It has been a strange start to the basho – and it hasn’t even started! As Bruce reported earlier in the day, both Yokozuna have officially withdrawn, along with injured Ishiura and suspended Abi. And then there’s the matter of an entire heya being kyujo owing to a coronavirus infection.
However, as friend and reader Tigerboy1966 said in the comments of this site, maybe we shouldn’t let that overshadow what has the ability to be, at least on Day 1, a great day of sumo. Good ‘ol Tigerboy.
What We’re Watching on Day 1
Ichinojo (M17E) vs Hoshoryu (M16W) – An intriguing matchup. Many oohs and aahs followed the surprise return of Ichinojo to the top division in a slot that has yielded two surprise champions already this year. His opponent makes his much awaited makuuchi debut, having shown steady progress and consistency since his entry into the sumo world less than 3 years ago. Ichinojo also made his top division debut as a hyped 21 year old in this tournament six years ago, and nearly made the biggest splash of all. This matchup will give us one of the first indications of whether Hoshoryu can fulfil his own promise.
Kyokutaisei (M16E) vs Shohozan (M15W) – Moviestar Kyokutaisei returns to the top division after a lengthy period in Juryo facilitated by an injury on his last visit to makuuchi two years ago. He’s done well in the past couple of tournaments, and I’d make him a narrow favourite against a Shohozan whose feistiness and slaps have looked a little weaker in the past few tournaments. It sort of reminds me of the end of Yoshikaze’s career, when you see a wily ol’ dog who’s still capable of grinding out wins but with less gas in the tank.
Tobizaru (M14E) vs Shimanoumi (M15E) – Sumo’s latest poster boy Tobizaru makes his top division bow against a rikishi who has had a deeply disappointing twelve months, with just one kachikoshi and some pretty bad results. Both rikishi come from stables deep with sekitori talent and should be fairly tuned up for the basho. The lifetime series is fairly even at 4-5 and I’d give Tobizaru the tip to even it, given he’s been in better form recently.
Kotoshoho (M12E) vs Meisei (M13E) – Kotoshoho continues his upward ascent, having still only suffered one makekoshi in his career, a 3-4 reverse down at the lower end of makushita. His reward for continued success is a first time meeting against a rejuvenated Meisei, back in the top division following a triumphant Juryo campaign last time out. While Kotoshoho isn’t against mixing in the odd throw, yotsu-zumo is an element of his game that he is still developing and an area that the energetic Meisei will look to exploit. Having ended the last tournament with a bit of a whimper, I’ll make Kotoshoho the slight underdog here.
Kaisei (M12W) vs Kotoshogiku (M11W) – Alleged newlywed Kaisei gets the hump n’ bump master Kotoshogiku in the battle of grizzled vets. With both men preferring the mawashi, this will likely be won or lost at the tachiai. Kotoshogiku has an overwhelming advantage in their rivalry: excluding fusen-sho it’s 12-1 to the Sadogatake man. The Brazilian hasn’t displayed much of an answer for Kotoshogiku’s main move.
Chiyotairyu (M11E) vs Kotoeko (M10W) – It’s a battle of unlikely and perhaps temporary heyagashira of two massive stables, as Kokonoe’s Chiyotairyu gets Sadogatake’s Kotoeko. Kotoeko has been much improved lately in terms of his endurance and stamina on the dohyo, and if he can survive the tachiai he’d have to be favoured here. That said, Chiyotairyu’s two wins out of five against Kotoeko have been the two most recent encounters, and a big cannonball tachiai could well blow him away. I’d make this a coin flip, we’ll see whose style wins the day.
Sadanoumi (M10E) vs Onosho (M9W) – Onosho dominates this rivalry against the achingly consistent Sadanoumi. Again, I think this gets won at the tachiai. If Onosho fails to establish his pushing attack or gets too much forward lean, the veteran Sadanoumi should be able to easily slap or toss him down. Onosho had been having a little bit of a renaissance before his disastrous 2-13 last time out: he’ll be trying to prove this isn’t his true ceiling after all his injury problems. Sadanoumi, meanwhile, you look at, and go: “yeah, Maegashira 10 sounds about right.” It’s really up to Onosho to take the initiative here.
Enho (M9E) vs Wakatakakage (M8W) – These guys have met three times, all down in Juryo. Enho triumphed last time, but these are the matches where I worry about him: against a technical opponent with good mobility, which can limit his strengths. Wakatakakage has been extremely consistent in recent basho – which must be of great joy to his new shisho – and I would expect him to continue his progress this time. I make Wakatakakage the favourite here.
Ryuden (M7E) vs Tokushoryu (M8E) – For a time it looked like Ryuden was going to regularly trouble the joi-jin but he’s settled in as a mid table guy. Tokushoryu did well to stabilise himself last basho after bounding up and then down the banzuke after his championship. These two guys have two very different objectives: Ryuden wants to prove he can move and stay up the banzuke whereas Tokushoryu, near the end of his career and having spent much of the recent years in Juryo, wants to hang around these parts as long as possible. I actually think if he’s in good shape, Tokushoryu can win this. Ryuden seems to have problems putting away tricky customers and Tokushoryu’s twist down technique at the edge could work for him here.
Aoiyama (M7W) vs Kagayaki (M6W) – Aoiyama had won the first six encounters, but Kagayaki has won the last three and I make him the favourite here against an opponent that continues to just not show a whole lot. Kagayaki has looked determined to add a bit of the steel to his sumo that makes him hard to beat, and while he suffered a 5-10 last time out, I think he has a good chance against some treading-water opponents to reverse course in this basho. No details as yet as to whether any part of this match will be pixelated.
