Aki Day 1 Highlights

The “No-kazuna” basho started Sunday in Tokyo, and there was a lot of good sumo from the new crop of rikishi on parade. For Takayasu fans, it was a glorious display of the kind of sumo you must never try to use against him. I swear the probably naps in the afternoons pressing against Kisenosato’s earthmover from 2017, and seems to be able to generate hundreds of kg of forward pressure for what might be unlimited periods of time.

It seems that the fans who are in the Kokugikan are a bit more relaxed on Aki day 1 than they were during July. Maybe as time goes by, Japan, much like Texas, has learned to respect the pandemic, but recognize you can still have fun.

A trigger warning for readers. Further down in this post, I am going to praise Shodai. Please try not to be worried. I have not been captured by kidnappers, it is not some secret code for the forces of darkness to invade, and I am not currently experiencing the effects of recreational pharmaceuticals.

Highlight Matches

Hoshoryu defeats Ichinojo – The massive bulk that is Ichinojo must have given Hoshoryu in the lead up to the match. But the shin-maku Hoshoryu drove straight inside and got both hands inside on Ichinojo. There was one moment where Ichinojo tried a lift and shift, but Hoshoryu kept Ichinojo just enough off balance it would not work. An Ichinojo attempt at make-kai left him with just one hand attached to Hoshoryu, and that was all that it took for the Hoshoryu to win his first top division ranked match.

Kyokutaisei defeats Shohozan – Maybe it’s age, maybe it acccumulated injuries, but even though Shohozan comes out strong and applies blow after blow to Kyokutaisei’s face, it just does not seem to have the same effect that it once had. After absorbing a few smacks to the head, Kyokutaisei advances and takes the match.

Tobizaru defeats Shimanoumi – Tobizaru owned this match from the start, landing a right hand inside grip moments after the tachiai, and quickly removing Shimanoumi from the dohyo. Given Tobizaru’s youth, energy and relatively healthy body, he could become a top division mainstay this year.

Kotoshoho defeats Meisei – Meisei reacted poorly to Kotoshoho’s opening gambit, which was a combo to the upper body and a shift to his right. Meisei found himself pressing ahead against thin air, and struggled to abort the fall, but ended up without any means to recover.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – The miles of tape that normally festoon Kotoshogiku’s body were nowhere to be seen today, and it left long time fans like myself a tad disoriented, as if some alternate universe Kotoshogiku had somehow been translocated in to face Kaisei. It seems even Kaisei was taken aback by his opponent’s lack of mummification, allowing Kotoshogiku an early morozashi, and a quick win.

Chiyotairyu defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko opened with an attempt at a left hand frontal grip at the tachiai, while Chiyotairyu. It was a quick “raise him up, slap him down” combo that Chiyotairyu executes very well.

Onosho defeats Sadanoumi – Wow, Onosho seems to have overcome a number of problems he had in July, and looked sharp, aggressive and dare I say it, well balanced? I really liked his tachiai today, his hips were quite low, and he bracketed Sadanoumi almost immediately, giving Sadanoumi no good route to escape.

Wakatakakage defeats Enho – Enho picks up where he left off in July, looking a half step slower and someone weakened from where we would normally expect to see his sumo. I have to wonder if not having Hakuho or Ishiura to train with has really robbed him of most of his chances to tune up for the Aki basho.

Ryuden defeats Tokushoryu – Points to Ryuden for working out an excellent defensive strategy for Tokushoryu. I counted several times the Hatsu yusho winner worked to set up his trademark combo that typically ends with a tsukiotoshi, but each time Ryuden was able to shut it down. Its awesome to watch Ryuden work hard to keep his plane of force lined up across Tokushoryu’s center mass. Well done!

Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – In the non-pixelated battle of unfortunate body shapes, Big Dan Aoiyama missed blocking Kagayaki’s inside gambit by fractions of a second. Kagayaki drove ahead, and Aoiyama could not keep his feet. Effective sumo from Kagayaki to shut down Aoiyama’s primary attack routes.

Takayasu defeats Takarafuji – Oh my, an endurance battle featuring two rikishi who seem to have it by the gallon. I think at least for this match, the pain and weakness Takayasu has had to contend with in his elbow and knee are gone. Perhaps his 20+ matches a day with the former Kisenosato continue to be the secret to the power of his sumo. For a certified Takayasu fan, this was really a welcome match.

