It’s been 6 weeks, and the sumo world is ready for more action on the doyo. While we are looking forward to the next 2 weeks, we can’t help but worry about a tournament tinged with illness, should it come to that. The team at Tachiai hope for the best, with a strong, healthy showing by everyone from maezumo lads up to the Yokozuna.
The hall will be nearly empty, with a few members of the press, and the sumo association in attendance. I can only say I think it’s going to be downright odd, and perhaps a bit unsettling for the rikishi. But as they say around the world – “The Show Must Go On!”.
The scheduling crew have given us some tasty day 1 morsels, and I believe this basho marks another leg on the transitional journey. We have the rikishi most likely to lead the next age at the top of the banzuke, and they will all get to try their sumo against the fading legends. Will we see a Yokozuna retirement following Osaka? Probably not, but I think bizarro basho may be a turning point. The winds of the Reiwa era have already swept away the legacy Ozeki, and we know the top of the banzuke is next.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Kotonowaka vs Daiamami – These two have split their prior 2 matches, with Daiamami preferring to drive forward, and Kotonowaka (formerly Kotokamatani) looking to disrupt his opponent’s balance. In recent years, top divisions debutants seem to frequently “catch fire” and have solid, sometimes double digit, win records. I am looking for Kotonowaka to possibly follow this trend.
Meisei vs Shimanoumi – These two have not had a match since May of 2018, and they are long overdue for a bout. Meisei is freshly back from Juryo, and needs to get into a winning groove early to ensure he makes his 8.
Azumaryu vs Chiyomaru – A battle of the marus, where the much larger and rounder maru holds a clear advantage (11-4). In fact, Chiyomaru has taken the win in the last 4 matches, and I would suggest that Azumaryu really needs to open with a win to avoid early nomination for the Juryo doom-barge.
Tsurugisho vs Nishikigi – I am not sure why, but the fact that Nishikigi is back in the top division makes me happy. He’s kind of an “everyman” who manages to persist in doing competent sumo in spite of being blind as a bat. He has a 4-2 career advantage over Tsurugisho, although their last match (Kyushu) featured Nishikigi getting thrown.
Kaisei vs Aoiyama – Alright! Battle of the bigs today, with big Dan Aoiyama clearly the favorite (12-6). Both of them are right around 200kg, so I am calling this a Haru dohyo early stress test. That’s nearly half a ton of rampaging sumotori on the loose folks!
Kotoshogiku vs Ikioi – Follow up the mega-fauna match with a battle of the relics. Both are storied veterans who have just accumulated too many injuries to compete at higher rank, but they battle it out with as much gusto as they can manage every day. I could state that Kotoshogiku holds a 11-7 career lead, but this match is going to come down to which rikishi is in less pain and misery on Sunday.
Ishiura vs Terutsuyoshi – Let’s stick with the theme – with the battle of the ancients out of the way, lets have a pixie fight! Josh pointed out that Terutsuyoshi draws a lot of energy from the crowd, and may be hampered by the ghostly silence in the Edion arena. But it will likely come down to which version of Ishiura shows up today: The aggressive high-energy corvette or the henka dispenser.
Chiyotairyu vs Tochiozan – I would put Tochiozan in the “Injured Relic” grouping as well. I love watching his high-efficiency sumo, but his performance on any given day is mostly governed by how hurt he feels that afternoon. With 2 months to train, heal and prepare, we may see some excellent sumo from him, at least in the first week. Of course, all of the efficiency in the world may not matter when Chiyotairyu unleashes the cannon-ball tachiai.
Sadanoumi vs Tochinoshin – In our Heru preview podcast, I predicted that former Ozeki Tochinoshin would end the tournament with a deep make-koshi. Not because he lacks strength or fighting spirit, but because I am fairly sure there is not much that can be done for his damaged knee. Without a stable stance, there are no options to unleash his massive strength. Tochinoshin fans, best to buckle up for this basho.
