Welcome dear readers to our mock basho for Natsu. The actual tournament may have been canceled for health reasons, but the die-hard fans at Grand Sumo Breakdown and Team Tachiai have decided to carry on as best we can. This means that the Grand Sumo Breakdown crew are using their database, statistics and love of the sport to generate daily fight cards (Torikumi), and match results. These match results go quite a bit beyond any sort of random coin toss to determine an outcome. The GSB folks have meticulous statistics on fighting style, advantages and weaknesses that are rolled into the fight scoring system. We have also come up with a way to put things like winning streaks, fighting spirit and injuries large and small into the simulation. So prepare yourself for something we hope will be close enough to real to make it worth your time.
Day 1 has a raft of great matches, and there is likely going to be heaping piles of ring rust to remove, given the tight restrictions on practice leading up to this basho. With the dohyo sanctified in the virtual Kokugikan (a generous offering of sake, gyudon, and some potato chips were made last night), it’s battle time for Natsu!
Who’s Fighting Day 1
Terunofuji vs Kotoyuki – Welcome back Kaiju! Fans are very interested to see how the former Ozeki is going to do in his return to the top division. His upper body looks excellent, but we know his knees are on borrowed time. He pushed through Juryo in 2 tournaments, including a yusho from Juryo 13, so lets hope he can hold on. He’s up against Kotoyuki, none other than “The Penguin” who showed remarkable skill and ferocity in the latter half of 2019 before an injury saw him miss Hatsu, before a final day fusensho gave him an 8-7 kachi-koshi and returned him to Makuuchi.
Nishikigi vs Kotoeko – Next up we have Nishikigi’s first match of the tournament. He’s never been a contender above Maegashira 8, except for that magical Cinderella run in late 2018 that saw him in the joi-jin, and even score a kinboshi against Kakuryu. He’s up against Kotoeko, one of the Sadogatake throng that has clogged up the lower rungs of the banzuke like so much oatmeal in a shower drain. I am expecting Nishikigi to open with a right hand inside attempt, and if he can get a handful of mawashi, he will be tough to move.
Kotoshoho vs Chiyomaru – It’s raining Sadogatake men! I don’t envy the scheduling crew with this many rikishi from one heya bunched together at the bottom of the banzuke. But this is young Kotoshoho’s debut match as a Maegashira, and a hearty congratulations to him. But sure, let’s have him draw the bulbous Chiyomaru on day 1. Given their fighting styles, I predict a flurry of blows in the opening seconds. If Chiyomaru can get him down or off balance in the first 5 seconds, he’s favored. But Kotoshoho’s endurance and mobility will likely carry the match.
Kotoshogiku vs Wakatakakage – Veteran and former Ozeki Kotoshogiku draws the highest ranking Onami brother, who has returned to the top division after an injury on day 4 of his debut tournament in Kyushu wrecked what had been a 4-0 start. He fought strongly in Juryo, and I think he’s ready to resume his upward climb. For Kotoshogiku, it’a all about the knees. If they are in good condition (tough to know given the modified training regimen) he may give Wakatakakage a ride on the hug-n-chug express.
Takayasu vs Kotonowaka – Former Ozeki Takayasu is possibly in no condition to fight, given his accumulating and compounding injuries. Couple that with the “no contact” training policy that was in effect until the final days prior to the basho, and I worry that he is almost completely de-conditioned at this point. Like his sempai, Kisenosato, he’s just going to plow ahead and go out fighting. He’s up against Kotonowaka who turned in a solid 9-6 in Osaka from the rump end of the banzuke (M18e). Frankly, I worry that the next injury ends Takayasu’s career.
Sadanoumi vs Shohozan – Speed match up! We are going to get to see brawler Shohozan work to deal with Sadanoumi’s explosive speed. I think the opening gambit will be a hit and shift from Shohozan, in an attempt to dampen some of his opponent’s tendency to get inside a half step faster than anyone.
Shimanoumi vs Tochinoshin – Another wounded former Ozeki with banged up knees. We love Tochinoshin and his amazing power sumo, and wonder if possibly the modified practice rules may have given him a chance to build strength and reduce swelling in that knee tissue. Shimanoumi has an edge on balance and manuverablity, and should be able to shut down Tochinoshin’s try for a left hand outside grip.
Kaisei vs Myogiryu – After a disastrous 4-11 in Osaka, Myogiryu is looking to bounce back. He finds him self in the bottom half of the banzuke, territory he has not patrolled wince May of 2018. His first test to regain his place among the top men of sumo is Kaisei, who sometimes has a slow or shaky start to a tournament.
Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Two long-serving (suffering?) veterans in a highlight match for me. Given how lightly the rikishi have been training in the one week prior to the tournament, this may come down to fighting spirit and who gets the first move. Tamawashi’s mobility may be the deciding factory today.
