is kachi-koshi, the loser make-koshi. Only the fittest survive. Some folks find it brutal, but to them I would say that sumo is a brutal sport. Its two mostly naked men fighting each other in ritual combat. A reflection of nature’s dictum that there are contests where only one may survive is completely fitting given the Japanese culture’s reverence of the natural world.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – Grizzled veterans with 40 matches over their 13 year history of crashing into each other face off. Both have already secured their kachi/make koshi status, so this is just for “old time’s sake”.
Kiribayama vs Chiyomaru – This is really about seeing if Kiribayama can get to 11 wins, and what kind of special prize he might earn if any.
Tsurugisho vs Terutsuyoshi – In all likelihood (according to Tachiai’s ace prognosticator lksumo), Tsurugisho’s day 14 win may have secured his spot in the top division. So given that Terutsuyoshi is already kachi-koshi, this match is to see if a knee-less Tsurugisho has any sort of sumo to offer against whatever Terutsuyoshi has ready to go for the final day.
Chiyotairyu vs Kaisei – Darwin match #1. Kaisei holds a 11-4 career advantage over sumo’s thunder spirit. So he clearly comes in with a mental advantage. Chiyotairyu seems to have bounced back from the “arm breaker” kotenage on day 9, so he may be able to muster better offense that I might expect. But in reality, there is just a huge amount of kaisei to defeat in any battle.
Sadanoumi vs Kotoeko – I can’t wait to find out, post basho, what kind of injury Kotoeko has been nursing this January. He has been absolutely abysmal. But he is probably the captain of the slow barge to Juryo,
Takanosho vs Ikioi – Darwin match #2. Ikioi has managed to rally after a dismal 2-6 start to Hasu. Now he has to overcome a young and genki Takanosho in a battle of the 7-7 rikishi. Their 3 prior matches favor Takanosho 2-1.
Takarafuji vs Shimanoumi – Both are already make-koshi, and I would expect with how well Takarafuji has been fighting that he will dispatch Shimanoumi after playing with him for a while. As Inigo Montoya would say, “I am going to fight him left handed…”
Kagayaki vs Enho – I am going to assume that Kagayaki knows to make sure Enho cannot grab any stray body parts, and use them to tug him around like some wooden toy. While I rave about Kagayaki’s fundamentals based sumo, most of it is geared to fighting opponents that are close to his own size. The entire routine seems to have a significant gap with power pixie sumo.
Okinoumi vs Azumaryu – Darwin match #3. I would give advantage to Okinoumi, except that he has faded quite significantly in the second week. Both men are likely low on stamina. Both are veterans, both are likely “getting too old for this crap”. But that’s why you don’t want to end up 7-7 going into senshuraku, gents.
Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Both are make-koshi, with Tamawashi’s loss record in double digits. Still they had to fight someone…
Shodai vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi does not get a Darwin match, in spite of his 7-7 record, simply because they ran out of 7-7 candidates to match him against (he had already fought Shohozan). Instead they give him ultra-genki Shodai, who has ALWAYS been restrained by his mental processes. Has his confidence been shattered by his day 14 loss to Tokushoryu? I do hope not, and if he comes in genki and ready to fight, it might mark the most important development of his Makuuchi career. As a member of Team Kakuryu, I am going to guess the Yokozuna has been instrumental in keeping him focused in spite of Kakuryu’s kyujo status. They are tied 9-9 over their career.
Hokutofuji vs Yutakayama – The match you really wanted to see, but did not know you wanted to see until they posted it. Am I right? So I am guessing there is some manner of shansho (special prize) on the line for the winner of this match, and I expect them to tear into each other with reckless levels of violence.
Tochinoshin vs Myogiryu – Another pair that screams “We are getting too old for this kind of thing”. These veterans are injured and having a terrible basho. A Tochinoshin loss would secure a double-digit make-koshi.
Endo vs Shohozan – I will come out and say it. Endo is kachi-koshi, and Shohozan deserves a pride obliterating matanage (see Goeido vs Harumafuji). But I think that we may see a Shohozan cheap early hit via a matta, followed by Endo fumbling for grip and getting his pretty face smashed in. Not a fun day at the Kokugikan.
Abi vs Daieisho – This match will probably determine some factor in the upcoming demotion discussions. I am sad to see Abi vacate his Komusubi slot, but I assume that he will regroup, heal up and be back better than ever. Perhaps this injury will herald the moment when Abi finally starts employing Abi-Zumo 2.0, which we know exists, and we have seen him use on rare occasions.
Aoiyama vs Takayasu – Another make-koshi battle. Big Dan is at 10 losses, and he has a chance to send Takayasu to a matching score. I count on Big Dan taking square aim at Takayasu’s sore left elbow.
Asanoyama vs Ryuden – Raise your hand if you want to see Asanoyama complete dominate Ryuden and leaver him in a pretzel shape that requires two shimpan and a score of yobidashi to correct. A 10 win outcome for Asanoyama would be good for those that hope he may make Ozeki one day, but I would point out that most Ozeki hopefuls fail in their first bid.
Onosho vs Goeido – Well now, look who is up fighting an Ozek! Its none other than future joi-jin tadpole Onosho. Granted, this is Goeido’s last Ozeki fight possibly forever, but it will be a very good match for Onosho to experience. I am curious if Goeido will play to conserve what is left of his ankle, or will just open up the throttle and try to blast Onosho off the dohyo.
Takakeisho vs Tokushoryu – How do you know you are in an odd period of sumo? When the final match of the final day features your one surviving member of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps against the very last man on the banzuke. Oh, and chances are better than 50/50 that he leaves the Kokugikan with the yusho banner.