And thus we come to the end of it, the silent basho. We have grown oddly comfortable with now cheering crowd, the noises of the rikishi preparing for battle oddly loud on the video, and the sights of row after row of empty boxes. It was a bold move to hold the tournament without spectators, and the issue orders to the stables to sequester then athletes. But it seems, against the odds, it worked. The final day is upon us, and as far as we can tell nobody contracted or transmitted COVID-19, and there was a fair amount of quality sumo.
The yusho will be decide in the final match of the day, between Yokozuna Hakuho and Yokozuna Kakuryu, both come into the day with 12-2 records. The winner gets the hardware, and the loser gets dirty. But my focus is on Asanoyama. In one of the most brutal Darwin matches of my sumo fandom, we have this battle between the one surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, and the Ozeki presumptive, Asanoyama. If Takakeisho wins, it will be his 8th, and he will avoid kadoban, but Asanoyama will have no hope of making Ozeki following the Osaka basho. But not to fear, should this be the case, his chances look the same for the next tournament, assumed to the May in Tokyo. Should Asanoyama win, he might get Ozeki, but Takakeisho would be kadoban, needed into get 8 wins to retain Ozeki in May. Of course its possible that Asanoyama wins, the promotion committee says “try again”, and we get a horrific day 15 match in May where it’s Asanoyama’s promotion vs Takakeisho’s holding on to Ozeki. Note to the NSK – this is not an outcome you want.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Ishiura vs Aoiyama – Now out of the yusho race, Big Dan gets a final match against the already kachi-koshi Ishiura, with nothing to be decided save rank on the next banzuke. Aoiyama has not had a kachi-koshi tournament above Maegashira 3 since 2015, so I have to wonder about his push to higher rank. Maybe he’s resolved all of his troubles and is ready to shine?
Daiamami vs Terutsuyoshi – With Daiamami likely headed to Juryo, he gets one last shot at Terutsuyoshi. This will be the 6th match of their careers, and Terutsuyoshi is behind 2-3. Terutsuyoshi already has 8 wins, so this is all about rank on the next Banzuke.
Chiyotairyu vs Shimanoumi – Both kachi-koshi, both fighting for their next rank. I would expect Chiyotairyu to be a bit less intense today, at his size he does not have to go full power and roll the dice on an injury.
Sadanoumi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi is still looking for safety to stay off of that dreaded Juryo barge, and he has one last chance against speed demon Sadanoumi. He holds a 9-7 career advantage over Sadanoumi, but its pretty clear Nishikigi is not quite himself, either.
Kotonowaka vs Tochinoshin – After losing 5 of his first 6, former Ozeki Tochinoshin rallied to 6-8, and a win today against newcomer Kotonowaka would give him a small make-koshi at 7-8. I expect that although Kotonowaka has his 8 wins, he will bring everything he can muster to his first ever match with Tochinoshin.
Meisei vs Kagayaki – Our first Darwin match of the day. Only one of them will leave the dohyo with a winning record. Meisei holds a 3-0 career advantage over Kagayaki, so this might be a tough day for Mr Fundamentals.
Myogiryu vs Tochiozan – Both are beat up veterans that are deeply make-koshi, and for Tochiozan, it looks like a ride on the Juryo demotion barge of the damned no matter what happens today. They have 28 career matches, which they have split 14-14.
Ryuden vs Azumaryu – Another pair of grizzled veterans with losing records, each having a matching 5-9 to start day 15. For Azumaryu, it’s likely he has a seat next to Tochiozan on the Juryo barge.
Kaisei vs Abi – I think one is fairly simple, Kaisei has his 8, and wants no part of risking injury in this tournament for another win. So he may put up a token fight, and allow Abi to finish Haru with 7-8. At Kaisei’s size, a awkward fall could be a career ender.
Enho vs Ikioi – First ever match between Enho and trusty battle wagon Ikioi. Ikioi comes into day 15 with 8 wins on the board, so he will be promoted for May, but I expect him to be full power against Enho, as this is their first ever match.
Onosho vs Mitakeumi – Another tadpole head to head, and I think this might have a lot of fireworks. Mitakeumi may want to force another San’yaku slot, and it’s possible that 11 wins might help make the case. Onosho has only ever won once against the “Original Tadpole”, so today might be the day to show his improved sumo.
Yutakayama vs Chiyomaru – Second Darwin match, and much as I love Chiyomaru, I am all in for Yutakayama. My hope is he stays in the joi-jin for most of this year and provides a constant source of competition to Asanoyama, as it will drive them both to higher performance. He holds a 5-2 career advantage over Chiyomaru, who has done pretty well since coming back from kyujo.
Tamawashi vs Tokushoryu – Both are make-koshi, and I think both are going to be much lower down the banzuke for May. I think we may see Tokushoryu bounce back, now that the pressure and distractions associated with being a yusho winner have passed. Tamawashi holds a 9-7 career edge.
Okinoumi vs Kotoshogiku – The second Darwin match pits two long serving veterans, both of whom will prefer a mawashi battle, going head to head for kachi-koshi. Only one of them will exit the match with their 8th win. Kotoshogiku’s career advantage is 16-9 over Okinoumi.
Daieisho vs Kiribayama – Both are 8-6 at the start of the final day, so this is all about rank. Daieisho has a strong claim to any open San’yaku slot, but another win would help boost his upward momentum.
Takarafuji vs Endo – Endo is 7-7, and I would bet you a tall glass of beer that he gets his 8 against Takarafuji today. Simply put, there is no reason for Takarafuji to press for win #9, and with his penchant for efficiency, I can see him being especially defensive today to ensure a safe end to Haru.
Hokutofuji vs Shohozan – How depressing is this match? It’s like watching the end of “Ole Yeller” in 4k with AR. Skip the match gentlemen and catch the early train back to Tokyo. Enjoy many beers on the way.
Takanosho vs Shodai – Upstart Takanosho vs Shodai? Yes please! This will be a nice match as I think Shodai is showing us some of his best sumo ever. He is kachi-koshi at Sekiwake, and has shown that he can take a pounding an still put your face in the clay. But Takanosho is on a bit of a hot streak, and may find a way to overwhelm the man in blue. Takanosho was unable to beat Shodai in either of their prior matches.
Takakeisho vs Asanoyama – As outlined above, a high stakes match. It will come down to if Asanoyama can get a hold of the Grand Tadpole. If he can land a grip, its his match all the way. I know Takakeisho is hurt, and trying to conserve what he can of his damaged body, but if there was every a day to fire up the wave action tsuppari system, it’s today. We promise you can take 6 weeks off to heal up.
Hakuho vs Kakuryu – This one is for the cup. A surprisingly low yusho score given who is fighting it out in the final. Hakuho leads their series 43-8, so this is a tough one for Kakuryu. Good luck to Big K and The Boss. Thanks for a great basho!