Ishiura vs Chiyotairyu – A classic sumo size battle, it’s thunder-god Chiyotairyu against a smaller, more nimble Ishiura. Ishiura has been showing much better sumo over the past 2 tournaments, and at times is executing small-man sumo better than Enho. But it’s going to be tough to overcome Chiyotairyu’s potent opening charge. Henka anyone?
Terutsuyoshi vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu is slowly drifting back down the banzuke following his surprise January yusho, but his sumo is still a lot of fun to watch, and his posting to Maegashira 7 for May is going to be much more competitive than his Maegashira 2 in Osaka. I expect we may see his trademark tsukiotoshi at the edge against compact powerhouse Terutsuyoshi.
Enho vs Ryuden – I will come out and say it – I am curious if the death of Shobushi will have an effect on the Takadagawa rikishi. Shobushi had an outsized, ebullient personality, and his death via Corona virus likely left a emotional wound in everyone one in Takadagawa heya. But will it hinder, or will it motivate Ryuden and Kagayaki? Expect no quarter from Enho, who will come in low and fast, and Ryuden may find himself on the dirt before he can act.
Abi vs Hokutofuji – Two big pusher-thruster rikishi, but from widely divergent styles. Both of these two are ranked well below their ability, but after horribly crummy performance in Osaka, they get to slug it out from the furthest reaches of the Makuuchi joi-jin. Did the lack of crowd and empty hall rattle their sumo? If anything an empty Kokugikan will be no less spooky for these two. I am going to say that if Abi gets the double arm attack in before Hokutofuji can land his handshake tachiai, he’s going to put the big man down.
Kagayaki vs Aoiyama – Big Dan Aoiyama seems to go through hot and cold streaks. With an 11-4 record in Osaka, following up from a 4-11 at Hatsu, it’s anyone’s guess which version of Aoiyama is going to show up. We can assume that Kagayaki will suffer from his traditional ring rust, plus any distractions from heya-mate Shobushi’s untimely demise. I would guess that gives Aoiyama and edge today, as I don’t quite know if Kagayaki is going to be up to fighting form for a few days.
Daieisho vs Kiribayama – Mongolian Kiribayama has been on a steady climb since he broke into Juryo last year, and now he finds himself in matches facing named ranked rikishi. I worry that he has been over-promoted, and given the limited work up to this tournament, he may struggle against a more seasoned rikishi in Daieisho. If Daieisho can get inside at the tachiai and attack center-mass, I think he gets the win.
Takarafuji vs Mitakeumi – Back at Sekiwake, Mitakeumi has to be completely agitated that now 2 younger rikishi have overtaken him for sumo’s second highest rank. If he is frustrated, he needs to attenuate it against Takarafuji, whose defend and extend sumo will give any rikishi ample chance to make an exploitable mistake. I have confidence that the modified training schedule effected Takarafuji less, but Mitakeumi’s superior size, and very aggressive sumo may carry the day.
Shodai vs Onosho – Wow, readers know that I feel strongly about this match. I am very excited to see Onosho back in the joi, and I think his presence will drive Ozeki Takakeisho to higher levels of performance. But there is the open question of Shodai. It’s clear that Yokozuna Kakuryu has been helping to guide his sumo, and he has improved quite a bit. This is Shoday’s second consecutive tournament as Sekiwake, and he has to be focused on a double digit win. His first step on that path will be overcoming Onosho day 1.
Takanosho vs Asanoyama – Shin Ozeki- Asanoyama faces his first match in sumo’s second highest rank against upstart Takanosho, who picked up the jun-yusho in Osaka with blistering 12-3 score from Maegashira 9. It’s a vastly different level of competition now at Maegashira 2, and he’s up against a man that many feel will be our next Yokozuna, if he can stay healthy. Asanoyama’s yotsu-zumo style has been basically outlawed from practice for the past 2 months, so it will be anyone’s guess just how much ring-rust the shin-Ozeki will need to overcome.
Takakeisho vs Yutakayama – Takakeisho starts this basho kadoban, and at real risk of joining the conga line of defrocked Ozeki milling about in the lower half of Makuuchi. Yutakayama’s slow grind back to the top ranks has been a hard campaign, but he’s looking better than ever, and was fighting fairly well in Osaka. Both men will want to use an oshi-zumo style, which favors Takakeisho.
Endo vs Kakuryu – Endo will try for the right frontal grip at the tachiai, and I fully expect Kakuryu to make him pay through the nose. Out of all the rikishi, I think Kakuryu may be the most able to come out ready to fight in spite of the training limitations.
Hakuho vs Okinoumi – Journeyman Okinoumi draws the first match against the Osaka yusho winner and dai-Yokozuna Hakuho. You know that Okinoumi is going to give it his all, but I can just hear Hakuho loading that uwatenage all the way across the Pacific.