Kiribayama defeats Tochinoshin – Rising star Kiribayama continues to shine, taking down former Ozeki Tochinoshin, who gave Kiribayama a right hand inside grip at the tachiai. With both men having favored grips on the other, they both lifted the other, and for a moment it looked like Tochinoshin would win out. But a clever move by Kiribayama to bring his left foot in for a trip broke Tochinoshin’s focus, and cost Tochinoshin the match.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Yutakayama – Sadly Yutakayama continues his July struggles into the first match of Aki, he had a very strong start, and had Terutsuyoshi backing up. But an ill-considered move to grab the back of Terutsuyoshi’s head and pull threw control of the match to Terutsuyoshi. Terutsuyoshi responded by grappling low, and driving ahead again and again. Yutakayama could find no route to recover.

Myogiryu defeats Okinoumi – This bout was simple sumo mechanics, Okinoumi was too high at the tachiai, opening his chest to Myogiryu, who drove inside and attacked low.

Tamawashi defeats Daieisho – Daieisho showed near textbook oshi-zumo today against Tamawashi, but could not finish him off. Tamawashi was doing a masterful job of absorbing an attack, and shifting to the side, recovering his foot placement before Daieisho could land another thrust. Tamawashi kept this working for an impressive length of time, and found a moment when Daieisho was off balance, and took him to the clay.

Mitakeumi defeats Hokutofuji – To superbly round rikishi, prone to break-neck speed and overwhelming force decided to crash headlong into each other at the tachiai and conduct this match as a battle of sheer strength. The key to the win was that odd upper-body pivot that Mitakeumi deployed to break Hokutofuji’s defense. Nice move!

Shodai defeats Takanosho – I admit, I have been holding back an opinion on Shodai. There was footage a few days before the start of Aki that showed morning practice at Tokitsukaze heya. The highlight was the sparring sessions between Shodai and Yutakayama. I was having a difficult time with what I was seeing. Shodai’s tachiai was sharp and strong. He was beating Yutakayama, again and again. This form of Shodai is quite the force of sumo. As I have written many times, if Shodai can fix his tachiai, he was going to be a big deal. Well, we may have hit that point now. I credit Shodai’s hard work along with Yokozuna Kakuryu’s guidance, and Yutakayama’s sparring for bringing Shodai closer to his potential.

Takakeisho defeats Terunofuji – The last 4 basho have been a tough time for fans of Takakeisho, he has been battling a number of injuries that have limited his sumo. Some have been wondering if this young star was going to be able to maintain his Ozeki position given the problems with his body. Today he looked, to my eye, better than he has since Aki last year, which saw him break the 10 win threshold and return to Ozeki. I am sure Terunofuji went in with a solid match plan, but when that much muscle and mass is in that compact a package, you are in trouble if he can get you in the “shove” zone.

Endo defeats Asanoyama – I worried prior to Aki that the sumo public and Asanoyama himself were too focused on the chances of him taking his first yusho of a bid for the rope. Today we saw what happens when a master tactician like Endo comes up against a highly predictable rikishi like Asanoyama. As much as I like Asanoyama and his sumo, he has stuck with what has worked for him. This let Endo know to a great extent how the Ozeki was going try to conduct the match. The Asanoyama matta played a role as well, telegraphing his opening gambit. Exceptional balance, poise and ability to rotate to plan b/c/d from Endo today. Fantastic win.

15 thoughts on “Aki Day 1 Highlights

  1. A quality day of sumo that shows that whoever wins this thing is going to earn it. Wow!

    I am impressed with all of the promotees already. They’re hungry, determined, and willing to prove it. It’s also good to see that Terutsuyoshi’s move up the banzuke hasn’t slowed him down at all. I think the most obvious impact that the pandemic has had on the rikishi is that they’ve been allowed to rest and heal between bashos. Kotoshogiku(!!!), Takayasu, and Takakeisho are the most obvious examples.

    Onosho had an interesting tachiai today. His left foot is further forward than his right, so it looks like the distance for him to move is shorter when he starts. That means he moves faster and takes advantage of his agility. I am curious to see if he keeps using this tachiai and how other rikishi respond to it.

    Holy fantastic tachiai from Shodai, Batman! If he keeps doing that, he’ll do well!