Takayasu (M6E) vs Takarafuji (M5W) – Both of these veterans seem determined to make it back to san’yaku. Takarafuji has the better of the training situation with two other high rankers in his stable, and perhaps that will help him this basho (it certainly didn’t last time). Takayasu needs to deploy a strong tachiai and use an oshi-attack against a rikishi who will be intent on stalemating him and wearing him down. Takayasu is the rare opponent for Takarafuji who can probably match him for stamina and isn’t afraid of a long match, but coming back from the injuries he’s had, I’m not sure if that’s good for Takayasu. It’s a slight edge for me to the former Ozeki here, on account of having more in his locker to put away the Isegahama man.
Kiribayama (M5W) vs Tochinoshin (M4W) – This is a really intriguing matchup. Kiribayama has tried to adopt some of Tochinoshin’s lifting technique, although it’s possibly ultimately not where his sumo lies long term. Kiribayama’s issue for me is he’s not approached matches at this end of the banzuke with a real game plan, often playing to his opponent’s strengths. If he can stay mobile and use his throwing techniques to his advantage in getting uncomfortable grips for a strong but predictable opponent like Tochinoshin, he can consistently win these types of matches. I don’t know if he’s there yet.
Yutakayama (M4E) vs Terutsuyoshi (M3W) – Terutsuyoshi seems to have really benefitted from the resurgence of his heya as a whole, with several strong rikishi and prospects now in the top two divisions. However, having motored up to a new career high placing, this is where things are going to get really difficult. Yutakayama, on song, has a pushing attack that will blow the little man away, so he’s going to have to try something special to manoeuvre his larger opponent into a position from his he cannot defend. Yutakayama looked to have turned it around recently, but simply has not been able to deal with top rankers, so in a No-kozuna tournament that pulls him firmly into the joi again this time, Terutsuyoshi should be a welcome first opponent.
Okinoumi (K1E) vs Myogiryu (M3E) – Okinoumi’s late career resurgence continues, and his reward is a date on shonichi with fellow veteran Myogiryu. Given recent performance, it’s hard to believe a couple years ago we might have felt both of these guys were lost to chronic and serious injuries. Okinoumi barely leads the lifetime series 13-12, but if he can blunt the speedy Myogiryu’s tachiai with a strong grip, I’d make him the favourite on paper again here.
Daieisho (S2E) vs Tamawashi (M2W) – This is almost a master and apprentice match, with two practitioners of very similar styles of sumo. The eight basho Sekiwake Tamawashi and debutant Daieisho both share the trait of upward thrusting to keep their opponents out of focus and off balance. Daieisho has been a revelation in the last twelve months, and at times looks almost to win matches through sheer will. The naysayers will point to his two fusen-sho last time out detracting from his 11 win performance, but his presence at the rank of Sekiwake should put some fire under the two other holders of the rank. Recent history favours Daieisho here, and he’s going to want to prove he can hold this rank.
Hokutofuji (M2E) vs Mitakeumi (S1W) – It’s not that long ago we were talking about Hokutofuji as an Ozeki candidate. It’s been for a long time that we’ve been talking about Mitakeumi as an ever-present Ozeki candidate. Both have suffered injury problems, but it’s the decorated Mitakeumi that has spurned more good opportunities, and he will be desperate to take advantage in this tournament. While Hokutofuji has done well to consistently keep himself among the division’s elite, Mitakeumi simply has more up his sleeve than Hokutofuji’s push/thrust/slap attack and will be the presumable favourite to win a match he really can’t afford to be losing.
Shodai (S1E) vs Takanosho (M1W) – I like this matchup, because again, there are a lot of shared characteristics both on and off dohyo. Both men have almost quietly risen to the business end of the banzuke while more vaunted competitors (or in Takanosho’s case, stablemates) have received the majority of the headlines. Shodai, having almost been written off as a serious talent, has added an enormous amount of power and stamina to his game which in some ways has compensated for his continually weak tachiai. Both men aren’t afraid to go chest to chest to grapple and both men can win with a pushing/thrusting attack, and it’s in the latter area that Takanosho particularly excels. Shodai is the favourite but this may be a potential upset encounter.
Terunofuji (M1E) vs Takakeisho (O1W) – He came from the bottom to the top: Terunofuji’s stunning yusho might have been the icing on the cake of his remarkable comeback from knee problems, health problems, and being-in-Jonidan problems, but the cherry would be reclaiming his place in san’yaku. Or even, say it quietly, his old Ozeki position. The hard work continues here against a newly-engaged Takakeisho who has struggled with his own injuries and only had two good basho in the seven since he’s assumed the Ozeki rank. Indeed, his percentage of quality tournaments is starting to look rather like that of his opponent during his own Ozeki tenure. Given that he’s the current holder, I’m going to make Terunofuji the favourite here: while the two have only met once, with Takakeisho being triumphant in that match, it was years ago at the start of Terunofuji’s slide down the ranks. Terunofuji has more dimensions to his sumo, and if he’s been able to keep himself fit, he may do well here.
Asanoyama (O1E) vs Endo (K1W) – All eyes are on Asanoyama as the man at the top of the tree this tournament. His 4-6 record against Endo shows that these matches against his near rivals are the ones he needs to start to win with more consistency if he is going to take the next step in his career development. I’d go as far as to say that with the number of hungry rikishi behind him, these are the matches this basho that he simply cannot afford to lose. While Asanoyama favours a right hand in, left hand outside grip, Endo is a famously tricky customer who, despite frustrating with both his inconsistency and interviews, is probably still one of the more multi-dimensional and gifted tacticians in the sport. His 7 kinboshi are proof that Endo revels in underdog bouts. There are no kinboshi on offer this tournament, but with a huge pile of kensho on offer at the end of this one and a big scalp on the line, he will turn up. Asanoyama needs to land his preferred grip early and dispatch Endo with authority, as a good start in this basho may prove crucial.