Takanosho vs Kiribayama – Takanosho ended Hatsu with 7-8 make-koshi, but due to banzuke math as only can happen after a 3rd round of sake, he kept his rank. He’s up against Kiribayama, who finished Hatsu with a debut double digit win and a fighting spirit prize. With 6 weeks to prepare, we will see if Takanosho has gotten his sumo back in order.
Shohozan vs Tamawashi – Shohozan holds a 13-4 career advantage over Tamawashi, who has been fading out slowly since his January 2019 yusho. Both of these guys would classify as Heisei relics, but they have managed to keep their bodies up enough that they continue to compete in the mid-Maegashira ranks.
Takarafuji vs Kagayaki – Well bust my buttons! Another “theme” match. I see what you are doing here, torikumi committee! So we have two fundamentals-focused rikishi, but Takarafuji has a clear advantage, as his “extend and defend” approach nearly always dominates Kagayaki (6-3). I continue to hold out hope that the rikishi voted to have the “best chest” (no, not kidding) will take the next step in his sumo.
Myogiryu vs Onosho – Onosho fans, try to keep in mind that he typically starts cold and rusty, and then catches fire by day 5. So I am not going to be surprised if he drops this match to the taller and faster Myogiryu. But if Onosho can get locked on Myogiryu’s center-mass, he has more than enough power to drive Myogiryu out.
Ryuden vs Abi – I am looking for one of Ryuden’s trademark matta cheap-hits today. Abi holds a 5-1 career lead, so if Ryuden does not disrupt Abi’s tachiai, Abi will get the neck attack running and that tends to carry the match.
Enho vs Mitakeumi – I had to check, but this is their first ever match up. Biggest concern would be Enho going for a leg pick and re-injuring Mitakeumi’s damaged knee. It’s going to be so very odd to not hear the crowd approach near-riot intensity when Enho mounts the dohyo. I think this may hamper him a bit.
Hokutofuji vs Yutakayama – Oh thank you Great Sumo Cat! This is going to be such a fun match, as Hokutofuji has never beaten Yutakayama. But given that “Cap’n Stompy” is fighting with his best sumo these days, he may be able to take one back. I imagine that Hokutofuji may be disappointed he does not get a Yokozuna for his day 1 opponent, as is customary, but I think the NSK wanted to give the Yokozuna a break.
Tokushoryu vs Shodai – This may be an early indication on Shodai’s mental state. Shodai is a great rikishi with a confidence problem, its evident that his emotions can take over from his sumo and help him get into losing streaks. On the other side of the shikiri-sen, veteran yusho winner Tokushoryu is calm and focused every day. But everyone wants to know how he’s going to fare at the top end of the banzuke.
Asanoyama vs Okinoumi – Asanoyama has a double-digit goal for Haru, and he gets a good start on day when when he faces another Heisei veteran, Okinoumi. Asanoyama has a 7-1 career lead, but Okinoumi will bring experience and a strong yotsu-zumo skill set to the match. In spite of the lopsided career record, I think this one has a lot of potential.
Takakeisho vs Takayasu – With pre-basho training sessions closed to the public and the press, the work up of the kanban rikishi can only be assumed. But it seems Takayasu, no longer feeling the stress of trying to return to Ozeki, has a much better mental state and is possibly in his best condition in years. I picked Takakeisho to shine this basho, so let’s see how he manages an opponent who out weighs him, and has an easy 15cm reach advantage.
Daieisho vs Kakuryu – First Yokozuna fight, everything pre-basho indicates that Kakuryu is in excellent form, and I am going to look for his reactive sumo to be engaged for his day 1 match. Of course we will all be looking to see if he wins moving forward.
Hakuho vs Endo – Oh Great Sumo Cat, how you shower us with fine contests this shonichi! The rematch of Hatsu’s day 2 barn burner where Hakuho recieved payback for the blood Endo shed in Kyushu. There is no love lost between these two, so this match has a lot of potential. The worry is that Endo has not fully recovered from elbow surgery, and is actually in no condition to compete.