    I feel kind of bad for Endo fans because they’ve been down this road before. He’ll look like a dominant force and then completely fall apart. I hope that’s not true for this basho, but I am skeptical at this point.

  2. I would have been devastated if Takayasu had lost this bout. Looking forward to an interesting basho now. The last bouts were great, especially Endo vs Asanoyama. Obviously I have cheered one too many times for Endo to expext him to carry on that form till day 15, but I will just be happy if he can stay in Sanyaku and produced 10 quality matches a tournament.

  3. Am I imagining it or does Shodai suddenly look a bit bigger? A bit more ‘hench’ as the kids say? Has he been hitting the weights more in lockdown?
    Tamawashi’s win is a nice example of how some tsukiotoshi are more beautiful than others – this delectable thrust-down was virtually a throw and worthy of repeated viewings.
    It seems to be hard-wired into Endo’s nature that he is prepared to give up real-estate on the Dohyo in order to gain better position/grip. When it doesn’t work he looks like he can get blown away all too easily by aggressive thrusting. When it does work, like today, he looks totally f***ing awesome!

  4. I thought that Takakeisho did an exceptional job today. He won the tachiai, got Teriunofuji going backwards, kept his balance and never gave his opponent even the slightest sniff of a mawashi grip. Now lets see another fourteen days of the bowling ball on fire. Top marks also to Shodai who looked aggressive and dominant. It finally appears that he has got his tachiai sorted out and if that is the case he is going to to take a lot of stopping: “you want a shoving match, fine by me; want some yotsu, come and get it”. Mitakeumi has become a sort of Kotoshogiku 2.0: executing great yotsu-sumo without bothering to take a belt grip. And as for the final moments of Endo vs Asanoyama… well, as John Keats said “Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, and that is all you need to know”. I think that’s right.

  5. Endo is he of whom it can be said, “On any given day he can beat anyone”. Unfortunately, it isn’t every day, but it’s still great to watch him when he’s on.

  6. Excellent commentary and reportage of Day 1–especially, for me, your synopsis of and insights on the Endo vs Asanoyama bout–and your ruminations on whether it is, or is not, Shodai’s time to lift the Emperor’s Cup.

  7. Endo has a magical ability to upgrade his sumo in the face of great wads of cash.

    Today 30 envelopes were on the line.

    Ah well. His koen-kai has been dissolved because he chose to marry someone of his own choosing. He needs to put bread on the table. 30 envelopes worth of bread, that is.

    Re Shodai’s tachiai. On the Abema broadcast, Waka said: “In the past, he used to do this” – and threw his head backwards exactly the way Shodai had always done it. Shodai feared the impact of the tachiai. It’s one of those things rikishi are reprogrammed to lose – fear of impact, fear of falling head first off a raised platform, etc. Shodai would flinch. He is no longer flinching.

    Oh, and it’s a “maki-kae”. “Maki”, from “maku”, the same as “Makunouchi”. It means “envelope, wrap”. “Kae” is from “Kaeru” – change. So, “a change of envelope”. So, “makikae” is a change of hold, usually from outer to inner. Hoshoryu was brilliant to release himself from that grip. He actually got a rare public “congratulations” from Uncle Asashoryu.

      • There aren’t much details, really. Shortly following his announcement of his marriage, his koen-kai became defunct. It could be that by now someone else has restarted it, but that was the situation a few months ago. The man who established that koen-kai, when asked about the news of Endo’s marriage, replied with “shiranai” (“I know nothing”). It’s unclear if it’s just Endo not informing him or asking him for permission that got him ticked, or if his choice annoyed him. Behind-the-scenes gossip said that he introduced a young lady to Endo, but it didn’t work out.

    • I have same question Emil asked. Endo’s koen-kai got dissolved because of who (and I suppose how) he decided to marry? That sounds bizarre. Please tell us more.

  8. Only 4 day one losers have won the yusho in the past decade—most recently, Mitakeumi, exactly a year ago. Three of the four titles were claimed with a 12-3 record. A few of the pre-tournament favorites have quite a mountain to climb.

  9. Either that was the quickest and most powerful tachiai we’ve seen from Takakeisho in a long while, or else Terunofuji has slowed down. I think it was the former.

    Speaking of tachiai, Kotoshogiku’s was the most normal we’ve seen from him for several tournaments. None of the windmilling arms or high hindquarters. That was good to see.


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